Few pleasures compare to a crackling fire in the middle of Westchester’s frosty winter. Add a crisp, white tablecloth to the equation accompanied by a glass of red wine, a slab of steak, some hot coffee, and a flaming dessert (see Tango Grill below), and you’re in restaurant nirvana. The fire doesn’t have to be wood-burning to entice; all kinds of fireplaces up the ambience factor, adding warmth and romance to what normally would be a simple dinner. Here, some of my favorites. Just be warned: If I get there first, I’m not moving.
Benjamin Steak House (610 Hartsdale Ave, White Plains 914-428-6868) in the space that formerly housed Mighty Joe Young’s, has been completely overhauled and updated with the stately serenity of a New York steakhouse (and, indeed, it has a branch on East 41st Street). The place looks good without showing off—think lots of wood accents and comfy chocolate-brown chairs—along with food presentations that shine with minimal treatment (meaning your first-rate, dry-aged steak is cooked to sizzling perfection). In fact, it’s hard to decide between dining by the flickering gas-lit fireplace off to the left of the spacious dining room, or in the more intimate bar area where a glass wall showcases the eatery’s wide-ranging wine list. Either way, red wine is a must.
How do you top a meal at Crabtree’s Kittle House (11 Kittle Rd, Chappaqua 914-666-8044)? Try reserving a table by the roaring fireplace in the Tap Room and enjoy John Boy’s Farm’s locally grown roast chicken (among other entrées). The fireplace is part of the original inn and dates from the 1800s, offering plenty of charm to go along with top-notch New American fare, polite and accommodating servers, and a list of wines so extensive you might want to treat yourself to an overnight stay in one of the upstairs rooms.
You’ll feel like a guest at a swanky dinner party—but without having to bring a hostess gift—when you dine at The Farmhouse at Bedford Post (954 Old Post Rd, Bedford 914-234-7800), where a fireplace in the corner of the dining room ups the country-home charisma (not to mention the one in the lounge and the one in the private dining area). It doesn’t matter that the fireplaces are gas—one, because everything here is so authentic, you really can’t tell, and, two, because the elegant interior, superior service, and artistic presentations of even the most humble ingredients will have you wishing you could hire the restaurant’s interior decorator. The Barn, the restaurant’s more casual sibling, also has a wood-burning fireplace.
It’s easy to feel pampered and privileged at Equus Restaurant at The Castle on the Hudson (400 Benedict Ave, Tarrytown 914-631-3646) where, upon crossing the threshold, you can’t help but think you’ve been transported to the bygone days of the Rockefellers. This regal restaurant, with its two oversized wood-burning fireplaces (one in the Oak Room, one in the Tapestry Room), is known for its exquisite food and special-occasion dining. Just don’t be surprised when your Prince Charming forgets to open the car door for you upon exiting.
Dining at John-Michael’s Restaurant (100 Titicus Rd, North Salem 914-277-2301) is the definition of winter comfort. Ask to be seated at table 22, 23, 24, or 27 for a ringside perch of the majestic, 236-year-old stone fireplace (though any seat in the dining room has a view). Or opt for the Equestrian Room with a warm and toasty seat by the wood-burning stove. Either way, you’ll be dazzled by Chef John-Michael Hamlet’s creative winter hunter’s stew; his version of cassoulet made with duck confit, white beans, and root veggies; or his popular fennel-seed-crusted duck served with sweet-potato purée and fennel kraut. The restaurant, on the National Register of Historic Places, has become well known for its duck creations, despite the less formal bistro ambience (no more white tablecloths like its predecessor Purdys Homestead but instead bare wood tables). The bar, too, has been revamped with cocktail tables, a lounge area, TVs, and an extended menu of cocktails and locally brewed beers. The icing on the cake: another wood-burning fireplace by which to sit, drink, and be merry.
The brick fireplace at La Crémaillère (46 Bedford-Banksville Rd, Bedford 914-234-9647) dates from 1750 and makes you feel like you’re dining far away in some European countryside cottage as opposed to a white clapboard farmhouse in Northern Westchester. The enchanting French cuisine, which emphasizes fresh ingredients and changes on a seasonal basis, is complemented by an extensive wine cellar with more than 14,000 bottles.
