By Diane Weintraub Pohl
Photography by Dawn Smith
Westchester Foodies no longer want simply the best.
Today’s picky—and busy—gourmands want
great food—already prepared.
In what seems like a gourmand’s Olympic Games, the competition for culinary gold is worldwide and fierce. The thrill of victory awaits at a host of new or recently expanded fine-food shops offering prepared international dishes whose ingredients are often organic and locally sourced. In the following pages, you’ll encounter a Moroccan who sells English cheddar infused with Italian balsamic vinegar, a Frenchman who makes a Middle Eastern tabbouleh, and a Japanese who bakes a Southern Italian chicken Cardinale. Of course, there are home-grown American-owned shops, too. In all of them, borders may be crossed and cultures fused, but freshness and flavor are immutable.
209 Wolfs Ln, Pelham (914) 738-6622; www.pelhamprovisions.com.
Provisions’s signature chicken salad sandwich
PROVISIONS OWNER NANNETTE CONNERS LEARNED FROM HER french and Italian grandmothers to equate food with community and comfort, and she’s created a place both grandmothers could easily wrap their apron strings around. They might not recognize sponged walls and tuna burgers with wasabi-lime aioli or tequila-marinated flank steak, but they’d instantly note the contented smiles at the cafÃ© tables, the bustling open kitchen, the aroma of baking butter and chocolate.
Nannette’s food exudes culinary-school pedigree, but her shop emanates love. “I wanted an open kitchen so I could be part of all the comings and goings,” she says. “I know seventy-five percent of my customers by name.” Those customers keep returning for her eclectic selection of prepared foods: dinner offerings like parmesan- and mustard-crusted chicken and salmon cakes with red-pepper aioli; lighter fare like pesto chicken salad and spinach salad sparked with cranberries, pecans, and blue cheese. I sampled several of these, and would quickly return, too. The menus, which change daily, offer many vegetable sides, and there are always house-baked cookies, cobblers, and cupcakes. Nannette even has breakfast covered: she packages her own granola and fruit salad. For her customers’ planning convenience, daily menus are posted on the shop’s website.
“I want to make quality home-cooked meals for busy moms,” she says, and she speaks from experience. “I have four kids, and I wish there had been a Provisions when they were growing up.”
Jennifer’s Kitchen and Catering
159 Lexington Ave, Mount Kisco (914) 864-2107
IT’S JENNIFER OTA’S KITCHEN, BUT THE SPIRITS OF HER mother-in-law, the previous owner, and Mrs. Schwartz are always at her side. Her mother-in-law supplied many of the shop’s stand-out recipes; Rocco, her baker-predecessor, bequeathed much of the pastry menu. And Mrs. Schwartz? She’s the customer from Chappaqua who critiqued the seven-layer cake until Jennifer got it right
“She’d come in all the time saying, â€˜The buttercream should be thicker,’” Ota recalls. “She’d suggest that the ganache needed more chocolate.” And Mrs. Schwartz wasn’t the only advisor. “Rocco still comes by and yells at us,” Ota says, grinning. That’s understandable, since his biscotti, cannoli, Ã©clair, and creampuff legacies are at stake. The kitchen bakes them all, and a mean Bailey’s Irish cream-infused mousse cake too, but what I’d return for are Jennifer’s mother-in-law’s specialties.
“My mom cooked for my family’s deli in Mount Kisco,” says Ota’s husband and partner, Richard Sheridan. “We lived in an ethnic neighborhood, and all the neighbors shared recipes.” Ota, a culinary school graduate, learned from the best of them, and now Jennifer’s Kitchen offers a tutorial on the glories of ethnic fare. The shop’s chicken Cardinale, a lightly floured and fried breast baked with prosciutto, eggplant, and mozzarella in a butter- and wine-flavored marinara, is a one-dish manifesto on Southern Italian cuisine. Chicken meatballs are tender and well spiced, asparagus is perfectly grilled, and couscous sings with herbs. One bite of the sweet-and-sour chicken will leave your Chinese takeout menu gathering dust.
“I think there’s too much food that doesn’t have flavor,” says Ota. “I make simple comfort food, but it’s highly flavored, it’s never bland.” Her customers obviously agree, since many of them have her prepare a week’s worth of family dinners.
“Jennifer’s Kitchen is where it all comes together,” Richard says. “Jennifer’s culinary training, my deli experience, my mother’s recipes, and Rocco’s baking.”
Not to mention a fussy patron’s critique.
18 Main St, Tarrytown (914) 703-6511
step into mint and you’ll swear you’re in a souk.Moroccan-born owner Hassan Jarane’s tiny shop is crammed with barrels, vats, and bins spilling the exotic and the aromatic.
Weave your way along the cluttered aisle and revel in his trove of olives, dried fruits, honeys, oils, and cheeses.
All of them are interesting; some astounding. There’s the Tuscan pecorino (sheep’s-milk cheese) called Moliterno, spiked with black truffle and anchovy; the English cheddar infused with balsamic vinegar and caramelized onion; a claret-hued dried Raz-cherry hybrid I mistook for a wrinkly olive until enlightened by its vanilla-scented fruit.
If I’d built up a thirst, Mint’s trove of 125 Belgian beers would have quenched it. And if my appetite had been whetted for dinner, Mint could supply that, too. Its rear counter features a small array of prepared foods, notably saffron- and ginger-scented organic rotisserie chickens, glazed baby-back ribs, and a braise of gigante beans in a delicate herb-laced tomato sauce.
