How Fortina Avoids Normalcy And Blends Design With Dining To Stand Out

Chef Christian Petroni and crew open their second wood-burning oven eatery, in Rye Brook.

The original Fortina in Armonk was opened in May 2013 by partners John Nealon, Rob Krauss, and Christian Petroni. Now, Fortina has come south to Rye Brook’s Rye Ridge Shopping Center. (A third location is planned for the Harbor Point waterfront section of Stamford, Connecticut, in June.) As their empire expands, how do they avoid looking cookie-cutter? The design mission, according to Chef Petroni, is to stay away from Edison bulbs and barn wood as he says, “that used to be cool but is too common now.” Instead, the task for Yonkers-based Thomas E. Haynes Architect, which also did Dolphin (Yonkers) and Lake Isle by Mulino’s (Eastchester), was to have the Rye Brook location—as well as any future locations—impart the “feel of a Fortina,” which reflects the personalities of the trio of owners: warm, fun, a little silly, a little campy. 

136 S Ridge St, Rye Brook
(914) 937-0900;

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1. The overall burned wood look is complemented by a polished concrete bar, matte-finish subway tiles, and raw steel shelving.  

2. This shelving holds the large yellow cans of La Valle Pomodori Pelati tomatoes that function smartly as pizza stands.

3. The vintage mosaic tile floor was one of the few elements in the 3,200-square-foot space kept from the prior restaurant, Racanelli’s Pizza & Brew.  

4. Artist Diedre Mannix of Wilton, Connecticut, used chalk and paint to create this 80-foot mural.

5. The duo of Marra Forni ovens cost $65,000; the one on the left is for pizza (715°F) and the other (600°F) for proteins and veggies. “We take food seriously, insanely seriously,” says Petroni. Just don’t expect foams, gelées, or deconstructed items. Instead, look for simple, yet creative, Italian fare from wood-fired ovens like pizza with spicy sopressata, mozzarella, chili oil, and honey; and octopus with white beans and olives. 

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6. Petroni and woodworker Mike Steinthal of Yonkers designed marine plywood chairs that are light and stackable—unlike the heavier, non-stackable chairs at Fortina Armonk, which are made from French oak wine barrels. “I call the Rye Brook chairs ‘Fortina Chairs 2.0,’” says  Petroni. 

7. The faux Wall of Stars, says Petroni, “is homage to the Italian-American joints we grew up on.” Among 50 portraits is this sequence of Oprah Winfrey, Dom DeLuise, and Macaulay Culkin. “Oprah” writes: “You get a Luigi Bianco, you get a Luigi Bianco, and you get a Luigi Bianco!!!” referring to Fortina’s signature pie.  

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