Fabio Hakill, the eponymous chef and owner of Fabio Cucina, moved from Rome to New York in the mid 1990s where he quickly made a name for himself as an accomplished chef. After eighteen years as a co-owner at Piccolo Fiore on East 44th Street, Fabio decided to go it alone early in 2014. At his new Italian restaurant, Fabio is enjoying experimenting with a varied menu. His specialties include the Fettuccini al Fabio - made with veal, mushrooms and truffles, and an array of risottos. He told me, however, that he is willing to prepare virtually any dish that a customer requests. After stopping by during their busy lunch hour one day, Fabio invited us back in the evening to sample some of his signature dishes. As we walked across 52nd Street to the west side, we were dreaming about the Italian food that awaited us when we would circle back to the east side later in the evening. Weary from our long day, we eagerly took a seat near the wide windows to observe others walking by, while we indulged in the fresh bread basket, chilled white wine, some outstanding appetizers, a seafood risotto and a pasta dish. It was an ideal end to a very long day on 52nd.
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.
When we visited the new Bistango at the end of the summer of 2014, located in The Kimberly Hotel, Chef Blessings Strange and staff member William Turbert were testing out a dish to add to their menu - grilled watermelon with snippets of mint and deep fried fennel, topped with goat cheese and a balsamic reduction. They put out three additional small plates at the bar, encouraging us to taste and weigh in. It was a refreshing pick-me-up for each of us, but little did we realize that there would be several more dishes headed our way. While Chef Blessings began food prep, we had the pleasure of meeting both Anthony Avellino, the manager - part of the Bistango family for twenty-two years - and Marc Mirbod, one of the owners, who first chimed in describing Anthony as being "the real salt of the earth kind of guy." and then went on to give us some insight into this recently established location.Fred Manocherian, owner of The Kimberly Hotel, was intrigued by the eleven-year-old gluten-free program at Bistango on 29th and Third Avenue and invited the team to open a restaurant on 50th. According to Marc and Anthony, the concept behind the Bistango restaurants is "very straightforward." They want to offer a moderately priced seasonal Italian menu with uncomplicated, locally sourced food. When they joined forces with Mr. Manocherian, the goal was to "bring what was successful on 29th to their new location." They have adopted a system where there is absolutely no cross-contamination between gluten and gluten-free meals. Chef Blessings told us that perhaps the most rewarding aspect of working in the restaurant is to watch the pleasure on people's faces when they are enjoying a bowl of pasta or a pizza for the first time in years, having never been anywhere before that can serve them a great Italian gluten-free meal. Once again Marc weighed in praising Chef Blessings, "He is the brains and heart behind the menu."While chatting, Chef Blessings continued to dish out amazing food for us to sample: A simple salad with romaine lettuce was perfectly dressed and topped with marcona almonds; an adventurous Linguine Deniro - squid ink pasta mixed with swordfish, cherry tomatoes, herbs, and a light sauce of white wine and olive oil; and perhaps the best burrata I had tried all summer long. Blessings told us it is delivered fresh from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont. Served at room temperature, the cream oozed out from the center and onto a bed of heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, toasted pumpkin seeds, white pepper, and balsamic vinegar powder. Needless to say, we devoured everything.It was then that Mr. Personality, William Turbert, fired up the pizza oven, eager for us to taste the gluten-free pizza dough his teammate Jeff Walawski has spent years perfecting. William described himself as "an Italian boy from Brooklyn with the accent and personality to prove it." As he entertained and utterly charmed us, he was simultaneously making two pizzas for tasting: a margarita with buffalo mozzarella and heirloom baby tomatoes, and another made with La Quercia prosciutto and their homemade ricotta. Until William reminded us, we forgot that we were eating a gluten-free dough. That's how good it was.The simple burgundy and dark wood decor, the dozens of antique model planes from Mr. Manocherian's personal collection hanging from the ceiling, the intimate size of the dining room, the open view into the kitchen and of course the impeccable food made for an outstanding experience. The Manhattan Sideways team had an unexpected and heavenly meal, but equal to the food was the attention that we received from all the players at Bistango.
