A Shopping and Dining Guide to Westchester’s Wealthiest Town (AND its best educated)



A Shopping and Dining Guide to Westchester’s Wealthiest Town (AND its best educated)

 

By Judith Hausman

 

Photography by Phil Mansfield

 

The souvenir T-shirt from the 25th reunion of my class in Scarsdale High School features a series of questions and answers in increasingly smaller print. The first question asks, “Where are you from?” And the response? “Outside of the City.” It goes on like this until the final question: “What town, exactly?” The answer, in really tiny letters, is “Scarsdale.” I guess growing up in the counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies, none of us wanted to be from a town virtually synonymous with affluent suburbs. It is still
a community whose very name evokes images
of mansions, manicured lawns and Mercedes.

 

But we grew up. Now we know better. We know why our parents, and so many post-war families freed from the cities by cars, parkways and commuter rail, chose to raise their families here. Many of my classmates have come back to this community of six and a half square miles, bordered by Eastchester, White Plains, New Rochelle and Greenburgh. “I spent the first half of my life trying to get out of Scarsdale,” Michael Iver, a financial software sales manager and Scarsdale resident, has said, “and I spent the second half of my life trying to get back in.” So, for those not lucky enough to have been born into this town, what’s the draw?

 

“There’s not one, but three big selling points to living in Scarsdale,” says lifelong resident Joan Frederick, an associate real estate broker at Julia B. Fee in the village. “One, it’s a wonderful commute to New York City, only thirty minutes by train. Two, the school system is incredible. And three, there are unbelievable recreational facilities.” Indeed, there are two golf courses, 20 playgrounds and playing fields, 26 tennis courts and six paddle tennis courts (the game was even invented in Scarsdale by two founding members of the Fox Meadow Tennis Club).

 

There are precious few apartments within the town borders (although there are plenty of co-ops for young professionals and empty nesters just across the border in Eastchester). Housing is 99 percent single-family dwellings with prices ranging from $500,000 to $7 million, and most houses selling in the $700,000 to $2.2 million ballpark says Frederick. With a median income of $182,792, Scarsdale, is the wealthiest community in Westchester, according to Michael Lipkin, director of Research for the Westchester County Department of Planning. Scarsdale students consistently rank among the top scorers on the New York State Regents exams and other state testing programs. Virtually all Scarsdale High School seniors go on to attend college. And its not just the kids who are well educated—more than half of the residents hold a graduate or professional degree, compared with just 20 percent countywide, Lipkin says. (Larchmont, for the curious, ranks second in BA-and-then-some degrees.)

 

Scarsdale is actually one of the oldest communities in the area. In 1661, the Siwanoy Indians sold the land that is now Scarsdale to British settler John Richbell. Sheep herding was a major industry in early Scarsdale and corn, rye and buckwheat crops were grown. When a railroad station was built in the late 19th century, Scarsdale (from the Saxon word scars for crags and dale for valley) began its transformation from an agricultural community and summer retreat into a commuter suburb.

 

The town received national attention for the 1980 murder of Herman Tarnower, better

known as the "Scarsdale Diet Doctor," by Jean Harris, former headmistress of the Madeira School for Girls. Linda McCartney, photographer and deceased wife of Beatle Paul McCartney, was raised here and James Fenimore Cooper was a resident for some time, writing The Spy in the home I walked by every day going to the Middle School. The real-life spy Robert Hanssen was a resident in the 1980s when he began working for
the other side. Current denizens of Scarsdale include head of the
NBA David Stern, lawyer Barry Slotnick, opera singer Joe Kaiser and Black Enterprise Magazine publisher Earl G. Graves.

 

Zoning restrictions ensure that Scarsdale remains a primarily residential community. “Downtown” consists of about two square blocks of retail shops in quaint split-timber and brick Tudor-style buildings, connected by a couple of arcades and flanked by additional shopping strips. Vaccaro Shoe Repair (11 Boniface Road, 914-723-1308) in the central Harwood Building arcade, is a community favorite. In the same family for three generations, Vaccaro’s can do wonders with your favorite old loafers or dye your peau de soie pumps to match a favorite dress. It’s been said they can fix anything, from broken down sandals to scuffed up boots. So now that you are comfortably shod, it’s time to start shopping in Scarsdale.

