Around the county, there are numerous opportunities for family-style dinners and group-dining events, with menus geared toward creating memorable dining experiences and celebratory occasions.
“The spectacle of large plates on a table… it’s a lot of fun,” says Executive Chef Chris Vergara of Meritage in Scarsdale and Saint George Bistro in Hastings-on-Hudson. Both restaurants began offering prix fixe Sunday-evening family-style dinners about six years ago. “If you ask any of us, deep down inside that’s how we want to serve food all the time. It’s how we like to eat at home,” he comments. “It’s convivial, more conducive to a relaxed, good time at the table.”
Though Vergara says recreating the Italian Sunday dinners of his youth would be a nifty trick, he enjoys when customers order the meal to-go because “people are actually in their homes, having this grandiose Sunday supper.”
The menu, served for the whole table’s participation, includes an appetizer and entrées, like chicken scarpariello at Meritage. Family-style sides are included at Saint George, where trout Grenobloise and coq au vin are favorites.
For nearly nine years, The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry has offered a pig dinner during which the bronzed, roasted whole animal is ceremoniously brought out on a wooden cutting board and carved at a table that had belonged to chef-owner David DiBari’s grandmother. “That sort of dining has always been a family thing, a traditional or celebratory style of dinner among many Europeans, and even here, in the southern U.S.,” DiBari says. “The Cookery at its true essence is Italian, but it’s not within a certain box. Therefore, we’re able to tie in comfort and culture. We can do whatever we want and have a party and a good time with people who are dining.”
Served with appetizers, sides, and dessert, diners can also add a pasta course and/or a wine or beer pairing for an additional fee. And couples, families, and groups enjoy querying Chef Sajin Renae as she carves.
DiBari has also brought large-format meals to Eugene’s, his quirky, new 1970s-vibe diner in Port Chester, named after his diner-loving grandfather. The area’s lively downtown offers numerous opportunities for celebration, says DiBari, who offers whole-roasted pig, duck, fish, or prime rib, served with sides and pudding chomeur, a special dessert dramatically unveiled at the table. Groups enjoy their meal in an upstairs loft with a private-living-room feel.
The connective power of food was also on Chef Christian Petroni’s mind when he brought the polenta table to Fortina in Armonk, Rye Brook, and Yonkers (advance order required). “It’s a great communal atmosphere to sit with the people you care about and see something cool that you don’t normally get to,” he says. In ancient Tuscan times, polenta (known as cucina povera or “food of the poor”) was spread on a wooden table, topped with game meats, pecorino Romano cheese, and whatever diners had from their gardens, and eaten directly off the table.
Petroni got the idea after experiencing the preparation by Chef Michael Lomonaco years ago in San Francisco.
At Fortina, Petroni’s version starts with cheesy heirloom polenta spread on the (specially cleaned) table. It’s then layered one at a time with fried meatballs, pork braciole, spicy marinara sauce, wood-roasted vegetables, and a blizzard of grated Parmesan cheese in a dramatic presentation inspired by Chef Grant Achatz’s unconventional presentations at Alinea in Chicago. “We took something traditional, took someone who inspires us, and just had some fun with it,” remarks Petroni.
When Augie’s opened in Larchmont in 1990, it offered individual and family-style portions. Noticing that diners more frequently ordered family-style and that New York City’s family-style restaurant, Carmine’s, had achieved impressive popularity, then-owner Augie Vitiello switched to an all family-style menu, in 1992. “It was something different,” says current manager Edward Figueroa. “Most people were attracted to it, especially families. You can’t feed a party of five with an [regular] entrée.” The extensive menu of Italian American offerings includes the popular chicken parmigiana and “kitchen sink” pasta, with shrimp, sausage, prosciutto, and chicken in cream sauce.
Dining at Mount Kisco’s Ethiopian restaurant, Lalibela, follows the country’s custom of sharing dishes using injera flatbread to scoop up food. “Traditionally, in Ethiopia, whether it’s lunch or dinner, everything is served on a shared plate, family-style,” explains owner Selamawit “Mimi” Wieland-Tesfaye.
Chicken dishes like doro wat or stews of meat or vegetables are portioned onto a large round plate covered with injera; everyone digs in. Customers only request separate plates if there are dietary restrictions. When Lalibela opened in 2010, some brought plastic forks. Today, forks are offered, but diners don’t use them. Says Wieland-Tesfaye, “They want the food and drink; they want the whole experience.”
Liz Susman Karp is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two sons in Briarcliff Manor.