Co-owner Kevin “KJ” Bambara slices a pizza behind the takeout counter at Frankie & Louie’s Pizzeria and Restaurant on Willett Avenue.
File photo
Co-owner Kevin “KJ” Bambara slices a pizza behind the takeout counter at Frankie & Louie’s Pizzeria and Restaurant on Willett Avenue. File photo

Of the 123 restaurants currently open in Port Chester and Rye Brook, 21 serve pizza. That’s 17 percent of all the eateries in the two villages, that total number in fact having fallen by eight since this time last year. Besides the pizzerias and Italian restaurants that also make pizza, the two Irish/American pub/restaurants—Davy Byrnes and McShane’s—are on that list as is The Clydesdale Pub & Grill—dubbed “an American bar & grill with an English twist”—and Härth in the Hilton Westchester. The latter two both have wood-burning ovens.

More pizza places coming

Besides the 21 places that serve pizza now, a few more are in the works. Brandi Pizzeria and Brandi Trattoria, two separate restaurants in the same building and under the same ownership that will both have pizza ovens, should be opening soon where Spadaro Ristorante and before that Per Voi had been. The pizzeria will front on North Main Street at #23 and Brandi Trattoria will have an Abendroth Avenue address. Brandi Pizzeria is one of the oldest restaurants in Europe and inventor of the margherita pizza, dating back to 1760 with origins in Naples, Italy.

In addition, G&S Investors made a presentation at the Monday, Aug. 15 Port Chester Board of Trustees meeting about Colony Grill’s plans to lease the triangular piece of property off the marina parking lot to build its first restaurant in New York. It would overlook the Byram River in the vicinity of the gut.

According to its website, Colony Grill, which has four locations in Connecticut—Stamford, Norwalk, Fairfield and Milford—only serves pizza and drinks and does not have a grill. The sole menu offering is a “one-of-a-kind, thin-crust pizza that is best served with the signature ‘hot oil’ topping,” the Colony Grill website states. At one time it was a grill and had other items on the menu, but the pizza became so popular that the other offerings faded away.

Italian heritage breeds longtime pizza restaurants

With its Italian heritage, the Village of Port Chester/Town of Rye has long been known for its pizza. I’ve heard many old-timers talk about Square Tavern, Latella’s Whiteway and The Newport Inn. Marianacci’s was originally called Sherman Tavern and served pizza before going to a more upscale Italian menu. P&D Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria on Bowman Avenue was owned and run by Steve Zafrin and Peter Desimini for 37 years before they sold it at the end of 2009. The only pizza place that still exists from back then is Michael’s Restaurant & Pizzeria on Midland Avenue, originally called The Turf Club, still in the Iacabelli family and using the original recipes for pizza and sauces.

Other places have come to town such as Clino’s Pizza Pasta & Things in the Kohl’s Shopping Center which has been around exactly 40 years, Frank’s Restaurant & Pizzeria on Putnam Avenue which has been open for 34 years, T&J Pizza & Pasta which is in its 26th year on Westchester Avenue and Frankie & Louie’s Pizzeria & Restaurant which has been going strong on Willett Avenue for 15 years.

In Rye Brook, Pizza & Brew/Racanelli’s Pizzeria Restaurant, always owned by the Racanelli family, was a staple in the Rye Ridge Shopping Center for at least 25 years before closing suddenly in 2014, and now Villa Rustica Pizzeria & Trattoria in the Washington Park Plaza has become a favorite spot for pizza after nine years.

Poll of pizza preferences

Just for the fun of it, I did a random, unscientific poll of various longtime Port Chester and Rye Brook residents of all ages about their favorite pizza in the two villages and got some interesting responses.

Many people couldn’t pick just one pizzeria or pizza that is their favorite—they preferred different places for different scenarios or styles of this Italian specialty everyone is so fond of. I did not get one response saying “I don’t eat pizza” or anything of the sort.

Twenty-four-year old Jean Adrover of Riverdale Avenue is crazy about pizza. He said he eats it three times a week, “four times if I’m lucky.”

Shout outs for Frankie & Louie’s

Adrover’s number one choice of pizza is the Buffalo chicken variety at Frankie & Louie’s. “The crust is always crispy on the bottom,” he said, and it is always cooked the exact same way. As far as the Buffalo chicken recipe, he said “some places it tastes kind of fake. There it tastes like they made the chicken fresh and the sauce fresh.”

Joan Grangenois-Thomas, a Port Chester community activist and volunteer, said her family’s favorite version of this Italian specialty is the “classic, New York-style pizza” at Frankie & Louie’s.

