By Linda Lombroso / Photos by Tania Savayan
When I told my husband recently that I’d made a dinner reservation at a wine bar, he had only one question: Was there somewhere nearby we could eat a real meal afterward?
It wasn’t until I said we were going to Ernie’s Wine Bar + EATS that he stopped worrying about being hungry.
The 40-seat restaurant, which opened a little over a year ago near the Bronxville train station, puts equal emphasis on wine and food, with a full menu that changes daily — and a large selection of artisanal wines from small-production wineries. Chef-owner Philip Hedger, who left behind a long career in the corporate world, trained at culinary school and prepares all the food himself, turning out beautifully seasoned dishes that succeed in expanding the notion of what a wine bar really is.
Sure, you can order a plate of cheese, or a nice platter of charcuterie, and call the whole thing a meal. But part of the fun here is tasting Hedger’s homemade dishes, prepared in a tiny kitchen just off the main dining room. As candles flicker and the small space grows loud with conversation, Hedger pops in and out like a friend who’s curious to see how you like his cooking. Too busy to take a seat, he manages to stop by long enough to offer tips on wine pairings, checking back again just as you’re trying to figure out how a chocolate torte can taste that good (he uses three kinds of Valrhona chocolate).
If you haven’t figured out the Ernie connection by the end of the meal, Hedger will gladly point it out for you: The popular Sesame Street character can be found leaning against the back of the bar with a smile on his face.
What we tried
Smoked Trout Pate with Toast Points: Hedger says this dish is so popular, customers call ahead for take-out. Served in a little bowl with a gherkin on top, the trout was exceptionally lush, with a fishy-lemony-smoky taste that paired well with the crisp toast served alongside it.
Salad with Blue Cheese, Walnuts and Cranberries: Generous chunks of blue cheese surrounded a nicely dressed salad, sprinkled with salt and pepper and studded with candied walnuts and big cranberries. The dish was big enough to split, especially since the rich cheese made it extra filling.
Pea Soup: Like freshly picked peas. Thick and delicately seasoned, it was finished with a dollop of creme fraiche, lending it a sophisticated appearance that mimicked its taste. Bear in mind that Hedger rotates the soup selection; it may take several tries before you arrive on a pea-soup day (call ahead if you’re curious).
Chili Con Carne with Sour Cream and Kidney Beans: This chunky chili, served in a cute red bowl, had just the right amount of heat. A nice meat-to-beans ratio and a good blend of flavors on every forkful. And the creaminess of the sour cream offset the heaviness of the chili.
Leek, Mushroom and Gruyere Tart/Quiche: As Hedger explains, a tart in his native England is called a quiche in the United States — hence the tart/quiche moniker. An extra-large slice of this rich pie, served with a side salad, was perfection on a plate: Rich, buttery and decadent, with the flavors of leeks, mushrooms and cheese blended together in just the right proportion, it flew off our plate in record time.
Drinks and dessert
Despite its focus on wine, Ernie’s also has a full bar, complete with beer, whiskeys from the U.K. and cognacs and Armagnacs from artisanal producers in France. Wines served by the glass — a selection of about 25 that changes at least twice a month — are exclusively from wineries that produce 1,000 cases a year or fewer, and most are organic or biodynamic. “They are wines that people have difficulty finding or having anywhere else,” says Hedger. “That’s what I want: people to look forward to tasting something different.” Additionally, there are about 38 wines on the reserve list, including many Bordeaux and Italian wines, bottles from California and Australia, and a nice sampling of dessert wines.
There is only one item on the dessert menu: the chocolate torte with ginger, raspberry and lavender, which Hedger prepares each morning. It’s a must-try, even if you swear you can’t squeeze in another bite.
Couples and small groups, in a wide range of ages, settle in for hours here, ordering multiple glasses of wine and filling the small space with a cheerful warmth.
A private room, just off the main dining room, holds a table that accommodates six to eight people and can be reserved in advance. It’s a bit quieter in there, and very cozy, but with its open doorway you’re still in the midst of the action. Groups of six or more are required to book ahead.
What we will order next
The Veal and Pork Ragu with Herbed Gnocchi is one of Hedger’s standbys, and sounds particularly tempting. He makes his gnocchi from egg, cheese and flour, not potato, and crisps them in a pan before serving on top of the ragu.
Ernie’s is across the street from the Metro-North station, where there’s usually ample parking in the evenings. The Bronxville movie theater is a short walk away, and on a warm evening, Pondfield Road makes for a nice stroll; during the day there are plenty of charming shops open for business.
The restaurant hosts wine classes (L’Ernie’s Wine School) on occasional Saturdays. Sign up for Ernie’s electronic newsletter (send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org) to keep up with the latest schedule. The restaurant is closed on Sundays, but available for private parties.
THE 411 ON ERNIE’S WINE BAR + EATS
Entree price range: $12-$16 (lower for lunch)
Great for: Singles, Romantic, Wine List, Small Plates, Girls’ Night Out, Meeting for a Drink, Private Room, Special Occasion, Dine at the Bar, Late Night Eats, Seasonal Menu, Senior Appeal, Open Mondays, Excellent Dessert
Noise level: Moderate
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner: 5 p.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Go: 7 Pondfield Road, Bronxville. 914-652-7859; ernieswinebar.com
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