The Classic 15

In the era of new, we take time to celebrate Westchester’s vintage restaurants.



Photography by Phil Mansfield

More Westchester Classics
Walter’s Hot Dog Stand (Mamaroneck, 1919)
La Manda’s Restaurant (White Plains, 1947)
Le Château (South Salem,  1973)
Tombolino (Yonkers, 1977)
Villa Nova E (Pelham, 1981)
Seven Woks (Scarsdale, 1984)

 

Much of today’s food writing is devoted to the cult of the newborn, with bloggers, Tweeters, and “Yelp Helpers” fencing elbows to get through a restaurant’s door first. It’s a pity that as ever-newer spots open, the media lemmings decamp for fresher fields—and leave once-spot-lit restaurants to fail, or to grow into adulthood in relative obscurity.
Well, screw that.

   This month, we’re paying tribute to Westchester’s classic restaurants—which, like their automotive counterparts, are all at least 25 years old. These holdouts have exceeded the average restaurant’s six-year lifespan by multiples, managing to thrive among the busted fads, raised rents, and economic downturns that kill their competitors.

   In the roundup below, we’ve included restaurants of every genre, from fine-dining temples to down-and-dirty roadhouses. With such a breadth of styles, it’s hard to find a uniting characteristic, but these classic restaurants do have one thing in common: they’re all part of Westchester life.

   These are the restaurants where we celebrate our wedding anniversaries, and where we gather with our high school friends when we’re all home on college breaks. We’ve grown to adulthood on food chosen from these menus, and, in these dining rooms, we’ve partied, laughed, and sometimes cried. These are Westchester’s classic restaurants.

// Since 1876
The Travelers Rest
Rte 100, Ossining (914) 941-7744;  thetravelersrest.com

The Travelers Rest is Westchester’s longest-standing restaurant and still a favorite with local diners.

The Travelers Rest’s menu features throwback items that go well with Mad Men-inspired cocktails.

 

Wanna eat like Don and Betty Draper, that perfect county couple, who dwelt in picturesque misery in countrified, 1960’s Ossining? Then drop into this quaint coach stop, operating since 1876. There, amid the heavy paneling (and nestled in high, deeply tucked, leather-like booths), you’ll find iconic ’50s fare like marinated herring in cream sauce, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and escargot bourguignon (so perfect to pair with an Old Fashioned). In mains, you’ll find more throwbacks: chicken cordon bleu, beef Wellington, and Wienerschnitzel—and, for dessert, the kitsch mother lode: peach Melba.

The restaurant pays homage to its history as a coach stop.

 

    Yet to bash The Travelers Rest as a culinary throwback would be to do it a disservice: these warm and genuinely friendly waitresses actually care about their customers’ enjoyment. They will coddle and charm you and, before you know it, your ironic sneer will relax into an open smile. Soon, you’ll be plotting to crash the Kiwanis or Rotary event happening downstairs to do the “Chicken Dance” with cheerful strangers.

 

// Since 1931
Roma
29 Columbus Ave, Tuckahoe (914) 961-317.5
When the Great Depression was new, this giant Tuckahoe red-sauce Italian restaurant opened with a characteristic still common to Westchester’s classic restaurants: it’s as welcoming to families as it is to 30-somethings. Sure, Roma’s ’70s-era makeover doesn’t exactly scream cloche hats and high-waisted suits, but its bright lighting and long family tables come as close as you’ll get to Grandma’s kitchen. Roma was opened in 1931 by George Tavolilla, who offered familiar, Old Country standards to Italian-born marble workers toiling in Tuckahoe’s quarries. Today, Roma is still owned by the Tavolilla family, who continue to welcome diners at its door. Look for its famous thin-crusted pizza and all your red-sauce favorites, like crisp-edged eggplant parm and vibrantly red spaghetti and meatballs.

// Since 1933
Larchmont Tavern
104 Chatsworth Ave, Larchmont (914) 834-9821; larchmonttavern.com
Nicknamed “the LT” by generations of locals, this pub opened in 1933, the year Buck Barrow joined Bonnie and Clyde on their epic crime spree. That year, Michael Bruno, his wife Raffaela, and their 11 children lived upstairs at 104 Chatsworth Avenue in a five-room apartment in whose kitchen Raffaela cooked the food for the ground-floor restaurant.

   Though the Brunos no longer own the business, the LT remains a hub of Larchmont life, where a full day of turnovers will see post-soccer-game families morph into a dinner service, then a bar crowd. Aside from burgers and beer, the LT is known for fat sandwiches, like the Danehy Boy (house-roasted beef, onions, coleslaw, and Russian dressing) and the Balboa (house-roasted beef on garlic toast with Swiss cheese). Admittedly, though, food is not the biggest factor in the LT’s appeal. The New York Times planted one of its writers here to watch the end of the sitcom Cheers. The idea? Go to a hometown, local bar—a place where everyone knows your name—and sit elbow-to-elbow watching the end of a TV era. All we can say is, good choice.

