New Rochelle’s Modern Pizzeria and Restaurant Exudes Old-School Charm
PLUS: A wine-versus-beer dinner at Birdsall House and a whiskey lover’s dream come true as Bar’Lees debuts in Mamaroneck.
There’s something about this New Rochelle pizzeria that keeps coming back to architecture; I used to love Modern’s Russell Avenue digs just because it dripped a sort of sepia, Godfather-era charm. There was the front dining room with its dinged wooden bar, all golden glow and vintage fixtures. Then there was the back room’s oven—a holdout from the pizzeria’s previous use in a ’20s-era commercial bread bakery. This behemoth had once been fueled with coal, like its contemporaries in New York’s iconic pizzerias: Totonno’s, Patsy’s, and Grimaldi’s. Sadly, Modern’s oven had been refitted in the 1970s to burn the far less romantic (but cheaper) oil. Still, it was gorgeous (scroll down for the pic of Modern’s Russell Avenue oven). Befitting its intended use for scores of bread loaves, it was giant, with a white tile, Sanitary Movement facing that was punctuated by mysterious doors and hatches. Oh, how I loved that oven. In fact, I’ve always felt that Modern’s oven (despite its oil-bastardized state) was the real jewel in New Rochelle’s pizza crown, even though the now ubiquitous Baker’s Pride deck-style ovens that revolutionized modern pizzerias were spawned in New Ro just about a half-mile away.
So, obviously, when I heard that Modern was moving, I was aghast.
But here’s the thing: Modern moved to another building that might hold intense appeal for New Rochelle foodies (but actually may have eluded everyone else’s notice). Modern has taken the space vacated by New Rochelle Restaurant Supply, which was a dusty old pot-and-pan warehouse preposterously housed in a vast and glorious former auto dealership. The space was designed when cars had swoopy lines and gobs of no-holds-barred glamor. You’d be standing there, waiting to buy your can of Sterno, when your eyes would slip over the lavish details—the musicians’ galleries, soaring ceiling (admittedly, with sheets of paint falling down), and grand arched doorways. Buying stuff at NR Restaurant Supply was a very WTF experience. Plus, as I say, it was giant.
I visited Modern’s new digs, and I was happy to see that the glorious old building has been discovered and celebrated. Some poor souls stripped God knows how many layers of paint from the bronze showroom doors and polished them until they shine with a mellow glow. (Now, a wine room glimmers behind one set of those doors.) The musicians’ galleries remain, as do the wide arches, which are grandly quoined. What’s new are custom-designed light fixtures that subtly allude to gaslight without being hokey. Also look for a vast Carrera bar, clubby red booths, and lots of buzz. When we dined there week, Modern was packed.
And the food? You know the deal—First Tastes are not critical reviews; I visited seven days into its opening and that’s way too soon to judge. That said, if you liked Modern on Russell, chances are, you’ll like it on Huguenot. As its tables suggest by their bareness, paper napkins, cheese shakers, and metal pie pedestals, Modern’s menu still offers a straightforward pizzeria experience. There, along with the chewy American pies that drew Modern generations of loyal locals (they range in size and price: $11 for the cheapest, plain, individual pizza, to $20 for a large, elaborately garnished, eight-slice specialty pie), you’ll find classic starters like clams oreganata, mozzarella sticks, and fried calamari. Mains include all the parms (chicken, veal, eggplant, and shrimp—$16-$22), along with standards like zuppa di pesce ($29), chicken Scapariello ($19), and veal piccata. All are offered with basic sides of both pasta and salad, just as they have been in vintage New York’s Italian joints for time immemorial.
Modern’s new digs (and roomy bar) have offered it an opportunity to expand its once perfunctory beverage program. We caught six beers on tap (including one from Captain Lawrence) and that wine room beckons where, once, Modern didn’t offer much beyond the choice of red or white. Soon, you’ll see specialty cocktails, and, just inside Modern’s entrance, you’ll find a clubby lounge perfect for sipping them while snuggled in wing chairs. Through the far side of the dining room, you can view Modern’s private-event room and take-out area which holds a separate entrance on Westchester Avenue. Look for free 15-minute parking on Westchester Avenue. I told you this joint is giant.
Best of all, for the old-school locals, there are photographs of vintage New Rochelle. You’ll see Jack’s Army Navy, where almost everyone’s mother bought their children’s jeans and shoes, as well as an image of Allen’s sports shop. (I nearly detected Allen’s distinct and uncanny smell of just-popped tennis ball cans.) Taken all together, Modern offers a blast from the past all-round.
Beer vs. Wine at Birdsall House
January 30, 7 pm
Wine geeks, rev your engines! You’ll be going up against those trendy beer freaks. The time has come for you to pit your “insouciant” and “oaky” against their “hoppy,” “Cascade,” and “I. B. U.” Birdsall House will host one five-course dinner that offers wine pairings by Michael Migliore and Yancey Stanforth-Migliore of Whitecliff Vinyard and Winery. The same meal will sling five beers paired by Smuttynose Director of Brewery Operations Dave Yarrington and East Coast representative Pat Fondiller. It’s up to you to choose the winner—wine or beer—though the adjectives heard that night might be prize enough for attendees.
Bar’Lees Debuts in Mamaroneck With 310 Whiskeys (and These Sweet, Gratis Cheese Straws)!
Look for scores of malted whiskey sourced from every island, yard, and bog in Scotland, plus, even one Scotch that hails from way down in Australia (along with Bar’lees owner). Mamaroneck’s brand-new wine and whiskey bar also offers quite a few of America’s heaviest hitters, but, best of all, you can sit in this glittering, candle-lit nook and actually eat without paying! (These puffy, herby cheese straws are gratis and just the thing for all that brown. Love.)