[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, May 25, 2006

Fine dining at The Highlands

By Matt Cook

KNOX — Most older people move south, from New York to Florida. Paul Schneider went in the other direction to give two of his daughters the opportunity of a lifetime: to run their own fine-dining restaurant.

The newly-open Highlands restaurant is headed up by a trio of native Hilltowners. Chef Sheena Tymschyn, Schneider’s daughter, runs the kitchen, while another daughter, Michelle Catalano, manages the dining room. Both are veterans of the Albany Country Club, where Tymschyn had risen to the rank of sous chef.

Schneider’s job, besides owning the place, his daughters say, is to be the face of the restaurant, greeting customers and chatting with them at the bar and in the dining room.

It’s not Schneider’s first time working this particular room. Thirty years ago, he said, he worked part time as a bartender at an earlier establishment at the same location.

"Since then, things have changed quite a bit up here," Schneider said. "There are a lot less farmers."

Though Schneider was humble about it, his daughters say the whole enterprise was his idea, on a visit home from Florida.

"We went out for dinner one day and we saw that this place was up for sale," Tymschyn said. "He said, ‘Why don’t we buy it"’"

The daughters were surprised by his unexpected offer, but Schneider saw it as a chance to help take them out of their high-stress jobs at the Albany Country Club, where, the daughters report, they worked long hours and there were "too many chiefs."

Not that they weren’t successful there. Both had worked their way up to managerial positions. Tymschyn, who worked at the country club for 19-and-a-half years, recently won a culinary award for one of her dessert creations, a cherry truffle tort. The tort now appears on the Highlands menu.

History in the making

The Highlands’ home, on Route 156 in Knox, not far from the Guilderland town line, is in a 1780’s farmhouse, formerly the Cheldan House. History happened here, the family believes, for example, a British army encampment.

Schneider said that one of his sons-in-law, using a metal detector, has uncovered some interesting things, including a Hessian belt buckle and some old Chinese coins.

"Chinese immigrants must have stopped here," Tymschyn said.

The building itself looks well used. The floor, wide wooden boards attached with square nails, rises visibly in some places and slopes down in others. Doorways and mantles are noticeably uneven as the building has settled over the years. The bar sits beneath huge beams. One of the taller bartenders has to constantly duck while he moves around, Catalano said.

The building is solid, though, the sisters said, and it’s all part of the charm.

"We love it," Catalano said. "It is weird though, with stairways going nowhere."

While her sister and father packed away a food delivery, Catalano took The Enterprise on a tour through the three dining rooms and the bar area. She pointed out several of the old pieces the family bought for decoration: lamps, a rifle, a strange glass container they couldn’t identify.

"We’ve just been going to auctions and buying all kinds of stuff," Catalano said.

She also took The Enterprise to the back deck to show the view of the rolling countryside and the area where diners used to tie their horses.

Memorable menu

The star of the restaurant, though, is the menu. Fine dining restaurants aren’t common in the Hilltowns. The only real competition, Schneider said, is the Tory Tavern, in distant Schoharie. The Foxenkill,which closed recently in West Berne, was a step below, menu-wise, he said. A number of its employees have come to work at The Highlands.

Of his daughter’s food, Schneider said, "So far, it’s pretty good." High praise from a man they consider a gourmand, his daughters said.

"I just can’t eat all that she puts on the plate every night, or I’d gain 500 pounds," said Schneider, who lives in an apartment above the restaurant.

The entrées, costing in the teens and twenties, include Catalano’s favorite, pork osso buco; Schneider’s favorite, Boston baked scrod; chicken Beradi; New York strip steak; and New Zealand rack of lamb. The appetizers include mussels, calamari, and fresh-made asiago and olive tidbits.

A separate bar menu serves more casual diners with sandwiches, soups, and burgers.

The affordable wine list, assembled by Catalano, includes reds and whites from the west coast, Australia, and Italy. The most expensive right now is a $29 bottle of 2005 pinot noir from Willamette in Oregon.

The Riesling, a 2005 from Washington State, $17 for a bottle and $5 for a glass, sold out in the first week, Catalano said.

In fact, the sisters said, the most surprising thing about the first week of operation is the amount of food and wine they ran out of. Business has been good, they said, smiling, with customers coming from the Hilltowns and off the hill—mostly drawn by word of mouth.