// Since 1942
Johnny’s Pizzeria
30 W Lincoln Ave, Mount Vernon (914) 668-1957

Johnny’s Pizzeria is as good (and the servers surly) as it was in 1942.

 

In 1942, the United States joined 25 other countries against the Axis powers. Japan invaded Burma, and Glenn Miller sold one million discs of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (earning Miller the first-ever gold record). It was also the year Johnny’s Pizzeria debuted in Mount Vernon, and rumor has it that the staff was just as cranky then as it is now.

Johnny’s pre-pizzeria prices circa 1942, the year it opened.

Johnny’s ultra-thin pies are best when eaten in the restaurant.

 

   Johnny’s parking stinks and its staff is famously surly, which is unique in this roundup of crowd-pleasing restaurants. Fans endure the rudeness and jump the parking hurdles for Johnny’s equally idiosyncratic thin-crust pies. In a classic Johnny’s pie, cheese, sauce, and crust are united in a cracker-crisp, quarter-inch-deep crust—though, be warned, these frail pies don’t travel well. Be brave and ask for a table.

// Since 1947
La Crémaillère
46 Bedford Rd, Bedford (914) 234-9647; cremaillere.com
The year 1947 saw returning WWII vets, the Baby Boom, and landmark films like Miracle of 34th Street and Gentleman’s Agreement. At that point in American culinary history, French food, fashion, and décor were the gold standard. Bedford, a country suburb of Colonial-era houses and sprawling stables, was growing in affluence and deserved its own real French restaurant.

   La Crémaillère debuted with wall murals depicting the traditional peasant costumes of rural France, while its name derives from a type of adjustable hook that suspends iron pots over an open hearth. Now, perhaps those murals triggered some recognition in GIs returning from skirmishes the French countryside, but the murals also reinforced that La Crémaillère was a genuine French restaurant.

   And it still is. In this era of overly familiar, squat-and-chat service styles, La Crémaillère still remains steadfastly French. Its male diners wear jackets, its female diners are heavily jeweled.  Its service is formal, and it’s not unusual to see older vintages decanted from La Crémaillère’s 14,000-bottle cellar. On La Crémaillère’s menu, look for dressed-up classics like escargot, foie gras, and rack of lamb, all elegantly sauced and served with charmingly old-fashioned éclat.

// Since 1950
Solano’s Lincoln Lounge
209 Stevens Ave, Mount Vernon (914) 664-9747

The Lincoln Lounge posts cost averages from 1950, the year it opened, and some vintage bar paraphernalia is displayed behind the bar at the Mount Vernon stalwart.

Solano’s Lincoln Lounge is still run by the Solano family.

The year 1950 saw the start of the McCarthy-era witch hunts, Joe DiMaggio’s 2,000th hit, and bitchy ladies ruling the screen in Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. Less famously, on a populous corner in an Italian/German neighborhood in Mount Vernon, Ray Solano opened a restaurant he called Solano’s Lincoln Lounge. This modest, family restaurant served a basic menu of steaks, seafood, and Italian standards to neighborhood regulars (some of whom also frequented the bar). Ray’s family helped him wherever they could.

  

Current owner Bobby Solano  serves one of the Lincoln Lounge’s famous pizzas.

Ray’s son, Bobby, now owns Lincoln Lounge, while Bobby’s daughter, Caroline, and brother, Peter, still run the floor. In fact, Caroline’s son, Michael, and his cousin, Rob, now pay their dues by bussing, bartending, and sweeping up. In restaurants, such an unbroken family chain invites peccadilloes—where one-off successes can become treasured traditions. In that vein, look for broccoli “a la Solano,” a shamefully tasty way to get your leafy greens (under salty, cheesy goo); shattering, fresh, fried potato chips; perfectly crusted calamari; and a seriously solid shell steak finished with balsamic vinegar and frizzled onions. But the killer Lincoln Lounge dish—the one that flies out the door in boxes all night—is its rectangular pan pizza, whose crust and corners bear the deliciousness of having been crisped on an oiled pan. 

   When we travel to Europe, we seek out restaurants like Lincoln Lounge—the oddball, local place that is not exactly like any other restaurant in any other world city. Lincoln Lounge is small. It’s a bit weird. Its idiosyncrasies remain intact. We know that when we have houseguests visiting from another country, this is where we’ll take them.
 