Others listed Frankie & Louie’s as an alternate or second choice.

Michael’s enthusiasts

The Thomases also like the pan pizzas at Michael’s “which is very different,” said Thomas. “We particularly like a pie that is similar to a meat-lover’s even though they don’t call it that.”

Port Chester Board of Education President Jim Dreves and his wife Kathy love pizza, with Michael’s and Frank’s being their top picks.

“Michael’s (formerly Turf Club) has been a favorite for over 50 years,” Dreves said. “We always loved the plate sized, thin crust cheese pizza (a la Turf Club days) and now the Michael’s Woodsy is our go-to pizza. We like the mild style, but the hot Woodsy (spicy sausage, hot peppers and mushrooms) is great when we feel like testing our ability to handle it.”

My brother-in-law, Stephen Abel, who now lives in Israel but grew up in the Town of Rye, heads to Michael’s as soon as he can get there when he comes for a visit. This summer during his weeklong stay in Port Chester he ate pizza at Michael’s twice in one day and tried unsuccessfully to consume a pie there at least one more time during the day when the kitchen was closed.

I also have long been a fan of Michael’s pizza because of the thin crust, sauce and toppings covering almost the entire surface as well as the tasty sauce. A small pie is perfect for two and there’s not too much dough. My husband and I particularly love the Mexican pizza but find it too spicy to eat a whole Mexican pie so often order half Mexican and half pepperoni or meatball and alternate slices to cut the hotness.

A different pizza for every mood

Port Chester Dog Park Group and Entertainment Committee member Linda Turturino is one of those who picks different pizzas depending on her mood. One of them is Michael’s when she’s in the mood for a thin crust pie. “The sauce is wonderful,” she said.

In addition, she loves the salad pizza at Pizza Pasta & Things. I think they were the first place in town to offer pizza topped with salad fixings.

Turturino also enjoys both the Sicilian and bacon ranch varieties at Roddy’s Pizza & Salad, formerly Arcuri’s, on North Main Street near the corner of Adee.

Lastly, when she wants a close to home lunch or dinner, Turturino, who lives on Birch Street, likes to get pizza at Davy Byrnes that she dips in house dressing and pairs with a chef salad.

“I am very fussy about my pizza and where I go,” she said. “I have to be able to adapt to my mood and what I want. I am blessed to have a variety to pick from.”

Villa Rustica and Regent Street devotees

Several respondents were fans of the pizza at Villa Rustica, including Rye Brook Mayor Paul Rosenberg. His favorite is their Mamma Maria pizza. “The combination of eggplant, peppers and Portobello mushrooms is delicious,” he said.

Lifelong Port Chester residents Bishop and Beth Nowotnik, who have just retired to Delaware, said their favorite pie is the sausage, mushroom and onion from Villa Rustica.

“They are generous with toppings and even though the crust is thin, they never undercooked the pizza,” Bishop said. He also commented that “several Italians down here in Delaware have said that nothing locally comes close to New York pizza.” Of course not! New York has the best pizza in the country. Pizza Hut may do well in other states, but it went out of business in Port Chester.

Gary Sullivan of Puritan Drive, who has three kids, said his family’s top choice is Napoli pizza from Villa Rustica. “Thin crust, fresh mozzarella and just the right amount of sauce” is how he put it.

For Sicilian, he likes Regent Street Pizza & Pasta on South Regent Street, owned by Steve Zafrin of the former P&D. “The old P&D Sicilian is back and I missed it,” Sullivan said.

As far as traditional pizza, his family likes Frankie & Louie’s. “The sauce is delicious and comes in best when you need delivery,” Sullivan said.

Bill Kromberg of Mark Drive raved about Villa Rustica’s pizza, saying it was thin and delicious and looked great, too. However, the Kromberg family members have been big proponents of P&D pies over the years and have therefore gravitated to Regent Street Pizza since it opened in early January.

“We have a fondness for Steve,” said Bill’s wife Marian.

For most of her long life, nonagenarian Bea Conetta didn’t have a favorite pizza. She would fluctuate from one to the other and sometimes choose whichever place she had a coupon for. However, of late her daughter who lives a few doors down on King Street turned her on to the delicious pizza and other food at Regent Street.

“There is free delivery and they are very accommodating,” she said. Besides, she added, you can’t beat the prices. “We always ask for extra sauce and mozzarella cheese and when the darn thing comes it is covered with cheese.” She added that the chicken parmesan pizza is outstanding.

Coals camp

The super thin grilled pizza at Coals also got a number of thumbs up, with Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla leading the charge.

