You would never know you’re in downtown Port Chester when you eat at the enclave outside Argana Restaurant & Bar at 325 North Main St.
Richard Abel|Westmore News
You would never know you’re in downtown Port Chester when you eat at the enclave outside Argana Restaurant & Bar at 325 North Main St. Richard Abel|Westmore News

The number of Port Chester and Rye Brook restaurants offering outdoor eating in 2017 has increased by seven since last year, with seven brand new restaurants on the list, one having moved to a new location and two back after a hiatus. Two places that were listed last year have closed. Those additions and deletions bring the total to 43. In addition, one pub and restaurant that had outdoor eating in 2016 has created a sidewalk presence for the first time this year.

Some locations have a few simple tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk, and maybe an umbrella, while others have fancy decks or patios with lush plantings and even heat lamps that allow for the extension of the outside eating season. From April to October, restaurants providing outdoor seating are in demand. The phenomenon caught on locally in 1997 when the Port Chester Board of Trustees encouraged sidewalk cafés through special legislation. Over the years, savvy restaurateurs have decided 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.

Usually we feature outdoor dining in July when I often can find nary a person eating outside due to the heat and humidity. This past week, however, has been perfect for plein air eating for enthusiasts like me, and I’ve appreciated the excuse to take advantage of it. No doubt the month of September and much of October will be the same, with some chilly nights sprinkled here and there.

Besides bartaco, my favorite spot for dining al fresco in town is the enclave outside 325 North Main St. that was created especially for nessa ristorante before Argana Restaurant & Bar took over the location in March. The brick patio, located between Argana and Piccolo Italian Gourmet next door, has been planted with specimen trees and shrubs and now features an ornate black wrought iron fence and gate at the entrance which is flanked by lanterns. Tables covered with gold cloths and a few varieties of black metal chairs are nicely spaced throughout the garden setting. Once it’s dark, the candles in the lanterns as well as a few torches are lit to produce a romantic atmosphere. Cut off from the outside world, you’d never guess you were in downtown Port Chester.

Here you can enjoy Moroccan staples like tajine, couscous and b’stilla, authentic Moroccan Harira soup, briout, puff pastry stuffed with ground beef flavored with Moroccan herbs and spices, just to name a few of the dishes. There are also delicious salads and appetizers and amazing house made desserts including the scrumptious napoleon you mustn’t leave Argana without ordering. These can be served with sweet Moroccan tea or spiced coffee.

A 3-course family-style menu is served on Sundays for $25 per person.

Argana is the creation of Moroccan-born Nordine and Soumia “Mia” Achbani of Greenwich. She developed the recipes and is the head chef while Nordine manages the front of the house.

Behind the patio is a bocce court that dates from the 1960s, was refurbished by the owners of nessa and has been brought back into use for Argana customers.

Argana is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner thereafter. Besides Moroccan specialties, the lunch menu includes salads, sandwiches and panini, and not one dish costs more than $20.

In June, my husband and I and our friends enjoyed being among the first customers to eat on the lovely stone deck that extends the length of Brandi Trattoria at 108 Abendroth Ave., which had opened the month before. You can sip cocktails on comfortable blue, gray and white wicker couches or eat dinner at white and gray marble top tables with gray metal chairs overlooking bustling Abendroth Avenue right across from the free marina parking lot and adjacent to the free temporary parking lot that just reopened. I haven’t seen them open, but a few navy umbrellas are deck side should they be needed.

Brandi is the first franchise of the Naples, Italy pizzeria which invented the Margherita pizza. And, believe me, you’ve got to try one of their 10-inch pies that Italian-born pizza maker Flavio Garelli cranks out from the restaurant’s 700-degree stone oven in 90 seconds.

Besides the 10-inch pizzas, there is a full menu of Italian specialties including delicious pasta as well as meat and seafood dishes and daily specials. I was especially taken with the Gnocchi Gorgonzola.

Brandi is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and starting at 12 noon Sunday.

