EJ's Luncheonette has mastered the art of American comfort food...and beyond. This was the go-to spot for my kids in the morning, whenever they spent time with us in our East 73rd Street apartment. The eatery churns out perfectly toasted bagels, omelets, homefries, French toast and pancakes. When in the mood, my family members also appreciated their greasy hamburgers (meant in the most loving way), and my husband was a huge fan of the milkshakes....while I always appreciated their healthy, vegetarian choices. Sadly, I now live on the Upper West Side, so we do not get here as often, but visiting EJ's with the Manhattan Sideways crew was a real treat.
On one visit we met Eric J. Levine, also known as EJ. Despite the fact that his initials are “EJ,” the restaurant name is also a combination of his plus that of his partner, Jay Silver. While sitting at the counter, he talked about his background, which is also partly his father’s story. Eric explained that his father wanted to open a restaurant/bar in his later life “like every other Jewish businessman with a mid-life crisis.” Unlike many other men, however, he went through with it. He left his job in the garment district and fell into the restaurant business at fifty-five years old with Dock’s Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill. Growing up, Eric worked in various restaurants, but when he reached adulthood, he tested out a series of different paths. He dropped out of college and became a stockbroker for four years, during which time he “worked 100 hour weeks.” He then went back to college at NYU. When he dropped out, he told me, “The only business I knew was the restaurant business.” He opened EJ’s on the Upper West Side in 1990 and became one of the pioneers in resurrecting Amsterdam Avenue. “We were busy day one,” he said, and the business kept accelerating from there until they sadly closed in 2013 after the lease expired.
Although the luncheonette appears to come straight out of the 1950's, Eric opened his second EJ's on the East Side in 1991. His team was comprised of people he had met while spending time at Dock’s. Jay, for example, was the chef at Dock’s and their other partner, Robert Eby, was the General Manager. Eric admitted, “My father was always involved by extension.” Eric was also inspired by his father, who helped open the restaurant Carmine’s and Angelo & Maxie's Steakhouse. “That’s the whole tree of life,” Eric said with a smile, reflecting on the two intertwined careers.
Eric has branched out to other restaurants throughout the years. He and his partner started a consulting company and owned a few pizzerias that he has since sold. EJ’s on East 73rd, however, is at the core of everything he does. “I guess this is my baby,” Eric admitted. He is proud to be an independent business, despite how difficult it is. “Being the mom and pop guy...it’s a different environment,” he said soberly. This is especially the case for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurant. “You always have to be on your toes,” Eric stated. “People gotta eat!” He is open every single day of the year. He is often busiest on holidays including Thanksgiving and Christmas, since EJ’s is “the only game in town.” Eric confessed, however, that he enjoys being at EJ's on the holidays. “It’s the best day to work – people are in great moods.”
EJ’s also has a healthy delivery and catering business, though Eric much prefers it when people come in to eat. He also admitted that while EJ’s is lauded for its breakfast, he would like more people to know about his dinner specials. “All our food’s home cooking,” he said proudly, adding that EJ’s is the closest thing the Upper East Side has to a casual seafood restaurant – it is one of the few places where a customer can get a fresh piece of fish for $20.
EJ's menu continues to evolve in an effort to suit people’s taste. Eric sited an example of having recently removed the egg cream from the menu, since no one was ordering it anymore. He has now added a power smoothie with flax seed and greek yogurt. The cooking staff presented us with their latest endeavor - gluten-free pancakes, along with their classic spaghetti and meatballs. “There’s a lot of love and attention put into it ...We make food to make people happy.” When I questioned Eric about his continued passion for running the restaurant, he reigned in the emotion like a true New Yorker and quipped, “It’s better than being in a dentist’s office!”