After admitting that deciding on one favorite pizzeria was tough because there are so many good ones in Port Chester, he settled on Coals at 35½ North Main St. “Their thin crust, coal-fired pizza is delicious and the place has a great atmosphere and craft beer selection,” he said.

For late night pizza, the mayor voted for Davy Byrnes in the shopping center at the corner of Willett and Putnam avenues. “The crust on their personal pizza is outstanding,” he said.

Nineteen-year-old Leslie Salcedo of Touraine Avenue also said Coals pizza is her favorite, adding that for a “regular regular pizza slice,” she opts for John’s of Arthur Avenue.

After thinking long and hard, former five-year Westmore News reporter Claire Racine opted for Coals as well because their pizza is different from that offered anywhere else. I would agree with that and find it a good alternate to Michael’s. Besides the super thin crust pizza that is served on a large ceramic plate, my husband and I enjoy the beer flights at Coals.

Port Chester school board member Carolee Brakewood likes Pure Bliss Pizza at Coals. “I love the crispy crust and smoky taste that only a wood-fired oven can produce,” she said. “Pure Bliss features a tasty combination of fresh mozzarella, ricotta, tomato and basil pesto.”

John’s of Arthur Avenue aficionados

For nights when Brakewood is looking to order a pizza and eat at home, her family goes for John’s of Arthur Avenue’s regular cheese pie. “It has a nice crust, not too thick and not too thin, and an ideal ratio of sauce to cheese,” she said.

Charlie Sacco, a chef himself who cooks for most if not all of the events at the Port Chester Knights of Columbus hall, made no bones about his number one pizza preference.

“I enjoy a no sauce pizza at John’s of Arthur Avenue,” he said, even sending along a photograph he had taken of the pie. “It has only mozzarella and the herbs from the focaccia drizzle. Absolutely outstanding.”

Bob Vyskocil, executive director of the Port Chester Housing Authority, said he loves both the regular pizza and Gramma Pizza at John’s, commenting that “the service is always friendly and excellent,” too.

“I also pick John’s because of all they do for the community,” he said. “Jim [Gould] always steps up to contribute and do whatever he can to help, no matter what the cause.”

Fans of Frank’s

My 23-year-old daughter Brittany voted for Frank’s Restaurant & Pizzeria. “The most important part of pizza is the sauce,” she said. “I really like the sauce. It is not too herby and not too sweet and the crust is good and crunchy.”

“They also give you really big slices,” she said.

Her second choice was Frankie & Louie’s.

Lori Janjigian of Woodland Drive, another 20-something, is also partial to Frank’s. “I like their pizza because it is classic New York style, but they also have a great variety of toppings (I like their salad pizza, chicken parm and their plain cheese pizza is also great).”

Janjigian, a Blind Brook High School and Northwestern University graduate, also likes Frank’s because “you can run in and easily get a slice, but they also offer a great dining experience. It’s an awesome place because they have something for everyone.” She’s not the only one who raved about their garlic balls.

Dreves, the Port Chester school board president, said Frank’s “makes a very tasty pie and we often mix up the ingredients to make it our ‘personal’ pie. Another plus is that Frank’s delivers quickly and always oven fresh. We usually have our Frank’s pizza delivered because when we dine in at Frank’s, we tend to go with their regular menu entrées.”

Other favorites

Westmore News employee and regular local bingo player Angie Brescia favors T&J for Italian pies. “I’ve never had a bad pizza from T&J’s ever,” she said. “A month ago I sampled the Buffalo chicken pizza. It was hot and spicy, but it was fabulous.

“It’s always delicious, the crust is fabulous and the sauce is always good,” Brescia added. “The marinara sauce is like grandma’s sauce.”

She is looking forward to T&J opening at their new location at 10 Pearl St. when the brand new space is ready.

As alternates, Brescia opts for Frankie & Louie’s and Frank’s.

Blind Brook Board of Education President Jeff Diamond said he and his wife are fans of Clino’s Pizza Pasta & Things. “This place has been there forever, yet I think their pizza is way underrated,” he said. “I was surprised recently when I went in to pick up my pizza, they even asked how I preferred my crust (crispy, etc.). How nice is that?!

Twenty-one-year-old Northeastern University student and Port Chester High School graduate Anika Krause was the lone vote for Angelo’s Pizza & Pasta at the corner of Irving Avenue and Pearl Street. “Their pizza is never too greasy, and they always get fun and creative with toppings,” she said. “Plus they carry my favorite soda, Saranac root beer from Utica.”