Archive for the tag 'restaurants'

Golden Hour at El Greco

As we mournfully bid “αντίο” — that’s Greek for “Auf Wiedersehen” — to our friends at El Greco Diner, and further lament the long bygone days of other legendary neighborhood dinerial establishments such as Ray & Shy’s Flame Restaurant (aka “The Flame,” where my parents went on their first date back in 1970), the Foursome, which made the finest U-bet’s egg creams on God’s green earth, and my personal favorite, New Clements, of blessed memory… let us remember the good times and turn toward the future.

With tomorrow’s pending closure of El Greco, our little corner of the world grows ever more bereft of places to get disco fries at 2 in the morning.

However, once the mourning period for El Greco concludes (and really, does it ever?), there is no reason, after a night out of marathon bar-crawling celebrating that much-deserved promotion, why you should deny your hypothalamus and grumbling belly the greasy, dopamine-skritching, artery-gorging deliciousness that is two eggs sunny side up, crispy home fries, sizzling bacon, and a piping hot black cuppa joe.

Well, I have great news for all you intrepid foodies: You can still have those things… just, after Friday, not at El Greco. If you’re a local diner fiend looking to get your greasy spoon on, do like Elizabeth Taylor once said and “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together… and check out Sheepshead Bites’ roundup of some neighborhood diners to help fill the gaping void that El Greco will leave in our broken hearts forever.”

Okay, she didn’t really say that last part, but still… check out our roundup of local diners and diner-style eateries below. I checked out the user comments for all these places on Yelp, some of which were profoundly bizarre. In lieu of my own opinions (because I haven’t actually been to a couple of these places), I chose the more illustrious comments on Yelp. They speak for themselves.

Read our full roundup of eight Sheepshead Bay-area diners to get your fill.

A waiter takes an order at El Greco. Photo by Ned Berke.

A waiter takes an order at El Greco. Photo by Ned Berke.

by Sam Shokin

In this Age of The Foodie, where words like “microbrewery” and “cronut” are colloquial terms, and “gentrification” has been buzzwordified to the point of mass semantic satiation, the people of Southern Brooklyn have but a few classic eateries left standing in their midst. And by the end of this week, they will be down another: El Greco Diner.

My friends, this place isn’t just a diner. El Greco is an institution. It is one of the last bastions of unironic, untrendy diners in this town; a place for locals to congregate over mediocre food, to rejoice in the spirit of community, and to cope with life’s trials and tribulations by inhaling fistfuls of cheesecake. It is one of those special places that get bestowed the title “greasy spoon” as a term of endearment. With its two-and-a-half star Yelp rating, its urban legends of rat infestations and brash mockery of portion control, El Greco has managed all these years to shrug off foodie culture while consistently drawing in people in droves — until now.

I can’t say that I blame you, Mr. Venetoklis. Thirteen million dollars is no paltry sum. I come from a family of small business owners myself. I get it. But when I read last week’s headline, I was shocked. All of us were shocked. It’s like reading about the death of a celebrity you haven’t thought about in a while, but who’s been a household name since before you were born. El Greco was the place we local kids would stumble into after-hours before we were old enough for bars or cool enough for fake IDs. It’s where I drank bottomless two-dollar coffee with my parents while people-watching outdoors or in. It’s not a local haunt; it’s not just a mainstay — El Greco is Sheepshead Bay.

El Greco, the fact that you’re on Facebook makes me cringe the way I do when anyone over 60 speaks of “the Twitter.” You’re not about that. You were never about that. You were open, 24 hours a day, to harbor poor souls braving the Bay’s frigid winds in mid-January. Your landmark location, the corner of Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road, will forever be emblazoned in my memory as as a community cornerstone; the place where so many of us came of age. Hell, even my parents ate here when they first came to this country over 30 years ago. The diner is practically family.

El Greco, with your complimentary heaps of slaw and canned bean salad (the poor man’s antipasti); your oversized plastic menus and your (mostly) darling wait staff  – you are the greasy connecting thread between the many cultures, religions, and age groups of this diverse community. Everyone in this town has a “3am at El Greco” story. Some people visit you religiously; others, ironically. There are people who swear by your gyro platter. For me, growing up in Southern Brooklyn, ridiculing this place was basically a right of passage. But I’ll still be sad when you’re gone – razed to the ground to make way for more condos.

