In the Northeast, outdoor eating is generally associated with summer, and this year we've been lucky to have many pleasant days, evenings and nights that have been conducive to dining outside. Usually when I start gathering information for this section in July, it's too hot and humid to even consider eating outdoors. Not this year. I'm a hardcore al fresco dining enthusiast, but there have even been some nights in the last few weeks that have been too cold to sit outside in summer clothing. However, we have been blessed this year with only three 90-degree days so far and forecasts predict that temperatures in the coming days will be such that people will be flocking to the 40 places in Port Chester and Rye Brook that offer a place to enjoy your meal in the balmy air.
From a few simple tables and chairs set up outside a restaurant on the sidewalk to fancy decks with heat lamps that allow for the extension of the outside eating season, there's something for everyone. From April to October, restaurants with outdoor seating are definitely in demand.
In the 17 years I've been writing this feature, the number of sidewalk cafés, patios and decks has nearly doubled from 23 to 40 of the 130 total eateries that now exist in the two villages. The phenomenon caught on in 1997 when the Port Chester Board of Trustees encouraged sidewalk cafés through special legislation. Since then the number has gradually moved upward, ebbing and flowing each year as restaurants close and open, savvy restaurateurs decide to create an outdoor venue to drum up more interest and therefore increase business, make room for overflow crowds or just heighten visibility.
Some spaces have table service while others just allow customers to take their food and eat outside.
Three places that offered outdoor eating last year are not doing so in 2014. Two of them were adjacent sidewalk cafés on Westchester Avenue-Inca & Gaucho at #173 and Los Gemelos Restaurant & Tortilleria at #167. The owners of both decided not to pay the $100 permit fee to set up tables on the sidewalk this year. In addition, KFC up on the hill at 262 Boston Post Rd. did not have a table outside when I visited.
On top of that, three restaurants have closed since last July-La Creperie Café in the florist shop at 604 North Main St., Per Voi at 23 North Main St. and Racanellis' Pizzeria Restaurant in the Rye Ridge Shopping Center. Per Voi has since been replaced by Spadaro Ristorante, and Fortina of Armonk has signed a long-term lease for the space at Rye Ridge. The family-friendly and "uber-hip" Italian restaurant is expected to open in the fall.
After enclosing its deck two years ago, Churrascaria Copacabana, the Brazilian steakhouse at 29-31 North Main St., has gotten permission to place tables on the blacktop adjacent to the Abendroth Avenue entrance to the restaurant, so it can once again be considered an outdoor eating venue.
Of particular note this season are the two new restaurants that have opened in very visible locations and are offering dining al fresco: Port Chester Hall & Beer Garden and Spadaro Ristorante.
Port Chester Hall & Beer Garden transforms train station
Port Chester Hall & Beer Garden at 3 Broad St., which opened May 27 after eight months of construction, is more than just a restaurant and beer hall. It is a whole new use of a public building-the Port Chester Metro-North station.
Besides the historic 1890 railroad station, which serves as the food hall, it incorporates an all-weather, custom-built pavilion with a steel design consistent with the train tracks and an open-air beer garden complete with trees and surrounded by fencing and shrubbery.
"There is nothing else like it in the country that combines these three elements in an operating train station," Jon Bloostein,founder and CEO of Heartland Holdings, a 100% employee owned company that operates all Heartland Breweries, Houston Hall, Flatiron Hall and now Port Chester Hall. Heartland's 10th location, Bernheim & Schwartz, is now being built across from Columbia University.
Heartland spent $5 million to transform the station into a restaurant and beer garden including all the furnishings and reproduction of vintage murals.
"With all the beer halls I try to do things as historically relevant as possible and to be attuned to the area," Bloostein said, having poured a lot of himself into the creation of a food and beer hall with character, combining the historical aspect of both beer and trains.
The station incorporates vintage light fixtures, stained glass, "anything I could find that's original," Bloostein said. It also includes lots of breweriana including his personal collection of old taps from wooden kegs hanging on a wall of the restaurant.
Framed photographs of trains and a small portion of his extensive collection of German and American steins, many from the turn of the century, decorate the awesome private party room which makes you feel like you've stepped back in time. It seats 36.
The station also maintains the original ticket counter which has merely been painted and decorated with a reproduction of an old railroad mural. It is still used by Metro-North to sell tickets. Port Chester Hall operates a coffee stand for commuters from 6-11 a. m. weekdays.
