Manager Dawne DeMilto toasts the homemade Italian meringue on top of a cup of ice cream with a blow torch to create a Bona style treat at Bona Bona Ice Cream in The Waterfront at Port Chester at 10 Westchester Ave.
Jananne Abel|Westmore News
Manager Dawne DeMilto toasts the homemade Italian meringue on top of a cup of ice cream with a blow torch to create a Bona style treat at Bona Bona Ice Cream in The Waterfront at Port Chester at 10 Westchester Ave. Jananne Abel|Westmore News

It’s been several months since this publication last appeared, so there’s a lot to catch up on in the local restaurant realm. I won’t be able to cover all of it in one issue but will touch on the highlights of what’s opened, what’s closed and what’s coming.

What’s opened

After a long approval process and the unexpected major overhaul the restaurant space vacated by El Plebeyo needed after the previous tenant’s 10-year run, Taco Shack finally opened at 27 North Main St. on Apr. 5, 2018.

“I almost gave up on this place three or four times,” said owner Luis Aguilera, who also owns the nearly 4-year-old Halstead Avenue Taqueria in Harrison where he lives. He had leased the Port Chester location beginning in August 2016.

In the spring and summer, business was good, but then customers got tired of waiting for Taco Shack to get its liquor license. Even though you could BYOB, you couldn’t bring your own margaritas! After some controversy with the State Liquor Authority over the address of the restaurant (it went from #25 to #27 at the SLA’s insistence), the cherished document finally became available on Oct. 24. Now you can get delicious margaritas made with fresh-squeezed lime juice at Taco Shack that nearly equal those at bartaco.

Almost as good as a margarita, and perfect on nights I’m going back to work, is the non-alcoholic limeade made with fresh-squeezed lime juice and cane sugar syrup ($4.25). “It’s basically a margarita without the tequila,” said Aguilera.

Aguilera was born in Mexico, his wife in Peru, and they had eaten at El Plebeyo many times in the past, in fact the night the owner announced its closing. A month later he drove by, saw the “for rent” sign and called up the landlord.

“I thought this was the perfect place,” he said. “This is the midpoint of downtown.”

Aguilera came to the U.S. at age 6, getting his introduction to American life in Newburgh. He worked in lounges and nightclubs in New York City for almost 10 years until he got married and settled down. He thought about opening a nightclub but decided he had to do something more stable and conducive to family life. He and his wife now have two young daughters.

Aguilera, now 35, decided to open a Mexican eatery because “it is where I feel most comfortable. I knew the fundamentals of Mexican and figured I had an edge.” There were no taco joints in Harrison when he opened his taqueria there.

In Port Chester, “I figured why not add a twist to some of the variety that is here already,” Aguilera said. “It has a lot of character, is different than any other place.”

Taco Shack is a cute, casual Mexican place seating 24 in the dining room and seven at the bar. A few tables are placed out front during the warm weather.

Aguilera keeps the menu simple and specializes in enchiladas (3 for $12 or $13) and a wide variety of tacos ($4-$5). Some choices are pork chile verde, chicken tinga and chorizo. Everything is made fresh, nothing is canned, and there are many vegetarian and diet options. Tortillas are fried, the chips made inhouse and served warm for the chips and salsa and guacamole and chips ($9).

All the sauces—mole, green and red—for the enchiladas are vegetarian.

There are also salads ($11 and $12) and a delicious tortilla soup ($5) served in a crock consisting of a spicy tomato broth, crispy chips, avocado and pico de gallo.

“My demographic is American, any race,” said Aguilera, “people who are accustomed to the traditions already.” So it’s not surprising that his most popular taco is the ground beef variety served in a hard shell corn tortilla.

Daily specials include gluten free empanadas made with corn dough, pork belly tacos, fried or steamed, fish tacos of all types, shrimp and other seafood tacos as well as guisado tacos made with stewed beef that has been roasted and baked.

Hot sauces to add flavor range from light to extra spicy.

While not inexpensive, Taco Shack is a pleasant place to eat, and I especially like sitting at the bar where my husband and I have started up conversations with strangers and had an enjoyable experience.

