The Azzollini family has been at the heart of Paul & Jimmy’s since Cosmo Azzollini waited tables at its 1950 incarnation on Irving Place. Back in 1968, when Cosmo purchased the restaurant, the Azzollini’s made it their own slice of southern Italy. Even today, Louis and his son, Greg, keep the focus on home: homemade cuisine, a home-style atmosphere, and the homey touches of Italian hospitality.
Paul & Jimmy’s is truly a family-run, neighborhood business. Louise and Greg emphasized that “one of us is always here - we are the only ones with the keys. We open and close every night.” Greg has worked in the restaurant since 2005, and - after culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education, working at Mario Batali’s Lupa Osteria in Manhattan, and furthering his culinary studies in Italy - is currently the head chef. Linda, Louis’s wife, is in charge of the accounting. Together, the whole Azzollini family works hard to ensure that everyone who walks through their doors feels like part of the family.
They are proud that the majority of their customers are local, and are particularly pleased that they have “a lot of customers who have been coming forty, fifty, sixty years, and also a lot that come three, four, five times a week.” As for Paul & Jimmy’s younger clientele, they are often surprised when Louise is able to tell them what their parents or grandparents used to eat. Their secret is that their “food is phenomenal… we have great waitstaff, we have reasonable prices, a cozy atmosphere, and are extremely accommodating.” They try their best to fulfill non-menu food requests or change the dish to suit their customers’ needs, which is generally “very easy” since “everything is cooked to order.” Louise told us it does not surprise him that many of their customers come so often, since they have “fifty or sixty different dishes on their menu - not including specials.” With an emphasis on freshness, they are proud that they source their fish, produce, and meat from well-established New York businesses. Gregg makes their own mozzarella fresh every day, as well as many of their pastas, and Paul & Jimmy's offers their own line of sauces, both in the restaurant and at a few local shops in the city.
Pepi Di Giacomo and Luca Di Pietry, veterans of the hospitality industry and wine and espresso intenditori, have taken a slice of the Abruzzo province and established it across Manhattan in their cafes. 18th Street, however, is where their Italian cuisine is most pronounced. It is as much about local produce and a dynamic menu as it is about traditional dishes. Depending on the time of day, there is espresso, a selection of pastries, an extensive wine list and a full Italian menu. An added surprise in the warmer months is their gelato booth, stationed right outside the restaurant. Perfect for us on the first day the temperature reached 80 degrees.
Giorgio's of Grammercy was far from Nick Grams' first prosperous restaurant venture. He understood early on that he had an instinct for business and eagerly awaited the opportunity to strike out as an entrepreneur. Having emigrated from Greece as a teenager, he bought his first small-town eatery in Iowa from a family friend at the tender age of nineteen. He proceeded to open another three places in the Midwest. When it was time to bring his gifts to New York, he found that he had grown tired of designing a restaurant, staying for only a few years, and then moving on to his next enterprise. "I wanted to start a place and see it as my home, " Nick told us. Thus came Giorgio's, named after his brother. As for why he did not christen it with is own name, he explained, "I never considered myself the front person. I was always behind the scenes. "To Nick, there are a number of key elements that go into running a successful restaurant. "My idea is to have a great product and a great experience at affordable pricing. " As such, he works with local vendors of organic goods to ensure the quality of his dishes, which change seasonally. He maintains his desired prices by managing a popular catering business on the side. And, most importantly, he has full confidence in his longtime staff. "There are some employees here who I have grown old with. They've been with me for more than thirty years. "Of course, there are some additional tricks of the trade that entice customers to visit Giorgio's. One is the pasta-making station by the window, where guests can observe an expert create the delicate homemade ravioli and thick strands of bucatini that are used for the daily specials. "People love it. Many requests a table near the window so they can watch and learn. " Though there may be many moving parts behind Giorgio's, Nick emphasizes that the restaurant's true appeal is its sincerity. "We want people to feel comfrotable and well taken care of, and there is nothing we won't do to achieve that. "
When I asked Alessandro Peluso, the owner of Bocca, if he had gone to culinary school or had a passion for cooking as a young man, he laughed and told me that he had initially studied accounting and then moved to London in 1997. He began working in restaurants then, but never envisioned himself owning one until he came to New York in 2000. His first place, Cacio E Pepe, opened in 2004 in the East Village, and then a year later he launched Spiga on the Upper West Side, and then sold it. In 2007, Bocca came to be - and it is here that chef and partner, Salvatore Corea, prepares traditional Roman cuisine. Esteban and I came in one afternoon for some photos and a bit of lunch and left an hour later totally satiated. We thought we would order a light meal that we could share, beginning with a roasted pepper and fennel soup, followed by the cow's milk mozzarella (made in-house) with fire-roasted marinated peppers, capers, and balsamic reduction, followed by a roasted vegetable panini with goat cheese. Little did we realize that next would arrive a large wheel of pecorino romano hollowed out and filled with house-made pasta and served tableside on warm plates with cheese, melted butter, and crushed black pepper. Perhaps it sounds simple, but the flavors of Bocca's signature dish, Tonnarelli Cacio E Pepe, were intense, incredible, and unforgettable. Thank you, Alessandro.