Sojourn calls itself the Upper East Side’s “sexiest restaurant, ” and it is hard to argue: the color scheme, in coppers browns and reds, gives the restaurant a warm, intimate feeling. The name, which means “a temporary stay, ” hints at the fact that visitors can expect a full dining experience. Olivia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, was excited to return to Sojourn. She and her family had discovered the restaurant, tucked behind a residential-looking doorway, right before Thanksgiving and had visited two more times by the New Year. Along with the friendly staff, warm ambience, and delectable, seasonal food, what makes Sojourn stand out is its approach to courses: all menu items can be ordered as sharable tapas, with just the right number for the table. For example, when Olivia went with a group of seven family members and ordered the chorizo croquettes, the waiter said he would bring out two orders at three to a plate... plus one extra. Using this innovative way of ordering, each party can essentially create their own tasting menu. As for beverages, the cocktail menu is sophisticated and diverse. The restaurant not only has a large selection of wine, but also keeps some of their grapes in barrels rather than bottles, a more environmentally friendly method of storing and serving it. Among the many menu items that Olivia’s family tasted were the zesty arugula salad, crispy fish tacos, and Kobe beef sliders. Despite being thoroughly full, they made sure to have enough room for the warm, fluffy churros served with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce. We spoke to Johnny Musovic, who owns Sojourn with his father, Sami. They originally opened a Mexican restaurant called Santa Fe in the same location, but discovered that the neighborhood did not have a strong need for casual Mexican food. Instead, the father and son duo reopened with a higher-end concept which has been wholly embraced. Johnny proudly told me that his father is no newcomer to the restaurant world, having been the Head Maitre D’ at Sparks Steakhouse and Mr. Chow’s. He also has two other restaurants nearby. As for Johnny himself, he told me “In this industry, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, ” referencing his time spent as everything from dishwasher to delivery boy to co-owner. He is clearly very proud of Sojourn for a variety of reasons, beginning with the food. “Most chefs are into fresh, local ingredients, but these chefs really are. ” He is also happy to have cultivated a chic, relaxing space, which includes live music on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Though he proclaims that the Upper East Side is his favorite part of the city, Johnny’s dream is to open up a Sojourn in Midtown one day. Until then, his goal is to integrate his bar crowd and his dining crowd. One night, he held a two hour open bar as his way of “giving back” to the neighborhood. Along with drinks, he offered his customers a series of hors d’oeuvres. He was surprised by how many of his bar regulars approached him and said, “I didn’t realize you had such great food! ”
Ed and his wife Heidi know that being small has its advantages and disadvantages. Their reputation has been growing, which is wonderful, but on many evenings this can also mean up to an hour wait for people hoping to get into the tiny restaurant. Based on its popularity, there is no doubt that the cozy eatery has filled a void uptown. Unlike the East Village, for instance, where every nook and cranny is filled with enticing bars and restaurants, Heidi’s House is the only one of its kind in the immediate area. Ed emphasized that he would not want it any other way - he loves being “part of the fabric of the neighborhood” and interacting with the steady, loyal crowd. Ed and Heidi are both former teachers. The full name of the restaurant is “Heidi’s House by the Side of the Road, ” a reference to a poem of the same name by Sam Walter Foss. While Heidi is presently studying for a masters degree, Ed has been taking on more of the responsibilities in running the restaurant, though Heidi is still the master of the wine list, which has a wide, interesting selection and rotates with the seasons. Ed is the beer man and has steered away from draught, preferring craft and bottled beers. He is also in charge of the space. He put his skills as a former carpenter to use in building the restaurant, finding salvaged wood from the building itself, some of which is over 100 years old. Ed brought out a couple signature dishes for the Manhattan Sideways team to photograph. Cipriano and his sous-chef Heleo Aviles whipped up a plate of bruschetta as well as the seared sirloin steak special, served with fingerling potatoes, red pepper puree, and fresh horseradish sauce. Though it was early, the small space was already bustling, and bartender Rosendo Hernandez had his work cut out for him. When Ed and Heidi first began planning their restaurant, they wanted to create a place where they, themselves, would like to go. They designed an intimate, TV-free zone with great jazz and good food where customers could meet and enjoy a conversation while dining on an eclectic mix of comfort food. For the latter, they found Cipriano Pita, who has been with Heidi and Ed since they first opened Heidi’s House in 2010. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, he is a “natural born cook, ” smart and intuitive. Because of the limited space in Cipriano's "workshop, " Ed said that the produce, meat, and fish are delivered daily. "We have nowhere to store it, so it has to be fresh. " Everything is hands-on, without any corporate elements. The atmosphere is similarly guided by what Ed and Heidi want to see in their space. They brought decorations from home, including framed post cards, quirky sculptures, and a Nepalese window frame. There are board games at the front of the restaurant including checkers, chess, Scrabble, dominoes, and Trivial Pursuit. I was struck by a poem on the wall behind the bar written by a child who came to dine with her family, detailing her experience at Heidi’s. “Everyone wants to be around things that they like, ” Ed pointed out. It was refreshing to experience a place where every detail is decided by what the owners like, not what they assume the customers prefers - in the end, it appears that they are one in the same.
