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."
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.
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.
Although Eataly is right down the street, Mangia has been upholding its fine reputation for terrific Italian antipasto, pasta salads and sandwiches for over thirty years. For a quick and savory lunch without the crowd, Mangia becomes the perfect dining spot. Since opening their first sandwich shop on 56th street in 1981, Mangia has grown into a catering business that services much of the New York area.
While the digital age has allowed us to streamline many services, there are some art forms that must remain analog. One trip to Best Shoe and Bag Original Repair on W21st Street in Chelsea and you’ll be convinced that the time honored art of cobbling is one that can’t be replaced. It’s an art that has been passed down to owner Marcia Sailema from her father, who ran the shop for decades until he retired in 2015. Marcia said that in addition to helping her dad run the family business, she took classes at FIT to sharpen her skills in repairing luxury shoes and bags, which are the businesses specialty. “I learned so much industry vocabulary that I never knew before – like the way that the first part of a shoe design is called the last — and ‘the last comes first! ’” she laughed. She quickly acclimated to the delicate art of making much-loved, long-worn bags and shoes look like new by making delicate leather, paint and stitching matches to designers from Dior to Chanel and in fragile vintage pieces. The intricate work — which Marcia proudly showed us can make a nearly unusable bag or shoe look fresh off the shelf – has led to a loyal customer base. For Marcia, it’s a labor of love. “I really like working on the bags, ” she said, admiring a classic Louis Vuitton monogram bag that she’d recently completed repairs on. “Look at these zippers! ”
Merakia occupies the space that housed Kat & Theo from 2015-2017 - and while the restaurant maintains the same ownership as before, it also has a different mission. The modern Greek steakhouse prides itself on its meats and classic seafood items, while maintaining a classy, hip atmosphere in its cavernous space on 21st Street. “We built a new team… and a new vision, ” managing partner James Paloumbis shared with the Manhattan Sideways team when he spoke of the switch from Kat & Theo. He then went on to highlight Merakia’s differences from other Greek restaurants. “It’s not white and blue like every other place in New York City. Our menu is not the copy paste of any other place. ” The menu is heavy on steaks and seafood, boasting their signature lamb on the spit ("the only restaurant in the city to do so") while, surprisingly, offering some robust meat-free options as well. “Everything is farm to table, we use fresh ingredients, [and] we make everything from scratch on a daily basis. ” James told us that part of his mission is to bring back the adventure of going out to eat, a phenomenon he has noticed declining over the years. “People don’t like to go out anymore just to eat. You can eat at home, you can eat down the street, you can order your meal online. But to get an experience of nice service, some nice flavors, nice music, nice drinks - it’s worth your while to go out again. ” Husband and wife team behind Kat & Theo - Renee and Andreas Typaldos - seem to have orchestrated a smooth transition from their previous restaurant. As their past executive chef, Paras Shah, believed, "there should be a movie written about the couple's romantic backstory and that he “couldn’t have worked for better folks. ” Andy is originally from Greece, and the restaurant was named after his parents, Katerina and Theodosios. Andy came to New York on a scholarship from Columbia and met Renee, who is from the Bronx. He took her out on a first date “with holes in his shoes and with no winter jacket, ” according to Renee. She added, “The romantic, poetic way people get together. ” Today, they are paying homage to Andy's Greek heritage and according to James, “People have to trust their stomachs and their palates with a restaurant, so that’s what we’re trying to do here. Trust us - our food is fresh, our food is made with care, and we love what we do. ”
Calvary-St George’s church moved to Gramercy Park in 1832. It has a strong history of influential members and it was here that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was set. In addition to movie nights and summer programs for children, we witnessed a small, delightful concert performance along the sidewalk while walking one day.
Perhaps the attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ” works well at Society Billiards. They seem to know that sometimes a classic pool hall is just what people need. Extremely spacious and stocked with countless pool tables, anyone looking to get lost in the game will be sure to love this dimly lit, relaxed, yet classy spot.
As we peered behind the counter at Joe, we saw what looked like a machinist’s shop or a technological artist’s studio, and yet the rich aroma of coffee was unmistakable. Joe is a place for serious coffee, and they hope to make serious coffee-drinkers out of their customers. The front of the shop holds a regular coffee bar, with three stools, and a display with some useful coffee tools for at home brewing. The majority of the space, however, is filled by the coffee studio in back where customers can watch the machines whir and the experts work their magic. For those of us not as knowledgeable in the coffee arena, Joe offers regular classes on topics ranging from brewing technique to what they call “coffee theory. ” While they have several locations throughout Manhattan, Joe's on 21st street serves as the “pro shop” and headquarters.