Originally opened in 1932 only a few blocks away, Pietro’s has changed owners and locations but continues to thrive. Serving well-aged steaks and Italian classics, the restaurant remains a favorite with locals and those who continue to travel from Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey to savor the incredible meals that are consistently delectable. As Bill Bruckman, the present owner, described it to me, ninety-five percent of the clientele are regulars and have been coming to Pietro's for generations. "People drive in from all over on a regular basis, " he said. He laughed and added, "You would think that there aren't any good Italian restaurants anywhere else. " To honor the regulars, there is a "wall of fame" that allows people to add their family tree, and there are gold plaques scattered throughout the space recognizing Pietro's most loyal customers. Having had some marvelous meals at Pietro's over the years, I was eager to sit down with Bill and learn more about the restaurant's history. I found it fascinating that there was no explanation as to how two Italian brothers, the original owners, decided on its name. They arrived in New York from Italy in the early 1930s and opened their restaurant on 45th Street and Third Avenue - Natala was the chef, while Pietro handled the front of the room, yet only Pietro had his name inscribed on the door. According to Bill, by 1970 the two brothers decided to retire, and it was their head waiter who took over for a number of years, followed by his son. Beginning in the 1960s, Bill's father-in-law worked at Pietro's, and when they needed a busboy in 1984 (when they moved to their present address) he recommended his son-in-law. Bill worked himself up to being a waiter and in 1994, together with three partners, had the opportunity to acquire this Manhattan staple. In addition to the fantastic food, I am certain that it is the old fashioned waitstaff that drive people to return. Bill believes that one must have excellent service to back up the food. There are many men who have been with Pietro's for decades. For instance, Bruno, who I have met on several occasions, is a wonderful example of a loyal and genuine Italian waiter. If one insists, he will give them a menu, but he prefers to recite the list of specials and then continue on with the rest of the menu, without missing a beat. At some point during the recitation, he is certain to announce, "You don't eat better than this! "In 2016, on the day that we returned to update our feature article on Pietro's Bruno ready to greet us. Prior to Pietro's, he had been a waiter at the original Palm for some forty years. He told me that he began his career in 1968, and then quickly added, "But this is the best restaurant to work for. " Bruno told me that his father had worked at Pietro's in the 1960s and he was pleased to say he believes that he has the "closest relationship to the restaurant's past. " There is a warm camaraderie among the men who serve the guests. They take their job very seriously, but also know how to joke with the customers and each other. I found myself laughing the entire time I was there. Stepping inside the kitchen, we met Chef Luis who has been cooking at Pietro's for five years. Bill said that the kitchen staff is an amazing team with five guys on the line working cohesively with the chef as they turn out dish after dish. Witnessing this amazing team at work was a treat. When I commented to Bill on how everyone cooked in perfect harmony, he smiled from ear to ear and said, "These guys can turn out 125 dinners at a time on any busy night. They are so in tune with one another. "Everything is cooked to order and Tom, our photographer, was in classic Italian heaven as he sat down with a plate of meatballs and spaghetti and Pietro's chopped salad. The Chicken Parmesan, considered one of the best in the city, was the show stopper, pounded as thin as can be with an equally thin layer of their secret tomato sauce recipe and then perfectly crusted Parmesan melted across the top. Bill is proud of the fact that the restaurant remains "old school, " and stated, "we refuse to change. " He went on to say that "the decor is not exciting, " but he believes that this "isn't why people come here. " They come for the food, and they return time and again for the people who make their meals memorable.
Massimo Bollini loves to share stories of his historic Italian restaurant where mayors, governors, actors, gangsters, and even Oprah have dined. "But my favorite was always Ed Koch! " he exclaimed. Spread over two charming levels, with about ten tables on each, the walls are filled with changing artwork, old family photos, and pictures of Italy. Massimo arrived in the U. S. in 1978, working first as a bar boy in a hotel, then as a waiter, until joining his Uncle Sam on East 39th Street, where he has been a cheerful fixture ever since. Visitors to Sam’s Place go for the warm greetings and pleasant conversation and stay for the fettuccine alfredo — always a crowd-pleaser, despite the hefty calories. This delectable dish is just one reason customers have been returning for over thirty years, regulars for whom Massimo is “happy to change the menu according to their pleasures. ”
Keeping it in the family has been what has made Rossini's so successful for over thirty-five years. Begun by Romano Bernaz in 1978, his two sons and their cousin continue with the traditions of fine Italian dining. The restaurant is quite impressive, with a bar up front and then many white-clothed tables in the rear surrounded by murals and paintings on each of the walls. Every detail for a fine dining experience is met, including soft live piano music, well-dressed, attentive waiters and, of course, excellent food.
Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.
Opened on May 23, 1911 on the site of a former reservoir, this main branch of the New York Public Library is a true wonder of the city. Upon its completion, it was the largest marble structure in the United States, and the classical design elements ensure that it remains as breathtaking now as it was then. In 1965, it became a National Historic Landmark. The Main Reading Room is an enormous hall, with murals and intricate relief work lording overhead and large, open windows allowing for bright sunlight to pour across the books being huddled over. Small exhibitions to art and cultural histories pepper the halls. The entire structure is truly a pleasure to explore, one of the grandest and most wonderful buildings in the entire city, and we spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the halls in a book-drunk daze trying to absorb it all.
Known as the "Center for Social Change, " the Ford Foundation has been committed to helping the world be a better place since 1936. They work diligently to "protect human rights, reform governments, provide education opportunities and create space for artistic creativity and expression. " Without a doubt, one of Manhattan's finest atriums greets visitors. Entering the glass structure from either 42nd or 43rd Street, a world of green awaits. There are trees, plants, a fountain and short paths to wander through. The atrium is a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
As part of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal in the late '90s, Pershing Square Cafe opened under the Park Avenue viaduct. The fare is American and straightforward, with burgers and chicken pot pies, steaks and fish. The pancakes, served all day, are a big crowd pleaser. Up front, commuters sipping coffee, reading, and chatting while awaiting the next train, inhabit a more cafe-esque area. When speaking with the manager one day, he was proud to tell me that both Friends with Benefits and the Avengers were filmed at Pershing.