But such is life, and such is gentrification (there’s that word again). So, El Greco, I guess this is goodbye. Thank you for all the good times.

Samantha Shokin, is an essayist, singer, and former resident of Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach (the latter of which she wrote about here.) Her writing has appeared in Vice, the Village Voice and Thought Catalog, among others. Read more of her work at www.samshokin.com

Preliminary rendering of the new building to replace El Greco at 1801 Emmons Avenue. The view is from Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road. (Source: Sergey Rybak)

Preliminary rendering of the new building to replace El Greco at 1809 Emmons Avenue. The view is from Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road. (Source: Sergey Rybak)

EXCLUSIVE: A seven-story condominium building with ground-level retail, abundant parking and a 9,000-square-foot landscaped public plaza will soon be constructed at Sheepshead Bay Road and Emmons Avenue, replacing El Greco Diner, the new owners told Sheepshead Bites in an exclusive interview.

Buyer Sergey Rybak detailed his preliminary plans following the $13 million sale of the 1809 Emmons Avenue property on Friday, which he purchased with partner Jason Reznik under the name 1809 Emmons Avenue LLC. Rybak’s company, Rybak Development, is overseeing construction.

Rybak Development already has a track record in the area. The company is part owner of the MatchPoint NYC sports complex on Shell Road, and is developing several luxury condominium projects in the area, including 3041 Ocean Avenue and 104 West End Avenue, as well as commercial projects like 1810 Voorhies Avenue. Their roster of developments is almost exclusively in Southern Brooklyn.

At the moment, all plans shared with Sheepshead Bites, including the plaza and the layout of the building, are subject to change. The final project, he hopes, will be as-of-right, meaning no approval from the Community Board or Board of Standards and Appeals will be required – but that can change, too.

See more renderings, and learn details of the plan for 1801 Emmons Avenue.

elgreco

UPDATE: See the exclusive renderings for the building the new owners have planned for this space.

El Greco Diner is bustling with nostalgic patrons since news of its impending closure after 40 years of business became public.

“It’s been crazy since you ran the story,” owner George Venetoklis told Sheepshead Bites. “Lines to get in. Too bad we are closing. Packed as we speak.”

Venetoklis said the deal for the 1821 Emmons Avenue location officially closed Friday morning. He declined to name the buyer or the sale price, but Sheepshead Bites learned that Rybak Development purchased the property for $13 million with plans to build a mixed-use property and public plaza. An auction to sell off the restaurant’s equipment is scheduled for late December.

Venetoklis said a sale has been in the works for some time, as he, his brother Peter and mother Anastasia put blood, sweat and tears into keeping it going in a changing community and economy.

“We had a really good run. A lot of businesses, at some point the model just changes. Our model was large portions at good prices. Our food prices were beginning to skyrocket and we couldn’t keep up,” he said. Other economic factors were also at play. “Real estate taxes, labor costs, everything took its toll. As a family, we realized we put in our time. Forty years, it was time to move on.”

A final breakfast of two eggs over easy with sausage and English muffin for this reporter.

A final breakfast of two eggs over easy with sausage and English muffin for this reporter.

El Greco’s owners did mount a search prior to the deal to sell the business and keep it in operation, but they said businesses like theirs have a shrinking place in communities.

“We were looking for a more modern version of the El Greco family to come in and take over,” he said. “I think that [Sheepshead Bay] has been doing well, but it’s just that the larger corporate-run businesses are the ones that have greater longevity and more backing and more ability to do things in a different way. That’s just what the nature of the beast is.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to close the diner. Founded by George’s father Minos in 1974, El Greco’s remained a true family business, where the two brothers were raised and eventually worked to keep the elder Venetoklis’ memory alive 20 years after his passing.