Lusardi’s (1885 Palmer Ave, Larchmont 914-834-5555), a longtime Westchester favorite known for its mixture of Italian and Mediterranean fare, offers solace in comfort foods like pappardelle Bolognese and wins you over with its Barolo-laden wine list. But it’s the gas-lit fireplace in the dining room that adds to the restaurant’s coziness, making this doyenne of the dining scene a popular winter staple.
You’ll want it to snow just so you can thaw yourself by the fire at Peter Pratt’s Inn (673 Croton Heights Rd, Yorktown 914-962-4090) and dig into a hearty slice of grilled Colorado lamb with Dijon baby roasted potatoes. This former Revolutionary War-era barn, with its thick, petrified chestnut beams and Colonial design, serves epicurean meals in a snug, rustic setting that, thanks to the crackle of flames in the 231-year-old massive fireplace, takes you back to a slower-paced, non-texting era. Sigh.
If the long list of inventive cocktails at The Lobby Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester (3 Renaissance Sq, White Plains 914-946-5500) doesn’t warm you sufficiently, the gas-burning fireplace, with its center-stage presence, will. The flickering flames, which are lit most of the year, make for a spacious living room atmosphere ideal for people-watching (I saw Ann Curry!). Plunk yourself into one of the comfortable couches or chairs and enjoy the daily-changing menu (e.g., charcuterie and cheese on Tuesdays, sushi and oysters on Saturdays).
The mood is stylish and refined at Tango Grill (128 E Post Rd, White Plains 914-946-6222), where a gas fireplace illuminates the back dining room. I’ve long been a fan of the muted wood tones and formal ambience, along with the richly flavorful Argentinean and Italian cuisines. In keeping with the hot theme, try the rum-spiked dulce de leche crêpes for dessert, a flaming creation served with ice cream.
The Tap House (16 Depot Sq, Tuckahoe 914-337-6941) exudes casual pub-style hospitality while offering sophisticated food and a dizzying array of craft beers. This tastefully decorated space (think Old English pub with a dash of New York buzz) first impresses with its high-ceilinged front room and long bar where a few cozy booths entice with little lamps and semi-private nooks. There’s also a more intimate upstairs room that overlooks the action below. Our fave, though—complete with a walk-through the kitchen to get there—is the convivial dining room with gas-lit fireplace, making it a nice place to hibernate untill spring.
There are at least two reasons to be warmed by the charm of Marc Charles Steakhouse (94 Business Park Dr, Armonk 914-273-2700). The double-sided (gas) fireplace in the main dining room, which also opens to a private dining area, makes for a “twice as nice” spot to thaw out and enjoy the colossal shrimp scampi, Porterhouse pork chop, or sizzling New York strip with a Shiraz demi-glace. And, since three’s the charm, there’s also a smaller, more private fireplace that segues between the lobby of La Quinta Inn and the steakhouse—an ideal hideaway in which to sip a Purple Rain martini and wish for snow.
Who knew the Doubletree Hotel, renovated two years ago, had such an inviting mountain-lodge feel? Its chalet-soaring ceiling and hulky stone fireplaces (yes, there are two log-burning fireplaces in the lobby) warm you up even before you enter Bistro Z (455 S Broadway, Tarrytown 914-524-6410), where a third fireplace sits with your “reserved table” sign. Executive Chef James Rosenbauer, who has worked at some of New York City’s finest restaurants, including The River Café and the long-defunct Sign of the Dove, prides himself on offering local, seasonal food. And, indeed, starters like pumpkin-and-sage ravioli with dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and shaved Asiago cheese definitely taste better accompanied by the comfort of a warm, crackling blaze.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns (630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills 914-366-9600) offers a stunning wood-burning fireplace with plenty of seats to lounge and enjoy.
121 Restaurant and Bar (2 Dingle Ridge Rd, North Salem 914-669-0121) has a wood-burning fire in the bar area with tables nearby.
The Rye Bar & Grill (1 Station Plz, Rye 914-967-0332) boasts three gas fireplaces, one in each dining room, as well as a cozy one in the bar area.
Top of Page: Warm and inviting flames take center stage at the Ritz-Carlton’s Lobby Lounge in White Plains.
Jeanne Muchnick, a frequent contributor to Westchester Magazine, admits she loves fireplaces, heat lamps, bonfires, and outdoor fire pits (she’s always cold).