Ronald McDonald House is a very special place that provides a "temporary 'home away from home' for pediatric cancer patients and their families. " Having had an apartment, for a short time, just a few doors down from their 73rd Street location, I was aware of the wonderful work that they do. When I mentioned to Sophie, one of our Manhattan Sideways team members, that I wanted to feature them on 73rd, she lit up and shared her close connection to the organization on the West Coast. Sophie told me that she was honored to visit and help her mother volunteer with her miniature horses at the Los Angeles and Pasadena chapters. "I was immediately won over by their mission, but even more important, by the children themselves. A significant aspect of their programming is to provide children with the opportunity to just be kids, first and foremost. Seeing the kids interact with the miniature horses showed me how much excitement and exuberance these children have. The smiles on the faces of their parents were always equally heart-warming. "Ronald McDonald House New York has been providing care and support to families since 1978. They "coordinate emotional and physical services, psychological care, ministry support, wellness programs, tutors, music, art, transportation, activities for siblings, holiday and birthday parties, and camaraderie for parents struggling with their child's cancer diagnosis. " In addition, this particular location has a Greek Division that provides services for families from Greece and Cyprus, Camp Ronald McDonald in the summer, classes in English as a second language, therapy for dogs (Angels on a Leash), and Weird Science, where the kids conduct intriguing and engaging experiments. Love and care are Ronald McDonald's central tenants. New York has its own set of angels in the way of the volunteers who play a major role in the day to day lives of the children. The Day Team leads afternoon activities and the Evening Team coordinates birthday parties, holidays, and dinners. The volunteer sign up is a major commitment to help provide a sense of normalcy and strength to the children and their families. If interested in volunteering, please visit their website.