There was no question that Ellie Mendelsohn would stand behind the glass booth with her father, Hank, on 47th Street once she completed her college education. Her grandfather, who had introduced his son and granddaughter to the world of gold and jewelry, had retired to Florida, and now it was Ellie’s time to join the family trade. “The jewelry is my favorite part of the business, so I said, ‘Why not start my own line?’” The first piece Ellie ever made was a pair of earrings, based on a necklace that her father had made for her mom. “I loved it so much, I decided to create earrings.” Indeed, for those who work in the Diamond District, jewelry is much more than an accessory — it is a time-honored link to one’s heritage and family.
Ezrath Israel was originally established as a Jewish Community Center in 1917 by the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, a group of Orthodox Jewish shop owners. The area was known for its busy steamship ports, however, the entertainment business eventually became one of the biggest industries in this part of town. As show business grew, so did the number of congregants, and it became the place of worship for many prominent actors and performers, including Sophie Tucker and Shelley Winters. The Actors Temple continued to thrive until shortly after WWII when people in the industry began journeying across the country to Hollywood. The synagogue then found its membership slowly decreasing. By 2005, there were only twelve members left in the congregation. A year later, when Jill Hausman became the rabbi, she found herself resuscitating what had once been a proud shul. Rabbi Hausman was pleased to report to us that in the eight years that she has been there, membership has increased to about 150, a marked improvement. Still, she has hope that the Actor's Temple will continue to grow. "We are a well-kept secret," she says, "but we don't need to be." To help maintain the synagogue, the sanctuary is shared with an Off Broadway theater company that performs on their "stage," just a few feet in front of their sacred arc and collection of eleven torahs. Today, Rabbi Hausman welcomes all denominations of Judaism, even those who are "on the fringes of society." She is a warm, sweet, bright woman who not only has her door open to everyone, but her heart as well. She emphasizes the importance of love and acceptance in her sermons and is adamant that the Actors Temple is a "no-guilt synagogue." People should come if they feel compelled to pray – Rabbi Hausman's only goal is to have them leave with a desire to return.
For the first seven years, Phil Podemski had his shop on Park Row across from City Hall, but in 1973, with the help of his son, Sam, they came uptown and have resided on 47th Street ever since. "It was a good move on our part," Sam admitted. "It has allowed us to weather each of the storms that have come our way."Because Phil's Stationery is in the Jewelry District, there have always been customers in need of memorandum books, special jewelry bags for shipping, and other necessary items that Sam and his dad never allowed to run out of stock. "This has kept us alive." That and the warm customer service that he strongly believes in. "Yes, I could close up shop and sell my goods solely on the internet, but I would miss the people — the human connection." Sam's best connection, however, was with his dad. "We were together for forty years until he passed away in 1996. I have the best memories of him yelling at me throughout those years, always in the most loving way."When Sam and his dad initially opened, they were not known as an office supply store. They carried an amalgam of health and beauty products, chocolate, and other novelty goods. As time progressed, they evolved into a full office supply shop carrying absolutely everything that one could want or need for their desk. In addition to having fun rummaging through the stacks of notebooks, journals, pens, markers, and an array of art supplies, it is the collection of Berol pencils made in the U.S. in the 1960s, the old Swingline staplers — and several other items that date back some fifty to sixty years — that will provide a noteworthy trip down memory lane for many.
As the elevator doors open, a gust of vivacious conversation rushes to welcome every guest to the Haven atop the Sanctuary Hotel. This rooftop caters to three different spaces that gently correspond to the desired experience at hand. On the lower level, there are two bars. The first stands below geometrically alluring lights made to resemble stars. Dinner chosen from the Haven’s “French-Inspired” menu is served on this side of the roof where the mood is serene. On the other side, past the statue of a seahorse and the young trees, the volume rises and the crowd clings readily to this, the second bar. While some prefer to wind down with dinner, others are just trying to let loose. The Haven supports both pursuits. Upstairs, the uniform faded red lounge cushions fashion a more secluded setting that grants the wish for a private discussion or for the simple enjoyment of the mid-city view from a higher position. As is somewhat suggested by the name, “Haven,” this rooftop is plainly reminiscent of a getaway, more specifically a beach house.The Haven happened to be where we stopped by the day the US was playing Belgium in the 2014 World Cup. It was a memorable moment standing beside dozens of New Yorkers as our national anthem was being played. Glass enclosed in the colder months, and serving a French-American menu both during the lunch and dinner hours, this was another great rooftop find.