Server Stephanie Brown of Port Chester, who also makes the fresh fruit drinks (orange, pineapple crush and cucumber fizz besides limeade, all served in a glass jar), margaritas and other alcoholic beverages, is a diligent worker and fun to talk to. You might even be lucky enough to be there when Aguilera, a likeable, down to earth fellow, is out front (he’s sometimes in the kitchen or could even be in Harrison).

Winter hours till mid-March are Wednesday and Thursday from 5-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5-10 p.m. and Sunday from 5-9 p.m. In the summer Taco Shack will be open for lunch and dinner every day.

The grand opening of Colony Grill off the Marina Parking Lot at 35 Abendroth Ave. was long awaited after construction of the building and the loss of parking spaces during those four and a half months caused major disruption. Its opening marked the completion of another piece of the marina redevelopment plan by downtown developer G&S Investors. Colony Grill’s July 1 grand opening was a major celebration for the restaurant owners, G&S and Port Chester officials.

With Colony Grill’s expansive deck at the back of the building looking out over the Byram River and location adjacent to the river, officials saw it as a step forward in the reactivation of the waterfront.

The building was constructed to Colony Grill’s specifications, but they are a lease holder, said Paul Coniglio, one of the owners.

The Port Chester location is Colony Grill’s fifth and the first in New York. The owners were drawn to the waterfront location, eclectic mix of people and the fact that Port Chester draws from neighboring locales. “We thought it had a lot of things in one place,” said Coniglio.

The original Colony Grill, founded by Irish Americans in 1935, is in an Irish immigrant neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut known as “The Colony.” Others have sprung up in the last 10 years in Fairfield, Milford and Norwalk after the four current owners took over the operation. They are Coniglio, Ken Martin, Cody Lee and Chris Drury. The latter played for the Rangers and won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche. His framed jersey hangs on one wall in Port Chester as do photos of Eugene Bohagan and Jim Loughran who took over Colony Grill in the 1940s and made it a Stamford institution. Fitz worked there from the 1940s to 1990 as a waiter and is also pictured on the brick wall behind the large attractive bar along with Skeets, a longtime bartender who retired six years ago after 50 years.

Besides these photos and Port Chester artifacts like a wooden packing box from Russell Burdsall & Ward Bolt & Nut Co. and a large Life Savers candy roll container, framed photos of local veterans in uniform adorn the walls of the 5,200-square-foot restaurant. They were collected for many months before the opening for the Wall of Heroes, a tradition in each Colony Grill.

The spacious restaurant, which seats about 175 guests at cozy dark wood booths, high tops and tables, has brick walls, large windows, tall ceilings and fans. The deck can accommodate another 40 customers.

Colony Grill originally had a large menu but became known for its thin-crusted pizza and specifically its hot oil bar pies which have been a favorite for the past 80 years. Over the years the other menu items faded away and today Colony Grill at all its locations, including Port Chester, only serves its small signature pizzas with a variety of toppings, from cheese to salad to breakfast pie. Besides soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, you can’t get anything else, not even coffee or dessert. You’ll have to walk over to Bona Bona Ice Cream for that.

You’ve got to love Colony Grill’s pizza, especially the hot oil. But I recommend eating it in. Because of its thinness, the pizza cools quickly and will be cold before you get it home. No wonder Colony Grill does not deliver except large orders. They also have a pizza truck.

The hot oil is a secret recipe made from serrano peppers, pieces of which decorate each hot oil pie. Eat them at your own risk! My recommendation is to get two pies, one hot oil and one salad or pepperoni, for instance, to share among two or more people and alternate a hot oil slice with a salad slice so your mouth doesn’t get burning hot. Sausage, bacon, meatball, fresh mushrooms, onions, cherry peppers, black olives and anchovies are some of the other toppings to choose from. All pies cost $9.75 except salad and breakfast (bacon or sausage, egg and cheese available Saturday and Sunday only from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) which go for $12.75.

The salad pie is tasty but messy. It’s impossible to eat a slice without half the topping falling off.

There’s nothing fancy here. Pizza is served on paper plates.

Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, till midnight Thursday, till 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday and until 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Who opens an ice cream dessert bar in the winter? Bona Bona Ice Cream at 10 Westchester Ave. does.

“It gives us time to train the staff,” said manager Dawne DeMilto of New Rochelle when I visited last Saturday, Feb. 2.

