Best Dinner and Music

Get jazzed up at these Westchester eateries where The music is every bit as important as the food.

Interested in a little folk with your fettuccine? Some melodies with your Merlot? Pairing meals and music is a common theme in Westchester, where you can find everything from Cuban jazz to classic rock at venues ranging from honky-tonk pubs to sophisticated wine bars. Many of the restaurateurs themselves are amateur musicians or music aficionados who wanted to bring a slice of the Manhattan music scene—and the good food that goes with it—to the county, but understood the need to get home at a decent hour to pay the babysitter. The result: a host of local eateries that offer harmonious entertainment in a variety of flavors.

Of course, it helps that so much musical talent resides in this area, everyone from Grammy-award-winning guitarist Gil Parris to Rob Thomas (and his backup singer, Marc Von Em) to Dennis Collins, who’s performed and recorded with such renowned artists as Sting, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, and Sheryl Crow. Philip Maniatty, co-owner of Pound Ridge-based North Star Restaurant, likes to joke that Sting couldn’t afford the band Dennis brought in once—friends of his that just happened to be free (who also happen to be some of the best musicians around)—Will Lee (bass player for David Letterman’s Late Show), Leon Pendarvis (Saturday Night Live’s musical director), and Ralph MacDonald (who’s played with James Taylor and Jimmy Buffett, among others). His Northern Westchester hangout is just one of many where, luckily, providing entertainment doesn’t mean glossing over the finer points of a dining establishment. (Maniatty’s chef, incidentally, is Franz Fruhmann, who was head chef at Raoul’s Le Bistro de Soho in New York City.) Here, some area favorites who hit the high notes with perfect harmony.

There’s always something going on at 12 Grapes, which, in its almost three years in business, has become the new go-to spot for top-notch performers including Mark Rivera, Billy Joel’s sax player since 1982 (he is also musical director for Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band); Grammy winner and drummer Yonrico Scott of The Derek Trucks Band; five-time Grammy nominee, producer, and keyboard player Jon Cobert; and world-class guitarist Gil Parris. Other performers include Bruce Katz (Gregg Allman’s current keyboard player), Marc Von Em (Rob Thomas’s current back-up singer), and Mike Bram (Jason Mraz’s drummer). Owner Rich Credidio, a 30-year sales veteran in information technology, who occasionally jams with his bands (he says he’s okay on the drums), admits owning a musical venue with good wine and food was always a dream of his. “This is my reinvention stage,” he says of his new career and the eatery he hopes people will think of as a perpetual house party.

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The atmosphere is calming and jazzy: exposed brick on two sides, walls that alternate in color from magenta to sage green, purple tablecloths over white, and a sizeable stage which commonly holds a six- to 10-piece band. Tables are not on top of the music but close enough to see the musician’s expressions. For those who want a more intimate view, there are comfortable leather sofas up front.

Credidio admits he likes to mix it up with his bookings and doesn’t want to be labeled as only hosting one specific style of music—which is why checking the website is the best way to find out what’s happening. Fridays and Saturdays tend to be when the larger (often six to 12 pieces)—and louder—bands play, and range from rock and blues to soul and R&B. Sundays are mellower with singer-songwriters, bluegrass with banjos and fiddles, or even gospel.

Credidio doesn’t want to be pigeonholed with the menu, either. “If something’s not working, we take it off and try something else,” he says. His chef, Pasquale Sarwar, was once a personal chef to Leona Helmsley. The ever-evolving venue makes for avid followers and has garnered a raft of accolades including two “Awards of Distinction” for ’09 and ’08 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Pictured Above: Mark Rivera of Billy Joel’s band joins Jon Cobert & the Guise at 12 Grapes.

Cover: Depends on the music, but typically about $5 to $10. High Notes: An 18-piece swing band (Greg Westhoff & the Westchester Swing Band) performs the second Monday of every month. The band includes musicians from various Broadway shows as well as the West Point Black Knights. Beat It: 12 N Division St, Peekskill (914) 737-6624.

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Since opening a little more than a year ago, Murphy’s Law has built a reputation as a let’s-grab-a-burger and go-neighborhood pub offering comfort food and a laid back vibe. Owners Tim Murphy and Jim Morganthaler, two golf buddies and music afficionados, support local bands. If you’re never heard of the Bookends Trio, Orange Felix, Castaways, Dirty Water Dogs, and I-40, then stop by and say hi. The lineup shifts from week to week, offering a constant flow of rotating bands, as a way to rest assured you never get bored. And, even though the music doesn’t start until 10 pm, the kitchen serves a full menu until midnight (think burgers, brews, nachos, Irish specialties like shepherd’s pie, and bistro favorites like lobster ravioli) with a late-night bar menu till 1 am (the band often goes until then as well).

