I went into my local pizzeria the other day and half of it was missing.
The table by the window where my daughter did “the fold” for the first time — gone.
That table near the counter where I had my first garlic knot — gone.
The center table where six kids could eat while their parents played a zone defense at the two surrounding tables — gone, gone and gone.
And you know whom I blame? Those neat freaks at the Department of Health, that’s whom.
It seems an overzealous collections, er, enforcement officer from the Health Department entered my pizzeria, Roma Pizza, on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope and suddenly noticed that the bathroom was on the other side of the counter.
Any idiot (not my real name) who has a kid knows that the bathroom at Roma Pizza is on the other side of the counter. And any idiot (again, I’m not necessarily talking about myself here) can ask the counterman to lift the hinged section and allow him to use the bathroom near the kitchen.
But not any more, because Roma ripped out half of its seats rather than fight a law that requires restaurants with more than 19 seats to “provide toilet facilities for the public.”
And “public” means that the crapper can’t be in the food-preparation area because the dirty, filthy public (again, I’m not talking about myself here) is not legally allowed to be in the food-preparation area — except in restaurants with fewer than 20 seats, apparently.
So Roma now has only 16 seats — and the bathroom remains behind the counter. The result? I still have to ask the counterman to let me go into the kitchen to use the can — and now I can never find a seat at my neighborhood pizzeria!
What kind of crazy law is this?
“It’s very crazy,” said John Ceesay, owner of the Soul Spot on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, another restaurateur who got a ticket for having too many seats and a slightly awkward restroom.
“I had 23 seats and the guy gives me a ticket for $400!” Ceesay said. “The Health inspector has been coming in here twice a year for three years — and all of a sudden, he gives me a ticket. Yes, my bathroom is in the kitchen, but I always let people use it.”
Here is the part of the column where I would typically let the Health Department defend its persecution of New York’s hard-working small businessmen and explain why 11 restaurants — all in Brooklyn — have gotten these summons since July.
Problem is, no one in the department wanted to talk on the record. Off the record, they told me that the food-preparation area is simply supposed to be off-limits to the public. That’s why there’s a sign in every bathroom reminding employees that they have to wash their hands after using the toilet. The public (OK, this time, I am talking about myself) does not.
But this law is killing me. Maybe I’m not Brooklyn enough, but I don’t like to eat a slice standing up, like Tony Manero.
Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. The owner of Roma certainly isn’t. Sure, he’s peeved that he got a ticket, but he told me he’s happier now.
“When I had all these seats, people would sit here for hours and order only one slice,” he said. “Now, they have to stand, so they eat and they leave.”
The whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. If only I could use the bathroom at Roma.