I lot of things I loved about Carroll Gardens have fallen by the wayside during its recent, decade-long transformation from sleepy Italian-American enclave to bubbling yuppie enclave, but there are few I miss as much as the lost, and seemingly little lamented Helen's Italian Cuisine at 396 Court Street near Carroll.
It was one of the old-school Italian eateries of the neighborhood, best represented now by the Red Rose on Smith and Casa Rosa on Court. I liked it better than those two, however. The southern Italian food smacked more of home cooking (the lasagna was particularly savory and good), and the slow and often tipsy service had a lot of family character to it. I believe the silver-haired, main waiter was Helen's son (Livio was his name, I think). If you were in a hurry, it wasn't a good idea to eat there.
There was a wooden vestibule that separated the interior from the street, and a simple rack with hangers for hats and coats. Orders were passed through a small square window in the back. There were tables and cozy booths. Wine was served in small, stemless tumblers the way it's done in Italy. Prices were low.
The facade's most distinctive characteristic was an all-a covering wall of gold, corrugated metal—bit of which are still visible as part of the faceless card and gift shop that replaced the restaurant. It was an ugly look, but utterly unique. A work permit in the window of said shop says the reconstruction work is being done. Hard to imagine what sort of redo might make that drab store exciting. I remember when Helen's closed. A man told me the family hoped to reopen it in another location. Sadly, never happened.