The Great Westchester vs. Manhattan Food Fight
Discover the better dining destination. (Hint: free parking.)
What Westchester Has That Manhattan Wants
Illustration by Fernanda Cohen
If you think that Westchester’s restaurants can’t compare to Manhattan’s, we’re hardly sad to inform you that you’re wrong. Real wrong. There are lots of things that Manhattan craves that Westchester has.
Lots of trendy Manhattan restaurants, like Union Square Café, Cookshop Restaurant & Bar, and Savoy, pay lip-service to the eat-local movement with menus extolling greenmarket this and locally raised that, but where in Manhattan can you consume your meal right on the land where it was grown or raised? That’s right, nowhere. If you think eating hours-old, locally raised food is important, then Westchester is the place for you.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns (630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills 914-366-9600; www.bluehillfarm.com) Not just a Westchester story, but a national one with praise in Food and Wine, Vanity Fair, and Gourmet, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is re-educating Americans about the value of responsible foodways. To achieve their goal, co-owners David and Dan Barber (the latter is the chef) have come up with an ingenious teaching tool: irresistibly delicious food. So while you might drop by Stone Barns to hear lectures by foodie heroes Fergus Henderson or Michael Pollan, you’ll return for Barber’s succulent Berkshire pork or field greens with freshly laid farm eggs.
The Flying Pig on Lexington (251 Lexington Ave, Mount Kisco 914-666-7445; www.pigcafe.com) Located a stone’s throw from Mount Kisco’s Cabbage Hill Farm, the Flying Pig on Lexington is a popular showcase for this organic grower’s products. Look for heritage-breed pigs, cattle, chickens, and turkeys; organic eggs and greens, and aquaponic tilapia.
Crabtree’s Kittle House (11 Kittle Rd, Chappaqua 914-666-8044; www.kittlehouse.com) No one’s as tight and connected with local producers as John Crabtree, whose menus feature locally foraged ramps and morels, Cabbage Hill eggs and produce, Rainbeau Ridge goat cheese from Bedford Hills, and even Captain Lawrence IPA beer from Pleasantville. Soon he’ll be growing his own—produce, that is. Look for a dedicated “mini-farm” at the Kittle House this year.
The Dressing Room (25 Powers Ct, Westport, CT 203-226-1114; www.dressingroomhomegrown.com) Chef Michel Nischan makes Connecticut agriculture the star in this eight-month-old Westport venture co-owned by that blue-eyed and charitable King Midas, Paul Newman. Look for day-old Westport oysters (bought from Jeff Northrop, whose family has oystered those waters for generations); artisanal Connecticut cheeses and honey; and Fairfield County greens, veggies, and fruit.
Stunning Outdoor-Dining Spots
For the most part, alfresco dining in the City means sidewalk tables. Sure, it’s outside, but just try enjoying your meal while fending off hectic crowds, truck exhaust, street crazies, noise, and a variety of smells, not all of which are pleasant. Even those pretty Village rear-garden spots are tiny and packed—after all, you weren’t the only one in Manhattan who wanted to eat outside tonight. Expect to wait on line an hour or more, and, once you’re seated, lapsies with neighboring diners.
Unlike Manhattan, which turned its back on its rivers when its shores were polluted and poor, Westchester has loads of glorious outdoor dining spots that take full advantage of our water views. We have pastoral restaurants with park-like grounds, too—and each one is blessedly lacking truck exhaust, street crazies, and noise.
Harvest On Hudson (1 River St, Hastings-on-Hudson 914-478-2800; www.harvest2000.com) With a lush herb-and-vegetable-bounded garden and wide, strawberry-lined terraces, Harvest is all about its stunning Hudson River views. While warm summer nights are especially glorious, even chilly nights can be great at Harvest: each cozy garden seating nook is warmed with an individual, wood-burning chimnea.