// Since 1952
Epstein’s Deli
387 N Central Ave, Hartsdale (914) 428-5320; epsteinsdeli.com
 When New Yorkers travel the U.S. (or even internationally), they might encounter an oddity: slick restaurants calling themselves “New York delis.” These places, inevitably decorated with skylines and Statues of Liberty, offer everything from chopped salads to meatball wedges; clearly, their customers have never been to an actual New York deli.

   Cue Epstein’s, born in 1952, which—like Manhattan’s iconic Second Avenue, Carnegie, and Katz’s—is a brightly lit Jewish diner serving short-order food all day and evening. Think bare tables with pickle bowls (half- and full-sour), chopped crockery, brusque waitresses, and—at the end of a gut-busting meal—the slapped-down check to pay up front. While real New York delis are becoming ever rarer (more shut their doors every year), it’s comforting to know that we can still hit Epstein’s for a spherical pastrami on rye, a greasy square knish, and a Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray.

// Since 1955
The Candlelight Inn
519 Central Ave, Scarsdale (914) 472-9706
In 1955, Carl Perkins recorded Blue Suede Shoes, the Mickey Mouse Club debuted on ABC TV, and Rosa Parks refused to yield her bus seat to a white man in Alabama. That year, on the wooded stretch aspiringly called Central Park Avenue (which eventually became the strip-mall spine of lower Westchester), a small, set-back roadhouse opened to sling burgers and booze to locals. In 1955, New York’s legal drinking age was 18—which means that some Greenburgh and Scarsdale high-school seniors could legally meet up at the Candlelight for a beer after class.

   The Candlelight Inn still sports no candles and it still isn’t an inn, and it is rumored that some of its original, pompadoured denizens still gather around its worn bar. This beloved dive has been serving greasy-spoon grub to generations of locals, who can be found (especially on college breaks) reuniting for burgers and the Candlelight’s famous chicken wings. The last, PS, were only introduced here in the ’90s—making them, compared to the barflies, relative newcomers.

// Since 1971
The Blazer Pub
440 Rte. 22, Purdys (914) 277-4424; theblazerpub.com
Like the Candlelight Inn before it, the Blazer started as a funky roadhouse located on a wooded suburban road. When it opened, in 1971—two years after the film Easy Rider premiered—spin-off biker movies like Chrome and Hot Leather, Werewolves on Wheels, and Wild

   Riders were showing at drive-ins. This was also the year that Jim Morrison was found dead in a bathtub in Paris.
Though purporting to be an Irish pub, the Blazer is still an All-American roadhouse, with bargain bowls of chili, juicy burgers, and big glasses of cheap, cheap beer. Sure, the Blazer’s tough to find (and it only takes cash), but it feels like just the place to hit when you stand down from your chopper to stretch your leathers. (PS: the Blazer even works when you roll up in a minivan and struggle, with your butt out in the parking lot, to unbuckle the kids.)

// Since 1972
Lum Yen
100 W Boston Post Rd, Mamaroneck (914) 698-6881; lumyen.com
It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when Chinese restaurants were special-event destinations with an air of Eastern exoticism. These were places that your grandparents visited for a dressed-up eating adventure, swapped their steak knives for wacky chopsticks

   (whoops!), and knocked back a few Polynesian cocktails while ineffectively tweezing at Sterno-lit pu-pu platters. What a hoot!
Lum Yen, opened in 1972, is one of Westchester’s last remaining Chinese-Polynesian restaurants. The genre, an international, pre-war fad, was started by Oakland, California’s Trader Vic’s, which blended a sugary take on Pacific-Rim standards with fun, powerful drinks. At Lum Yen, you’ll still find scandalously topless hula girls gracing wide, ceramic scorpion bowls; potent, sticky-sweet zombies (savoring of Hawaiian Punch); and cherry-studded mai tais. Its dishes, once considered exotic, now feel as American as apple pie and pizza, with chop suey, egg foo yong, Singapore mei fun, and sweet-and-sour pork rounding out the spread. Of course, at nearly 40, Lum Yen has moved with the times; you’ll also find porky soup dumplings, ma po doufu, and even, if you request it (gasp), brown rice.

// Since 1979
Piper’s Kilt
443 White Plains Road, Eastchester (914) 779-5772

The bar at the Piper’s Kilt, which opened in 1979, is still the best spot for a beer and a burger in Eastchester

The Piper’s Kilt’s location primarily draws a family crowd.

 

Back in 1979, when we were wearing high-waisted jeans and slithery, open-necked Qiana shirts, The Piper’s Kilt (offshoot of a Bronx neighborhood standard) started slinging their magically juicy burgers in Eastchester. When those burgers hit the table, we flipped back our Farrah ’dos and rolled up that Qiana—sacrificing critical disco style points to tear into these nicely charred, arm drenching spheres.
Today, you might still find ex-disco ducks still sitting at the bar, though the main crowd at the Kilt are new families and kids.

