Everybody is family at T&J’s Restaurant & Pizzeria in Port Chester.
That’s certainly how it felt at the restaurant’s grand re-opening at 10 Pearl Street, where WAG enjoyed a spread of southern Italian cuisine amidst the family and friends of owners John Ruggiero and Ray Sassano.
Live musicians circled the restaurant – one with a guitar, the other with an accordion – playing traditional Italian songs like “That’s Amore,” by Dean Martin.
“It’s all about food, family and traditions,” said Ruggerio.
The walls of the restaurant are adorned with adorable, framed photographs of children eating – and playing with – their food. On closer inspection, we learned these children are the owners’ young relatives, bringing even more meaning to the term, “family restaurant.”
Though crowded, the spacious restaurant was also ironically private. Guests are welcomed upon entering by a classic pizza shop that offers something for those seeking a quick bite or takeout, from fresh slices of cheese or Sicilian to the more extravagant lasagna or penne alla vodka.
Walking past the front of the shop, guests are brought into a private eating area, complete with a bar offering a selection of beer and wines. Ruggiero took WAG through an exclusive tour of the upstairs, which is currently under construction. Scheduled for completion in December, the top floor will offer private catering and event space, as well as an outdoor deck that boasts an exquisite view of the Port Chester skyline.
While T&J’s has found a new home, it isn’t new to the Westchester dining scene. Before making the big move, the restaurant was in business for 26 years at 227 Westchester Ave. in Port Chester, just steps from its new location.
“We felt we outgrew the previous location, and it made sense to move here,” Ruggiero said.
But some things never change, and one of these things is the families’ emphasis on tradition. The menu is a collection of family recipes from Ruggerio’s mother, Filomena, and Sassano’s mother-in-law Grace Vitello, passed down for generations and shared with clientele.
Upon seating, guests are provided with bread, butter and oil, in addition to homemade focaccia bread – an Italian-style bread that is texturally similar to pizza – topped with herbs and tomato sauce. The focaccia was light and flavorful, and we helped ourselves to a few thin-sliced pieces.
In the Italian culture, cheese is everything. (I say that with confidence, because I’m of Italian descent, and have spent a lifetime sprinkling cheese on every dish imaginable.) When the buffet was unveiled, the line began next to a large block of fresh Parmesan cheese – which proved delicious – and guests were invited to help themselves.
The arancini (rice balls) were baked to perfection, with a crispy exterior and gooey mozzarella cheese surrounding the rice inside. The penne alla vodka was cooked al dente and dressed in a creamy sauce that was neither too thick, nor too light, but filling, nonetheless. But the standout of the night was definitely the eggplant rollatini, which was a satisfying marriage of eggplant, tomato sauce, ricotta cheese and, of course, Italian seasoning.
You can bet that no one left hungry.
T & J Restaurant & Pizzeria is located at 10 Pearl Street in Port Chester. For more, call 914-939-4134 or visit tandjs.net.
– Aleesia Forni contributed to this story.