Out front is an 1850 hay wagon stacked with beer barrels from Bloostein's personal collection.
Within the pavilion, open to the elements during the warm weather but with the ability to button up and be heated so it can be open all year, there is a bar, a towering stone fireplace and communal tables made from the heavy floor boards of Northwest Pacific Railroad cars from the late 1800s.
A baseball mural on the wooden fence along the train platform here is by Crocker & Co. from 1889. Bloostein found it online and had it reproduced.
A cider mill in the garden, where there is another fireplace, dates from the 1880s.
Port Chester Hall & Beer Garden, which seats 125 in the station, 125 in the pavilion and another 70 or 80 in the garden, has many different types of spaces, including some interesting hallways. Bloostein loves to watch people wandering around trying to take it all in.
"I guess everyone is happy with it," Bloostein said. "It's not easy to please Metro-North, the MTA and the public." He's glad that people seem to like the place and Port Chester Hall is getting a lot of repeat customers.
Early online reviews about poor service disturbed Bloostein to the point where, he said, "we've changed a lot of the system." Part of the problem is that the pavilion and garden are a long way from the kitchen. Additionally, this is the company's first suburban location, and "we are not used to having a beer garden." They hired locally and while it usually takes two weeks to gets servers up to speed, it has taken eight weeks. He had to bring some people up from New York City to temporarily help out, and the problems have been addressed.
Besides the fact that I love building reuses and think Bloostein and company have done a great job with the decor, the entire concept of the beer hall and garden is a fun one, especially at a location that was in dire need of attention. It's a great, casual place to meet friends, to saunter over to for food and drink after a concert at the Capitol, or to enjoy a beer after work. When it's not too hot outside, the garden is my favorite. Otherwise the pavilion is comfortable, with cool breezes from the fans moderating the temperature except on the hottest days.
I was at Port Chester Hall the first night it opened--which happened to be my anniversary--and have been there several times since. I was in the pavilion in the middle of a heavy rainstorm when the cash register had to be moved to keep from getting wet, but everything else weathered the storm.
The Hall is pouring 12 craft beers created by Kelly Taylor, Director of Brewing for the Heartland beer halls, which have their own brewery. These will rotate periodically. At $6, $8 and $15, depending on the size of the mug, they are not inexpensive. Currently 13 cocktails ($9 and $10) developed by the in-house mixologist are on the menu which will also change from time to time and especially with the seasons. I love the Sawpit Struggle, The Guvnor and Casablanca but not the 3rd Rail Margarita which has too much bite with its jalapeno infused tequila.
The food has been picked and chosen from the other Heartland restaurants and, as Bloostein said, everything is designed to go with beer.
The Warm Giant Pretzel with cheddar ale dip ($10.95) is a must as are the Bacon-wrapped BBQ Shrimp ($10.95) and the Kobe Sliders ($11.95 for 3). For dinner, the Grilled Lemon Chicken ($15.50) was excellent, but my party weren't taken with the Shepard's Pie ($17.25), perhaps because it was the restaurant's first day. Maybe it's worth another try. The Bacon & Chicken Mac n' Cheese ($16.50) was creamy and delicious and I'm told the Fresh Ground Beef Burger with Idaho fries ($12.50) and Maui Fish Tacos ($17.50) are also top notch. A new addition to the menu is the Grilled Bratwurst with Sauerkraut ($17.25) which Bloostein said is going over well. The menu, too, will change seasonally in the spring and later September.
Port Chester Hall may try individual entertainers or a trio at most on weekends to see how it goes. "We do a lot of trial and error," Bloostein said.
Port Chester Hall is open Monday through Friday for dinner from 4 p.m. to close, opening Saturday and Sunday for lunch at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday the kitchen closes at 10 p.m., the bar at midnight. Wednesday and Thursday the kitchen is open until 11 p.m. and the bar until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday the kitchen is open until midnight and the bar till 2 a.m.
Signs have been installed in the commuter lot to alert customers that they can park free for two hours from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Otherwise parking is on the street where payment is required until 9 p.m. If you do happen to get a ticket in the lot, Port Chester Hall will take care of it.