Much of Mint’s stock is organic and kosher, and all of it derives from artisanal
producers. “I’m always searching for unusual, quality products,” Jarane says. One look around, a few sample tastes, and it’s obvious he’s succeeded. There’s now also a Mint outpost at nearby Philipsburg Manor. I’ve always gotten my stone-ground cornmeal at Philipsburg; I never imagined I could get anchovy-flecked pecorino.
890 Rt 35, Cross River (914) 763-5643
MY EYES DARTED PAST STONEWALLS AND PASTURE
fences searching for Nature’s Temptations, but when I approached a parked semi painted with fruits and “organic” signage unloading its wares, I figured I had found it. Jeff Konchalski opened Nature’s Temptations many years ago, predicated upon a healthy lifestyle. He’s always offered hundreds of additive-free, organically grown items but in the last few years, he’s focused on prepared foods with messianic zeal. Since partnering with chef Liz Gagnon, his kitchen offers an international daily menu of six soups, 20 salad-bar items, 25 sandwiches, and about 20 entrÃ©es, many of them vegan, all of them house-made and certified organic. Meats are antibiotic- and hormone-free from Niman Ranch, Applegate Farms, and D’Artagnan. The kitchen roasts an organic turkey every day, bakes its own pastries, and makes its own stocks, dressings, and sauces.
Among the dishes offered: wild line-caught flounder stuffed with quinoa, sheep’s-milk feta, and spinach; and maple syrup- and molasses-roasted pulled pork. Vegans don’t get short shrift, not with stunners like a grilled tempeh (fermented soy bean) Reuben with vegan cheddar and Russian dressing, or a black bean/sweet potato burrito, its roasted tofu and spinach wrapped in a sun-dried tomato tortilla. I’m an inveterate carnivore, but I’d trade a pastrami on rye with mustard for Gagnon’s chickpea falafel with house-made hummus and goat-yogurt cilantro sauce any day. Well, most days. And that way, I’d still have room for a few of her almond-raspberry cookies—organic, of course.
72 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge (914) 764-1525
First off, Plum Plums doesn’t sell any plums; the name was taken from a favorite line in the film The English Patient. It might sell an occasional mandarin orange or cluster of Muscat grapes, but what you come here for is the cheese. On any given day, there are about 50 of them, some intriguingly tree bark-wrapped, from points as far as Alpine Switzerland and as close as upstate Warren County.
Co-owners Audrey and Adam Free opened their cozy shop in the Rockwellian hamlet of Scotts Corners last autumn, propelled by entrepreneurial desire, culinary passion and a cheese-expert friend. They learned about provenance, storage, and seasonality, determined, as their motto asserts, to offer “the world’s best cheeses in their prime.” That’s a daunting endeavor, which they simplify for their customers with counter tags and take-home cards citing taste descriptions and suggested wine pairings.
One of my favorite cheeses, a pungent Canadian cow’s-milk cheese called Madawaska, was labeled “grassy” (though I thought “barnyard” was more apt), and paired with a Sauvignon Blanc. A decadent French triple-cream, Pierre Robert, understatedly labeled “meltingly rich,” was a swoon of tang and ooze, and partnered with Champagne or Riesling. A five-year-old Gouda’s notation of butterscotch and caramel undertones was right on, the cheese paired with chardonnay, Pinot gris, or a Rhone red.
Wines aside, all the cheeses paired beautifully with the shop’s silken quince paste, redolent of ginger and pear. Plum Plums sells other epicurean accompaniments: breads from Sono Bakery, artisanal honeys, teas, fruit spreads, even salamis. Audrey’s pastry-chef sister supplies cakes and tarts. “We’re always looking for great high-end products, but also items that are greatly affordable,” manager Wendy Marilee says. “We want to appeal to all types of customers.”
With the shop’s eclectic cheeses, discerning product line, and accessibility, that’s easily done.
L’Anjou Patisserie Francaise
130 N Bedford Rd, Mount Kisco (914) 242-4929
french domestic policy may be in flux, but some domestic things should never be tampered with. Like bÃ©chamel-sauced vol au vent pastries, herb-flecked tarte aux tomates, pain au chocolat, and Ã©clairs. Want evidence? A visit to L’Anjou Patisserie is all the proof you’ll need.
Gallic flair is apparent even before you hit the food. There’s the lace cafÃ© curtains and the rustic oak hutches, the floral chintz seat cushions that match the pleated window valance, the table doilies and iron baker’s rack. Barring the adjacent Boston Market and the lack of poodles, I could easily imagine being in a petite village boulangerie.
But chintz is one thing, puff pastry another. The brie en croute, the ham-and-GruyÃ¨re-layered croissant lush with bÃ©chamel, and the aforementioned vol au vent are just a few of chef/owner Patrice Yvon’s savory coups. He bakes a daily quiche, makes a walnut-studded chicken salad, and offers autumn soups of butternut squash and roasted tomato and potato and leek with fennel. Several specialties from his Loire Valley childhood are featured too: his mother’s salads of balsamic-dressed escarole and potato; and Mediterranean mint- and lemon-scented bulgur wheat.
And then there are the cakes. Row upon dazzling row of ganaches, mousses, gÃ©noises, and dacquoises appointed with latticework, chocolate curls, and caramelized meringues. Fruit glazes are crowned with luminous berries that would be muse to Cartier. This autumn, his cheesecakes harbor ginger, pumpkin, and brandy.
“I want to offer the flavor of France,” says Yvon. He does, and the glory as well.