Our hands-down, all-star, all-time favorite places to dine, drink, shop, and play in Westchester
Walter’s Hot Dogs
We love Westchester’s burgeoning restaurant scene, but, after all those fusions, foams, reductions, and coulis, we crave the simple, hand-held perfection that can be found only at Walter’s. Since 1919, Walter’s has been serving hot dogs right: split down the middle, grilled in a secret sauce, nestled in a toasted bun, and adorned with a squiggle of a homemade mustard/relish mix. Generations of hungry Westchesterites have braved the lines at the quirky, copper-roofed, Chinese pagoda-cum-roadside stand for a taste of the county’s (and possibly the nation’s) undisputed top dog.
Gene Warrington, son of the original Walter, is top dog in our book.
Best Wine Menu
Crabtree’s Kittle House
(914) 666-8044; www.kittlehouse.com
Think you’re an oenophile because you know the difference between a cabernet and a pinot noir? Ha! Prepare to be overwhelmed—in a very good way—by the massive tome that is Crabtree’s wine list (it was Wine Spectator magazine’s “Grand Award Wine List”—for outstanding wine list). Wine geeks will happily lose themselves in its 220(!) pages of 6,500 labels representing 20 different countries. The rest of us, thank goodness, can read the “short list” of 30 choices served by the glass or bottle, or rely on the sound advice of Wine Director Don Castaldo or one of his expert sommeliers. They’ll steer diners to one of the 70,000 bottles in Crabtree’s inventory that’s perfectly matched to their entrÃ©e and bank account. Bottles start at a modest $19 for Edmunds St. John, New World Red 1989, but go as high as $11,000 for a 1900 ChÃ¢teau Margaux, recently reviewed by Robert Parker at a perfect 100 points.
Day on the Farm Experience
Strip malls and cul de sacs got you down? Grab the kids and journey back to Westchester’s agrarian past at Muscoot Farm. Owned and operated by the Westchester County Department of Parks, Muscoot Farm is open all year. On its 777 acres, you’ll find a dairy barn, milk house, ice house, blacksmith shop, and several other barns and buildings. There’s livestock and poultry to visit and themed weekend events to entertain and educate. Some, like Dairy Day, Tractor Day, and Pumpkin Picking, are annual favorites. For an extra dose of Old MacDonald charm, don’t miss the hayrides that run April through October.
(914) 813-7010; www.ryeplayland.org
As the countless bumper stickers attest, Playland occupies a special place in the hearts of Westchester residents. It’s more than just an amusement park—it’s part of our collective childhood. Featuring more than 50 rides for children and adults, Playland also offers free entertainment, and has a beach, pool, boardwalk, pier on the Long Island Sound, lake boating, picnic area, mini-golf, and indoor ice-skating. But the appeal of Playland is deeper than mere amusement. Historic, colorful rides like the wooden Dragon Coaster, Derby Racer, and Carousel, as well as monumental art deco architecture, are the stuff of which dreams and memories are made for kids of all ages.
Kam Sen Foods
The flavors of an entire continent are hidden within the dispiriting confines of the White Plains Mall (convenient to the DMV and not much else). At Kam Sen Foods, you’ll find not only Chinese and Japanese staples (check out the hanging lacquered ducks and sushi-grade tuna) but also the key ingredients of Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Filipino cuisine. The fish and meat are fresh and inexpensive (really!); the spices, sauces, and produce, abundant. At the bakery counter, you’ll find red bean buns; the hot food counter offers roast pig with the skin intact; and aisle after aisle boasts treasures you won’t find anywhere else in Westchester—fish sauce, fiery chili peppers, curries, and noodles of every description. If you can’t wait to get home to
sample your puchases, a few handy tables await.
Place to Blow a Bonus Check
Got a tax refund, performance bonus, or a little slush money burning a hole in your Marc Jacobs purse? Once you enter this upscale shopping mecca, you’ll be kissing it goodbye. Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom are just the beginning of the retail gauntlet. There’s also Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Barney’s CO-OP, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Stuart Weitzman, and Iridesse (purveyor of pearls). While you have to pay to park here (yes, even if you spring for a strand of those gumball-sized South Sea beauties), freshly made crÃªpes from Toutite help soothe the sting.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Sing to the tune of the Chock Full O’Nuts Coffee jingle: “Better scenery millionaire’s money can’t buy!” Okay, now that we’ve got that out of our systemâ€¦this idyllic expanse of 1,400 acres (including 24-acre Swan Lake) comprises some of the Rockefeller family estate in Pocantico Hills. Traversed by scenic carriage roads, the preserve is perfect for jogging, bird-watching, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, or simply strolling through its meadows, woods, wetlands, and rolling fields. One of theseÂ paths passes by the foundation of Rockwood Hall, once the 220-room home of William Rockefeller. Its Olmstead-influenced landscape, with its panoramic view of the Hudson River, is the perfect spot for a long, appreciative sigh.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Haven’t dined here yet? What in the world are you waiting for? The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture combines Blue Hill restaurant, a working farm, and an educational center into something far more memorable than any one of its parts. While other restaurants might espouse the virtues of “seasonal, sustainable, and regional cuisine,” family proprietors Dan, David, and Laureen Barber have gone one step farther. The sheep grazing picturesquely on the grounds might well end up on your plate, served perhaps, with a side of grown-on-the-premises organic peas. From its unmatched setting in Norman Revival stone barns adjacent to the Rockefeller preserve to its Zen monastery-like architectural interior, this is less a restaurant than a temple—a temple of haute and farm-to-table cuisine. Attentive, helpful service, and creative, garden-fresh cocktails from the general manager and resident mixologist Philippe Gouze ensure that you’ll want to worship here as often as your wallet permits. A three-course dinner, including dessert, costs $65 per person.
