It’s doubtful that moules frites and Upper Jay were ever mentioned in the same breath before chef Zack Ryder opened the Ice Jam Inn restaurant in late 2020. Buttery, brothy bowls of the Belgian-style mussels, served with golden waffle-cut fries, are one of the inn’s signature dishes, along with banh mi, maple-roasted brussels sprouts and a fiery chicken sandwich called the Crosby, Stills and Nashville.
Ryder graduated from Hyde Park’s vaunted Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 2017, but he deep-fried his first basket of spuds in his mother’s hometown of Keene, just a few miles from Upper Jay. His late uncle Sean Baird owned a restaurant there called Tip-A-Canoe, where Ryder began washing dishes in his teens.
After the CIA, Ryder worked as a sous chef at a popular restaurant in Fishkill while nurturing the long-term goal of opening his own place in the mountains. His timeline accelerated after his grandfather sent him the real-estate listing for a handsome 1860 brick-red house with a wraparound porch in Upper Jay. Known then as the Navajo Lodge, the building had served in the past as a trinket and gun shop, an inn, and a family vacation home.
When Ryder toured the property in early 2019, he immediately slipped on ice in the parking lot, falling flat on his back. Neither this nor the heavy machinery across the road that was clearing an ice jam from the Ausable—a frequent occurrence at this bend in the river that has caused serial flooding over the years—scared him away. Ryder saw potential in the building’s “good bones,” with its extensive woodwork and charm to spare. He and his girlfriend, Christine Motter, joined the vanguard of the “great resignation,” quitting their good-paying Hudson Valley jobs to become innkeepers and restaurateurs in the Adirondacks.
Within a few months they had renovated the inn’s five bedrooms and began renting them out on Airbnb. Transforming the kitchen from residential use to a high-efficiency commercial operation was a bigger undertaking that spanned another year and a half.
The restaurant opened in November 2020 with limited seating; for the first few months, 95 percent of the business was takeout. By the following fall, pandemic restrictions were lifted, the inn had received its beer and wine license, and as word spread of the exciting new dinner spot in Upper Jay, reservations became a must.
Ryder describes his “shtick” as “street food and pub food, but using my culinary training to take it a step above.” A case in point is the Crosby, Stills and Nashville, his riff on a Tennessee-style spicy chicken sandwich, with his own fermented habanero peppers, chipotle mayonnaise and slaw made with high-quality apple cider vinegar, all prepared using French technique.
“I brought a sandwich that could be in New York City to the mountains,” he says. A lot of people around here are glad he did.