Hart walk “I don’t think East Hartsdale Avenue was ever really gone,” Greenburgh planning Commissioner Thomas Madden says of the thoroughfare, which has had its share of ups and downs over the years. “As streets evolve, tastes change. They go through a 20-year cycle. East Hartsdale Avenue is about to start a new 20-year cycle.”
A vital east-west artery through Westchester County that was once home to banks, pharmacies and specialty shops, East Hartsdale Avenue has reinvented itself of late as an international food court in the Greenburgh hamlet of Hartsdale, with Vega, a zesty new Mexican restaurant, and an expanded Enrico’s pastry and cheese shop joining eight other eateries that include Azuma Sushi, Frankie & Fanucci’s Wood Oven Pizzeria, Harrys of Hartsdale, Hunan Village II and Masala Kraft Café.
Now Greenburgh is serving up some food for the soul to go along with food for the body: The town is set to announce The East Hartsdale Avenue Art Walk as part of the continuing Celebrate Art Greenburgh 2010. The walk – stretching from the Fenimore Road Bridge to Central Avenue “around Oct. 21” through mid-December – will consist of a juried show of local artworks reproduced on vinyl banners suspended from lampposts. The double-sided, weather-resistant banners – created using soy-based inks baked into fabric made from recycled plastic bottles – will cost between $200 and $250 each, says Tracy Allan, a filmmaker and photographer from Hastings-on-Hudson, who organized a similar event for that village in 2008. Sponsors’ names will be displayed on the bottom of each work along with that of the artist. For $20, interested artists will have an opportunity to submit up to three works to a committee consisting of town officials and members of area arts councils, with each additional submission costing $5.
In this, Madden – whose actual title is commissioner, Community Development and Conservation – is working with Sarah Bracey White, executive director of Arts and Culture for Greenburgh. She has placed a small exhibit of painted gourds by Mount Vernon artist Gail Wilson in a storefront where the former Hartsdale Cheesery once displayed its wares.
“An empty store on a street is the equivalent of a mouth of pretty teeth with one missing,” White says. “It’s very rewarding to put pictures in a window and see people walking up and down looking at them.”
The rewards are financial as well as emotional, and not just for the artists. Several years ago when East Hartsdale Avenue had several vacant storefronts, White hung artworks in the windows. Soon, she says, the spaces were rented.
It’s the strategy behind Art Walk.
“Art is one of the lifebloods of a community and one of the ways to spur economic development,” Madden says over coffee at Starbucks in MTA Metro-North Railroad’s Hartsdale station -- on track to become a state landmark.
But Madden isn’t planning to use art only to raise the profile of the avenue. He’s hoping to create a unified Greenburgh identity by extending the art walk project to the town’s various communities – the villages of Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Elmsford, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington and Tarrytown as well as the unincorporated area that stretches along Central Avenue from the Midway Shopping Center to the boundary of White Plains.
Many people live here for years, Madden says, without realizing that Greenburgh is made up of so many diverse communities.
If diversity is the key to East Hartsdale Avenue as Restaurant Row, then Shiva Natarajan is certainly its poster child. Natarajan owns several Indian and Thai restaurants in Connecticut, the Hudson Valley and New York City, including Malabar in Elmsford, Jaipore in Brewster, Little Thai Kitchen in Greenwich and Chola in Manhattan. Vega – on the site of the former Oporto, which was a Portuguese restaurant – is his first Mexican place.
“I love Mexican food, and food is universal,” he says. “Maybe a few spices are different. But it’s the same discipline.”
Natarajan remembers Hartsdale from the days when he lived there as an MBA student at Pace University. He wanted to bring to the hamlet not only the Mexican food he adores but a vibrant feel.
“We don’t get a lot of happening places in Westchester,” he says. “I said, ‘Let’s do it here.’”
Indeed, on a Friday afternoon, Vega seems to be a happening place, with patrons complimenting waiters on entrées like the fresh, crisp grilled-chicken taco salad. The throbbing music adds to the vibe, as does the eclectic modern décor – beaded black chandeliers, tree sculptures, midnight-blue tiled walls, purple and orange-accented banquettes. The look is complemented by a romantic floral tribute to Frida Kahlo that the artist herself – a bold, sensual colorist and a modern woman if there ever was one – might’ve found ironic.
Across the street, Joe Floriano, owner of Enrico’s of Hartsdale, is indulging in one of his luscious jelly doughnuts before heading back to the kitchen. The new, expanded 2,400-square-foot Enrico’s – located in the former Hartsdale Farm – consists of the pastry shop plus a streamlined version of the old Cheesery, with some of the Cheesery staff. It’s getting good reviews from the public, Floriano says.
Meanwhile, neighbor Brad Nagy – co-owner (with Angelo Viscoso) of Frankie & Fanucci’s – is considering annexing the old Enrico’s and using the extra 800 square feet as a party room.
For Nagy, who’ll be opening another Frankie & Fanucci’s with his partner in Mamaroneck in October, it’s all about knowing the clientele and the times. The thin-crust pizzeria started as a higher-end place but segued to a popularly priced casual family eatery when the economy went south.
The strategy is working. On a Friday night, the place is packed.
It’s a scene town officials, merchants and artists alike are working together to replicate all over the street.
“I don’t think East Hartsdale Avenue was ever really gone,” Greenburgh planning Commissioner Thomas Madden says of the thoroughfare, which has had its share of ups and downs over the years. “As streets evolve, tastes change. They go through a 20-year cycle. East Hartsdale Avenue is about to start a new 20-year cycle.”