Most Romantic Getaway
Castle on the Hudson
It really is a castle replete with thick stone walls, leaded glass, and turrets. But how many castles do you know with views of the Hudson, Frette linens, and a gourmet restaurant—all within minutes of anywhere in 914? When you and your special someone need a romantic escape, you can’t do better than Castle on the Hudson’s “anniversary package,” which includes one night’s accommodation in a deluxe room, a four-course dinner for two at the award-winning Equus restaurant, Castle Breakfast for two, romantic turndown with silk rose petals, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and a split of Champagne. The cost for a Friday or Saturday-night splurge is $730 but, really, can you put a price on amore? (Correct answer: No, you lunkhead! Stop reading and make reservations already!)
Iron Horse Grill
In a restored train station (hence the restaurant’s name) that seats just 60 lucky guests, chef-owner Philip McGrath serves up some of the county’s most sophisticated, delicious cuisine. Timbale of Peaky-Toe crab with roast corn, avocado, and tarragon; seared diver scallops; and molasses-basted breast of duck with snap peas, barley pilaf, and rhubarb compote, all display a culinary sensibility that’s creative but never wacky, polished but never pretentious. The New York Times deemed Iron Horse Grill “Excellent” and so will you.
City Limits Diner
White Plains and Stamford, CT
(914) 686-9000; (914) 761-1111;
Sure, you can get a burger, milkshake, or eggs here, but you also can get a yellowfin tuna sandwich, house-smoked Atlantic salmon, or a Middle Eastern vegetarian sampling platter. And for dessert, if you’ve cleaned your plate and Mom says it’s okay, you can tuck into Valrhona chocolate pudding. The atmosphere at all three City Limits Diner locations might be fun (love the retro coffee cups!) and casual, but the food is very serious. Orange juice is fresh-squeezed and there’s an actual pastry chef whipping up those saucer-sized chocolate chip cookies and creative, custom-made cakes. You can buy some of their famous house-made granola, breads, or pastries to take home.
Lulu’s sheer range is astounding—and we love it all (our waistlines can attest to that). You can order a birthday cake that looks like a circus elephant or a wedding cake adorned with gilded dragonflies and flowers so realistic, you have to touch them to know they’re made of sugar. The babkas here are yummier than Bubbe used to make, and the enormous cupcakes, which easily could feed a family of four, inspire gluttonous hoarding. And the German chocolate cake, the coconut cake? Heaven! If it astounds the eye, delights the palate, and satisfies the most demanding sweet tooth, it likely comes from Lulu, a bakery that’s appeared on the Food Network and in the fevered dreams of many a dieting Westchesterite. And while many bakers might take a by-any-means-necessary approach to churning out their wares, proprietor and master baker Jay Muse is committed to using fresh, organic ingredients so you can feel good (well, perhaps a little less guilty) about digging into that slice of sinfully creamy cheesecake.
X2O Xaviars on the Hudson in Yonkers (914) 965-1111
Freelance CafÃ© & Wine Bar, Piermont, NY (845) 365-3250
Xaviars at Piermont, Piermont, NY (845) 359-7007
Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar, Congers, NY (845) 268-6555
For two decades, his restaurants have set the bar for dining north of Manhattan. His New American cuisine rates a super-impressive 29 from Zagat and his three restaurants (Xaviars, Freelance CafÃ© and Wine Bar, and Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar—all in nearby Rockland) are always packed with happy diners. Last month, we Westchesterites finally got a Kelly restaurant of our very own with the opening of X2O Xaviars on the Hudson in Yonkers, Kelly’s hometown. His new showplace boasts impressive seafood and Hudson River views, but its impact will likely extend far beyond the 200 or so dinner guests the celebrated chef will seat each evening. As the jewel in The city’s newly revitalized waterfront, X2O Xaviars is poised to elevate the city—as well as 914 dining—to unprecedented heights.
