Dominican flavors up the ante at Que Lo Que, a newish eatery with a highly enticing menu on Tinker Street in Woodstock.
At first glance, most assume that the town of Woodstock has a lot going on. And it does. But for some, like Chef Sam Fernandez, it was missing something. “There’s a lot of Eurocentric food. Every place has a burger, every place has a steak, every place has a kale salad,” says Fernandez, who uses they/them pronouns. “There are all these people—millennials around my age—who are living in Woodstock [and] want something different.”
Fernandez, a first-generation Dominican who grew up in Queens, worked their way up from dishwasher to cooking at a variety of restaurants including Wolfgang Puck’s CUT in Manhattan. They eventually relocated to Ulster County and led kitchens at The Lodge and PUB in Woodstock. In 2020, Fernandez’s father passed away from complications due to Covid. “I was struggling with my mental health and my life spiraled,” says Fernandez, who decided to take on personal chef work—and hosted occasional Dominican pop-ups at The Rhinecliff Hotel and The Pines in Mount Tremper—but felt uninspired.
Early last year, when reflecting on their father’s life, Fernandez began focusing on the fact that there were no Caribbean restaurants in Woodstock’s burgeoning culinary scene. They learned from a friend that popular lunch spot Shindig was closing. Owner Ryan Giuliani—who also owns Woodstock Way Hotel—wanted to invest in a new concept. The two connected and did a few trial runs of serving Dominican fare in Shindig’s kitchen. And to their surprise, people went “crazy.”
After two weeks of overwhelming support, Fernandez and Giuliani knew they were on to something good. Enter Que Lo Que: once an unnamed pop-up that, since last July, is a full-fledged establishment on Tinker Street. (Que Lo Que is Dominican slang for “what’s going on?” as well as a term of endearment symbolizing kinship in the region’s growing Dominican community.)
Dominican food is influenced by the cuisines of North Africa, the Middle East, and other Caribbean islands. “It’s a flavor bomb,” says Fernandez. The Que Lo Que menu is split into four sections: empanadas, fresco (fresh), lados (sides), and platos (main dishes). The best-selling empanada is the pollo guisado—the filling is stewed, shredded, and spiced chicken and potato. “People go insane for it. It’s just ridiculous. One person literally ordered 10 of them,” they laugh. The yuca with garlic and cheese is a close second. What makes the empanadas extra special are the three homemade sauces: cilantro mojo, chimichurri, and rosado. “Customers are basically holding pitchforks, asking, ‘When are you going to bottle the sauces?’ In due time,” hints Fernandez.
Entrée standouts include the chicharron de pollo—Dominican boneless fried chicken marinated in house spices, vinegar, and lime—and the savory camarones al ajillo—garlic shrimp atop crostinis drizzled in chili, white wine, and achiote (annatto seed). One of Fernandez’s personal favorites is the El Dominicano pressed sandwich with slow-roasted pernil (marinated pork), queso de freír, pickled onions and herbs, plantains, and rosado sauce. The tangy sandwich “hits every note,” promises Fernandez. Pair your main dish with one of five sides, including smashed and double-fried (tostones), sweet plantains (platano maduro), rice and beans, and two types of charred corn. On Mondays, Que Lo Que serves up three styles of excellent mofongo (mashed plantains) stuffed with beef, chicken, or fish and veggies.
There are, of course, cocktails that complement all those Caribbean flavors, created by business partner Lukus Estok. A table can share the celebration punch (light, dark, and coconut rums, pineapple, orange, lime, grenadine) or rose sangria. Fernandez also recommends the best-selling lime and orange margarita and sparkling paloma. Or, go bold with the sour El Floridata No. 3 (rum, cherry liqueur, grapefruit, lime) or the alluring Guava Cosmo (vodka, Cointreau, lime, guava nectar).
How’s it going? On most nights, the house is packed. “The menu hits all the right notes for people who don’t know what Dominican food is—and they seem to be very happy about it,” says Fernandez. In fact, the fan-favorite empanadas are so popular that Fernandez is considering creating a to-go service window solely for them. For now, says the chef, “we’re just making it through and having fun.”