Kate Rheinstein Brodsky, the creator of KRB, was immersed in the world of design and retail from a young age. Her mother, Suzanne Rheinstein, is an internationally recognized designer. Ever since Kate was a child, her mom has run Hollyhock, a Los Angeles furniture boutique. "I really loved retail, " Kate shared, telling me how she would go to Hollyhock after school and work there over summer breaks. As a teenager, she wanted to open a bookstore, but realized that this might be difficult in the digital age. As a "homebody" and frequent hostess, Kate knew that she enjoyed creating beautiful homes, both for herself and others. As she described it, "I loved the feeling of home, of having a nice place to live in. " Ultimately, her passion for retail manifested itself in a career in the design world. Upon graduating from New York University with a degree in art history, Kate worked for Jeffrey Bilhuber, the interior designer. "I love interior design... but I'm not an interior designer, " she said. Working for Jeffrey, however, she learned a lot of things that would help her later on in the world of retail. She realized the importance of customer service and doing things "correctly, in a thoughtful manner. " Following her time with Jeffrey, she worked at Elle Decor, which taught her discipline and introduced her to new looks. "I was exposed to so many different styles, " she explains. "Sometimes you don't know you like something until you see it. " Kate has maintained a good relationship with Elle Decor – they recently featured her Upper East Side apartment as part of their "House Tour, " which brought a collection of readers, impressed by her style, to Kate's boutique. When I visited KRB, I was taken by the variety of colors, as opposed to the usual browns and golds that dominate antique shops. The salesperson, Fiona, said that adding bold colors to antique pieces is one of Kate's trademarks. She showed me some traditional chairs with bright olive green seats as an example, saying, "Green's a big color for her, " before pointing out Kate's love for French opaline. Fiona went on to say that Kate could be inspired by anything. She spoke of a box of old cameos that Kate found. When Fiona inquired, "What are you going to do with those? " Kate answered matter of factly, "I don't know, but I'll figure it out. " Kate elaborated, "I like to reinterpret old things. " By this, she means both in the pieces, as with the chairs, and in the way they are used. She told me that there are many beautiful finger bowls out there that are no longer used - or at least not as finger bowls. Kate encourages customers to use them in new ways, by putting votive candles in them or a small scoop of strawberry ice cream. "I like taking things out of their original context, " she admitted. As another example, she told me about the tric trac tables, tables used to play a precursor to backgammon. The board is so similar to backgammon that the tables have been able to be repurposed. "I get very attached to furniture, " Kate admitted, likening different pieces to rescue animals. "I want them to have good homes. " She realizes, however, that people have different styles and that she may have to wait a while for the right person to come along. She added that although her mother heavily influenced her, the two women do not always see eye to eye on design. "We have our own taste, " she said. Despite their differences, the store is still inspired by her mother's extraordinary career. "I always love watching her, how she explains to people how to incorporate beauty into their life. "There is the possibility that a third generation of Rheinstein women might enter the world of design. In 2015, Kate was the proud mom of new daughter number three. "I love that my children comprehend what I do, " she told me. When they ask her where she is going, she can answer "to the store" and they know exactly where she will be. Owning the boutique means she has a flexible work schedule and can easily spend a lot of time with her children. She specifically opened on the Upper East Side to be near her family – and other families. She wanted to be in a place where people could stumble upon her and buy a housewarming present, rather than in a design-industry-heavy neighborhood. "I just hope I'm on people's path. I encourage them to come look.... browsers welcome. " As for her daughters and what they think of her boutique, Kate told me that her five-year-old recently told her teacher that when she grows up, she wants to be "a mommy and a shopkeeper. "
Mario Guerrero, a black belt, has made a name for himself in the martial arts world for helping at-risk kids by giving them training in discipline, fitness, and hand-eye coordination. He now has studios scattered throughout the city, from Tribeca to the Upper East Side, where children and adults alike can learn kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Mixed Martial Arts. Recently, Krav Maga, a form of Israeli street fighting, has been added to the roster. Modern Martial Arts advertises classes for everyone from "casual fitness seekers to trained, professional fighters. " The studio does more than offer classes; however: they also create a community. Mario and his trained teachers offer karate birthday parties, fitness-centered movie nights, and "Parent's Night Out" evening classes for kids. We met with Adam, who was teaching an adult mixed martial arts class. He greeted each of the students who walked in with warmth and humor. Once the class began, the group transitioned from generic fitness exercises to work with punching bags and finally horizontal punching bags where the studio members practiced their "ground pounds. " Watching Adam encourage his students to let out a "pshhh" sound each time they hit, I realized that the class was a terrific way to let off steam.
