Eating well to do good

Photographs by Danielle Brody.

Not many restaurants are like Infusion in Pelham. The founding partners have backgrounds in human services, not food, and they focus on how the restaurant can benefit local charities.

Delores Lulgjuray (also known as Dr. D) and Jack Mungovan opened a restaurant to extend their charitable efforts because it is a natural gathering spot. It gives anyone the opportunity to help a charity, says new partner Alex Zuluaga.

Last year, Infusion invited those in need to a free Thanksgiving meal, treating them as well, if not better, than a paying customer, Zuluaga says. Infusion will do it again this year. Other future plans include donating 20 percent of the revenues to charities every Tuesday. One Tuesday a month Infusion will also host an event dedicated to an organization, which receives the donated space, food and labor.

The restaurant on Pelham’s main thoroughfare, Fifth Avenue, is a former biker bar transformed into an urban-style spot. Rough elements like exposed brick remain, with a cool but welcoming vibe provided by the chocolate brown seats and cozy lounge.

Being charitable goes down easy with planned live jazz fundraisers, an extensive drinks list and tasty American tapas dishes.

I sat down for drinks and a sampling of the dinner menu with Zuluaga, who was eating his first meal at the restaurant after becoming a partner in July. Zuluaga started as a busboy at Infusion two years ago when he was contemplating a career change. He had finished law school and worked on Wall Street but realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer. Inspired by the restaurant’s mission and his father, who was maître d’ at Crabtree’s Kittle House Restaurant & Inn in Chappaqua for 40 years, he took the opportunity to buy into the restaurant.

Now he runs the day-to-day, curating small batch wines and overseeing the menu and the customers, while the founding partners run the charitable side of the business, planning ways to infuse the food with their mission.

Lulgjuray and Mungovan have worked at Mount Kisco-based Community Living Corp., a financial assistance nonprofit for disabled adults, and Creative Escapes, which plans trips all over the world for disabled adults. Infusion chefs have cooked food for Creative Escapes’ trips.

Infusion has also assisted Helping Hands and Advocates for the Disabled. Zuluaga says that one of the restaurant’s goals is to boost lesser-known charities.

Still, the restaurant doesn’t toot its own horn. There’s no mention of  Infusion’s compassionate mission on the menu or spiel from waiters or donation cards slipped in with the bill.

On an evening in early September, I chose to sit on the outside patio, a charming spot nestled between two buildings surrounded by flowers. A grapefruit mojito muddled with fresh mandarin oranges in a large wine glass was a perfect way to start my meal. It had the taste of end of summer — and the strength to wake me up at the end of the day.

The dishes were nicely dressed up. A flavorful dense crab cake was topped with a vegetable-shaped flower and a plate of tuna tartare appetizers was sprinkled with a garnish of herbs. The chefs tried a few variations with the tuna — one with quinoa, another with guacamole and the third wrapped in zucchini. They were on the salty side, but I appreciated the creativity and showmanship.

In another tapa, I had Infusion’s version of a quesadilla, this one filled with bacon, tomato and avocado. It lacked cheese, but the crispy tortilla, reminiscent of a fried dumpling, gave it an edge. It all worked dipped in the sweet chili sauce.

A colorful lime-seasoned fruit salad topped a juicy, savory steak. These complemented a rich, fruity glass of Katherine Goldschmidt Cabernet.

I moved on to a dessert Port to sip alongside a flaky apple turnover with ice cream. It got much more of my attention than the triple layer chocolate cake, which could have been more decadent.

Zuluaga says there are many directions in which he can take Infusion, but he is working slowly to develop the restaurant, making sure he gets the food completely right. This month look for a new menu and more fundraising events in Pelham’s charming, charitable restaurant.

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