“I don’t think of it like an empire,” says David DiBari, chef-owner of Dobbs Ferry’s The Cookery and The Parlor, and of Eugene’s Diner & Bar in Port Chester. “‘Empire is almost a bad word to me. It’s too corporate. I think of it as being able to do what I love. I think of it as an amusement park.” And like any good roller coaster, DiBari’s restaurants include plenty of twists and turns.
The Cookery’s menu is as much rustic Italian favorites, including milky homemade mozzarella and casarecce with minty lamb Bolognese, as it is edgy spins like bone-marrow-topped cornmeal waffles and pig’s head doughnuts. Amid the puffy Neapolitan pizzas served with scissors at his punk-rock pizzeria, The Parlor, are curveballs like fried Brussels sprouts tossed with Rice Krispies.
And all of DiBari’s restaurants include an innovative, 3%, food-only surcharge that goes to kitchen workers to address wage discrepancies.
DiBari with a tower of his popular The Cookery meatballs.
“I realized everything I was searching for culinarily was right in my backyard.”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and working for Mario Batali at Babbo and at Zuppa in Yonkers, DiBari opened The Cookery in 2009. “Towards the end of my time at Zuppa, I realized everything I was searching for culinarily was right in my backyard,” says DiBari, who grew up in Verplanck, cooking with his Italian grandmother. (Her meatball recipe and kitchen table both found their way to The Cookery.)
At the same time, however, he didn’t want to be constrained by the white-tablecloth fine-dining Italian that had become de rigueur in Westchester. “I think that’s why we called it The Cookery. By not giving it a name with two syllables, ending in a vowel, people wouldn’t expect that and would be okay with something that was different,” he says.
This spring, DiBari debuted another twist: Eugene’s, a retro-style, ’70s-inspired diner. It’s his biggest amusement park yet, with new rides — a rotisserie, rotating pie display, and upstairs lounge for large-format dinners — for DiBari and his team to play with. Creatively, it also complements The Cookery, where, ironically, more than half the menu has become so popular that “there’d be an uprising if we tried to take dishes off,” says DiBari. “Even if you write a new album, you still have to play the old songs.”