"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal. " Can't wait to try it!
I would have to say that John's is about as old world Italian as one can get here in the East Village. The décor, the menu, and the service all take me back to my youth when I adored going out to eat with my family and ordering spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, or veal parmigiana. I do still appreciate all that they have to offer, but now I, personally, prefer their eggplant or pizza. John's opened its doors in 1908 and is considered one of the oldest speakeasies in the city. It was downstairs in the basement where they made their wine and whiskey. Over the years, John's has been a popular film location for filming many TV shows and movies including Boardwalk Empire.
Known across the city for its exceptional Neapolitan-style pies, this small pizza lair with low ceilings, vintage light fixtures, and a tiled floor is often on NY's “Best Pizza” lists. I have been here on a number of occasions and never been disappointed with the simple but perfect Margherita pie. Others have opted for the Sopressatta Picante, the Brussels sprouts, and the Stracciatella with basil and sea salt. No matter what goes on top, though, the thin crisp crust is extraordinary. And for anyone who wants a unique brunch experience, Motorino tops their pizza dough with a fried egg, succulent bits of pancetta generously scattered across the silky bed of white fior de latte (mozzarella) and a spicy drizzle of chili oil. Who needs to order the well decorated omelets or French toast that crowd the city’s endless brunch menus when all of the best brunch components are conveniently located right here on a thin-crust pizza?
“The finest street pizza in New York…There’s something about the crust, no one else can duplicate it, ” said a loyal customer that we happened to bump into in Stromboli Pizza. Owner Zef Curanaj was happy to hear the words of praise, and quick to agree, claiming that top of the line ingredients add to the quality and great flavor of his slices. Making pies for forty years, Stromboli Pizza was first opened by Zef’s father and uncle. This spot is home to Zef – all he has known since he moved from Montenegro, Albania to the United States at age nineteen. Since then, he has been offering New Yorkers a classic, savory pie that he learned to make from his father decades ago.
It was a humble entrance that guided me into Gnocco, a space with tables barren of cloths, waiters devoid of ties, and the owner leaning against a wall in a casual tee-shirt and jeans. Upon closer look, I noticed framed photographs of the East Village in the 1980s taken by Michael Sean Edwards, fresh, savory pizza being tossed and fired in the room next door, and a backyard dining area where greenery intermingles with twinkling lights. When Modena native Gian Luca Giovanetti first opened Gnocco with Pierluigi Palazzo in 2000, customers did not understand why veal parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs, and fettucine alfredo were not on the menu. “We are Italian, ” Gian explained (in his wonderful accent), “and those dishes are not from where I’m from. ” Modena lies in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy where the cuisine differs from the southern Italian food most Americans are used to. Having already run a successful restaurant back home, Gian knew how to make good food, and would not compromise his menu. “I told them to just sit down, and if you don’t like it, you’re not gonna pay. ” They paid. Part of the reason for Gnocco’s sustained success are the niche that it fills. For the neighborhood, the restaurant bridges a gap between refined dining and fast food - it is an eatery “for every pocket. ” And for Gian, the restaurant brings him closer to his childhood and family. The gnocco, filled and fried pockets of dough, was a dish his grandmother would prepare, and it was his mother who recruited a team of four other ladies to perform “quality control” during the restaurant’s early beginnings. Even his son, who spends the school year in Italy, takes to the kitchen when he visits Manhattan in the summertime. While Gnocco may be Gian’s only current endeavor, he has had a hand in quite a few other places in the East Village. Perbacco was an Italian wine bar that was given two stars by the New York Times, Caffe Emilia offered casual Romagna food, like Italian clubs, to the neighborhood, and Café Pick Me Up, probably the most devastating closure, after twenty years and a rent surge, has lived on through Gnocco’s extended menu and hours.
The only genre of music missing in Academy Records is classical.... but not to worry, that is completely covered in their shop on 18th. Otherwise, this shop, here on 12th Street, has an impressive selection of rock, jazz, soul, funk, country, and folk. In chatting with one of the owners, he told us that they are always actively looking for "new" records and are constantly receiving inventory. In addition, they host DJ events.
I guess it would be quite obvious to those who have been reading my site since the beginning, that my particular passion, besides Manhattan itself, is books. I have been a frequent customer of the Strand since I was a little girl and my mom made this a destination on a New York City outing. Their stock has certainly increased from the few book shelves that they began with in 1927 on Fourth Avenue - to the 4, 000 square feet that they moved to here on 12th Street, in 1956 - to today's space of 55, 000 square feet. The "18 miles of books" consisting of old, new and rare books covers several floors. For years I just treated this shop like it a was museum, especially the Rare Book Room upstairs. I would step in and browse for hours, wanting everything, but not being able to justify purchasing it all. Then I opened my own book shop, inspired by the Strand. Despite their avenue address, the Strand has carts of books lining 12th Street rain or shine and a side street entrance. They also boast a Central Park kiosk open when weather permits and a pop-up location in the Club Monaco on 5th Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets.
