There are certain places that come to mind when you are looking to celebrate, commiserate, or crave a really good meal. Living in Brooklyn, New York my choices are always abundant. I can go into the city or any of the other boroughs for any type of food you can dream of (see previous blog). It is a spoil of riches. It can also make the decision that much harder. Then I remember a place that is close to my neighborhood where just the thought of the food can make you drool.
As an Italian I am very judgy about where I eat Italian food. There are the places that are good for just a slice of pizza, those where I would never eat marinara sauce because it tastes like it came from a can (a BIG no-no in my family), and places that are like stepping across the ocean for a meal right out of Italy. The latter is a place I know well and I am lucky enough to be a car ride away. That would be the iconic Gargiulo's.
Gargiulo's is one of the two most historic places in this party of Brooklyn, Coney Island. The first is Nathan’s Famous for hot dogs (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2012/04/for-life-under-sea-ny-aquarium.html). This is where hot dogs were invented in 1916. Ever since that day these hot dogs have become the standard for this classic American dish. They became world renowned when President Franklin Roosevelt served them to the King and Queen of England during their visit in 1939. Coney Island holds the record for one of the most widely cherished foods. They even have a hot dog eating contest every July 4th. Looks like the Nathan’s brand isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Now I could go for one well done with sauerkraut and mustard. To die for! Damn they need to start a delivery service.
A mere block or two away is the legendary Gargiulo's. It could be hard to miss if you aren’t paying close attention. Especially in the boardwalk off-season when Coney Island is quiet at night. But once you park in the lot across the street and you step inside the restaurant it is like the world has come alive again. The crowd is loud, there is music playing, and waiters ushering trays of amazing smelling food all around. There it sits taking up the middle of the block. There are two entrances one for parties and one for dining. Up until recently the party entrance was the one I was more familiar with. That is not true anymore.
The last time I was here was a couple of years ago for a friend’s wedding. Although I don’t remember much of this party, because of a terrible migraine and subsequent pills not the drinking I wish I could have done, I most definitely remember the food. It was sort of hard not to. I couldn’t even cheat and check my pictures because I had accidentally erased them all during that night in my pain haze. I know it was a lot of fun. But the food managed to stick in my brain that is because it was one of the best I have had especially for wedding food. I feel like every time I go to a wedding the food is substandard if not awful and I know it is not cheap. Just a racket they have going. But that’s enough about that.
The cocktail hour at this wedding was so good I wish I could go back once or twice a year and just have that. It had all of the usual foods like meats, cheeses, crackers, sushi, but then I stumbled upon hot dogs, rice balls, pizza, and countless others that were so good I have blacked them out. But that wedding didn’t stop there. I should have known it would be a great experience since the Russo brothers took over. After all “Russo’s on the Bay” is its own party extravaganza in Howard Beach, Queens.
Once we went to the ballroom and it came time to pick our entrees there was one my eye was immediately drawn to but it sounded too good to be true. I actually asked several of the people sitting at my table to confirm it in case my meds were playing a cruel joke on me. Luckily they weren’t and I was able to order LOBSTER TAILS! That’s right, two tales for my dinner. That was of course after pasta and salad courses. When I took a bite out of those babies and the beautiful butter next to it I felt the pain leave me momentarily. They were so perfectly cooked, sweat and firm, I was in awe. The last time I had lobster that good I was in San Francisco (again another topic for another blog appearing in the next few months). If I closed my eyes and listened I could have sworn I heard the sea lions barking at the pier while I ate my lobster.
I had been to a few family dinners in the main restaurant and they were good. I had chicken dishes and pastas my favorite of which being the fettuccini alfredo. I am afraid this is my favorite place to get this dish because it’s the best I have ever tasted. Sadly that includes those who created it at Alfredos 100 (see link below). The cheese isn’t too sharp, less oil even when I heated it up the next day, and the noodles are just richer and sturdier.
Last week was the first time I was there since Hurricane Sandy. Sandy hit this area very hard, as the ocean is so close. It demolished many of the landmark eateries we have been talking about. But I am pleased to say that Gargiulos is back and has been almost right away. Any changes aren’t noticeable they have maintained their standard.
About that dinner, it was my last birthday dinner; I mean the last dinner celebrating my thirty-third birthday this past December. It was a girl’s only dinner ironically with the women I went to Savannah with. One of my friends also had a December birthday so it was a shared birthday feast, even better.
