24 May 2012

The "Incredibly Good Idea" of La Groceria

Here's a nice picture. A reader sent it to me asking if I knew anything about this Greenwich Village restaurant, which sat at the wedge-like space where Sixth Avenue meets W. 4th. (There's a Grey's Papaya there now.)

I did find something out about it. It opened in 1963 and was hailed by Craig Claiborne, the New York Times restaurant critic, as "an incredibly good idea...The restaurant is modeled after an Italian trattoria, and is a combination espresso shop and dining establishment with antipasto, pasta dishes and main courses." Imagine a New York foodie world in which that sort of thing would have been novel.

The place earned its name because it also sold Italian products from its shelves. Though Claiborne liked the "idea" of La Groceria, he was disappointed in the execution. The antipasto was "trite," the pasta "overcooked," the sauce "amateur." The espresso, however, was "excellent."

La Groceria was opened by Vito A. DiLucia, a restauranteur who seemed to favor theme joints. His other restaurants were O'Henry's Steak House and the English Pub. Formerly, he had been a travel agent. He died in 1970 at the age of 67.

La Groceria was still there in the mid-'80s. Not sure when it closed. But it wasn't there in 1988, when I hit town. 


Gowanusdog said...

I lived in the West Village in the 80's. I don't remember what that space was but looking at Google maps I can tell you that I ate my first gyro at the Greek place behind it. The Capitol One branch was a GAP. I can't remember what it was before but I think there was a community outcry. It is killing me that I can't remember. I also remember when the condos next to Chase were constructed and it was a catalyst for my Gowanus landing because who would want to build here.

Patrick... said...

Hey Brooks... Great post! One small point though. That's not a Gray's Papaya there now. The Gray's on 6th Avenue is actually on the corner of 8th Street. This one of the many other knock off hot dog places that resemble Gray's. That on's just called Papaya Dog.

Keep up the great posts!

billhtfdct said...

I remember back in the late 60's eating at O'Henry's Steak House, it was a jewel of a restaurant. Sawdust on the floor and the smell of sizzlings steaks, the waiters all looked like butchers. The liquor was great and the steaks were fantastic. One day we went to eat at O'Henry's and the wait was almost 3 hours which we didn't have to we tried the la Groceria, was good not great.

Proud NIMBY said...

I used to live nearby and would walk several blocks to La "Groceria" for their tasty and fairly-priced breakfasts. Your photograph actually shows a sandwich board advertising the breakfast deal.

It was rather large inside and quite empty at breakfast time. I never went for lunch or dinner, it was just too big and spacious for my taste. The papaya/hot dog store and the several sex/tattoo stores to the south were created by the subdivision of the restaurant space when it closed.

I recall a lot of brass fixtures and a rather opulent (for the Village) decor. Little round espresso tables for two, as well as some larger tables. Some mirrors, I believe, and it was great when the sun shone through the row of large windows in the morning that are no longer there.

Some nowadays might call it tacky, but then it was tasteful.

There were none of the skells hanging out by the subway station and it front of the stores like there is now in the evenings and nights. The area was typical "Village" and the movie theater down the street showed a lot of art-type films.

I cannot recall when it closed, but I do recall eating there in the early 80s.

Joe S. said...

Grand Memories, I ate at "La Groceria" regularly between 1975 and 1980. I was an older teenager who use to take my girlfriend there on a regular basis- the Veal Francese was amongst the best that I have ever eaten, the world over..I LOVED this restaurant and have very fond and vivd memories of it... Another Italian Restuarant not far away off 10 ST was Jos'e or Joe Stanziani's- I loved their food also- forgotten icons!

Anthony Accardo said...

My father, Francesco Accardo was the Sous chef for La Groceria. He was there from the early 60's to mid-seventies. It was a thriving restaurant then, with local celebrities frequenting the place. Sinatra, Eli Wallack, Tony Perkins, Nancy Walker all ate there. When my father became the executive chef, Mr. DeLucia had him overseeing the menus for all three restaurants, La Groceria, O'Henry's, and the English pub. Later on my father went to Hawaii Kai, then to Monte's Venetian Room on Caroll Street in Brooklyn. From there he opened an Italian Restaurant in the Catskills before he retired in '92.

Grant N. Epstein said...

I was thinking of La Groceria and found your picture. Thank you. I am from Miami Beach and live there now. In the 1960s, I ate at La Groceria and it left a lasting impression me. I remember it well. I remember it was very close to a subway station. I searched Google maps for the subway station, based on the Papaya store info. Is the Papaya store on 8 Street as the reader says? There was an adult book store near the station. I ate there in 1967 and 1969. It was great. I was 16 in 1969.

Suibhan Aine Mairead said...

The restaurant was owned by my Coworkers Father. She told me how her Father had another Restaurant, and her and her sister would help in the Restaurant and girls and teenagers ...