17 December 2006

A New Traditional Place

Carroll Gardens, the old Italian nabe south of Cobble Hill, has steadily been losing it character since real estate trolls discovered it and began marketing it to yuppies who couldn't afford Manhattan. But a new pizza place on Henry Street is an encouraging sign that the old ways can continue a bit longer.

Called Lucali's, its located in a space that used to belong to Louie's Candy Shop, an always deserted soda fountain, which had a beautiful old style lunchion counter and actually served authentic egg creams. (The owners never expected customers and always seemed affronted when I entered and ordered something.) It opened a couple months ago. At first glance, it looks like a trendy, old world pizzeria manque. It had rustic, plain wooden tables and chairs, a restored tin ceiling, preserved signs from the old soda fountain on the walls and no sign indicating what it was, save a little piece of paper taped to the window.

It turns out, however, that the owner and chef, Mark Iocono, is a local guy who lives nearby, and who has borrowed a little from a number of neighborhood institutions. He's taken guidance from the owners of Leonardo's, the Court Street brick-oven pizza place that closed a couple years back, and has been supplanted by a vile Dunkin' Donuts. (The espresso machine even comes from Leonardo's!) The sausage he uses is from Esposito's Pork Store and the coffee comes from D'Amico's—both Court Street legends. And Iocono gets his recipes from his grandma and aunts, though his major inspiration is the great Dom DeMarco of Di Fara. (The clumsy chunks of buffalo mozzarella and huge basil leaves are a tip-off.) How much more authentic can you get?

The pizzas are good, though not of Di Fara quality (what is?). I'd put them up there just behind Totonno's and Grimaldi's. And that's a pretty good start. Order a pepperoni pie; that Esposito knows his sausage.

14 December 2006

Child's Is Reborn

The grand old hull of the former Child's Restaurant on the far west side on the Coney Island boardwalk is going to see life again.

Something called Taconic Investment Partners has bought the property and plans to return it to its original use. No, not an actual Child's, but a restaurant anyway, or a—ick, that awful term—food court. Of course, nothing gets developed in this one-business town without there being some condos involved. So, Taconic will erect some new housing just next door. (People to eat at the new restaurant, duh.)

Community Board 13 District Manager Chuck Reichenthal told The Daily News that whatever housing was built, it wouldn't tower over the Parachute Jump, the beloved Coney Island relic. However, Taconic said it couldn't rule out the possibility that the building would dwarf the Jump. (Way to stay on the same page, guys!) Those real estate gnomes never do rule out anything, do they? "Escalator going straight to Hell? Maybe, if it pays out."

The Child's building is landmarked, so Taconic supposedly can't touch it. It opened in 1922, and, believe it or not, there used to be dancing on the roof. (How come we can't dance on the roof anywhere in New York, anymore?)

This is one of the few developments in Coney Island that isn't run by Thor Equities, the monolith that, like the god in its name, hits the Earth repeatedly with thunderbolts that demolish landmarks, leaving condos and other eyesores in their wake. Most recent victim: the Revere Sugar Refinery in Red Hook.

06 December 2006

Take the Astrotower, You Ingrates!

I thought Coney Island has become a big development priority for the city. But apparently, not enough for them to fork over some do-re-mi to save the great old Astrotower, relic of old Coney which, yes, towers above the boardwalk.

And guess how much City Hall would have to pay to keep the icon? Nothing!

Here's how it goes: Carol Hill Albert sold Astroland Park to Thor Equities. She wants to donate the Astrotower to the city. But the city is taking its sweet time looking this gift horse in the mouth. So Albert is considering a buyer's offer to move the 275-foot-high thing to an unnamed amusement park in the Southland.

"The city taking ownership of the Astrotower is an interesting idea that warrants exploration, but we would first need to better understand the associated costs," said idiot child Joshua Sirefman, interim president of the EDC and the chairman of its Coney Island Development Corp., according to The New York Post. This, even though Albert has said she'll share relocation costs. Maybe if she bought Sirefman a lollypop it might seal the deal.

The Astrotower was built in 1963 and, amazingly, still works. Next year is Astroland's last at Coney. So take a ride up to the top and get a gander. It might not be there in 2008.

Oh, by the way, in case you're panicking: Albert did not sell the Cyclone as part of the Thor deal. It stays put, and Albert will run it.

