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. ”
“If you’re going to the theater, you go to Tony’s, ” said Dreni Kyqykaliu, the restaurant’s general manager. Those en route to a Broadway show are a good portion of their clientele, nearby office workers make up the lunch rush, and tourists pop in during breaks between sightseeing. “The blessing of being in Times Square is having all these groups come in. ”Anyone who has visited Tony’s will be familiar with their signature, massive portions of food that are meant to be shared family-style. This adherence to simple but hearty cooking is a trademark of the people that started Tony’s: the Wetansons. (They founded the now-dissolved 1950s burger chain, Wetson’s, which later merged with iconic hot dog vendor, Nathan’s Famous. ) Four generations of Wetansons have run this network of casual dining establishments that also includes Dallas BBQ. Unlike other large companies, however, Greg Wetanson, his father, Herb, and his son, Stuart, remain closely involved in the day-to-day operations and run things as a family business. Thanks to this amiable atmosphere, “Most of the management and the chefs have been here for twenty plus years, ” said Dreni, who joined Tony’s shortly after it opened in the 1990s.
When the City of New York acquired this lot to house Engine 65 in 1895, clubs and residents around the area feared it would disturb the peace. Having calls since their very first night on the job, and as the first responder to Times Square, it became clear that the service was needed and soon became wildly appreciated. One of the firemen, Chris, told me this was something he had always wanted to do. “I love the camaraderie between the guys, ” he said, a theme that seems to reoccur throughout all Manhattan fire stations.
With locations scattered through the country and, in particular, Manhattan, 42nd Street was my first encounter with Capital Grille while walking north on the side streets. My family is a fan of the restaurants, and we have dined at several of them over the years. So, it was with great anticipation that I entered. Built as an annex to the Chrysler Building, and designed by the renowned Philip Johnson, the dining room is surrounded by tall glass windows with light pouring in during the daytime hours. It is a stunning setting for a glorious steak dinner with all the trimmings.
Sparks has been a consistent iconic landmark in the New York steak tradition. With a dark-wood paneled interior, white tablecloths, and tuxedo-clad waiters, the restaurant remains a testament to the enduring power of Old New York luxury in dining. Since brothers, Pasquale and Mike Cetta, opened its doors on 18th Street in 1966, the restaurant, having moved to 46th in 1977, has continued to serve as one of the classic New York steakhouses. Having worked for a time directly across the street, I had the pleasure of dining at Sparks on a few occasions. I must say that I remember the day, vividly, when two members of the Gambino family were shot outside the restaurant in 1985. It definitely gave me pause, but then as all New Yorkers must do, I moved on.