“We had to open in the winter because we were so committed to offsite things,” said partner Scott Herman, who takes care of the front of the house while founder, creator and chef Nick Di Bona does all the flavor creations, cooking, training and off-site events.

Di Bona won a Chopped reality show chefs’ competition, opened Madison Kitchen in Larchmont and ran it for 5½ years before selling it a year ago. He was making ice cream for the restaurant, got a great review in the New York Times that said the ice cream creations were so good, he should consider concentrating on them. “He started packing pints and then the ice cream outgrew the restaurant and here we are today,” said Herman. Di Bona founded Bona Bona Ice Cream, first using a truck and carts to travel to food and music festivals before opening in The Waterfront at Port Chester, the space Panera Bread occupied for 10 years, on Dec. 4.

The ice cream is Di Bona’s hand-crafted hybrid of Italian gelato and American style and comes in a variety of flavors which are all made with natural ingredients—no dyes, extracts or preservatives—and are always changing. The favorite is Brownie Cookie Dough or B-dough, a mixture of house-made brownies and cookie dough ice cream. Di Bona also makes vegan ice cream, with two flavors always in the case.

The Port Chester ice cream emporium is a spacious, candy-colored, magical place with light fixtures shaped like ice cream cones hanging from the ceiling, an ice cream truck painted on one wall, a milkshake bar and a sprinkle room where the birthday parties take place.

Sixty-five birthday parties have already been booked for the year, said DeMilto. “We’re booking through August.”

A birthday party includes pizza from Colony Grill, a craft, and do it yourself sundaes or milkshakes plus sprinkle time where sprinkles rain from the ceiling and kids catch them on their ice cream treats. The cost is $475 plus tax and tip for up to 16 children.

You can also rent the whole place for a Bar Mitzvah, for instance.

For the individual customer, there are cups, cones (sugar and waffle), and wide cones fixed into a cup called cup cones. There are also innovative ice cream sandwiches ($8), milkshakes ($8 and $9) and specialty milkshakes ($11) in flavors like crème brulée (decadent!), Over the Rainbow and Italian Campfire featuring ingredients like crumbled cookies or marshmallows affixed using butter cream around the rim of the glass. Nothing is inexpensive, but then everything is handcrafted.

“It’s worth it,” said Christina Battista, who made the trip from Eastchester with her two children and one of their friends. “It’s fancy.”

Unless otherwise requested, all ice cream treats are Bona style, topped with homemade Italian meringue toasted with a blow torch so it tastes like a s’more. And that’s truly unique.

My first time at this new ice cream shop I just ordered a small cup (Bitty) containing one scoop of ice cream Bona style ($5). Next time I tried a cup cone filled with three scoops (Biggie) of ice cream in three flavors of my choice inside a wide, crunchy cone topped with the toasted meringue ($9). It was awesome and amazingly light. Between my husband and me, it was gone in no time! Two scoops in a cup or cone (Basic) costs $7.

A liquor license is coming so “after dinner people can come by for beer, wine and cordials,” said Herman, or Bona Bona can even add some rum to a milkshake, for instance, or a whole host of other ideas Di Bona is cooking up. “We can get fun with it,” said Herman.

Di Bona and Herman chose Port Chester because the landlord (G&S) approached them and “gave us a deal we could not turn down,” said Herman. “They grow with us; as we grow, they grow.” They are also delighted with the location near Colony Grill and the movie theaters.

So far, even in the winter, business is brisk, with over 1,000 people visiting Bona Bona the last Saturday in January, “our busiest day,” said Herman.

Winter hours are Mon.-Wed. 2-9:30 p.m., Thurs. 2-10, Fri. 2-11, Sun. 12-9. Summer hours will be 11 a.m.-midnight seven days a week.

In the summer there will also be a 30-seat patio and possibly a cart outside with the top five flavors if there is enough demand.

“Ice cream is fun,” concluded Herman. “No one’s mad when the ice cream guy shows up.”

What’s closed

Sadly, Station House closed in the Port Chester train station Jan. 1 after the adjacent Village Beer Garden had closed for the season once winter set in.

“It will be opening under a different operator at some point,” said Ryan Quinn, manager at Rye House in Port Chester, some of whose partners had tried to make a go at the Broad Street Metro-North station, even installing a pizza oven there to make delicious pies as well as an atmospheric pizza bar. The managing partner there, Jeff Skiba of Port Chester, who previously managed Rye House, is no longer with the company.