Cover: No High Notes: Thursday night is trivia night, Friday night is karaoke, and Saturday features live music. Beat It: 110 Halstead Ave, Harrison (914) 630-2760.

You can’t help but smile the minute you enter The Bayou, which bills itself as offering “darn good eats with darn good music” complete with “Appeteasers” like Creole gumbo, Cajun fried calamari, voodoo wings (jalapeños stuffed with mozzarella or boudin sausage), and “Side Splitters” like sweet tater fries and a slab o’ cornbread. While the heart and soul of the food is pure New Orleans, right down to its killer Hurricanes and lip-smacking entrées (think Bourbon Street BBQ ribs and Jazzy Jumpin’ jambalaya), it’s all about mixing it up come showtime. On one night, you could walk into Mardi Gras with the accordion-playing CJ Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band and some lively Zydeco music, while another time you might find a Black Sabbath tribute courtesy of Into the Void. The atmosphere is pulsating, fun (and loud!), with songs that stick in your head long after you head home. Music on Thursdays starts at 9:30 pm, with the bigger headline bands playing Friday and Saturday starting at 11 pm.

Cover: Free on Thursday nights; $5 to $15 on Fridays and Saturdays. High Notes: There is always something going on here, so check the website calendar for updates. Plus, the kitchen is open until 1 am. Beat It: 580 Gramatan Ave, Mount Vernon (914) 668-2634.

In the mood for some Irish music? Brodie’s Pub is a traditional Irish watering hole—named Best Irish Pub in Westchester Magazine’s 2010 Best of Westchester issue—and is all about traditional hospitality and fun. Don’t expect get-up-and-dance music (though, come St. Paddy’s day, it’s a different story), but do expect covers of ’60s and ’70s music by local artists starting at 9:30 pm on Saturdays (untill 1 am), with Irish music specialties once a month (think step-dancing and bagpipes). Food is served until midnight on weekends (or 11pm on weekdays): try a beefy burger, authentic fish and chips, or a slice of shepherd’s pie.

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Cover: No High Notes: There’s Irish music at least once a month along with special Irish weekends. Beat It: 3262 E Main St, Mohegan Lake (914) 528-1614.

Karma Lounge, which opened last spring, is still carving out its niche—but it’s getting there, thanks, in part, to its warm Zen vibe, monster martini list, and the fact that it’s pretty much the only game in town where you can mix light bites and live music. Here, you can sip a glass of Mirassou Pinot Noir on a sofa in the lounge area while balancing your plate of grilled skirt steak, or opt for a table in the large dining room where a small Buddha statue may stare back at you. The sophisticated room features exposed brick walls, soft lighting, and a warm atmosphere while also boasting a flavorful tapas selection of coconut shrimp, pan-seared sea scallops, and crab cakes. Complement either with the Karma-Tini of your choice (there are at least 20 options) and the sounds of R&B band Shomari, and you’re in for a fine, fine night. This Connecticut-based group is exclusive to Karma (they don’t play at any other Westchester venues) and brings a sense of funk, rhythm, and overall good vibrations. Shomari plays once a month (usually the first or second Friday of the month) starting at ll pm, but call first as evenings vary.

Cover: $10 for Shomari High Notes: According to Manager Alison D’Elia, the restaurant is looking to expand its events list. At press time, she was in the process of interviewing jazz musicians for acoustic Thursdays starting at 8 pm (no cover). There is also a DJ on weekends. Beat It: 175 Main St, Ossining (914) 488-5999.