Whenever I step inside Via Quadronno, I feel like I have been lifted out of Manhattan and gently dropped onto a pedestrian street in Italy. The walls are lined with wines and jars of honey, jam, and olive oil. On the day when I descended into the warm, rustic dining area, there was the smell of cappuccino wafting through the air that attracted my senses. It was the owner, Paolo Della Puppa, however, as authentically Italian as his restaurant, who captured my heart. Paolo spoke to me about the history of Via Quadronno, which is intertwined with his own story as well as the social history of the world. He began his career publishing music through his own company, Anyway Music. He went on to sell Anyway to Warner Brothers in 1992. In 1983, Paolo moved to New York while continuing to run the business, but when the conversion rate jumped to 2000 lira for every dollar, he realized he needed to find a new job. Friends encouraged Paolo to speak with Hans Pauli, owner of the recently opened Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue. At this point in his story, Paolo took a moment to explain Hans Pauli's background. I had previously heard a bit of this story, as I had visited Sant Ambroeus on West 4th Street when I first began walking the side streets. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to hear Paolo share what he knew about Hans. He told me that Hans had bought Sant Ambroeus, which originally opened in the fashion district in Milan in 1936 and was regarded as one of the nicest cafes in the city. Apparently, when Hans Pauli became the highest bidder to purchase this Italian icon - all in cash - he created quite a stir. Enthusiastically, Paolo went on to tell me that the reason why Hans had the money was because of his success with Bar Quadronno, the hottest paninoteca in Milan. Paolo, who had owned a discoteca from 1972-1974, explained that paninotecas had become popular because of the social revolution of the 60s. As discotecas became the default entertainment for young people - who now could go out and dance without any dress code or elaborate partner rituals - Italians were looking for grab-and-go food that would fit their lifestyle. Bar Quadronno opened in the late 60s and turned the original Panini, which was traditionally just ham and cheese, into a new food sensation with the help of a man named Giuseppe Tusi. Giuseppe Tusi turned a two-ingredient sandwich into a seven-ingredient masterpiece, using tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto, boar’s ham, and countless other traditional Italian foods. Returning to his personal story, Paolo went on to tell me that when he inquired about a position at Sant Ambroeus, Hans simply asked him if he could make a good cup of cappuccino. Paolo replied, “Do I need to show a diploma? ” Paolo laughed and declared to me, "any true Italian knows how to make a cappuccino. " He then added that Martha Stewart has taped a show in Via Quadronno about how to prepare the perfect cup. Paolo worked at Sant Ambroeus for years before opening Via Quadronno with Hans on 9/9/1999 - “My partner is a little superstitious, ” he explained with a grin. Taking the story full circle, he ended by telling me that the two men then brought in Giuseppe to train the Panini chefs, allowing Via Quadronno to churn out the exact paninis that made Bar Quadronno an instant hit in Milan over fifty years ago. Ultimately, Paolo began to fly solo, turning his restaurant into an Upper East Side sensation. He continued to join in other successful ventures in New York, as well as opening a second location of Via Quadronno. Paolo proudly said that even after so many years, his first restaurant is “still very much loved” among its neighbors. He even mentioned numerous actors and actresses who are known to stop in for the tiramisu and other classic dishes. Despite the flock of familiar faces to this Upper East Side institution, Paolo assured me that he treats all of his customers the same - from tourists to celebrities. “Everyone is equal - everyone waits for a table. " He then went on to say, “We are not pretentious, in fact, we receive compliments on how friendly we are. ”Of the many stories that Paolo shared with me, the one that involved a successful businessman was my favorite. Apparently, several years ago, this gentleman requested that Paolo open a bit earlier in the morning to accommodate his schedule. If Paolo complied, and began his day a half an hour sooner, the man would then invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to open a Miami location of Via Quadronno. Check, check. Although the Florida restaurant has since closed, the Manhattan restaurant continues to open its doors every weekday morning at 8: 00am. Paolo will never forget this kind man who did not want shares or a percentage in his business, he just wanted breakfast. Paolo said that he returns to Italy multiple times each year, either to visit family or to attend the restaurant show, Host, in Milan. He then grinned and admitted that he loves New York, and has no desire to move away. As he so brilliantly summed it up, “New York is Tokyo, Paris, Madrid, Milano, Hong Kong, and Shanghai in one. And all the best parts of each! ”