Hungry for the Heartland

Local restaurants, delis, and shops offer up a taste of the Midwest

What do you consider regional American cuisine? Maybe Southern classics like biscuits and gravy, buttermilk-fried chicken, and pecan pie come to mind. Or perhaps it’s Maine lobster rolls, New York cheesecake, San Francisco sourdough, and Boston baked beans. But what about the Midwest? Somehow, America’s heartland doesn’t seem to get the same culinary attention. And that’s a shame, because some of the country’s most distinctly American foods—cheddar cheese, beer, hot dogs, and pie—all thrive in the region. Without a plane ticket, you can get a taste of Midwestern dishes here in Westchester if you know where to look. 


Chicago Classics

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The only deep-dish to be found within Westchester’s borders is at Uno’s, in Yonkers or White Plains, though other Chicago traditions have made themselves at home in the county. You’ll find Chicago-style hot dogs that have been, as they say, “dragged through the garden” at Dobbs Dawg House in Dobbs Ferry, Kelly’s Sea Level in Rye, and Shake Shack in Yonkers (which was inspired by the Midwestern roadside stands of founder Danny Meyer’s childhood). “The great thing about the Chicago dog is how cool and refreshing it is,” says Rob Dubilier, owner of Dobbs Dawg House. Their Windy City Dawg starts with a rich all-beef dog and features a myriad of classic toppings that add bright contrast, including zingy yellow mustard, sweet relish, pickle spears, diced tomatoes and onions, celery salt, and the requisite sport peppers, a medium-heat chili pepper that they bring in from Chicago. 

In Old Greenwich, ReNapoli Pizzeria & Chicago Italian Beef serves one of the Windy City’s iconic sandwiches. Legend has it that the beef sandwich originated in the 1930s, when roast beef was thinly sliced and soaked in its own juices, as a way to stretch the cut. At ReNapoli, beef is slow-cooked in a wood-fire oven with herbs, fresh garlic, and red wine, then thinly sliced and topped with spicy Chicagoan giardiniera. It’s served au jus, but, for a truly authentic experience, get it really soaked, so the beefy juices run down your arm with every bite.


Cheese, Beer, and Brats

At The Oath Craft Beer Sanctuary in Tarrytown, where the unofficial motto is: “Have fun, make the food fun, and don’t do the same thing as everybody else,” the beer-centric menu features a Wisconsin staple: cheese curds. Chef Jonathan Chevlin beer-batters nuggets of white cheddar, deep-fries them until crisp and melting and serves them with beef gravy. “Every bar you go to has mozzarella sticks,” says Chevlin. “No one [here] knows what a cheese curd is. And, for that reason, we do it.” 

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After cheese, sausages and beer are Wisconsin’s most beloved foods. While Milwaukee is best known in these parts for Miller and Pabst, there’s plenty of craft beer to love, as well. “Our premier Wisconsin craft brewery is Central Waters. All of the barrel-aged beers they do are incredible,” says Half Time’s Adam Wolloch, who notes that the brewery’s stout, Scotch ale, and pumpkin ale are all bourbon-barrel-aged. “They also have an amazing double IPA called Illumination that comes out once a year,” he notes. Try the Scotch ale, not just for drinking but also for braising brats. You can special order the fresh sausages from Who’s Cooking in Croton Falls, or, in a pinch, grab a pack of links from esteemed NYC butcher Karl Ehmer at Fairway Markets or The Pork Store in Port Chester. 


Ethnic Eats

Missouri is known for its Kansas City barbecue, but St. Louis is equally famous for its Italian American community. The signature dish: toasted ravioli. T-rav, as they’re known locally, are typically stuffed with meat (or sometimes cheese), breaded, fried, and served with a side of marinara. At The Wooden Spoon in New Rochelle, fried ravioli have found a spot on the menu between mac ‘n’ cheese-topped burgers and healthy salad bowls. They’re filled with a three-cheese-and- spinach blend and coated in a house-made breading that’s light enough to let the pasta shine. “I grew up in an Italian household where I didn’t know it was a regional dish,” says owner Nick Triscari. “Whenever we’d get a hot antipasto that had fried ravioli, that’s what I went for first. It takes a ravioli and brings it to the next level.” 

Another must-visit on this Midwestern food odyssey is an authentic Polish deli. Huge waves of Polish immigrants made their homes around the Great Lakes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and their culinary traditions still hold strong in the region. In Westchester, The Polish Deli in Yonkers is our bastion for all kinds of authentic (and seemingly unpronounceable) fare, including more than a dozen types of kielbasa, Polish-style salami, pickles, and house-made pierogi. 

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Sweets Along the Great Lakes

Classic Midwestern desserts are a bit harder to find, but they’re available if you know where to look. Call ahead to Blue Tulip in Rye for a batch of buckeye candies, named for the confection’s resemblance to the nut of the Ohio state tree. Chocolatier Diane Holland elevates this homey chocolate-dipped peanut butter fudge by making an elegant peanut butter ganache and dipping them in fine chocolate.  

With more than 70 percent of the nation’s sour cherry production coming from Michigan, cherry pie might as well be the state dessert. At Baked by Susan in Croton-on-Hudson, owner Susan O’Keefe sources sour cherries from New York and Michigan to bake her sour cherry pies. “We never use canned filling,” says O’Keefe. “We just do brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, and an all-butter crust.” While you’ll readily find them in the bakery case during summer months, it’s best to call ahead in fall. “Once you’ve had a pie that’s just real cherries, it’s such a difference,” promises O’Keefe. “It’s one of my favorites.”     


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