Fortina, owned by partners Rob Krauss, John Nealon, and Chef Christian Petroni, offers a sophisticated dining experience with the warm and inclusive feel of family—one that you actually get along with. Your meal is made extra-special with friends (the waitresses) joking around and nonni (the owners) checking to make sure you’ve eaten enough.
Situated right off of Armonk’s Main Street in a shopping center paired with an upscale grocery store, Fortina has an unassuming storefront, adorned with a few strands of festive lights. The restored-barn-chic décor on the inside, however, is spot-on: steel chandeliers, wood tables with surprisingly comfortable wooden chairs, and a matching bar running the entire length of one of the rooms. Although Fortina is heavy on the wooden barn theme, you never feel like you’re in a dark, gloomy cave thanks to high ceilings, strategically placed white tiling, an octopus chalk mural, and the brightly colored bottles lined up behind the bar.
While the huge flatscreen TV running a constant stream of muted movies in the dining room was a bit of a distraction (on one visit, my father caught up on The Royal Tenenbaums and the first half of the latest James Bond flick), the rest of the TVs are situated above the bar, making the restaurant a prime spot for The Big Game. According to our waitress, Chef Petroni is a huge fan of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which explains the portrait of Bill Murray’s character from the movie hanging in the dining room.
Start out with prosciutto served with figs, and try the crispy fried meatballs in a light marinara sauce. There is no polite way to eat the sticky wood-fired chicken wings with cherry mostarda, but go for it anyway—they’re tangy and sweet in all of the right places, with a bit of heat. The fried potatoes with rosemary and Parmesan just begged for a dipping sauce, maybe a fresh lemony aioli.
Seasonality plays a key role in Fortina’s ever-changing menu, and each dish maintains a simple elegance you’ll crave on a bi- (or even tri-) weekly basis. Creamy burrata with fresh peas (or other seasonal vegetable) and brown butter on toast is a classic go-to appetizer.
The drink list, overwhelming considering the simple nature of the food, boasts international and local wine and beer options. Don’t stress; the wait staff is suitably knowledgeable and will help you choose wisely.
When dining at a restaurant fitted with a wood-burning brick oven especially devoted to pizzas, order one. Or, even better, order a few and split with your party—each pie is big enough for two people to share. The thin-ish crust is tasty on its own, with smoky notes and slightly charred on the edges. Start out with the most popular choices: the Luigi Bianco, classic margherita, and tenderoni.
Made with burrata; robiolina (a lemony, soft, semi-sweet unaged cheese, similar to chèvre or cream cheese); Parmesan; and topped with delicate black truffle, the Luigi Bianco strikes a rarely seen balance among decadent ingredients to form the perfect pie. The margherita—tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella—is several steps up from the typical slice and will become a quick favorite with the kids. Save room on the table for the tenderoni, which is made up of tomato, spicy soppressata, mozzarella, chili oil, and honey. It’s suspiciously reminiscent of the Bee Sting pizza from a certain Brooklyn-based pizzeria, but a worthy copycat.
The pastas, like the seasonal agnolotti in Marsala sauce, were an unnecessary distraction from the pizza. The restaurant’s version of pasta with vodka sauce was bland and slightly burnt from a trip into the wood-fired oven. I managed, however, to wolf down an entire bowl of pici—thick, hand-rolled pasta in tomato sauce with just the right amount of smoked bacon, and then proceeded to mop up any remaining smoky, meaty sauce with the thick-sliced bread, which, although complimentary, you must request.
If you still have room to eat anything else at this point, get the classic tortoni. Not made in-house, this Italian gelato is light and nutty with hints of amaretto. The homemade tiramisu, the recipe for which was passed down from the chef’s mother, is heavy on the rum in the best way. I heard rumors about a $10 cannoli, but, sadly, it wasn’t on the menu either time I visited.
Word travels quickly in Westchester; just two months after opening, Fortina was drawing large crowds mid-week. Reservations are recommended, but I was seated without reservations on a busy Thursday evening, and waited no more than 15 minutes.
Fortina gives me an excuse, for the first time in years, to schlep to Armonk for chic yet casual quality dining in a welcoming atmosphere. And for delicious wood-fired pizzas.
17 Maple Ave, Armonk, (914) 273-0900; fortinapizza.com
Hours: Mon – Sat, 5 pm to close; Sun, 11:30 am to close
Appetizers: $5-$21; entrées: $10-$42; dessert: $5-$8
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