To set itself apart from the competition, Bloostein said, the food hall and beer garden is looking to become a valued member of the community by joining the Chamber of Commerce and through sponsorships such as the Port Chester High School cheerleading and football booster club, PCHS Band Parents Association, Port Chester Day and the Columbus Day Parade.
Spadaro Ristorante brings a taste of Rome to P.C.
Spadaro Ristorante opened May 7 at 50 Abendroth Ave. in the space where Per Voi had been. Having partnered with Dominick Neri, president of Neri's Bakery in Port Chester, Anthony Spadaro brought his popular family restaurant to Port Chester. The original Spadaro Ristorante opened in New Rochelle six years ago and has since expanded from 30 seats to 84. Another is slated to open in Scarsdale in September.
What makes this Italian restaurant different from the one in New Rochelle is its brick oven personal pizzas made in a 6,000-pound oven from Naples that heats up to 900 degrees and cooks a pizza in less than two minutes. Chiro, the restaurant's experienced pizza guy, comes straight from Naples.
"We had a lot of people tell us it was too far to come to New Rochelle," Spadaro, who hails from Rome, said in explaining why he decided to bring his restaurant to Port Chester. "We're trying to get everybody to have a taste of Italy-authentic and everything is fresh daily."
"All the pasta dishes are outstanding," Joel Avalos, the restaurant manager, said. The traditional family recipes come from Anthony's father Antonio.
Anthony Spadaro said the specialties are Spaghetti Carbonara (egg, guanciale ham, black pepper and pecorino romano cheese) and Bucatini Amatriciana (hollow spaghetti with guanciale ham in a spicy red sauce), both $14. There is also an Amatriciana pizza ($10).
Obviously another house specialty is the Fettuccine Spadaro ($14.50), described as Spadaro's signature dish on the menu. This was the first dish I tried at this new Italian restaurant in town, and I found it delizioso! Made with egg, prosciutto, mushrooms and black pepper, it is very different from the Italian pasta dishes I'm used to.
Spadaro's took over not only the former Per Voi but the store next door as well, opening up the space to make it wider and to let in more natural light. The main dining room and bar are in the front of the restaurant off Abendroth-with the North Main Street entrance having been totally closed off-something I find bothersome. It's like turning your back on Port Chester's main thoroughfare.
The restaurant's occupancy is 155. The main dining room seats 60-70 and the back room, which for now is used mainly for private parties, holds another 75. An attractive deck for outdoor eating along the entire length of the Abendroth Avenue side of the building can accommodate another 40. The deck is part of the structure's modern new facade carried out by building owner Neil Pagano.
Large stone tiles form the base of the deck which is set with square white and gray marble tables and black chairs with comfy cushioned seats. There is a gray metal railing all around and gold umbrellas which are tied back at night but are undoubtedly used to shade the tables on sunny days.
With the cooler nights we have been experiencing lately, my husband and I enjoyed a delightful Thursday night on the deck in the company of a good crowd and even ran into people we knew. Among the highlights were the Italian and other romantic music piped outside, a delightful drink made with blueberry puree, whipped cream and liqueur 43, a Spanish liqueur made with citrus and fruit juices ($9), and the Mare e Monte pasta dish. It combines pappardelle, a thick pasta, lots of smaller shrimp, tips of asparagus, parmesan cheese and smoked mozzarella plus a slightly spicy tomato sauce into a cheesy mélange ($16.50). I also enjoyed the arancini or rice balls ($6.50) appetizer which brings six of them. Smaller and softer on the inside than those Marini's Pizza used to offer when it was on Main Street, they are tasty but filling. Two sauces come with them for dipping: marinara and a thick, sweet balsamic.
The whole branzino ($24.50), fileted at our table, was lovely and light with nary a bone left behind.
The Calamari Fritti ($12) brought a large portion of lightly breaded and fried calamari which was a bit chewy and a side of broccoli rabe came sitting in too much olive oil.
It was the second time we had the ricotta cheesecake ($8), which is exceptional.
Spadaro's is open seven days for lunch and dinner: Sunday through Thursday from 12 noon to 10 p.m. with the bar staying open as long as there are customers, Friday and Saturday from noon to 11 p.m. with the bar remaining open as late as 2 a.m. Assuming there is a demand, Avalos said, they expect to have karaoke Tuesday nights and DJs from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Parking is on the street where you have to feed the meter until 9 p.m. or in the marina parking lot which is free, at least for now.