If the perfectly decadent truffle mac and cheese doesn’t win you over at North Star Restaurant, the rustic six-year-old nightspot in the Pound Ridge hamlet of Scotts Corners, the music will. Everyone from Andy Aledort of the Dicky Betts Band to background singer Dennis Collins, who works regularly with Roberta Flack, Phil Ramone, and other major artists and producers, has been here, thanks in part to co-owner Philip Maniatty’s connections (he’s a 20-year vet of the music industry). We have to admit we’re suckers for the inspirational quotes that are stenciled on the walls, including lines from Jimi Hendrix (“Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens”); Bono (“America is an idea, as well as a country”); and Walt Disney (“It’s fun to try to do the impossible”). We’re also blown away by the acoustics, which make the place rock (pun intended). The whole effect is warm and intimate with walls that look like leather, hand-blown glass chandeliers over the bar, and a woodsy interior à la a Vermont country corner. We like, too, that the staff bends over backwards to accommodate you, ever mindful of maintaining the right balance of volume to conversation. If you’re lucky, you’ll be here on a night when Ten Feet Deep (a local Pound Ridge band Maniatty feels strongly would be a “big deal,” if discovered) is playing. Also worth journeying out to see: singer/songwriter Andrew Bourdeaux. “Maybe I should put in a webcam at North Star and broadcast the concerts,” quips Maniatty of his star players. Generally, Wednesdays are acoustic nights with a singer/ songwriter; Thursdays are full-band nights (meaning the place rocks!), and Sundays feature Dennis Collins. Plus, don’t forget that mac and cheese (a decadent combination of fontina, cheddar, and Swiss cheese) and the soy-glazed Chilean sea bass. Luckily, thanks to the energetic music, you can order both and dance it off later.

Ten Feet Deep plays at North Star Restaurant—until they get discovered

Cover: None. High Notes: The venue is the occasional host of CD release parties. Beat It: 85 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge (914) 764-0200. Reservations are necessary for dinner and music. On Wednesdays, the music starts 8 or 8:30 pm; Thursdays, 9 pm; Sundays, 6:30 pm.

Don’t let the nondescript décor fool you. Once inside The Rye Roadhouse, you’ll be snapping your fingers and tapping your toes and wondering why the heck you haven’t been here before. The answer: this hideaway is not your typical Rye restaurant. In fact, many who finally find it—some of whom have lived in the area for years—are surprised it even exists. “We’re sort of a neighborhood secret,” says Greg DeMarco who, along with partners Jon DeMarco, Kevin Campbell, and Tom Codispoti, took over what had been called The High Street Roadhouse in October ’07. What had previously been a dive (written with love) still retains its honky-tonk charm while also catering to families, singles, and music lovers with a (pardon the pun) beat all its own. The New Orleans-style eatery has been spruced up and renovated, while keeping its down-home ambience. Set on one of Rye’s oldest streets, it has the feel of what life in Rye was like before its high-end boutiques and brasseries. Come on a Friday or Saturday night usually for Southern rock and blues. Music often starts at 10:30 pm, after the dinner rush, with many people reserving a table at 9 or 9:30 pm so they can chow down on steak fajitas or blackened red snapper and then still have a good seat come showtime (there’s also a limited bar menu until 1 am). The menu is standard comfort food with a Dixieland bent, including Big Joe’s Jambalaya, Southern fried chicken, barbecue ribs, Louisiana fish ‘n’ chips, and Texas-style chili. Wash it all down with Mike’s Bloody Mary, an old recipe that dates to a restaurant called the Maple Tree Inn, which DeMarco’s father used to own. He’s kicked it up a notch with an Old Bay-crusted rim, jalapeño-stuffed olive, and spicy pepperoncini. Table seating gets you close to the stage, but you can certainly see and hear from the bar. It’s an intimate space.

Barbecue ribs from The Rye Roadhouse go great with Southern rock music.

Cover: Varies depending on who’s playing, but generally about $5. High Notes: The Roadhouse, at press time, has about 900 fans on Facebook, where it posts its upcoming events. Beat It: 12 High St, Rye (914) 925-2668.

The sounds of Latin music and the aromas of Latin food waft out of the front door at Belle Havana, making you wonder if it’s some kind of holiday. Nope. Just an average Sunday on a Yonkers corner where sultry tunes pour out of this French-Cuban hybrid. The restaurant, overseen by Chef Alex Cheblal (previously of New York City’s Tribeca Grill and Le Bernardin, among others) and his wife, Stella Rodriguez Cheblal, continues to carve out a groove for itself with imaginative food, house-specialty mojitos (for me, it’s a toss-up between the watermelon and the classic), and a relaxed atmosphere sure to capture your soul as well as your stomach. Everything here feels like an exclamation point! An Old Havana meets Parisian bistro ambience! Vintage cigar posters! Ceiling fans that din overhead! Red snapper in banana leaves! And a great price! Sunday brunch, which is served from ll:30 am to 3:30 pm, is just $9.95.

Cover: No. High Notes: Pace yourself. The mojitos are decadent. Beat It: 35 Main St, Yonkers (914) 969-1006.

