Freddy’s interior sign. Photo by Andrew Dominick.
Catching the wave of renewed popularity for tavern food, Freddy’s in Pleasantville is a dream come true for its owners.
By Andrew Dominick and Abbe Wichman
Arguably the biggest restaurant buzz right now comes from Pleasantville where Matt and Christina Safarowic have added to the village’s booming food scene with the opening of Freddy’s Restaurant, which is already off to a fantastic start judging by a jam-packed dining room on a sweltering summer evening in the middle of the week.
At Freddy’s, this dynamic married duo are simply stoked to be back in the game as owners and operators, and for Matt, he’s glad to be back in a kitchen of his own after some time off. (Although, he did make appearances at pop-ups with David DiBari and the DoughNation pizza truck, with Christian Petroni’s garlic butter Sicilian pizza events, and as a chef-in-residence at the Bedford Playhouse and Pour.) Matt and Christina Safarowic are known to Westchester residents as the former faces running two popular Katonah restaurants, The Whitlock and Jay Street Café. “With Freddy’s [named for Matt’s father], we envisioned a place for family and friends to gather comfortably while still having fun,” Christina says. She notes the inspiration for the restaurant came via old-school restaurants from their childhood. “We focused on highlighting feelings of nostalgia, with a comfort-food-with-a-spin menu.”
“I’m excited to come to work every day again,” Matt says. “Sometimes you have to take a chance and throw yourself off a cliff (by not having a job to fall back on) to find happiness again. I had so much fun doing the pop-ups, and it was the happiest I had been in years. We’re so fortunate to be back with a place of our own.”
And “their own” it is. Old school red and white checkered tablecloths, a collage of family photos, a welcoming bar, and graffiti mural that reads “FREDDY’S” is a mashup of vibes that’s not only casually welcoming, but it also exudes “family.” And that’s the idea, as the restaurant’s namesake is Matt’s father.
“We focused on highlighting feelings of nostalgia, with a comfort-food-with-a-spin menu.”
— Christina Safarowic
But what guests can expect to eat at Freddy’s is food that Matt likes to eat, combined with the creativity he has gained via his experiences thus far as a chef. And do expect some family tributes, because for Matt, family is everything. “We made sure we were home every day at five o’clock,” he recalls. “We just wanted dinner, regardless of what it was. We didn’t have a lot of money, so it wasn’t about what we were eating, it was about being together.”
That concept menu offers appetizers such as Matt’s take on tostones, which are generally made with plantain slices. Here, he uses sunchokes, a root vegetable, and serves them with an addictive lemon pepperoncini aioli. For entrées, there is a bright-tasting and -looking spaghetti limone, and a juicy tavern burger, of course, with 10 ounces of dry-aged beef, served alongside cottage fries. There’s a rotating choice of desserts, including a not-to-be-missed pavlova. The pastries and pastas are courtesy of Francesca Primeggia, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef.
Matt says, “A true description of American food is that it takes something from every culture – and that’s what’s behind the menu.” He notes that it’s kept on the smaller side because, “We want to do what we do right, and in today’s restaurant reality, it’s become harder to find certain items.” He notes that they will be running specials for vegetarians or vegans too. Happy hour, meanwhile, served Wednesday through Friday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., will feature bites like pigs in a blanket and blue-cheese-stuffed fried olives.
Freddy’s seats 40 at tables and an additional 12 at the bar and some counter seats. The decor, with family photos on the wall and red-and-white-checked tablecloths, have customers feeling right at home. Freddy’s joins a burgeoning Pleasantville dining scene, with new and revitalized restaurants. “We’re so excited to be a part of the town’s food-and-arts scene,” Christina says.
Now that you’ve got your intro to Freddy’s, here are five fantastic dishes — even though it’s hard to pick only five — that you should dive into, together with your loved ones, of course.
If there is a signature dish, it’s this. What’s not to love about rigatoni tossed and topped with a rich, meaty sauce and a heaping dollop of fresh whipped ricotta? It was also Freddy’s favorite, and Matt joked that his dad would “put Bolognese on anything and everything.” But what’s the secret in the three-hour simmered sauce? “Bacon,” Matt reveals. “It gives it smokiness and a whole ’nother level of flavor.”
French Onion Short Rib
A slow-braised short rib that falls apart with a twist of the fork will always win us over. Add in low-and-slow, sweet caramelized onions, bubbly gruyere cheese potatoes au gratin, and two giant crunchy onion rings and what you’ve won is heartiness personified.
The Drink Program
The overall bar program doesn’t count as a dish unless you’re drinking your dinner, but you should know what’s in store. Early on, they’ve slowly rolled out a few drinks per night. One of those was a house-made sangria, while the other, a smoky, sweet tart combo was a fresh blackberry mezcal margarita. What will soon be mixed up behind the stick is a blend of classics and fun interpretation of said classics. “I don’t want to say, ‘the classics, reimagined!’” Christina says. “The Dirty Shirley is a big thing now, so we’re considering a play on it that’s sort of a Dark ’n’ Stormy with Amarena liqueur.”
When it’s all in place, Christina expects to fill 20 taps with mostly local beer, while three will be reserved for wine (maybe one for prosecco), and a few batched cocktails. Wine in glasses and bottles will be a focus, too. “I want to push the wine program here more than in our previous places because the market has changed with all the relocated folks that came from Manhattan or elsewhere,” Christina says. “Pleasantville has become Northern Westchester’s culinary destination. There’s so much here from the train station to arts, music, the farmers market. And it’s easy to get around, so if you can’t get into a restaurant here, you can walk to another great place nearby and get in there. We want to make sure we’re ready for those with more sophisticated palates.”
Char Siu Heritage Pork Chop (Veggie Fried Rice and House-Made Kimchi)
This is a fun one since it’s a take on those Chinese takeout spare ribs we all order on the side with our sesame chicken. The difference is this is a high quality, thick, bone-in chop that’s marinated for four days in a secret Cantonese-inspired sauce that’s sweet, sticky, and tangy. It’s cooked over an open flame and wood briquettes for smokiness, a perfect char, and a juicy, glistening center when you cut into it.
Dessert is no afterthought here! Like everything else at Freddy’s, desserts are house-made. Sure, cheesecake is seemingly ordinary everywhere, but it’s a plus when it’s not overly sweet, served just a tad chillier than room temperature, and it doesn’t hurt when the crust tastes like Milk Bar’s Crack Pie. And an added brightness from a handful of macerated blueberries and shaved lime zest on top will ensure that you don’t just take one bite.