 

Just outside the Harwood Building is Boniface Circle, a small park in the center of the Village. The train station and the greenway of the Bronx River Parkway beyond the tracks border the far side. On the block facing the station, the Zacharias family has run Zachys (16 East Parkway; 914-723-0241), the popular and revered wine and liquor shop since 1944. Son, grandson and other family members have recently remodeled the store and are becoming well known in the fine wines auction business. The well-trained staff will help you with Zachys own label of French table wine in two-liter bottles as graciously as with Bordeaux futures and upcoming auctions (For more on Zachys and other wine shops, see page 64).

 

Just beyond Zachys is La Dentelliere (29 East Parkway, 914-723-2902), a shop that should delight most any Francophile. I coveted the thick jacquard dish towels, the serving pieces with Provençal-patterned handles and other beautiful home accessories. A stroll through the nearby curved arcade leads to the Women’s Exchange (33 Harwood Court; 914-723-4728). Founded in 1931 as an outlet for women’s handicrafts, the Women’s Exchange offers tea sandwiches—try them, they are a famous treat—and the Exchange’s collection of hand-knit baby sweaters is precious. When I was a child, their hand-smocked dresses were my favorite for birthday parties. A few shops away is the Dark Horse (2 Harwood Court, 914-722-2599) for unusual home and garden décor. You’ll find English country, French tapestries, pieces with an Asian flair (love the high back empress-style black lacquer chairs), even items with a hint of contemporary. “It’s a fun mix of old world meets new,” declares manager Cynthia Battf. “And new pieces are coming in every day.”

 

Because the town is so family oriented, you would also expect some exceptional toy stores. Scarsdale doesn’t disappoint. Children will be delighted with Legos and yo-yos from Scarsdale Child’s Play (6 Spencer Place, 914-723-4396); I even saw a miniature, working washing machine there! Fast-track kids learn while they play games from Learning Express (21 Spencer Place, 914-723-3700) across the street. On the other side of town, Big Top (1465 Weaver Street, 914-723-1244) on Weaver Street has long been a reliable source for Barbie supplies, squirt guns or plastic animals.

 

Upscale is an understatement when it comes to the seriously elegant shops for women’s clothes in the village. Pamela Robbins (7 Hardwood Court and 1 Chase Road, 914-472-4033) outfits many of Westchester’s best-dressed women. Co-owners Pam Hochstin and Robin Mizrahi favor such designers as Dolce & Gabbana, Narciso Rodriguez and Strenesse. “We fill a niche in Westchester with younger, edgier, urban-style dressing,” says Hochstin. The recent window display of clean-lined, winter white classics was magnetic. Tuesdays Child (10 Chase Road, 914-722-0185) across the street is also pricey—and grown-up. “Their pants are staples—you can wear them for ten years,” testifies Irene Stahl, local realtor at Julia B. Fee. Great Stuff (27 Spencer Place, 914-723-0504) carries Harari and other designers of original, flowing garments for style-conscious women. Footstock (45 Spencer Place, 914-722-4846) next door carries my kind of comfortable shoes: Dansko, Mephisto and more. For a great selection of bathing suits, you can’t beat Tahiti Street (37 Spencer Street, 914-722-4206).

 

Men will not be left out on this shopping trip. Rothman’s (One Boniface Circle, 914-713-0300) will supply those new gray flannels easily, as well as hip new designer duds. If he finishes his purchases before you do, there are a number of well-reputed and exciting jewelry shops nearby, such as Holsten Jewelers (5 Harwood Court, 914-472-4554), Wilson & Son (18 Chase Road, 914-723-0327), Sam Lehr (28 Harwood Court, 914-472-8158) and Daniele Trissi (14-16 Spencer Place, 914-723-4500) to pick up a sparkly surprise.

 

Time for a nibble? Parkway Cafe (52 East Parkway, 914-723-9008) really takes me back with its turquoise banquettes and swirling stools. Yes, you can relax with an egg cream and nova on a bagel, but you can also order a gourmet salad at this popular lunch spot. If it’s too crowded, walk the other way down Scarsdale Avenue to Scarsdale Metro (878 Scarsdale Avenue, 914-713-0309) for a homemade spinach pie or a buffalo burger. Coffee Tree (13 Spencer Place, 914-722-0423) does a land office business in lattes too. Reunion (1 Depot Place, 914-725-5388) at Depot Plaza is now open for a coffee and bagel to go on the way into the city or for dinner on the way back. Lang’s Deli (57 Spencer Place, 914-472-0330) is a village institution. The local high school boys love The Grand Canyon, a cholesterol-boosting combo of breaded chicken cutlet, bacon, American cheese, lettuce and tomato.

