When it comes to Italian food, Le Fontane owner Antonio Abbate knows what he’s talking about. Born and raised in Capri, Italy, Abbate worked in his relatives’ restaurants as a teen. And, in 1985, when a Capri-based restaurant company put out a call for staff to relocate to Bermuda, he jumped at the chance.
“It was an opportunity to work in Italian restaurants in Bermuda,” he says. “I got the job first, and then my younger brother got a job there.”
While in Bermuda, Abbate traveled to Somers to visit his uncle. He knew he wanted to move there, and each time he came to visit, he looked at potential restaurant spaces.
“I went to see a lot of restaurants, even on Staten Island,” he remembers. “One day, the saleswoman was showing me restaurants, and she brought me to Blue Dolphin. It was a Greek diner that served breakfast and lunch, and when I saw it, it clicked. I knew it was the right place.”
Two or three years after moving to Bermuda, Abbate and his younger brother Alfredo moved to Somers and took over Blue Dolphin, initially keeping everything – the waitstaff and the food – the same.
“We started right away,” he says. “After we bought the restaurant, we had no money – not even a penny in my pocket. We didn’t make any changes because we needed to make money. But we didn’t know anything about breakfast. All we knew was that we had to learn.”
Luckily, the staff helped create a smooth transition, and Abbate and his brother soon began adding to the menu. Their first change was to add freshly squeezed juices, then they began offering a few Italian dishes at lunch; soon, they started serving dinner, which was “pretty much” Italian food.
“After three or four years, we decided it was time to stop serving breakfast and focus on lunch and dinner,” Abbate explains. “By that point, it had already become an Italian restaurant, so people weren’t really upset.”
Then, in 1991, Abbate decided to purchase a second restaurant. He found a small American-style seafood restaurant on the border of Katonah and Somers and made an offer. This time, he was able to renovate before opening Le Fontane.
Abbate spent several months remodeling the kitchen and dining room, taking it down to the studs, before opening. (He expanded both a few years later.) When he opened, he kept the same family-friendly atmosphere that his customers at Blue Dolphin had grown to love.
“The food reflects the area where we are from,” Abbate describes. “Italy is a country with different cuisines wherever you go, and we are from the Amalfi coast where the food is more land and sea.”
When it comes to the food, not much has changed over the years, he says.
“We try to not be too expensive, and the quality is always there,” he describes. “We change the specials according to the season, and we try to purchase local produce.”
ke sure our art is beautiful every time.”
However, the pandemic did give him some time to get back into the kitchen and experiment with other cuisines. He says he wanted to challenge himself while leaning on his Italian roots.
“We’re looking at other countries, and combining their dishes with Italian recipes, and it’s going very well,” he says. “For example, now we have short ribs with paella. People like these dishes a lot.”
The staff hasn’t changed much either – some have been there for 20 years or more. During their time off, Abbate and his team often hang out together. Sometimes, they gather at his home, other times they meet up at the beach. They’re truly an extended family, which is exactly how Abbate hopes his customers feel when they come in for a meal.
“We work with the staff to make sure the customers always have good food and there’s a good ambiance,” he explains. “Because nowadays, it’s not just about the food. It’s good food, drinks and ambiance.”
Their regulars come in weekly, or even two or three times a week, from all over Westchester and Connecticut. They come for lunch, dinner or happy hour. They dine alfresco in the summer and early fall, order fully prepared meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and ring in the New Year at their favorite spot.
“This is our passion,” says Abbate. “It’s not just a business, it’s an art. And we want to make sure our art is beautiful every time.”
This article was published in the September/October 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.