Best of Westchester (Editor's Picks)
Our seventh annual guide to the most gratifying way to spend your cash on food and drink, clothing and accessories, home enhancement, health and beauty, kids’ stuff, and entertainment. We chose the best the county has to offer and asked you, our readers, to weigh in with your picks, too. The result: 324 choice winners.
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[ LOCAL CHEFS’ PICKS ]
Each month we ask local chefs to taste and rate various food products. Here are the year’s winners—the county’s best according to the pros.
» Apple Pie
Sorry Mom, but Topps is tops when it comes to apple pies. And why not? These pies are full of sweet, tender, delicious York apples and topped with a melt-in-your-mouth golden, flaky crust. Break out the vanilla ice cream and go to town!
Gramatan Hot Bagels
“Golden brown, great flavor, crunchy exterior, and a nice shine,” proclaimed Jeffrey Kohn, co-owner of bread shop The Kneaded Bread in Port Chester, about Gramatan’s bagels. “Plus, its bagel has the best hole. The hole is important. Otherwise it’s bread.”
» Blueberry Muffin
City Limits Diner
The competition for best blueberry muffin was so intense, we had to have a taste-off of the three semi-finalists. Ultimately, City Limits Diner won because, says Philip McGrath, owner/chef of the Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville, “it was not too sweet, and had a nice crust distributed all around.”
Suzanne Fromm, owner of Suzanne’s Sweets, knows a thing or two about desserts and rated the Cocoa brownie a perfect 10: “Rich, fudge-y texture, with a nice crisp top.” We certainly agree.
» Challah Bread
Jackson & Wheeler
You don’t have to be Jewish to love Jackson & Wheeler’s challah bread. “Original taste, moist, fresh, artisanal, and the best shape,” raved Alexandre Cheblal, executive chef/owner of Belle Havana in Yonkers.
We’ve touted this cheesecake as the best ever since Pâtisserie Lulu opened its doors on Valentine’s Day 2002, and our love affair is still going strong. Its birch sugar cheesecake (which is even safe for diabetics) won our cheesecake taste test; Sunset Grille Executive Chef Greg Cortelyou dubbed it “the gold standard.” Truth be told, though, we love the cane sugar one even more (especially when topped with organic berries or drizzled with caramel, chocolate, and pecans).
» Chocolate Chip Cookie
Connie’s Bakery and General Store
(914) 242-2014; www.connies.org
Here’s a chocolate chip
cookie you can eat without guilt—all of Connies’ profits goes to charity and the bakery hires and trains low-income residents. But that’s not why our panel of experts chose this delectable cookie; it’s all about taste and crunch. “The more I had of it, the more it grew on me,” said Tim Shea, co-owner of Anna Shea Chocolates in Tarrytown and Katonah.
» Jelly Doughnuts
We say, the messier, the better. And the powdery, gooey confections from Topps easily required at least two napkins. “Too much filling and powdered sugar made it messy, but it tasted great,” said Greg Gilbert, executive chef at Emily Shaw’s Inn at Pound Ridge.
» Jarred Red Sauce
Gina Marie’s Trattoria
Gina Marie’s red sauce is the top tomato in our chefs’ book. “Nice consistency, rustic, and I can taste distinct herbs,” said Brian Galvin, chef and owner of Ocean House in Croton-on-Hudson.
[ CAFFEINE CRAZE ]
From Irish to Thai to Colombian, we’ve filtered down the best places to get your much-needed jolt of java.
» Non-Chain Coffee
Hastings-on-Hudson (914) 478-7200
If you’re tired of ordering your tall, skim, double-shot, iced caramel macchiato every morning (heck, we’re tired just writing it), then it’s time to leave the franchise-fueled blend behind. We love how this family-owned, petite patisserie looks more like it belongs in the south of France than in the south of Westchester, with small round tables, pastry-filled counters, and the enveloping smell of espresso. Using organic Fair Trade coffee, the house blend is full bodied and full flavored. And, if you’re feeling nostalgic for the, ahem, other place, they’ll be happy to add a shot of vanilla or caramel to your cup.
» Irish Coffee
The Willett House
Port Chester (914) 939-7500; www.thewilletthouse.com
Who are we kidding? Sometimes caffeine alone just won’t cut it. For a jolt of java with a shot of liquor, the Irish coffee at The Willet House can’t be beat. Post-porterhouse, try this house specialty, made in the classic Emerald-Isle way: double-strength coffee, Jameson Irish whiskey, brown sugar, green Crème de Menthe, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. It’s enough to make your Irish ancestors proud—even if you’re not, well, Irish.
» Best Colombian Coffee
Quimbaya’s Colombian Coffeehouse
Ossining (914) 941-0810
Juan Valdez better watch his back. At Quimbaya’s in Ossining virtually everything in the store is rooted in the South-American country’s brewing ways. And the coffee? You won’t find a richer, more full-bodied cup this side of Bogotá.
