Trendy restaurants find a foothold

Trendy restaurants are opening and finding a way to thrive in Mott Haven and Melrose, concurrently with a spate of new housing developments all around the neighborhood.

By Ja Ja Grays. Charlie's Kitchen and Bar in Port Morris.
By Ja Ja Grays. Charlie’s Bar and Kitchen in Port Morris.

Trivia, hookah and brunch—oh my! These popular features, once foreign to the South Bronx restaurant biz, are now in demand by neighborhood foodies, and even New Yorkers from outside the borough. As Mott Haven undergoes large scale development, trendy restaurants are opening and finding a way to thrive – aiming to become the next food capital in the city.

Though some businesses fear the possibility of being pushed out, restaurants restaurants such as Ceetay, Don Pancho’s Steakhouse, and Charlies Bar & Kitchen remain optimistic about their chances of prospering.

“I think we are bringing something different to the table,” said 23-year-old Ceetay restaurant manager Shannon Boyle. “Why can’t we bring sushi to the South Bronx?”

Five minutes from the 3rd Avenue and 138th Street No. 6 train station, you will find the secluded, quaint Asian fusion restaurant, Ceetay (pronounced SEE-TAY).

“Our most popular dish would be the Tuna Bruschetta. Everyone loves it,” Boyle said. “People come from all over the city to try our food, but we serve mostly Bronx residents. With all the new businesses in the area, there’s a rush during lunchtime,” Boyle added.

With dim lights, connected couch seating and a handcrafted bar, it’s no wonder this chic urban 3-year-old restaurant’s name sounds metropolitan. Ceetay’s dine-in restaurant sets itself apart from the area’s standard Asian take-out joints.

“This is easily the best restaurant in the Mott Haven and Port Morris area and one of the best sushi spots in New York City” said 26-year-old Mott Haven resident Lucien Von Wehren. “It has a really good Saki based margarita and unique mixed drinks. There are some other good American style restaurants in this area but not worth traveling too far for.”

Ceetay is not the only restaurant serving savory food and a mod ambiance. Charlies Bar & Kitchen (CBK) is the neighborhood’s go-to spot for a sleek Manhattan feel, minus the hustle and bustle of the city. Inside the restaurant, urban décor meets sophistication with wooden floors and leather seats. The scent of southern food automatically makes you hungry, and the Motown tunes take you to another time and place.

Open since 2012, CBK offers American dishes, signature drinks and live music. “The Jacksborro Fried Chicken, made with chipotle piquillo pepper sauce and honey, is one of our most popular dishes. Either the Jacksborro or the Mac’N Cheese,” said restaurant General Manager Sam Toosi.

One of the restaurant’s main attractions is the weekend brunch. “Fried chicken and live Motown music? This is the best brunch spot,” said 28-year-old Brooklyn resident Diana Vitale. “The chicken and waffles are delicious and add that with a mimosa—perfect combo. Charlie’s knows how to do brunch right!”

The restaurant also hosts trivia night every Tuesday. “We walked in in the middle of a trivia game and the host was so welcoming! She reread the questions to us and went over each one so that we could hear and play along,” said Long Island resident Jennifer Persa, 35.

Despite the secluded location of the restaurant, Bronx and non-Bronx residents convene at CBK. “We have a lot of locals. Tenants [upstairs] come down to eat and we also host people from Westchester to Harlem,” said Toosi. “During SoBro’s Mott Haven Block Party last year, we had actor Ice-T eat at the restaurant.” SoBro – the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation – offers technical support and business development resources to start-up Bronx businesses and residents.

At Don Pancho’s Steakhouse on East 133rd St. in Port Morris, Operations Manager Kwame Barr prepared his kitchen staff to cook for the homeless and veterans during the holiday season.

“We offer 15 percent discounts to service members, including FDNY, NYPD and military members,” said Barr. “I am all about customer service and giving back. If you don’t know proper customer service, you won’t be successful.”

The steakhouse also works hard to keep its patrons entertained – with Karaoke Tuesdays, Salsa Wednesdays and Hookah with live DJs on the weekends.

The spacious interior and bar table, facing the flat screen TV, give you the feel of a Manhattan night lounge.

“I’ve been here a few times,” said Lisa Mejia,32. “The food is delicious—I ordered the pita bread pizza and the passion sangria.”

“I’m glad the food is up to par with the service,” Mejia added. “I love that the Bronx is catching on to the trend of quality restaurants. The area is changing and pretty soon this area will be the Williamsburg of the Bronx.”

Barr welcomes the changes that are happening within the community, “Our customers are mainly from the Bronx or Harlem but our doors are open to everyone. The Bronx is a blank canvas and it has potential. I just don’t want to see the current businesses and residents being pushed out.”