PepsiCo Sculpture Garden
PepsiCo has rewarded the public’s insatiable appetite for cola and junk food with a magnificent collection of 20th-century sculpture in a garden designed by the renowned Russell Page. Located at company headquarters in Purchase, the sculpture garden showcases works by Auguste Rodin, Henri Laurens, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Arnaldo Pomodoro, and Claes Oldenberg. Admission is free, and a visitor’s booth is in operation during the spring and summer. Yes, you can bring a picnic.Â
Most Eclectic Performing
Performing Arts Center at Purchase
(914) 251-6200; www.artscenter.org
What does the Joffrey Ballett, bluegrass bands, the Westchester Philharmonic, and comedienne Kathy Griffin have in common? They’ve all appeared on stage at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College. While our county boasts many fine theaters and performance venues, none can touch Purchase for eclecticism. Whether you want to see a performance of Emmylou Harris, view great foreign and independent films, or introduce your kids to Shakespeare, it’s all here. If you’ve checked its calendar of events and nothing appeals, you might want to check your pulse.
Back to Nature Experience
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation
At 4,315 acres, this isn’t just a park, it’s a reservation. Miles of trails winding through woods and meadows are a hiker’s or cross-country skier’s delight, and there are dedicated areas for fishing, lean-toÂ camping, or just picnicking. The Trailside Museum on reservation grounds has specimens of birds, mammals, plants, insects, and minerals on display. And if the “Bluebird of Happiness” hasn’t been stopping by your window, you can always stalk him here. Thanks to man-made nest boxes that hang on poles and trees throughout the reservation, this has become one of the Eastern bluebird’s favorite Westchester haunts.
(914) 631-2069; (914) 631-6659
Oh, those Rockefellers! They lived at Kykuit and Rockwood Hall, romped at the state park that bears their name, and stabled their horses and livestock in stone barns where today, Westchester’s elite clamber for a chance to coo over heirloom tomatoes at Blue Hill restaurant. So where did they worship the deity that so amply blessed them? At Union Church, an outwardly simple stone church that boasts a stained glass window by Henri Matisse and nine windows by Marc Chagall. (Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, one of the founders of The Museum of Modern Art, had connections as well as cash.) The rose window by Matisse and Good Samaritan window by Marc Chagall are not to be missed. You can visit the church April to December on weekdays (closed Tuesday) from 11 am-5 pm, on Saturday from 10 am-5 pm; Sunday: 2-5 pm. Funerals and weddings can impact visiting hours so call before you go.
Modern Italian Restaurant
Zuppa Restaurant & Lounge
Banish all thoughts of red sauce and Chianti in raffia-wrapped bottles. Here at Zuppa, the food is as forward-looking as the nearby revitalized Yonkers waterfront. In a sexy, contemporary setting in the historic Gazette Building, you and your date can settle into a curvaceous, upholstered settee and feast on Chef David DiBari’s inventive regional Italian cuisine—a blend of old and new world flavors evidenced in dishes like balsamic glazed king salmon with buttered millet, braised red chard and thyme; or pan-seared veal with burst tomato panzanella and Parmigiano arugula. And if you’re still pining for a hearty dish of pasta and sauce, you can always tuck into Zuppa’s whole-wheat tagliatelle with pomodoro, red onion, and basil.
(914) 631-8200; www.hudsonvalley.org
It’s got swoon-inducing views of the Hudson River; a sumptuously furnished, six-story historic house; and expansive, terraced gardens with an unmatched collection of 20th-century sculpture. And one man, John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil and the richest man of his day, built it at a time when money really could buy happiness—or at least its architectural equivalent. Still content with your station in life after a tour of the grounds? There’s a private, underground art gallery with a collection of Picasso tapestries and a barn featuring horse-drawn carriages and classic automobiles to contend with. Call for tour information and when you go, try not to drool on anything priceless.
Covet-Worthy Cinema House (And More)
Jacob Burns Film Center
This isn’t just the place to see all kinds of movies—foreign, independent, documentary, animated, and classic—it’s the place to join filmmaker Jonathan Demme as he screens and discusses some of his little-known favorite films. It’s the place where film critics and actors alike discuss the medium, and it’s also the place where kids can make their own animated shorts while adults study European cinema of the 1960s. Soon, Jacob Burns will have even more to offer. The Media and Education Center, currently under construction, will house a sound stage, workshop space, classrooms, and editing suites.
Attending a concert at the Caramoor estate is as much about the experience as it is about the music. Come early to explore the treasure-filled house museum, a Mediterranean villa that was the summer home of Caramoor’s founders, Lucie Bigelow and Walter Tower Rosen. Then enjoy a picnic on the estate’s 90 acres of woodlands, manicured grounds, and jewel-like formal gardens before settling in for an evening of jazz, classical, or popular music at one of the estate’s four venues. Outdoors, you can enjoy the semi-sheltered Spanish Courtyard or tented Venetian Theater. Indoors, there’s the beautiful Music Room (located within the villa) or the Diane Moss Education Center.
Hudson River Museum
Although it physically overlooks the Hudson River and its palisades, this museum covers far more ground—and sky. There’s a planetarium with star shows, Hudson River School paintings, the furnished Glenview historic home, and art, science, and history exhibitions. Unfortunately, the beloved, whimsical installation by sculptor Red Grooms near the gift shop has been temporarily removed for conservation until the winter, but there’s still plenty here to delight, educate, and entertain.