Panka Peruvian Bistro, which opened Jan. 1, 2016 at 167 Westchester Ave., put two black tables and benches topped with red and white patterned cushions out front on the sidewalk this year. Each is behind a silver and black barrier printed with the Panka logo in white lettering.

This upscale Peruvian eatery stands out from the nine other Peruvian restaurants in Port Chester in the quality of the ingredients, attractive food presentation and the variety of offerings. Panka specializes in seafood, especially ceviche which is a cut above many others I’ve had. Other specialties are Lomo Saltado, Pollo a la Brasa (rotisserie chicken) and Seco de Cordero, a lamb shank cooked for hours until the meat is falling off the bone with red onions, cilantro, dark beer and Peruvian peppers. Attractively presented and made with sirloin steak and hand cut fries, the Lomo Saltado, a traditional Peruvian specialty, is like none I’ve had before. Lomo Panka is the same dish made with New York strip steak.

I can also recommend the Pulpo a la Parilla appetizer, grilled tender Spanish octopus with roasted potatoes and sausage in a slightly spicy sauce, the Causitas appetizer, three pieces of lime infused mashed potatoes stuffed with shrimp, octopus and chicken topped with avocado and a mildly spicy savory sauce, and the Tallarines Verdes con Bisteck, grilled sliced skirt steak with a nest of thick spaghetti cooked in a basil, spinach and cheese sauce and a side of Papa a la Huancaina (boiled potatoes in a creamy yellow aji pepper cheese sauce).

Panka is open seven days from 11 a.m., closing at 10 p.m. every day except Sunday when it closes at 9 p.m. Lunch is served from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday when there is a less pricy menu with fewer options than the dinner menu.

Rela Café, which opened at 25 South Regent St. in January, has a large outdoor eating area on the sidewalk out front under a red awning that seats 64. It has fans and heaters, shades in the front and looks attractive from the outside with its flower boxes with colorful blooms and greens climbing trellises all around, but it doesn’t allow in much natural light. Customers sit at light wood tables set with placemats in comfortable, high-backed beige cloth chairs.

Owned by Ben Gashi of Stamford, who hails from Kosovo, started in the restaurant business as a busboy when he came to this country 15 years ago and worked as a waiter at this location when it was Hostaria Mazzei, Rela has a largely American menu in addition to excellent 10-inch pizzas from the preexisting wood-burning oven and some pasta dishes.

From mussels, to clams, to calamari, to fish, to lobster mac and cheese, to chicken, shrimp, crabmeat and andouille sausage gumbo with rice, Rela has something for everybody. I’m disappointed the Classic New England Lobster Roll is no longer on the menu.

The restaurant is currently offering a price-fixed lunch for $20 including a glass of wine.

Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday, 5-11 p.m. Saturday and 3-9 p.m. Sunday.

The look of the Village Beer Garden at the Port Chester train station hasn’t changed since it was 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. The casual, fun environment conducive to hanging out still exists, enhanced by a ping pong table and dart boards which have been added toward the back of the space.

However, the ownership has changed to Our House Hospitality, which owns Rye House in Port Chester. Our House took over Heartland’s long-term lease of the train station and opened the beer garden at the end of May after Heartland Black + Gold strangely closed last July.

Now a German-American beer garden with a simple menu focusing on bratwurst and sausages, German potato salad, German meatballs, spaetzle and a crispy German schnitzel sandwich, everything is served on trays in cardboard containers and plastic bowls. That, in addition to use of a self-ordering form for food, has drastically sped up service. Of course, there are other offerings such as snacks, salads, burgers and fries in addition to a children’s menu. Nicoise salad, topped with chicken or salmon and Dijon vinaigrette dressing, is the one French offering and a favorite of mine.

Craft, European and domestic beers, three refreshing punches and a full bar with limited labels round out the alcoholic beverages.

The beer garden, which will stay open at least through October, has been the site of Unity Day festivities and will host the Port Chester High School Class of 1987 30th reunion Happy Hour on Friday, Oct. 13. Hours 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 the customer demand.

At Rye Ridge Shopping Center, there are two new plein air eating spots that add to the bustling atmosphere, particularly at lunchtime, on a pleasant summer or early fall day, both Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market and Dig Inn.

