The Margherita pizza at Brandi Trattoria, located at 108 Abendroth Ave., for which the franchise is famous. Named for Queen Margherita of Savoy, it originated at Brandi Pizzeria in Naples, Italy.
Richard Abel|Westmore News
The Margherita pizza at Brandi Trattoria, located at 108 Abendroth Ave., for which the franchise is famous. Named for Queen Margherita of Savoy, it originated at Brandi Pizzeria in Naples, Italy. Richard Abel|Westmore News
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In the ever-changing and dynamic Port Chester and Rye Brook restaurant world, two eateries have opened within the past month, and two have closed.

Brandi Trattoria finally opened May 16, the last announced date, at 108 Abendroth Ave. after about two years of anticipation. The private equity Hospitality Group in White Plains bought the U.S. and Canadian franchise of the Naples, Italy pizzeria, which dates from 1760 and invented the Margherita pie. The pizza is named for Queen Margherita of Savoy. Port Chester is privileged to be the hot spot of the first Brandi franchise. While both Brandi Trattoria and Brandi Pizzeria will serve pizza, the latter, which fronts on North Main Street at #23, is still dark. The pizzeria will hopefully open its doors in a few weeks and make larger 16-inch pies that will be sold either whole or by the slice.

The Village Beer Garden at the Port Chester Metro-North station on Broad Street officially opened June 1 but had a soft opening the weekend before to get the kinks out. I welcome the revival of this great space which was created at great expense by the owner of Heartland Brewery and operated unsuccessfully by that restaurant group. Now Our House Hospitality, which owns Rye House in Port Chester and Manhattan as well as Sala One Nine Tapas Bar & Restaurant in the Flatiron District, is trying its hand with the space, having conjured up a German biergarten vibe with the whistle and hum of north and sound bound locomotives in the background.

Sadly we say goodbye to Il Sogno Ristorante & Wine Bar which vacated its ill-fated location at 316 Boston Post Rd. last month and moved to 141 Chatsworth Ave. in Larchmont while keeping its Port Chester phone number (937-7200). The Larchmont locale was expected to open this week with a new name, Trattoria 141. It will surely be serving the same high quality Italian cuisine.

Euro Asian Bistro at 30 Westchester Ave. also closed its doors last month after struggling for some time. Too bad because the food was excellent and the atmosphere pleasant. I liked it better than Buddha in Rye Brook.

Brandi Trattoria

108 Abendroth Ave.

Port Chester

914-
939-5100

Because of its delayed opening, Brandi Trattoria is on its second general manager.

Getting the required permits, changing the menu, hiring the right staff and the difficulty of going back and forth with a slower-paced Italy for approvals all contributed to Brandi’s not opening until last month when there had previously been two earlier start dates set, according to Tony Marro, a consultant for the franchise.

“We weren’t in a great rush, wanted to open right, wanted to make sure the menu was perfect, the pizzas were coming out perfect like in Naples,” Marro explained.

Italian-born Carlo Mariani, who speaks four languages and has 32 years of experience in the business starting at his cousin’s Italian restaurant in Paris in the 1980s, joined the Brandi staff as GM two weeks ahead of its opening. After working as general manager at Cipriani as well as for the Fireman Group and Loews Regency Hotel, all in New York City, for 20 years, he was tired of commuting to the City from White Plains.

“I could not stand it anymore,” said Mariani. “I came to Port Chester which I love because I am 10 minutes from home.”

The blue and white-tiled pizza oven’s the thing at Brandi, where Italian-born pizza maker Flavio Garelli, who was trained at a national professional pizza-making school in Milan, tosses pizza dough and cranks out 10-inch pies from the 700-degree stone oven in 90 seconds.

What’s so special about Brandi’s Margherita pizza? “The recipe is unique, the one that Queen Margherita used to have,” said Mariani. “The family kept the tradition. Nobody else has it.”

I’m not certain it’s the best Margherita pizza ($14) I’ve ever had, but it worth raving about—in a nutshell simply delicious. Made with plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and topped with pieces of fresh basil, this pizza is thin, crispy and gone before you know it. The specialty pies at the trattoria are 10 inches and cut in six pieces, perfect for two to share or for an appetizer for three or four. You can order one of these and get it in a jiffy while you’re figuring out what else to eat.

