It's been a while since I've revisited my obsession with Cafiero's, the extinct Italian family restaurant that once dominated social activity on President Street in Brooklyn the way The Colony once ruled Cafe Society on the Upper East Side. This is mainly because I had nothing new to report about the place, which was so local, so secretive, so insidery that there were (to the best of my beliefs) no advertisements, no newspaper write-ups, no menus, no matchbooks, no paper trail whatsoever. The eatery, which closed in the 1970s, only lives on in the memories of some very old people.
But one of the joys of writing Lost City is it brings people to me I otherwise would never meet. A week or so ago, I was contacted by an actual Cafiero! I kid you not. Not the progeny of owners Sharkey and Katie Cafiero—they had no children. But Anna, the granddaughter of Katie's brother.
After I overcame the shock of this visitation, I began asking questions. Anna confirmed most of what I had reported before—That Cafiero's was the hangout of judges, celebrities and mobsters alike, that Sharkey kept things very low-profile so as not to attract too much attention; the privacy of his customers was his prime concern. The place was a family affair. Katie and Sharkey's sister, Mamie, were waitresses. Brother Frank was the cook.
But I also learned some new information. The restaurant was founded by Sharkey's parents, who subsequently lived in the rooms above the dining room. Mamie lived on the top floor. The Cafieros were from Naples and served Neapolitan dishes. People who ate there have mentioned to me such dishes as the Charcoal Broiled Veal Spedini, Vinegar Peppers over grilled pork chop, potato croquettes, the sides of rigatoni, the heros. I asked Anna is the family had retained any of the recipes and I could hear her laugh come over the next e-mail. There were no recipes. The menu changed daily, depended on what could be had at the market that day.
Anna sent over the photo above, which was taken at Chez Royale in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, probably years after Cafiero's closed. Sharkey and Katie are on the left and Katie's sister-in-law Anna is on the right. Looks like the man pictured below, no?
Anna's grandmother Anna, incidentally, also owned and operated a restaurant in the area. It was called Anna' Luncheonette, and was on the southeast corner of Columbia and Summit Streets. A vacant lot is there now. The luncheonette consisted of a large room with booths on the right side and a counter on the left. There was a telephone booth at the back wall along with a jukebox with 45 records. It had a tin ceiling.
I have learned recently that I may have a chance to go inside the old Cafiero building. Watch this space.