We had waited for this dinner on purpose with all of the craziness of the holiday season we wanted to wait and go when we had the time to really enjoy it. Plus I like to celebrate my birthday as often and for as long as I can get away with. This might be the longest I have succeeded doing so.
Everyone went with an idea of what they wanted. I was on the fence. Appetizers were first and that was easy. My friends got the mozzarella, peppers, and prosciutto and my mother and I shared the stuffed mushrooms. Man I really love stuffed mushrooms and I haven’t had a good one in a long time. The last ones I had I spit out. I have been meaning to make them myself but never got a chance. This was better. They were served to me and so good even though I have no idea what made them so special. They were light but heavily stuffed with cheese, breadcrumbs, and seasonings I couldn’t identify. I find most of the great meals of my life consist of stuff I can’t identify.
My entrée was much tougher. My initial instinct was to try something new but everything started to sound good and I was getting hungrier by the second. Then I was afraid I would get something I wouldn’t like, but I am pretty sure that isn’t even possible here. At the last minute I went with my gut- the fettuccini alfredo, and there were orders of chicken francese, shrimp scampi, and chicken and sausage with potatoes. Everyone couldn’t have been more satisfied with their choices. As for me I too was thrilled I went with my favorite meal here. It had been too long since I have had those tastes in my mouth and it filled me with joy. Like I said it even heated up great the next day.
Then the real fun began. While no one could really breathe and had some food to take home with them, we still went ahead with dessert. After all this was a birthday celebration. We each got something different. We had tiramisu, and three different kinds of Italian ice creams. I had the spumoni, which was light, creamy, fruity, and nutty. This was such a good choice after my meal. Next time I am trying the tiramisu because that is my favorite kind of cake. I did taste it and loved it. I could go for a cold slice to eat for breakfast in the morning. Damn all restaurants really do need a delivery service.
Shockingly enough my favorite part of dessert was not the spumoni. It was my cappuccino. I so love getting a cappuccino after a nice meal. Normally I do not want whipped cream on it or sugar in it. I take it black. Usually the waiter asks before he or she brings it. Here it was just delivered with the cream on top swirled into a big pile. At first I was upset until I took a sip that is. This had to be the best-whipped cream on the planet. I hate anything that is too sweet and this was creamier than anything else. Plus the cappuccino was beyond anything I could remember tasting. This too needs to be part of the order I get delivered as soon as someone is smart enough to get that started.
With my cappuccino finished and our dessert plates cleaned it was time to go. I thought I would have to be wheeled out but I managed to make it back to the car. For such a big meal, one that exceeded my expectations, it was very reasonably priced. I love when I can feel like I am splurging on a special occasion and it doesn’t break the bank. There are so FEW restaurants that can make that happen, even less in N.Y.C. Just another reason to heart this Coney Island treasure. I know I will have to make it back more often now that it is fresh in my mind. The urge is real.
On my ride to dinner that night I saw another familiar face, a building with a sign on it that read: “Grimaldi’s” which is another Brooklyn original gem. I have never been to this location yet just their more popular one under the Brooklyn Bridge (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2011/08/for-day-spent-under-brooklyn-bridge.html). I know this location will do well especially once Spring and Summer arrive. I am happy to know I have more than one place to visit when I feel the need coming on.
I have heard that the famed “Wahlburgers” franchise is opening several locations in New York and one is rumored to be in Coney Island although I have not found any recent literature on the exact addresses. I suspect Times Square will also be a hot spot for them. Just having one in N.Y.C. will be a luxury. They are at the very top of their game, these famous acting, singing, cooking brothers, and I believe their success will only continue. In the coming weeks I will have a Boston series which they will be apart of naturally.
Brooklyn over the last few years has gone under major gentrification in just about every neighborhood. It appears the time has come for Coney Island to have its turn. I saw lots of buildings under construction and signs in the window for condos for sale. Soon the price of a Nathan’s hot dog will be more than a latte at my beloved Starbucks. Speaking of which, Brooklyn needs more of those too. They can start in Coney Island if they like. Everyone else seems to be.
But if you want the real deal, the most renowned, remarkable restaurant the one that predates all of the above and established the standard I have become accustomed to then you are going to need to go to Gargiulo's. I recommend making a reservation.
Things haven’t been the same since Gargiulo's opened in 1907. Thank the good Lord Jesus.
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