Equus (400 Benedict Ave, Tarrytown 914-631-3646; www.castleonthehudson.com) The terrace of this crenellated mansion is magical. Perched high on a hilltop above Tarrytown, the bustling city disappears below a canopy of trees, so that all you’ll see from Equus’s elegant stone terrace is waving treetops yielding to the mighty Hudson and cliffs beyond. On fine nights, the lights of Manhattan will twinkle in the distance—it’s just the most romantic spot to linger over after-dinner drinks.
X2O Xaviars on Hudson (71 Water Grant St, Yonkers 914-965-1111; www.xaviars.com) With X2O, Yonkers-born Executive Chef Peter X. Kelly is making a triumphal return to his native city. His long-awaited Westchester venture is housed on the massive Yonkers Recreational Pier, which juts out over the Hudson at the crux of the city’s revitalized downtown. Expect jaw-dropping Hudson views north to the Tappan Zee and south to Manhattan.
Vox (721 Titicus Rd, North Salem 914-669-5450; www.voxnorthsalem.com) Located on pretty, winding Titicus Road amid quaint clapboard churches and ancient stone walls, Vox is tucked in one of Westchester’s most picturesque corners. Relax in Vox’s twinkling outdoor bar, or dine overlooking its velvety lawn. Either way, you’ll feel like you’re having a best-case-scenario dinner in the countryside.
Manhattan restaurants hire a phalanx of designers to simulate the feeling that many Westchester restaurants come by naturally. Don’t fall for fake restaurant patina when Westchester has the real thing.
Instead of Gramercy Tavern’s set dressing of rough-hewn timbers and overflowing harvest baskets, head over to a real 18th-century country tavern—Crabtree’s Kittle House. Built in 1790, this genuine article was built when George Washington was president—and it has the wide, creaking floorboards and hand-sawn timbers to prove it.
Instead of the artificial shore-side vibe of Mary’s Fish Camp and Tides (smack dab, respectively, in the West Village and Lower East Side)—go out for the real clam shack experience: Ebb Tide Seafood and Lobster Shack in Port Chester. It has lobster rolls, waterfront picnic tables, and seagulls—and it contains a funky bait-and-tackle shop. How much more authentic can you get?
Sure, it’s charming that Danny Meyer re-created a Midwestern Dairy Queen right in Madison Square Park. But Shake Shack’s lines are prohibitive, and its building lacks the imaginative wackiness of a real roadside restaurant. For the real deal, head over to Mamaroneck’s Walter’s Hot Dogs, which has embraced its wackiness since 1919. This vintage roadside oddity is slinging split-and-grilled dogs out of a copper-roofed Chinese-themed temple, which, as far as we can tell, has nothing to do with hot dogs (except that, like all authentic roadside restaurants, it’s stomp-on-the-brake-pedal eye catching).
Manhattan land pressure means that, architecturally speaking, the City eats its young. Very few of its grand old mansions still exist, having made way at some point for ugly international-style office buildings. Not so in Westchester, where adaptive re-use is putting our architectural holdouts to use as restaurants.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns (630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills 914-366-9600; www.bluehillfarm.com) This elegant 1930s Norman Revival barn complex was cleaved from what was the vast Rockefeller
Estate, proving that it’s good even to
be Rockefeller livestock. Blue Hill’s re-purposed barn has its original swooping interior volumes, handsome slate roof trussing, and beautiful fieldstone cladding. It’s no wonder it was nominated for a
2005 James Beard award for Best Restaurant Design.
Le Château (1410 Rte 35 and Rte 123, South Salem 914-533-6631; www.lechateauny.com) This elegant 1907 estate was built by banking magnate J.P. Morgan for his friend and former minister, Dr. William S. Rainsford. Morgan really must have liked the guy (or maybe Rainsford knew something): the 20 rooms in this stone-and-brick mansion are packed with cozy fireplaces, carved staircases, and rich paneling. Plus, it sits on 30 bucolic acres.
