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.
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.
Arthur Avenue in the Bronx had become a monthly excursion for me and friends while I lived in Westchester. We would shop for pasta, bread, mozzarella and olive oil and then wander over to Roberto Paciullo's' restaurant for lunch. In 2008, we changed our routine up a bit in order to try out his new restaurant, Zero Otto Nove. Needless to say, we were overjoyed with the atmosphere and, of course, the incredible food. Shortly after I moved back into the city, I read that Roberto had made the decision to open a restaurant in Manhattan. My husband and I were one of his first customers on 21st Street, and we have been coming back on a regular basis. In a simple statement, the food is excellent. The intensively hot brick oven cooks their thin crust pizzas to perfection. I adore the stacked eggplant and zucchini parmesan, the guileless arugula salad, any number of their pasta dishes, and I always order a side of the cauliflower with breadcrumbs. Combining the star attractions on each menu from his two successful restaurants in the Bronx, and designing an inviting space has made dining here a pleasure.
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."
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.”
Every time I am walking with someone new, I find myself winding past Breads Bakery to have us try yet another delicious bite of their freshly baked goods. I cannot call this a hidden gem, by any means, as the lines are sometimes out the door. In a matter of a few weeks from when Uri Scheft and Gadi Peleg opened, they have managed to be written up everywhere. They have even been cited as having the best rugelach and babka in different periodicals, but I must encourage all who visit to sample Breads' take on focaccia - the multigrain version. If it is not still warm from the oven, then take it home, heat it up, add a bit more olive oil and savor every bite. Another that I cannot resist are the flaky cheese straws. Direct from the oven, they are impeccable. In fact, fresh is king here, and the baked goods are often fresher than the vegetables around the corner. While most bakeries have their employees come in during the night to pump out a days worth of starchy creations, Uri's staff at Breads Bakery has fresh bread coming out just in time for each of the mealtime rushes. Uri was raised in Israel, but went back to his parent's roots in Denmark for his training in baking. He then traveled and worked in Europe before returning to his homeland to open up his first bakery in Tel Aviv. Many years later, Gadi was traveling in Israel and discovered Uri's Lehamim Bakery. It took several more years of persistence, but ultimately the timing was right and Uri made the huge decision to move to New York and partner with Gadi to open up shop near Union Square. The store itself feels modern and spacious, with one counter for bread and baked goods just as you enter on the left, and another further back with sandwiches and drinks. Extending further back another 75 feet are the kitchens. Customers can watch bakers ease proofed dough off rolls of canvas onto an adjustable conveyer belt, which feeds into the carefully regulated ovens. Unlike Sheft's locations in Israel, he got to design this one from the ground up so the technology involved is sometimes just as amazing as what comes out of the ovens.