Created for Queen Margherita of Savoy when she visited Naples in 1889, the Margherita pizza was designed to resemble the Italian flag with its red, white and green colors.

Besides the Margherita ($14), Brandi offers 12 other specialty pizzas priced from $11-17. Brandi’s pizza is famous for its “soft, elastic, tender and fragrant crust,” according to the brandi1760.com website.

The other dishes on the Brandi menu do not come from the original restaurant in Italy, said Mariani. Most are from the southern part of the country. Chef Marcelo Florio, who hails from Pescara, Italy in the Abruzzo region, oversees their preparation or makes them himself.

Menu recommendations

Among the items I’ve tried and can recommend are the Vongole Oreganata ($13), six whole little neck clams topped with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon, bread crumbs and a white wine butter sauce. These were light and tasty.

The yummy crab cake ($15) is not fried but strictly fresh crabmeat formed into a round mold served on top of greens with house made tartar sauce and topped with fried leeks.

As far as pasta, the Gnocchi Gorgonzola e Noci ($18) is to die for if you like gorgonzola cheese. The small puffy potato dumplings are combined with smoked mozzarella and walnuts in a gorgonzola cream sauce for a wicked cheese pull and a little crunch. My husband and I split this dish, a Margherita pizza and a Rustica Salad ($13) for a perfectly satisfying dinner. We topped it off with a delightful panna cotta ($9), a light vanilla custard into which white chocolate chips had been added for texture. It was topped with chopped strawberries and blueberries and garnished with a mint sprig.

We each had a glass of wine, one chardonnay and one Malbec ($14 each), plus a cup of their flavorful Caffe Castadoro from Italy ($4 each), which is served in a large cup with an interestingly inverted saucer. When I asked for a refill, I got a whole new cup of coffee at no extra charge.

Our check came to $86.97.

On another occasion when we sat outside on the lovely deck overlooking bustling Abendroth Avenue on a Saturday night, I had the pasta special which consisted of tiny clams in the shell over perfectly-cooked linguine served in a tri-cornered bowl with red and yellow whole grape tomatoes and whole cloves of garlic in a light red sauce ($25). This preparation was delicate and not overly garlicky, too good to take any home for leftovers.

The Pollo Scarpariello ($21), too, was excellent, different from most versions I’ve had in that the chicken was on the bone, a whole leg and thigh flavored with roasted garlic and rosemary and surrounded by sliced Italian sausage, sweet and hot peppers, small thin-skinned potatoes and a whole small onion, all in a lemon white wine sauce.

One of our desserts was the scrumptious Bigne a Crema ($10), three cream puffs filled with whipped cream and drizzled with gianduja hazelnut chocolate.

All desserts are house made, a big plus.

Service a work in progress

Service in general could be more professional, which they are working on, said Mariani. Although that wasn’t my party’s experience, acquaintances we met on our Saturday night visit said they waited too long for their food. Our complaints: there were no small forks for the tiny clams in the pasta or the Clams Oreganata (we asked) and the server didn’t bring a bowl for the shells until we asked for it. I also noticed after the fact in scrutinizing the check that we were charged an extra $10 for a different bottle of wine from the one we ordered and received.

“We work all the time on service, training and the menu,” said Mariani. “We want to make sure people like what we have.” Eventually, he said, the menu will change based on what customers order.

I found many items to order on the current menu and plenty to try upon return and was pleased with the quality of ingredients and preparation. Plus every day there is a soup, pasta and main course special, either a meat or fish.

Shades of gray

The large space at Brandi, previously Spadaro and before that Per Voi, has been completely remodeled and nicely broken up to make it quite cozy. Decorated in shades of gray, it’s modern but not stark and the bar has been moved to the other side of the dining room.

The restaurant seats 45 in the front dining room, 25 at the adjacent bar where customers are encouraged to eat, and 60 in the party room that is separated from the dining room with a frosted glass door. On the other side of the party room, separated by another frosted glass door, is the pizzeria which will seat 12, but it must be entered from North Main Street.

The striking and varied light fixtures throughout the restaurant catch your eye as do the black and white photographs of the original Brandi Pizzeria in Naples and other Italian street scenes on the walls.

Cozy gray seating adjacent to the bar creates a lounge area which extends out onto the stone deck. There is also seating for 50 for lunch or dinner at gray and white marble tables with gray metal chairs on the long deck.