Monteverde at Oldstone Manor (28 Bear Mountain Bridge Rd, Cortlandt (914) 739-500; www.monteverderestaurant.com) Let’s not forget the first rich merchants to settle in the Hudson Valley, those indu-strious, moneymaking Knickerbockers. Monteverde is an august relic of our nearly forgotten Dutch heritage. Built in 1760 by Knickerbocker royalty (in fact, a member of the Van Cortlandt—as in park—family), this elegant Greek Revival estate has sweeping Hudson River views.
Even though Manhattan won’t admit it to the tourists, the ethnic neighborhoods below 100th Street have been shrinking for years. Manhattan’s once multi-culti Lower East Side and East Village are home to lawyers and ad execs now, and even once-robust Little Italy is just a tourist veneer.
These days, the outer boroughs and Westchester are getting the influx—and lucky for us, these arrivals are bringing their native foods with them.
Why go to Manhattan Mexican restaurants targeted to gringos (like Dos Caminos, La Palapa, or Mercadito), when you can eat authentic Mexican food targeted to Mexicans? Try spit-roasted tacos al pastor at Little Mexican Café in New Rochelle, or get succulent carnitas at Port Chester’s Los Gemelos.
Tired of the usual ethnic eating options? Try Brazilian in Mount Vernon, Port Chester, and Ossining; Peruvian in Port Chester and New Rochelle; and Caribbean in Mount Vernon. These towns have large resident populations supporting their own vibrant, authentic food scenes.
Hankering for merguez sausages and good French wines? Head over to Larchmont, where the French-American School of New York has been drawing French expats for years. Several businesses serve these families—try Le Wine Shop for French wines, Auray Cheese Shop for French groceries, and Bistro Encore for casual French standards.
You don’t have to hit the auld country to connect with your Irish roots—just drive to Yonkers, where there’s a sizable population of Irish-born residents. Hungry? Stop at EIleens Country Kitchen (964 Mclean Ave, Yonkers 914-776-2001) for fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, and shepherd’s pie.
Julia Sexton is a food writer and restaurant critic.
Bringing North Their Pots and Pans
Not only are we geographically close to the City and informed by its food trends, but our restaurants draw from New York City’s talent pool. These Manhattan chefs made the move to Westchester:
Dan Barber (Blue Hill Manhattan/Blue Hill at Stone Barns). Chef Barber cooked in Paris and the South of France before cooking for many years at NYC’s famed Bouley.
Rafael Palomino (Sonora, Pacifico, and now Pälomino). After cooking in France with Michel Guerard (of Eugénie-les-Bains fame), Chef Palomino worked with Larry Forgione at NYC’s An American Place and was Executive Chef at Metropolis Café.
Matthew Karp (Plates). After schooling in France and Italy (and doing tons of stages, or low-paid internships, over there) Chef Karp returned to NYC for work at Bouley, Restaurant Daniel, and Park Avenue Café.
Vincent Barcelona (Harvest-on Hudson). Chef Barcelona has cooked with them all: at Le Bernardin with Eric Ripert and Eberhard Mueller; at Mondrian with Tom Colicchio; at Union Square Café with Michael Romano; and at Park Avenue Café with David Burke.
Dan Petrilli (Frodo’s). After years with Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern, followed by a stint at Pleasantville’s Strega, Chef Petrilli opened his own New American in Pleasantville. He didn’t leave the City empty handed, however—Chef Petrilli borrowed the idea for stocking root beer on tap from Danny Meyer’s Manhattan tavern.
Jill Rose (Chiboust). Fans of Chef Rose’s perfect, buttery croissants will taste the quality behind them: she made her name at NYC’s super-tony Lespinasse and La Caravelle before starting her own venture in Tarrytown.
Craig Cupani (Lia’s). Chef Cupani manned the pans at esteemed Patroon and Tabla before upping sticks and heading out to Hartsdale. Once settled, he opened his family-affair restaurant with his wife, Imre; Lia is the name of their daughter.