Before the Elsen sisters started baking salted caramel apple pies at Four and Twenty Blackbirds, before Halyards started curating whiskeys, before Crop to Cup began brewing guilt-free Uganda Bugisu, before the word “Gowanus” started meaning “trendy,” there was a restaurant called Two Toms.
The restaurant is still there, the pork chops still transcendent.
Yet the trend-seekers go elsewhere.
Even in an age when food fetishists strive to rediscover the roots of Brooklyn dining, history can be a curse for a place that’s hiding in plain sight.
“We’re so well known that no one thinks they can get in here, like we’re always jam-packed,” said owner Anthony Catapano, the nephew of the restaurant’s co-founder.
Yes, there really are two Toms behind Two Toms, though only one name has not been lost to history.
Tom Giordano opened the old-school joint with another Tom on Third Avenue in what was then called South Brooklyn in 1948. The concept of the restaurant, insomuch as restaurants had “concepts” back then, was to feed the neighborhood’s laborers. There was a Daily News plant up the block (it’s a Yuppie climbing gym now) and the South Brooklyn Casket Company employed hundreds around the corner (it’s still in operation, but the plant’s assembly line has slowed, a subtle violation of the old saw about the certainty of death and taxes).
After Giordano died, his wife Nancy ran it until 1970, when her brother, Jimmy Catapano, took over.
He still comes in every day — hunched over at age 85 like the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence asking why customers aren’t coming in. His son, Anthony, runs the joint, seating customers, taking orders and making sure the regulars still feel like the wood-paneled room is their clubhouse. Anthony’s brother, Jimmy, is the cook.
There’s no printed menu. You can ask Anthony for pretty much anything, but when you ask him what’s good on the menu, all he says is, “The pork chop.”
Catapano could be forgiven if he’s using the word “the” as a superlative rather than a mere definite article. The pork chop at Two Toms is indeed “the” pork chop, a massive, double-thick porcine T-bone that is charred to a crisp on the outside, yet juicy and sublime on the inside. The bone alone could keep you happy for two days (unless you foolishly give it to the dog).
Beyond “the” pork chop, little else comes out of the kitchen that would bring in the foodie crowd: the antipasto is strictly sliced meats, cheese and roasted red peppers; the baked clams are satisfying, but not transcendent; the spaghetti carbonara comes in a huge plastic bowl like grandma used to serve (though memory suggests that nonna’s version had more kick).
But then the chop comes out and all is forgiven.
Tom Toms [255 Third Ave. between Union and President streets in Gowanus, (718) 875-8689]. Closed Sundays and Mondays.