Hours and parking

For now, restaurant hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 5-10 p.m., Friday from 5-11 p.m., Saturday starting this week from 12-11 p.m. and Sunday from 12-9 p.m. The bar is open later.

Free parking is available in the marina parking lot on Abendroth Avenue when you can find a space, paid parking can be had at $1.25 an hour until 9 p.m. on the street. You can also park for free at the Waterfront at Port Chester parking garage and walk the short distance which is what my party did last Saturday night when there wasn’t a space to be had at 6:30 p.m.

Village Beer Garden

Metro-North Station

3 Broad Street

Port Chester

914-
939-7500

This German-American beer garden has a menu focusing on bratwurst and sausages. It’s a casual, open air environment conductive to hanging out. A ping pong table and dart boards have been added in the back of the space by the tall stone fireplace.

“That’s beer garden,” said Jeff Skiba, general manager of Rye House Port Chester who is also overseeing this new venture.

Other than that, little has changed from Port Chester Hall turned Heartland Black + Gold with its central stone fireplace and wooden tables, much of it covered so you’re sheltered from the sun and rain but still in the open air. “They built a great restaurant out here, so there is little reason for us to make big changes,” said Skiba, a Port Chester resident. “We’re excited to be here. We think there is a good opportunity here.”

Addressing the complaints of poor service under Heartland’s ownership, “we tried to speed things up,” said Skiba. They are using a different model with self-ordering of food on a form like bartaco and plenty of staff with diverse duties: runners as well as waiters and bussers.

In addition, “we tried not to be overly ambitious with the menu,” said Skiba. “Everything is meant to be quick and not require so many steps back and forth. When it’s full, we could be serving 200 people.” And the kitchen is a long way from the beer garden on the other side of the station.

Food comes in cardboard containers except salads which are in plastic bowls and the entire meal is served on a metal tray with a paper liner.

Besides four kinds of sausage ($10), there’s a hotdog, cheeseburger ($10), veggie burger sliders ($9), grilled cheese ($10), crispy German schnitzel sandwich ($11), German potato salad ($6), German meatballs in a creamy white sauce ($7), German spaetzle ($5), homemade noodles which are delicious but here are oddly bright green and were a bit salty, house made pretzel nuggets, Belgian fries and a beer battered onion ring tower. There is also a children’s menu. It’s French rather than German, but I really liked the Nicoise salad—simple and refreshing with chicken or salmon on top and Dijon vinaigrette dressing ($13). Tomato cucumber and house salads are other options.

Beers are the most plentiful beverage and are listed under the headings Craft ($7), Euro ($7) and Macro ($6/glass, $20/pitcher). The latter include Bud, Michelob, Coors Light and Miller. Beer glasses come in different shapes and sizes, many provided by the craft beer distributors to give customers an optimum beer-drinking experience.

Three refreshing punches are also available for $7/glass or $30/carafe: Southern Lemonade made with bourbon, Garden Rum or Sala Sangria in addition to a full bar with limited labels.

My party has enjoyed the beer garden experience the two times I’ve visited so far and received quick service. I enjoyed the bratwurst with homemade kraut with a pretzel stick roll on the side and the weisswurst Bavarian pork and veal sausage with the same roll and red cabbage slaw. I wasn’t crazy about the meatballs.

Our House Hospitality took over Heartland’s long-term lease of the train station and intends to open the inside of the station as well. “We are kicking around a few ideas,” said Skiba. “We are shooting for fall.” However, there are still some logistical issues to work out with Metro-North.

The original Station House name that Our House Hospitality intended to use was changed to Village Beer Garden after researching it and finding there was a Station House as close as Norwalk and because the restaurant is starting out as just a beer garden and is not located in the station house, said Skiba.

The beer garden will stay open at least through October. Hours for the rest of the summer are Wednesday through Friday from 4 p.m. until closing and Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. till closing. Closing time varies depending on customer demand.

Parking is in the commuter lot on Broad Street north of Irving Avenue after 5 p.m. weekdays and anywhere in the lot all day Saturday and Sunday.

To reiterate, I’m thrilled the beer garden is open again, especially since it’s right across the street from my office. It’s a great place to hang out, unwind and meet friends. I hope the Rye House owners can make a go of it.