Considering the multitude of rave reviews that Hearth has received since it opened in 2003, we were pleasantly surprised at the unpretentious and warm greeting we received. Although reservations for the dining room are recommended, especially during peak times, some of the best seats in the house are first come, first served. Pull up a stool at the bar and sample one of the artisanal cocktails made with New York produced spirits, or walk straight through the softly lit, exposed brick and red-walled dining room to the open kitchen and grab one of the four chairs right at the counter where the food is being cooked. During our visit, one of the sous chefs was cutting apart ribs right in front of us. When we visited, we learned that the menu changes slightly each day, always highlighting the freshest ingredients and trying to be as environmentally conscious as possible. However, a few favorites have remained on the menu since they opened over nine years ago, including the Grilled Quail and the Beef and Ricotta Meatballs. Many of the dishes are meant for sharing, like the Whole Roasted Fish of the Day. In 2016, chef Marco Canora upgraded the menu to focus on fewer processed flours, sugars, and oils. There are also many more dishes featuring offal, such as heart and liver. The purpose of the shift is to highlight food that is high in nutrients and does not contain growth hormones. If the resulting cuisine is anything like what we tasted when we visited, diners are in for a treat. Hearth’s extensive and well thought out beverage program is also intriguing, with a wine list focusing on certain grape regions, plus off the beaten path beers. With such an inviting and comfortable dining room, an exciting and ever-changing menu, and an impressively curated beverage list, Hearth presents the total package for a perfect night of dining.
Coppy Holzman moved to New York in 1976, and in the years since has undertaken multiple entrepreneurial projects. Most recently, alongside his daughter-slash-business-partner Logan Mikhly (who used to manage an animal rescue in New Orleans), Coppy opened Boris and Horton, a dog friendly café off of 12th street in the East Village. During our conversation, Coppy said, “I’ve moved away from New York here and there, but New York’s the best city on the planet, so why live any place else? ” (Relatable! ) But he and Logan had one issue: while walking around the city together, they found that there was nowhere they could stop in to eat or even grab a coffee with their dogs, Boris and Horton. They decided to solve this problem, and Boris and Horton opened its doors in February of 2018, offering great food and coffee, wine and beer in the evenings, and, of course, the opportunity for customers to spend quality time with their dogs, others’ dogs, and fellow dog-lovers. The vegetarian café sources its products from more than 20 local suppliers, including products from NYC staples such as pastries by Balthazar, cheese from Murray’s, Tea Pigs teas, and homemade syrups. The menu boasts both comfort foods and lighter options, and the wine and beer list rotates monthly - so there is always something new to try. But it’s not just humans who can get treats at Boris and Horton. For the pups, there are pupcakes, doggie doughnuts, french fries, beefcheek and other delicious delicacies made fresh by Maison de Paul. And when your furry friend is tired out from all the socializing and snacking, there are Casper dog beds available to fulfill all his napping-dreams. Logan and Coppy realized very quickly that Boris and Horton had become a community space. While half of their visitors are tourists, many of whom learn of Boris and Horton through social media or other news coverage, half of the customers at the café are neighbors of the business who have made Boris and Horton a “stop on their daily routine. ” In response to the café’s important role in locals’ daily lives, the father-daughter duo decided to expand their space, doubling it in size. In October of 2018 they opened the renovated extension, which includes an expanded seating area in the front, a colorful bespoke mural on the wall, and, notably, a party room in the back which is perfect for corporate events, human-birthday parties, dog-birthday parties, or any other kind of event you can imagine. Though the small fraction of the café’s space that includes the kitchen and main serving counter is not open to dogs due to health code requirements, the other 75% of Boris and Horton, including the entirety of the new extension, is completely dog friendly. Coppy assured me that New York is “a wonderful place for a dog, ” though before Boris and Horton New Yorkers might have struggled to find somewhere they could take their dogs along for Friday-night drinks. In fact, if you’re considering bringing a dog into your own routine, you can attend a weekend rescue event at Boris and Horton, where — just maybe — you’ll meet your new best friend. In collaboration with Muddy Paws Rescue, Boris and Horton has helped to find forever homes for up to twenty dogs in a weekend: pretty doggone amazing. If it’s human relationships that you seek, Boris and Horton may still be the place to go. With weekly events like trivia and bingo, Coppy and Logan are helping to “build up the community DNA. ” As Coppy told me, “Dogs are a great way to engage. . . it’s a catalyst for easy conversation. ” If customers meet at Boris and Hortonand end up dating, “then that’s even better! ” Coppy said. He even admitted that sometimes he’ll do a little matchmaking in the shop. And yes, there have been success stories. Then, of course, any weddings following such successes can be booked for the event space, and can even be ordained by Coppy himself, who is not only a matchmaker but also a minister. “I think people are wonderful, and they’re even better when they have a dog by their side, ” Coppy said, smiling. At Boris and Horton you’ll find the best of the best, from comfort food to good company — human or otherwise. On this little corner of 12th street, at least, Manhattan Sideways is happy to report that New York has officially gone to the dogs