Balducci’s, which opened at the end of January, has set up four copper-colored matching metal tables and chairs for four topped with black and orange umbrellas in front of the gourmet food market to allow employees and customers to eat the prepared foods for which the store is known in the open air.

There are numerous self-serve bars where you can get food to eat outside: a salad bar, hot bar, soup bar featuring about six varieties, a mezze bar with pita and ingredients like falafel balls and tzatziki sauce to make a falafel sandwich, an olive and antipasto bar and even a ramen noodle bar. You can also buy a wide variety of salads, quiches and sandwiches that are already made up or even have a sandwich made to order.

Balducci’s is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Customers of Dig Inn, the farm to table, locally sourced, organic, vegetable-centric, fast casual restaurant that opened at Rye Ridge on Jan. 12 can take advantage of three delicate gray metal tables and chairs for two on the sidewalk out front.

The Marketbowl, Dig Inn’s signature dish, allows you the choice of a base, usually a grain such as faro, quinoa or brown rice, two market sides, usually a combination of vegetables or even their delicious mac and cheese, and a protein such as herb-roasted chicken or salmon. There are also broth bowls and broth cups and a Little Digs menu for kids or light eaters.

Iced and hot coffees and teas, boxed water, coconut water, seltzer, ginger mint lemonade, juices and a limited selection of beer, wine and cider are some of the drinks I’ve seen for sale.

The kitchen sink cookie, made with all kinds of seeds plus chocolate chips, is extraordinary.

The fast food ordering along a line like Chipotle or Chop’t is a little confusing, but the staff is usually helpful.

The food tastes delicious and I feel like I’m eating healthy at Dig Inn, which is the intent. I’m disappointed the restaurant has discontinued breakfast because I loved their Pumpkin Bowl. It is now open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Besides the new restaurants with outdoor venues, T&J Restaurant & Pizzeria, which moved from 227 Westchester Ave. to a brand-new building at 10 Pearl St. after 26 years, now has an attractive stone patio for eating al fresco adjacent to the restaurant as opposed to the modest sidewalk café at its old location.

Surrounded by colorful flowers and greenery, including a good-sized palm tree, diners eat at silver metal tables with matching chairs shaded by bright red Essse Caffe umbrellas. The patio can accommodate about 60 people. Its only downside is its proximity to the St. Peter’s Church parking lot.

This new location of an Italian staple run by the Vitiello and Ruggiero families, who are all related, opened Oct. 24, 2016 and continues to serve the same dependably good pizza, pasta and other Italian specialties it has churned out for the past quarter of a century. Longtime servers and the two original Italian grandmothers, Grace Vitiello and Filomena Ruggiero, maintain the warmth and hospitality for which T&J has become known.

T&J is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and till 9 p.m. Sunday.

After giving up its sidewalk café for a handful of years, Frankie & Louie’s Pizzeria & Restaurant at 414 Willett Ave. is back with two black mesh metal tables and matching chairs topped by red umbrellas and set off by potted shrubs. This al fresco dining area fits nicely under the restaurant’s lit awning which casts a romantic glow when darkness falls.

This neighborhood Italian restaurant, open seven days from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., is known for its creative pasta specials, unbeatable lasagna and luscious house-made desserts.

After a one-year hiatus, another Port Chester Italian staple, Frank’s Restaurant & Pizzeria at 23 Putnam Ave., has resumed the practice of offering its customers a place to eat their food outside with a couple of tables on the small patio adjacent to the parking lot.

The Clydesdale Pub & Grill at 435 North Main St. has an attractive setup on the sidewalk this year in addition to the deck overlooking the Byram River the owners refurbished, brought up to required safety standards and opened in time for the outdoor eating season last year. For the sidewalk café, three ornate black metal tables and chairs for two topped by red Budweiser umbrellas are gated by a black metal fence and guarded by a chef statue outside the pub’s entrance.

The Clydesdale, which serves food until 2 a.m., offers American specialties, brick oven pizza as well as English staples like shepherd’s pie and delicious, lightly battered fish and chips.