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HISTORIC BITES

These 12 Brooklyn eateries offer diners a side order of history

for The Brooklyn Paper


Surprisingly, there is plenty of history to be found in Brooklyn’s dining establishments.

More than a dozen restaurants in Brooklyn have been open for more than 50 years. Some of them have nationwide reputations, while others are simply neighborhood gems.

The oldest restaurant in the borough is Gage & Tollner, founded in 1879 by Charles M. Gage and Eugene Tollner. It soon became a meeting place for New York’s leading citizens.

Gage & Tollner moved to its present Downtown Brooklyn location in 1892, featuring a decor of arched mirrors, red velvet fabric and gas-lit brass chandeliers. Restaurateur Joseph Chirico took over in 1995, and completely restored the interior to its original splendor.

The menu at Gage & Tollner has evolved over the years, but old-time Southern and seafood favorites such as lobster Newburg and fried oysters remain under chef Luis Garces. [372 Fulton St. at Jay Street. (718) 875-5181.]

Peter Luger Steakhouse has been around since 1887. This venerable Williamsburg restaurant, owned by the Forman family since 1950, is famous for its porterhouse steaks that are dry-aged on the premises, and available for two, three or four people.

For chef Amet Bajrami’s porterhouse alone, Peter Luger’s is considered by many to be the finest steakhouse in New York City; however, their side dishes are less celebrated, particularly the often bland sliced tomato salad. [178 Broadway at Driggs Avenue (718) 387-7400.]

Also in Williamsburg, Bamonte’s has served classic southern Italian fare since 1900. Owner Anthony Bamonte’s tuxedo-clad waiters dish out homemade pasta, mussels marinara and other goodies to their faithful customers, particularly families and parties celebrating birthdays or anniversaries. Bamonte’s chef is Euro Callegari. [32 Withers St. at Union Street. (718) 384-8831.]

Open since 1904, the small, casual Ferdinando’s Focacceria was serving Sicilian fare well before its trendy neighbors arrived in Carroll Gardens. Sample owner-chef Francesco Buffa’s pasta puttanesca, or branch out and try the restaurant’s panelle (chickpea flour fritters). [151 Union St. between Columbia and Hicks streets. (718) 855-1545.]

Another Italian tradition in Carroll Gardens is Monte’s Venetian Room, which has been catering to the neighborhood since 1906. This destination spot, owned by Toni Monte and located near the Gowanus Canal, offers such Italian staples as veal marsala, chicken Parmesan, and of course Italian cheesecake. Monte’s chef is Luis Chuia. [451 Carroll St., between Third Avenue and Nevins Street. (718) 624-8984.]

Over in Coney Island, the 93-year-old Gargiulo’s is known for its Neapolitan-based seafood dishes. Lobsters pulled from the tank and served broiled, racanati (baked with breadcrumbs) or fra diavola (spicy with hot peppers) are highlights. Other popular dishes at the restaurant, which is owned by Louis Russo, include chef Luigi Daniello’s grilled veal with sauteed artichokes, and fettuccine with mushrooms, onions and prosciutto. [2911 W. 15th St., between Surf and Mermaid avenues. (718) 266-4891.]

Sheepshead Bay can be thankful for the return of Lundy Brothers Restaurant, the famed eatery that reopened in 1995 in its original location. This 800-seat seafood mecca was originally open from 1916 until 1977. The vast dining room offers additional perks like an oyster bar and a 1,200-gallon lobster tank. The Tam Corporation owns Lundy’s; the corporate chef is Tom Tedesco.

Lundy’s is well known for its Shore Dinner, featuring a cup of chowder or house salad, a 1-pound whole lobster and a grilled half-chicken, plus sides and dessert for $22.95. [1901 Emmons Ave. at Ocean Avenue. (718) 743-0022.]

A name synonymous with Brooklyn, Nathan’s Famous Restaurant, has been a Coney Island fixture since 1916. When Nathan Handwerker opened a hot dog stand in Coney that fateful year, he could hardly have imagined it would grow into Nathan’s Famous Inc., a company with more than 1,000 franchises worldwide. The original location still sells all-beef frankfurters as well as fresh-squeezed lemonade and their "famous" french fries. [1310 Surf Ave. at Stillwell Avenue. (718) 946-2202.]

At the corner of Flatbush and DeKalb avenues in Downtown Brooklyn, there has been a diner run by the Rosen family since 1929. In 1950, the name was changed to Junior’s, and it has been serving its famous cheesecake and other goodies ever since.

The interior of Junior’s was modernized in 1983 after a major fire in the restaurant. The diner was recently featured in the Brooklyn Public Library’s children’s book of Brooklyn landmarks, "Brooklyn Pops Up." [386 Flatbush Ave. at DeKalb Avenue. (718) 852-5257.]

Times may have changed, but Armando’s in Brooklyn Heights has remained essentially the same since it opened in 1936. Owner Peter Byros’ Montague Street location has a lot of competition, but Armando’s more than holds its own with an efficient waitstaff, soft lighting and charming banquettes.

Chef Samuel Jachro’s Italian menu includes homemade pasta, veal saltimbocca and a large selection of seafood, all of it offered at reasonable prices. [143 Montague St., between Henry and Clinton streets. (718) 624-7167.]

At Tom’s in Prospect Heights - a friendly neighborhood diner open since 1937 - owner-chef Gus Vlahavas serves breakfast and lunch to his regular customers and visitors alike.

The menu at Tom’s has evolved over time and now features five different kinds of pancakes for breakfast. (Try the lemon-ricotta version). Fresh roasted turkey, pot roast, brisket and other diner fare is offered in a clean, comfortable setting. [782 Washington Ave. at Sterling Place. (718) 636-9738.]

Hot beef is the thing at owner Russ Sullivan’s Brennan & Carr in Sheepshead Bay. For over 60 years, this casual restaurant has been known for its thin-sliced roast beef, served on a Kaiser roll with pan drippings. Hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and drinks are also available. [3432 Nostrand Ave. at Avenue U (718) 769-1254.]

So whether you are looking for a fancy dinner in a turn-of-the-century building, or just a casual meal in a tried-and-true neighborhood haunt, Brooklyn definitely has a variety of historically sound choices.

Josh Greenwald, a graduate of New York Restaurant School, is a freelance food writer and part-time chef.

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Joyce B. from jdndb@pacbell.net says:
Tom's Restaurant was an ice cream parlor owned by George and Eleanor Lewnes. I believe they owned it in the 1920s as my father told me stories of delivering ice cream in winter when he was 12 years old. I am her granddaughter and in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s my family and I would travel from Queens to visit and eat there. I visited in 2005 and the owner knew my Uncle George Lewnes. He probably purchased it from him. George Sr. died around 1940-41 and Eleanor in 1961-62. George then worked and I assume owned it after that.
Sept. 14, 2010, 7:59 pm
Paul from Boston, MA says:
Does anyone remember Paul's Seafood restaurant in Brooklyn. I remember it from about the early 1950's to about 1960 when I moved to Boston to go to school?
May 20, 2013, 9:35 pm
Donna from Brooklyn little italy says:
Looking for a restaurant in brooklyn in the 1950's family owned by a woman named Rose, and went by the name of mom. It was supposedly very large taking up a whole block and close was a pharmacy. She had sons and they were named joe, and Tony, I believe(mom's boys) my parents held their wedding reception there and it was said Tony Bennett and others occasionally hung out. I have a pic of her behind counter at the bar. My dad has passed and mom has dementia, but I would luv any info on this. Thx for the help!
June 11, 3:03 pm

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