Watercolor Café is the granddaddy of the Westchester music scene. Owner Bruce Carroll, a musician himself, has been on this stretch of Boston Post Road for more than 10 years and has booked some of the hottest names on the club and theater touring circuit, including Lucy Kaplansky, Graham Parker, Sloan Wainwright, Richard Shindell, and Richie Havens, along with many area artists like jazz pianist (and Scarsdale resident) Ted Rosenthal. In the process, he’s put Larchmont on the musical map, inspiring bands at other local venues like Chat 19, The Globe Bar & Grill, and Palmer’s Crossing, many of whom jam until late into the night.

Yes, the tables are close together, and, yes, the music can get loud (it’s a small place), but overall, this is a sophisticated venue for grown-up music buffs looking for an evening of something different. The menu offerings range from steamed Prince Edward Island mussels (one of my faves) to burgers and salads, including a delicious no-egg Caesar with shaved Parmesan, plus an accessible wine list of American, French, Italian, Spanish, and New Zealand vintages. All that, plus the reasonable cover charge (often zero, but sometimes $5, $l0, or $20), make an evening here worth the drive. Sundays and Tuesdays feature folk music and start at 8 pm. Wednesdays through Saturdays showcase jazz and always free. Kids are welcome—and often can be found in the audience chowing down on a burger and getting a great musical education.

Cover: Depends on the entertainment, but generally under $20. High Notes: Songwriters’ workshops (in the past hosted by Ellis Paul, Steve Forbert, Susan Werner, David Roth, and Marshall Crenshaw) are generally held on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon when the visiting artist is scheduled to perform that night, and include lunch. Contact Carroll for more information. FYI: Carroll also owns The Village Café in Bronxville. Beat It: 2094 Boston Post Rd, Larchmont (914) 834-2213.

You have your pick of entertainment at F.A.B. French American Bistro where the range extends from acoustic guitar to Frank Sinatra impersonations to pure rock. This Parisian brasserie, the kind that feels transplanted from Le Marais, manages to be many things all at once: a jovial neighborhood spot for the dapper upper Westchester crowd, a fabulous special-occasion restaurant for those who don’t live nearby, and a spot-on destination for those who want good food and good music at the same time. The live bands typically play on Thursday nights starting at 8:30 until ll pm (it’s a work night, after all) and include such names as Blonde Ambition, Andrea & The Armenian Rug Riders, The Grind, and one of my personal faves, Anthony Farino, a Frank Sinatra impersonator you’d swear was Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Yes, the music is good—not too loud and not too soft—but it’s the food that’s the true star, with seasonal offerings and bistro mainstays like steak frites, a decadent duck confit, and my personal favorite, the braised lamb shank.

Cover: No. High Notes: The restaurant offers cooking classes on Monday nights, to groups of eight or more that reserve beforehand; there are also occasional wine dinners. Beat It: 222 E Main St, Mount Kisco (914) 864-1661.

Also of Note

Black Cat Café, (45 Main St, Irvington 914-231-9060) This quaint coffeehouse sets a familial tone by hosting up-and-coming bands most Friday and Saturday nights. Check the website for listings.

Café Mozart (308 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck 914-698-4166) Expect a mixture of jazz, pop, and folk 7:30 to 11 pm every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at this European-style café known for its oversized salads and a long list of coffees, teas, and desserts; no cover.

Chat 19 (19 Chatsworth Ave, Larchmont 914-833-8871) Local and more established bands play Friday and Saturday nights starting at 9:30 pm; no cover.

The Turning Point (468 Piermont Ave, Piermont, NY 845-359-1089) is a Rockland County classic known for its eclectic roster of performers, including many marquee-name artists, as well as its fine food and down-to-earth vibe. Call ahead to reserve tickets (i.e., your name and number in your party will be put on a list at the door).

Towne Crier Café (130 Rte 22, Pawling, NY 845-855-1300) The list of musicians, many bona fide legends, who’ve headlined here is too long to list. Suffice it to say, this Hudson Valley mainstay, in business for nearly four decades, has always been about “presenting the best in the performing arts and creative dining.”

Opus 465 (465 N Main St, Armonk 914-273-4676). Live music in the bar area every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Peekskill Coffee House (101 S Division St, Peekskill 914-739-1287) serves some of the best coffee around and features a range of musical talent with no cover. Check the website for info.

Give Jeanne Muchnick a big glass of Merlot, a nice-sized plate of pasta, and some acoustic guitar and she’s happy. Author of Dinner for Busy Moms, Muchnick is a huge fan of fellow Larchmont resident Michael Nappi, who often plays at Palmer’s Crossing, Opus 465, and other local venues.

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