An analog, mechanical cash register at Piper’s Kilt.

Piper’s Kilt burgers are still the draw they were 30 years ago.

 

And no wonder, with comfy booths and frialated fare served by smiling waitresses that offer crayons and coloring books (and, when you’re done, gentle tabs). PS: Saturday and Sunday are always a neighborhood scene, with half the crowd in stripey uniforms, knocking back brews after the baseball or softball game. Cleats are optional (burgers are not).

// Since 1980
Buffet de la Gare
155 Southside Ave, Hastings-on-Hudson (914) 478-1671; buffetdelagareny.com
At night, when soft light glints off the bas-relief contours of its pressed-tin walls and ceiling, Buffet de la Gare twinkles like a gem. Annie and Gwenael Goulet’s family restaurant, opened since 1980, is like an ode to Paris, where French is spoken and urbanity reigns.
Look for all of Chef Gwenael Goulet’s classics, like soulful cassoulet that speaks of slow cooking and the pleasures of country life. Or light and classic lobster vol au vents, miraculously crisp and shattering, sitting in a pool of silken beurre blanc. But beyond the food, Buffet de la Gare offers a mood of carefree elegance, romance, and French joie de vivre. It’s the perfect place to drop in for a glass of Champagne, to be enjoyed in golden, fin-de-siècle light—in fact, you’ll need to look twice at the lily-shaped lamps before you notice they’re not gas-lit.

Since 1981
Crabtree’s Kittle House
11 Kittle Rd, Chappaqua (914) 666-8044; kittlehouse.com
No other restaurant has done as much to elevate Westchester’s taste than Crabtree’s Kittle House, which opened in 1981 and has been a culinary landmark ever since. Its labyrinthine wine cellar alone (once the 18th-century house’s stables) has garnered acclaim in national press, including features in Food and Wine and Wine Enthusiast. Since 2004, Crabtree’s Kittle House’s wine list has earned the coveted Wine Spectator “Grand Award” (one of only 75 given world-wide), putting Westchester’s local favorite in the league that includes Daniel in New York City, Le Restaurant Taillevent and La Tour d’Argent in Paris, and the French Laundry in Yountville, California.

   But the Kittle House experience has always been about more than just food and wine. John Crabtree, while exuding a quiet hospitality, also has been a strong proponent of locally raised food. On the Kittle House’s menu, you’ll always find Hudson Valley meat and produce, Rainbeau Ridge cheese, and Captain Lawrence beer. In fact, even with that stellar wine list, John Crabtree was one of Captain Lawrence’s first accounts. It’s no wonder that President Clinton and Secretary of State Clinton are loyal fans.

La Panetière
530 Milton Rd, Rye (914) 967-8140; lapanetiere.com
The year I986 saw the pre-cocaine Whitney Houston innocently scampering on MTV with “How Will I Know” (this back when the network showed videos), while pre-“#winning” Charlie Sheen was just a fresh-faced Brat Packer starring in Platoon. In Rye, in the midst of the go-go opulent ’80s, La Panetière opened to welcome wealthy locals, who straightened their big-shouldered jackets and layered on their big, ’80s gold jewelry to rub shoulders with other Masters of the Universe.

   La Panetière still suggests that jacket, but gone are the shoulder pads and way too much gold. As it’s aged, this restaurant has relaxed into its role as one of the most quietly elegant spots in Westchester. And its menu has changed with the times too, now lighter and more in tune with modern eating styles. Yet, still, you’ll find (as one New York Times critic observed) that La Panetière still unites excellence in sommelier, chef, and pastry chef.

// Since 1986
Caravela
53 N Broadway, Tarrytown (914) 631-1863

Caravela has had the same view of Tarrytown’s Broadway since 1986.

Caravela became a go-to restaurant for its superior service as well as its menu.

 

Pre-dating both the Iberian and churrascaria trends, Tarrytown’s Caravela opened in 1986 to showcase the foods of Portugal, which include epic paellas and lingica-tinged seafood. Its name, taken from a 15th-century merchant ship (of the type that brought Columbus to these shores), hints of the Portuguese wine-export tradition that brought beloved Madeira and Port to the tables of Washington and Jefferson.
Today, Caravela is still serving caldo verde (kale soup), mariscada (seafood stew), paella, and whole grilled sardines to loyal customers, some of whom have been returning for 25 years. If you visit, bring an appetite and don’t forget to check the wine list: Owner Fernando Cabral is as proud of his Portuguese wines as he is of his menu.

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