Since 1994, this clean-lined, white-walled restaurant has been serving upscale Southern Italian fare to Gramercy locals who come for the romantic atmosphere and chef Marco Fregonese's excellent menu. Grilled and roasted mushrooms with shaved Parmesan, Kobe beef carpaccio with rucola and black truffles, homemade white tagliolini with lobster ragu, and fingerling potato gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce and aged ricotta are just some of the appetite-whetting dishes that have made this such a neighborhood evening staple. Novita offers an extensive Italian wine list, organized by region, and a wide variety of traditional desserts.
A city landmark and a slice of Old New York, Pete's Tavern has been serving food and draft beer uninterrupted since 1864. It does not take much to envision Pete's as it was a century and a half ago. The scarred, carved bar, the high-backed booths, tin ceiling and functional 1950's register are reminders that this was once the favorite haunt of writer O. Henry, a speakeasy, and a pre-Civil War "grocery & grog. " Walking through the rooms, one can also discover hundreds of photos of people from our past - James Cagney, Mickey Mantle, and celebrities of today, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Adam Sandler. To drink here is to drink half in the past and half in the present.
New York has more than its fair share of yakitori houses and sushi bars, but this Japanese transplant is concerned with presenting its American diners with Teishoku, or home-style cooking. This chain, which opened in Japan in 1958, features nourishing, traditional fare, where a "healthy body and mind" are top priority. Throughout Asia there are over three hundred restaurants, and as of 2012, New Yorkers can dine in the light, airy interior of their elegant US flagship restaurant.
Ken Giddon likes to say that he went “from riches to rags” by leaving a career as a bond trader to reopen his grandfather’s men’s clothing store. Harry Rothman used to peddle his wares from a pushcart on Delancey Street in the 1920s before moving into a retail space. “He kind of created the concept of a discount clothing store, ” Ken remarked. Rothman's closed for a time after Harry’s death in 1985, but Ken revived the business a year later in a stunning, 11, 000-square-foot storefront on the corner of 18th Street in Union Square. “I love being on a side street. It gives us the ability to afford a bigger space while watching the movable feast that is New York walk by every day. ” Five years after the shop’s reopening, Ken invited his brother, Jim, to join him. “This is one of the true family businesses in Manhattan. ” The store, which carries both casual and formal attire from top designers, aims to make the shopping experience for men “as efficient and rewarding as possible. ” To this end, Ken and Jim scour the market, travel abroad, and attend numerous trade shows to find the best brands. “We try to provide our customers with that personal, small-town feel in the middle of the city, ” Jim said. Despite Rothman's more modern look and merchandise, the brothers strive to keep some core elements of their grandfather’s business alive, particularly by preserving his humble approach to owning a men’s retail store. As Harry used to say, “It’s not so serious what we do. We just sell pants for a living. ”