So Rye House is out and another operator—the location’s third—will try their hand.

What’s coming

Joe Ramalho of Rye is planning a spring opening of Joey’s Sports Bar & Grill in the Lyon Park Shopping Center at the corner of Willett and Putnam avenues, the former longtime location of Davy Byrnes.

When I went by this week, the door was open, and a high-powered family meeting was taking place to plan the menu even though the interior is far from complete. In fact, the entire space including the kitchen has been gutted, walls opened, the ceiling raised, new wiring installed, the bar location moved, and the arrival of new appliances and other equipment awaited.

First Ramalho, who is a contractor and previously worked in the food and beverage industry, spruced up the façade of the entire shopping center for the landlord before tackling the space that will become Joey’s, named for his 18-year-old son and himself. Once work began inside, one thing led to another and he wanted to do it right. “We took seven layers of plywood flooring out,” he said.

The bar will no longer be a horseshoe but against the right wall and there will be eight TVs plus a cozy area in the front, high tops and a lounge/dining room where a variety of entertainment will be offered. Ramalho also plans to have outdoor seating on the sidewalk out front.

The cuisine will be American bar food with some Portuguese items such as cod cakes and chorizo infused. Ramalho’s background is Portuguese. Steamed clams, flatbread pizzas, build your own burgers, fish sandwiches and Portuguese steak (marinated in red wine) sandwiches are some of the menu items being tossed around.

Joey’s, which is Ramalho’s first bar/restaurant of his own, will be open for lunch and dinner and will also have a late-night menu. “This has been my dream for a long time,” he said. His son and daughter, who are twins, are also excited about it and his sister, who is in the restaurant business in Florida, is sharing her expertise.

“It’s a family type of thing,” said Ramalho. “We will make it happen and make it happen nicely.”

The sign is up for Eugene’s Diner & Bar at 112 North Main St. which has undergone a major renovation to turn the space that had been Q into a modern American diner. Chef David DiBari, who owns the highly-rated The Cookery and The Parlor in Dobbs Ferry, DoughNation, a mobile pizza oven that travels to private and corporate events, and is working on a few other new ventures besides Eugene’s, could not be reached to shed more light on the cuisine to be expected at Eugene’s or the possible opening date, despite various attempts. No doubt he is waiting on some approvals from the Port Chester Building Department. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I did see the chef and his wife at a Port Chester Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in December where he was seeking approval for the two apartments upstairs from the restaurant. The current outdated zoning code allows for three apartments in a building on Main Street but not two. Not surprisingly, he got the variance without a whole lot of discussion.

A new restaurant called Basque was slated to open in January at 108 Abendroth Ave., the ill-fated location where Romo’s had been the last tenant. There was a complete menu and listing of upcoming events on a website created for the new venture. I was excited because it was a brand-new cuisine for Port Chester and Rye Brook, and the dishes sounded scrumptious. But then the sign disappeared from the window about the opening date and all work stopped.

When landlord Neil Pagano was contacted this week, he said a new restaurant should be taking over the space soon, but it won’t be called Basque or serve Spanish cuisine. “I believe it has to do with a change of chefs,” he wrote in an email. Management is still in place, he said, and “I’m very encouraged and excited about the new direction.”

Something new will also be coming to the large restaurant space at 25 South Regent St., most famously known as the long-ago whereabouts of The Sawpit and for the past two years as Rela Café. Landlord Lou Larizza confirmed that a well-known Westchester restaurant group is expected to take over the space, but the lease had not been signed as of press time, so I promised not to publicize it yet. In the meantime, Rela is continuing to operate. A new eatery could be opening its doors as early as Apr. 1.

The Colombian restaurant Noches de Colombia is still in the works in The Waterfront at Port Chester space where Euro Asian Bistro used to be on Westchester Avenue. It is expected to open sometime in late spring.

Several other places have opened during the past year which we may feature in future issues: Sazon Peruana Peruvian restaurant at 137 Irving Ave., Delicia Central American Restaurant at 227 Westchester Ave., the former location of T&J Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, Il Coco Pazzo at 139 South Main St. serving Italian and other European specialties, and Noma’s American & Mexican Cuisine at 92 Purdy Ave.