 

Across town, the Heathcote Delicatessen (4 Palmer Avenue, 914-723-3160) still makes the best thick pastrami sandwiches on rye. Hay Day Gourmet Market (15 Palmer Avenue, 914-722-0200) across the street redefines take-out with a vast selection, from Thai chicken to Irish cheese to French madeleines in a lovely wooden gift box.

 

“The bistro meals are very popular here,” says Michael Rafferty, Hay Day’s general manager. “The convenience of having high-quality food just ready for you strikes a chord in a place like Scarsdale.” Hmm. Grilled salmon with haricot verts, cremini mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes sounds like it would strike a chord anywhere. Ditto for the beef tenderloin with spinach and garlic. If the store reminds you a bit of Balducci’s, you’re right—Hay Day is owned by the same parent company, Sutton Place Gourmet.

A more refined, leisurely meal, such as rotolo montarnara stuffed with spinach, ricotta and porcini mushrooms served in a pink sauce and Tuscan salad with chicken livers, can be found at Moscato (874 Scarsdale Avenue, 914-723-5700), the Lusardi family’s most recent venture. In the warmer months, enjoy your chicken scarparillo or pollo al porto dining under an umbrella on the outside patio. Or enjoy fusion seafood at the popular Heathcote Tavern (2 Weaver Street, 914-722-4508), such as lemongrass poached striped bass, coconut shrimp or charred yellowfin tuna. Or just go to soak up the atmosphere. Heathcote’s was originally an inn in the early 1920s, evolved into a speakeasy, then a bordello in the ’30s before settling down to the restaurant trade. A ghost is rumored to haunt the place as well, confides manager Mark Saljanin. “Marcy is a nice ghost,” he assures, only causing unexplained computer glitches and occasional odd noises. Don’t miss the mural of monkeys smoking cigars and playing golf in the Monkey Room.

 

Just down Weaver Street, Il Cigno (1505 Weaver Street, 914-472-8484) serves up spaghetti with olives and anchovies or melting osso buco. Some people say that this is the best home-cooked Italian food in Westchester. No pretentions, just Italian seasonal cooking at its best. And do try the pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Yum!

 

The Other Side of the Tracks

 

Cross the bridge over the train tracks to Garth Road and discover some wonderful little gems. Just opened is Lulu’s Patisserie and Espresso (40 Garth Road, 914-722-8300). Chef/owner Jay Muse (who’s trained with some of the top toques at the French Culinary Institute before cutting his pastry at a few of the world’s finest kitchens, including the original Le Cirque, Chanterelle and Lespinasse) whips up homemade organic breads and delectable confections with sweet butter, eggs and seasonal fruits from local farmers. “We wanted to bring the fusion element to the bakery level,” says Muse. “Our goal is to bring urban flair and edge to Scarsdale.”

 

On a diet? Not to worry—Lulu’s sells a sugar-free, low-fat cheesecake that is to, uhm, live for, leaving you free to splurge on the calories up the block at Enjoù Chocolate (58 Garth Road, 914-723-9292). They sell every kind of chocolate imaginable, in all sizes and shapes (the shop does a banner business with corporate promotions and wedding and party favors). According to owner Ron Rieder, they shipped three tons of their chocolate dipped pretzels around the country last holiday season. (For more on Enjoù and other local chocolate shops, see page 70.)

 

Want something a little more substantial than desserts? Sakura (56 Garth Road, 914-723-8484) and Gyosai (30 Garth Road, 914-725-3730) offer beautiful bento box lunches, plenty of sushi or tempura and other Japanese specialties.

 

Devra Bader Skin Care and Beauty Spa (38 Garth Road, 914-725-1158), just opened in January, right above the Ultimate Image Salon (914-725-3011), a Village favorite for 16 years (owner Gina Fini is a genius with scissors). “We shared so many of the same clients, it made sense to open my business right above the salon so our clients can have their hair cut downstairs, then come up for spa treatments and make-up,” says Bader. “The services and products we offer are high-end—like bringing a little bit of Manhattan to Westchester.” (Note: the Creative Sensations hand cream is the best I’ve ever found.) The day I visited, women in both places were sporting “air brushed” tans and commenting on the “ouchless” bikini waxes. (A regular to both spa and salon is The Sopranos star Jaime-Lynn Sigler). Oh, and they all left looking beautiful.

Scarsdale looks much more appealing than it did when I was 18. Who knew?

 

Judith Hausman, food critic for the Journal News, spent her formative years in Scarsdale.

 

 

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