As they go into the next few weeks, they said, they plan to modify the menu and their food stocking practices to suit the demand from their customers. Eventually, Tymschyn said, she plans to offer daily specials.

"We’re waiting to see what people are ordering," she said.

Also, Tymschyn said, a chef from downstate will soon be joining her in the kitchen and contributing his ideas to the menu.

For the sisters, the most challenging part about starting the restaurant was "trying to get everything done at the last minute."

While they were trying to secure a permit from the Knox Zoning Board, they said, a number of community members came to their aid. Before opening, the family rewarded those people with a special dinner. They were the "test subjects," Tymschyn said.

"We just really want to thank everyone that helped us get open," she said.

And Schneider, despite having to return to the colder climate of New York, is enjoying his new post, eating and greeting and watching his family succeed.

"I’ve got the cushy job," he said.


The Highlands, on Route 156 in Knox, is open for dinner, 4 to 9 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays; 4 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

Miller mourned
"Lived every single moment to the fullest"

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

EAST BERNE — James E. Miller was a young man who lived life to the fullest even, or especially, when he knew death was near. He died on Sunday, May 21, 2006, at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany. He was 19.

"He was outgoing," said his father, Dennis Miller. "He always smiled and laughed. He loved school, he loved his teachers, he loved everyone — and they loved him."

James had muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle disorder characterized by gradual irreversible wasting of skeletal muscle.

"His older brother had the same disease and passed away at the same age," said Mr. Miller. The family has been able to carry on, he said, because "we’ve gotten a lot of support from a lot of people."

Guilderland High School, where James attended classes in a BOCES program, was in mourning this week. The flag in front of the school was flown at half-mast and a moment of silence was observed in his memory.

"A lot of people knew him," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala. "It’s very sad."

"He was an angel on earth," said Karen Mattice. "I had the privilege of being his one-on-one educational assistant for three years."

She described with great fondness a young man who was cheerful in the face of all odds.

"He always had a smile regardless of how challenging the situation was going to be," she said. "He very willingly accepted all people and their questions regarding his disease or his wheelchair. He wanted them to get to know him rather than his illness."

Ms. Mattice said that James accepted his fate. "When he was little, he watched his brother lie on the couch and pass...James just accepted what would happen. You know those stages of grief they talk about — anger and denial and all" He had gone through all that. When I met him, he was already at acceptance."

She went on to describe how his philosophy permeated those around him. "He knew he would die young," said Ms. Mattice, "so he lived every single moment of every day to the fullest.

"He taught me not to wait till tomorrow to say that extra kind word to someone; it might not come...As a parent, you think you’ll send your child to school and they’ll get educated by the teachers. In this case, James was the teacher who educated us on life and the meaning of living it for today."

James had an effect, she said, not just on those students in the BOCES program but on people throughout Guilderland High School. He signed up for lunch with the new principal, she said, and talked to him about what he thought would help the school. "He really felt like part of the high school," said Ms. Mattice.

James took a photography class with the mainstream students, she said. "The students included him and willingly helped him as much as he helped them," said Ms. Mattice. "He knew what it meant to capture the moment, in photography and in life....People who were only around him for half-an-hour felt like they knew what it was like to get the most out of a moment."

James also participated in a bowling club, using a ramp at Town ’N’ Country Lanes, said Ms. Mattice.

He reveled in being a high-school senior, she said. James was due to graduate in June. "We ordered his cap and gown and his ring," said Ms. Mattice. "He got his picture taken with the Class of 2006 and they put that in the high-school hallway. He was all set to give a senior speech to his own class."

He was also in the midst of practicing for a talent show. Ms. Mattice gave percussion lessons twice a week to James and two other students.

"He was going to play the xylophone one-handed," she said. "He was practicing a jazz version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ that went into ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ He always loved ’50’s music; that was his thing."

On Friday night, James went to the prom, which BOCES held at the Clarion. "I was his escort," said Ms. Mattice. "It was his third prom. I’m really glad we had our picture taken together."

She went on, "He was very determined to go to what he called his senior prom."