» American Coffee
Coffee Labs Roasters
Tarrytown (914) 332-1479; web.mac.com/coffeelabsroasters
Hollywood may have just gone green, but Mike Love and Alicia Kelligrew, owners of Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown, have been doing their part to help the environment since they opened in 2003 (100-percent biodegradable cups, energy-saving green lights). And, they brew some of the best coffee in the county. The beans are hand- roasted on the premises (the centerpiece of the store is a 2002 Diedrich drum-roaster) on a by-need basis—meaning your coffee won’t have that day-old, burnt flavor. And Coffee Labs offers a full line of Fair Trade coffee, ensuring that the farmers who grow it are getting paid fairly. So, while you might still be driving that gas-guzzling SUV, drinking a cup of the cafe’s Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee (try the Nicaraguan Selva Negra with dried-fruit undertones) is at least a step in the right direction.
» Thai Iced Coffee
New Rochelle (914) 576-0444; www.redlotusthairestaurant.com
Made with super-strong coffee and sweetened condensed milk (a mixture of whole milk and sugar that’s heated until it’s sticky and sweet), Thai iced coffee is thick and rich and practically a dessert on its own. For a taste of this perfect treat after a spicy meal of Kang Ped or Tom Yum Gai, Red Lotus brews it best.
» Mexican Coffee
Port Chester (914) 939-1494
Devoted drinkers of this Port Chester restaurant’s signature coffee explain that it’s the “creamiest, smoothest, café con leche you can imagine and perfectly blended.” We couldn’t agree more.
[ BEST SLICE ]
Get a slice of perfection at these local pie palaces
» Classic Pizza
Yonkers (914) 476-4446; www.totonnos.com/yonkers
We in Westchester are lucky to have this pizzeria—even if it is housed in the bar at the Ramada Inn. Our branch of Totonno’s is part of pizza royalty, linked to the first pizzas thrown in the New World. Antonio “Totonno” Pero learned his craft back in the sepia-toned, gaslight era of New York’s Little Italy. The New York heritage lives on in Yonkers, where Totonno’s is cranking out pies the old- fashioned way—with a rocket-hot coal oven; uncooked, canned San Marzano tomatoes (and not stewed-to-death, burgundy “pizza sauce”); and daily-made fior de latte mozzarella. The volcanic heat of Totonno’s coal oven creates the perfectly structured crust that pie fanatics live for. But even if you’re not a pizza obsessive, one glance at Totonno’s gnarled, bubbled pies and you’ll be lost. It’s pizza heaven, right here in Yonkers.
» Gourmet Pizza
Port Chester (914) 939-4227; www.fishfoxisland.com
This hard-to-find waterfront seafood restaurant doesn’t have a coal oven, but it does have a spectacular, hammered-copper wood oven. This massive, primitive piece of equipment gives F.I.S.H’s pizzas their haunting smoky flavor. Now, you might wonder, what’s a seafood restaurant doing with a pizza oven? The answer is its signature F.I.S.H. pizza. This sprightly mix of sausage, shrimp, and pickled hot cherry peppers is served over F.I.S.H’s smoky, straight-from-the-fire, crisp-crusted base. Gourmet indeed.
» Creative Toppings Pizza
Ossining (914) 941-5454; www.serafinatrattoria.com
Subtly-flavored artichokes, bright-green asparagus, delicate shiitake mushrooms, grilled eggplant, meaty portobellos, and bitter broccoli rabe. No, it’s not a salad bar menu; it’s just part of the toppings list at no-pretense Serafina. You can either compose your own creation, or try one of Serafina’s tried-and-true specialty pies. Look for “The Ossining,” covered with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and fresh garlic; or “The Neapolitan,” which comes with tart capers, fresh basil, and salty anchovies. Either way, mangia.
» Pizzeria Eat-In Experience
Modern Restaurant and Pizzeria
New Rochelle (914) 633-9479
Modern, contrary to its name, is actually quite an old business: it’s a re-purposed 1920s-era commercial bakery. At its heart is Modern’s huge, white tile oven—the bakery’s original—which was once coal fired but now (regrettably) runs on oil. This behemoth oven actually heats the wall it flanks, so on chilly nights be sure to cuddle up along its side. Wherever you sit, in the quaint bar, near the antique oven, or in the restaurant’s newest dining area (in the re-claimed commercial loading dock), look for crisp-crusted pies with a huge variety of toppings. Our favorite? Ricotta and bacon, where the cheese’s white, mild, creamy perfection is highlighted with soulful, salty bacon.
» Thin-Crust Pizza
Tuckahoe (914) 961-3175
Crisp-crusted pies from Roma Restaurant have pleased residents of Tuckahoe since before the start of World War II. And the crust is so thin, it’s near anorexic: we had five slices at one sitting and still had room for gelato (two scoops!) afterwards. While the ingredients behind the pizzas have changed over the years, Roma’s secret recipe hasn’t—but just try getting that out of owner Michael Tavolilla. He may be keeping mum on the details, but Tavolilla did let slip that he uses Grande cheese (“the Cadillac of cheese,” as he calls it), which he imports straight from Wisconsin, USA.
Continue reading for our Shopping section and the rest of the Best of Westchester 2007