Grand Christmas!

Christmas in Brooklyn just got a whole lot better this year, thanks to the splendiferous new holiday display in Grand Army Plaza. I'm a connoisseur of such things, and upon first sight I easily equated it with such NYC holiday classic displays as the Rockefeller Center tree, the giant crystal snowflake at the intersection of Fifth and 57th and the New York Stock Exchange tree.

The display is complex and covers a lot of ground. A cone-shaped faux tree sits directly under the arch. The tree gradually changes color every minute or so, from blue to pink to red, etc. Designer Jim Conti, who teaches at Pratt, used LEDs to light up the tree and other aspects of the design, employing 600,000 lights in all. The colors are synchronized with wireless animated controllers. The top of the Memorial Arch itself is wreathed in white lights, and, perhaps most beautiful, the often ignored Bailey Fountain, which sits behind the arch, has been filled with white and blue whites that create the appearance of rolling waves. It's really quite stunning. (That picture at the right doesn't do it justice. It's just the best I could find.)

Conti has also festooned Prospect Park's various entrances with lights. The Daily News sponsored the display, which may be the most savvy bit of self-promotion that hapless rag has executed in years.

04 December 2006

Ess-a-Not So Good!

The New York Post reports that good old Ess-a-Bagel, which is right up there with H & H in the New York bagel pantheon, has been shut down by the health department.

The shop has been operating without a permit since June, the city claims. Ess-a-Bagel responded "Who knew?" and said it was an honest oversight. Let's hope so, and hope the First Avenue landmark starts churning out boiled circular dough again soon. How else are we going to try the new Nine Grain With Honey variety?!

01 December 2006

Positively Eldridge Street

I lived on Eldridge Street for five years but never caught sight of the Lower East Side lane's claim to fame: the Eldridge Street Synogogue. Trouble was, I lived at the most nothern block of the strip and the shul was at the most southern block.

Well, I've since passed by the place, but it was never open. Finally, the other day, I lucked out. I wandered in and gazed about while two women—one old, one young—manned a sort of makeshift information table and paid me no mind. It's quite a place, and worth a visit. I've been in my share of synogogues, in every city from New York to Milwaukee, Rome to Amsterdam, and I've never quite seen an interior as beautiful. Shuls aren't known for the flourishes associated with cathedrals and churches. Most are just functional buildings. If there's any fancy work, it's on the ark and the torahs.

The Eldridge Street Synogogue was built in 1887, and was the first big temple on the LES. It was built in the Moorish style, because that was a popular architectural mode of the day. (Don't you love it when histories mention popular architectural styles of the past? It's so touching. People actually followed architecture and had favorites. What could be said to be the popular styles of today? Do we have any, besides Big Ugly Glass Box or Small Ugly Brick Box? McMansions? Is that a style?) It had a 70-foot-high vaulted ceiling, stained-glass rose windows, elaborate brass fixtures and hand-stenciled walls.

Well, attendance went down, and the coffers emptied. Soon the place was falling down and the congregants resorted to meeting in the basement. The beautiful upstairs sanctuary remained empty from 1955 to 1980. A movement grew to save the place and by 1989 work had begun. They're still working. The upstairs is still pretty much a shambles, but there are plenty of restored elements to survey. The rococco detail in the woodwork, the trompe l'oeil mural, the twisting wooden staircases. Nothing like it in New York, I'd wager. It's set up very much like the Portugese Synogogue in Amsterdam, with a wooden balcony on three sides hanging over the main floor and the bimah placed dead center with pews all around it. The women sat upstairs, the men down, because it was an Orthodox shul. Still is, unbelievably. The men and women downstairs are also separated.

Amazing, all of it, and sad to think that, even when it's all done, the members will still meet in the basement. The main room will be too valuable and will be used mainly for tours and special events.

One other thing you shouldn't fail to notice. In the corner near the door is a long, green metal sign with the word "Garden" spelled out vertically. It's the sign that used to hang outside the Garden Cafeteria on East Broadway, a few doors down from the Jewish Forward, and where Forward reporters and editors used to hang out and gossip. They saved it when the Garden was torn down and replaced with a Chinese restaurant. Doubt any of those journalists went to shul regularly. Nice of the ESS to save their sign.