Before hungry revelers at the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival braved wet sand to sample ample mouthfuls of Martha Stewart’s impolite blue cheese and raw onion sliders, America’s mogul hostess sat above the fray inside Caesars, setting down her Scala straw hat long enough to discuss the abundance of celebrity chefs and patrons currently buzzing around the Westchester dining scene.
The buzz began when Mario Batali and Joe Bastianach transported Otto’s menu to Port Chester in 2006, successfully transforming the Italian railway station-inspired pizzeria and enoteca into a Main Street dining room and grocery for Metro-Northerners. They dubbed the new concept Tarry Lodge. In 2011, Bastianich led an expansion into Westport; later this year, the wine importer’s quartinos and Batali’s griddled pies and olive oil sundaes will enter New Haven’s pizza scene.
Richard Gere and wife Cary Lowell followed, opening the Bedford Post Inn in 2009 after converting an 18th century barn and farmhouse into a bed-and-breakfast yoga retreat. Stewart frequently promoted the inn, which was practically in her backyard, on her television show and blog, fondly speaking of arriving on horseback for local chef Brian Lewis’ soft egg yolk ravioli. Since then, Lewis left his Westchester roots to grill up Millstone Farm pigs at New Canaan, Connecticut’s Elm Restaurant, and four chefs succeeded him at Bedford Post Inn.
Following renovations later this year, the barn will reopen as Campagna, the latest addition to Marea and Costata chef Michael White’s Altamera Group portfolio. White’s arrival comes just months after Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened The Inn at Pound Ridge, delivering the tables to the farm by providing ABC Kitchen’s seasonal menu closer to the Flatiron restaurant’s upstate power-lunchers.
And just over the border, the dining scene in southern Connecticut is even more rapidly evolving. On February 1, the late Paul Newman’s Dressing Room in Westport shuttered after eight years spent spooning kettle mac-and-cheese and orange pippin apple cobbler, and Masterchef star Graham Eliot quietly closed Primary Food & Drink in Greenwich this June after only seven months in business. But hours after Stewart’s presentation, Food Network regular Aaron Sanchez soft-opened Latin bistro Paloma at Stamford’s Harbor Point development.
Here’s what Stewart had to say about the evolution of the scene.
With Michael White taking over the dining room at Bedford Post Inn and Jean-Georges opening in Pound Ridge, do these celebrity chef expansions distract from the local Westchester dining scene or do they amplify it?
I am so happy about the Michael White move and about Jean-Georges’ restaurant. The real estate values! I have a big farm in Bedford which is twenty minutes from the Pound Ridge inn, and I think my real estate values have gone way up because of these two restaurants.
It’s very nice to be able to go home then go out at 8:30 p.m. and have a delicious dinner in a place like that. For some reason, even though there are many fabulous people who live there and who probably want good restaurants, we’ve really had a paucity of good restaurants. But they’re not just those big chefs now coming to the neighborhood.
There’s Bonnie [Saran] who has three adjacent Indian restaurants in Mount Kisco that are superb, that I go to often. She has three funny restaurants, one is called Little Crepe Street, Little Kebob, and a third one [Little Spice Bazaar] where you get lassis and delicious yogurt drinks. They’re so fabulous, you can’t even get that quality in New York. President Clinton’s always eating there, he’s a big fan of the place. And you go there and it’s $12 and you get a delicious meal.
And Jean-Georges’ restaurant in Pound Ridge is really an assimilation of all his restaurants, he’s really cherry-picked recipes from his seven restaurants, and it’s so fun.
Do you think these restaurants are more tourism destinations or do they serve the community?
Both. And you can get in, even if you’re told it’s a month wait, and go at 5 p.m. and have an early supper; you don’t have to make a reservation.
I don’t think it’s all distracting. But it’s great if it brings tourism too, because there are inns that need customers. At Richard Gere’s place, the Bedford Post Inn, he’s tried five different chefs since he’s started.
You had Richard Gere’s first chef, Brian Lewis, on your show.
He has his own restaurant now, [The Elm] in New Canaan. And he’s doing very well as his own chef. But Richard Gere finally, I think, made the right decision bringing Michael White up, because we — that clientele, demanding, difficult, but also discriminating — need that kind of chef.
And at Tarry Lodge, Joe Bastianach told me that he never wanted to go to the suburbs, ever, because nobody’s going to appreciate the good food, they’re gong to be difficult and miserable, but it’s like a dream come true. Everybody is so nice, and they’ll wait in line, and they won’t complain if they can’t get a reservation.
Do you think Paul Newman’s Dressing Room closing in Westport was a big hit to the Connecticut dining scene, or did it have its moment in his lifetime?
It had a lot to do with Paul. It was a little out of the way, a little difficult to find. I didn’t go there, it must’ve been something about the food.