Mama mia! It’s the end of an era. Several of them, actually.
Beloved Park Slope restaurant Aunt Suzie’s — famous for its cheap Italian eats and homey vibe — will close 25 years after it became a pioneer on then-seedy Fifth Avenue.
Owner Irene LoRe said she’ll shutter the neighborhood mainstay on Jan. 1 to retire — citing three reasons for saying “Caio!”: too many restaurants on the street, impossible parking and harsher city inspection fines.
“It’s really ridiculous. The Department of Health has become a profit center that has nothing to do with public health anymore,” she said. “It’s time to say goodbye.”
LoRe opened the simple, southern Italian restaurant — where you can still score a plate of ravioli for less than $10 — in 1987, naming it after her mother. Back then, the street was known mostly for rundown bodegas and high crime rates.
“It was a little scary,” she said, recalling a thief who broke in and stole cash from a drawer. “But I knew there was a solid middle class here — and that the park would draw families.”
Back then, drug dealers would use pay phone booths near Carroll Street as “their personal offices,” LoRe recalls. So she bought a pair of hedge clippers and paid a bus boy $5 for every phone he brought back.
Neighbor Bob Pheiffer — who opened Bob and Judi’s Collectables a block away in the 1990s — remembers the eatery as an island of “comfort food and family get-togethers” on a street so rough that he used to chain his outdoor furniture to the wall.
“Aunt Suzie’s used to be the only place around,” he said. “It’s sad that she’s closing.”
Even with the crime, LoRe’s businesses boomed — likely because it was the only spot to get decent plate home-cooked grub for blocks. The clientele back then was different, too.
“There was more of a pioneer spirit,” LoRe said.
As schools got better, families moved in and restaurant began to emerge on the street. Her average client became “a little wealthier and a little more entitled,” she said.
And they had more choices: By 2010, nearly 120 eateries had opened along the length of Fifth Avenue in Park Slope.
All of those culinary options drew food critics and bloggers, too — some of whom didn’t appreciate that Aunt Suzie’s isn’t about fancy house-cured meats and hand-rolled organic saffron-kohlrabi ravioli.
“You have these people now who have nothing better to do than sit around and blog about you,” LoRe said. “As if anyone cares about their opinion!”
But even as better Italian eateries — such as the nearby al di la — appeared, Aunt Suzie’s retained loyal patrons. The reason: Plates stayed big and prices stayed low.
Hungry Slopers can still chose from “The Really Cheap Menu” which includes meatball parmigiana ($9.50) and chicken marsala ($11.90).
Now LoRe, who owns the building, said she’ll likely lease the space to a retail shop or a quiet restaurant to avoid rowdy bar crowds.
“It’s been great getting to know people and becoming part of their lives,” she said. “But it’s time to move on.”
Aunt Suzie’s [247 Fifth Ave. between Carroll Street and Garfield Place in Park Slope, (718) 788-3377].Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at noneill@cn
©2011 Community News Group
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