James wore a nice shirt and tie — no tux. "He wasn’t the frilly type," said Ms. Mattice. "He was a down-to-earth kid.

"He loved his car models and car shows," she said.

His father said James enjoyed helping him restore a 1960 Corvair. "He’d help with the chrome, wiping things down, whatever he could do," said his father.

James also liked art. He took art classes at school and especially enjoyed painting watercolors, Ms. Mattice said.

And, he liked to read. At the time of his death, he was reading a book about Boston because his class was planning a day-long trip to the city on Thursday. Instead, they’ll be going to his funeral on Thursday.

"We’ve really tried to keep things open," said Ms. Mattice in describing how James’s classmates are dealing with his death. "We told them, ‘Sometimes, you’re going to feel like crying; sometimes, you’re going to feel like smiling as you think of things he said; other times, you’ll be doing regular activities.’"

"They brought in extra social workers and Guilderland High School volunteered their own administrators so our staff could deal with it," said Ms. Mattice, expressing her gratitude.

"James was one of those unsung heroes," concluded Ms. Mattice.

He maintained his independence, even in a wheelchair. "When he got his power wheelchair, he knew how to drive it right away. He drove a lawnmower, so he didn’t even really need a lesson," she said of driving the power wheelchair. "Just this past Thursday, James said one wish his parents got him was a go-cart. He wanted a hand control on it....

"He could drive his power wheelchair by himself. He didn’t need me by his side....He’d go to the library by himself to return a book. He was always so diligent about returning books on time."

If a door was shut, she said, James would bang on it with the front part of his wheelchair. "People would come and open it," said Ms. Mattice. They’d be rewarded with James’s smile.

"He could have easily been a complainer and said, ‘Why me"’" said Ms. Mattice, but he wasn’t.

"You know how people ask, ‘How are you today"’ James would say, ‘Good.’ James’s ‘good’ would be our ‘poor.’ He would answer, ‘Good,’ and he just kept going. Every day, his Mom helped him get on the bus. He got to school. That was good.

"He loved that environment. He always found things to be learned and explored. And he taught all of us how to feel good."


James E. Miller is survived by his parents, Dennis and Jane Miller, of Knox; one brother, Michael, of Knox; his grandparents, Betty Murgola, of Schenectady, and Mary and Joseph Lucey of Castleton, N.Y.

He is also survived by his dear friends Pat Courtright and Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, and by his special teachers, Karen Mattice, Anne Gabriel, and Richard Ryan. He is survived, too, by many aunts, uncles, and cousins.

His brother, Dennis V. Miller, died in 1994.

A funeral service will be held today (Thursday) at 11 a.m. at the Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont. Burial will be in Knox Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Helderberg Ambulance Squad, Post Office Box 54, East Berne, NY 12059.

Workers to be paid up to 80 hours of OT a year

By Michelle O’Riley

WESTERLO — This month, the town board approved the revision of current policy for overtime pay for town employees.

The board decided that full-time hourly employees would now be able to accumulate up to 80 hours of overtime in a year. At the end of each year, all unused time will be paid out to the employee.

At last month’s meeting, the board was undecided about whether to allow employees to accrue these hours from year to year. The final decision to pay out and not accrue was based on a review of Albany County’s current policy and how the decision would affect the town’s budget and debt outlook for future projects.

A resident who attended last month’s meeting commented that the changes should not be an issue for the town since most employees will want to get paid for their overtime and would not pool their hours for future use.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Scheduled workshops to discuss a comprehensive land-use plan for the town on the second Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. The workshop will be used to identify goals, strategies, and the framework for the town’s plan. The board wants public input so, for now, will keep the workshops open to the public;

— Approved the purchase of a new truck for the highway department for $159,000;

— Discussed the installation of a generator for the new water district, scheduled for May 10. The town will look into the cost of installing a fence around the generator to prevent safety hazards and vandalism;

— Scheduled a water-flow test with the International Organization for Standardization on May 26 to determine the current ISO rating for homeowners in town;

— Stated that the water-district ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held in June on an as yet unspecified date;

— Approved a Carver punch list that includes repairs and fix-ups for the water district;

— Agreed to look into auctioning off some of the town’s used highway equipment; and

— Approved the purchase of a photocopier machine for the town office for $5,336.

[Return to Home Page]