I was three-and-a-half when it opened, and my mother is fighting off tears.” he said. “I have four children … and they were heartbroken. I can understand it because I was basically their age when I was growing up in this restaurant. My 8-year-old turned to me and said, ‘Dad, what are you going to do?’ I said ‘I’ll spend more time with you.’”

Venetoklis said it’s the relationships he makes with customers, employees and business suppliers that he’ll miss the most.

“The highlights have been the customers and the friendships we made. This place has never closed, the business has a life of its own. It doesn’t sleep. And I’ve worked every shift in this place; I’ve seen the neighborhood change. I’ve seen the menu change – we had items that we’ve had to remove because the customers weren’t around to eat them,” he said.

The restaurant, recently named one of the borough’s best diners, was teeming with longtime regulars on Saturday afternoon. Chatter about the pending closure could be overheard at almost every table.

Among the regulars were Marc and Zoya Baroda, a Mill Basin husband and wife who met at the restaurant nearly 20 years ago and who now visit regularly with their three children, ages 6 to 15.

“I worked here as a hostess, and he was the pickle man,” said Zoya. It was 1995, and she got the job because she was a frequent patron. “I grew up here. I came here before I met him, before I worked here, and this was the place to go after a club or a night out and this is where to meet up.”

Marc and Zoya Baroda with their three kids. They say they'll be back again before the restaurant closes for good.

Marc and Zoya Baroda with their three kids. They say they’ll be back again before the restaurant closes for good.

Her future husband made the regular deliveries for Mr. Pickle – which he’ll continue to do until the closing this week.

“He’d flirt, of course. He delivered, and would come to the cashier and I’d have to pay him and he’d flirt,” she said.

It took a vacation out of town to work up the nerve to ask her out, said Marc.

“I was talking, talking and one time when I went on vacation to Mexico, one of the guys who works for me, I told him to tell Zoya when I come back I’m going to be looking for her,” boasted Marc.

He did, and they married two years later. They took their wedding photos inside the restaurant.

“There’s an old joke I used to do with Peter and George after we got married. Every time she got pregnant, I’d tell them the price of the pickles went up,” he laughed.

When they found out it was closing, “I was shocked. I was completely distraught. And my phone has been going off non-stop. My friends who moved out of Brooklyn saying that they have to come to New York to have that last breakfast or lunch or whatever,” said Zoya. “I’m very sad to see the place go, but all good things must come to end.”

“I’m not just losing a diner, I’m also losing a client. But I’m not losing a friend,” he said of Peter and George.

Venetoklis said such sentiments have been endlessly echoed by regulars, and that’s what they’ll remember the most when they lock the diner’s doors for a final time.

“It’s bittersweet. It hurts, but at the same time it feels good,” he said.

Photo By Erica Sherman

Photo By Erica Sherman

UPDATE: See the exclusive renderings for the building the new owners have planned for this space, and hear what the current owners and some patrons will miss the most when El Greco closes.

Sheepshead Bay’s iconic El Greco Diner is set to shutter next week after the property has gone into contract for a sale, making way for a new residential tower with ground-level commercial space, sources tell Sheepshead Bites.

El Greco Diner, a waterfront staple at 1821 Emmons Avenue, will soon serve its last burger and breakfast, an employee confirmed by phone today.

“Yes, we’re closing. By the end of next week. We’re not sure yet [what day],” the employee said.

The worker added that she and colleagues were told just yesterday. She hung up the phone when asked for additional details.

The sale of the property and its closure are not yet public. Owner George Venetoklis did not return calls for comment, but sources with knowledge of the deal confirmed social media chatter, and said that the land has sold to a local developer with plans to construct a new building.

The building was put up for sale in March 2013 with an asking price of $17.5 million. An associate for Massey Knakel Realty Services, the listing agent, told Sheepshead Bites that the company no longer represented the property, but that El Greco’s owners had gone in-contract with a private buyer.

A source with knowledge of the pending sale said the deal hasn’t closed yet, but is in contract for between $13 and $15 million. The source requested anonymity to preserve business relationships with the owner.

“They should be closing shortly,” the source said.

No plans have been filed with the Department of Buildings, and since the deal has not closed there has been no paperwork filed notifying the city in a change of ownership.

El Greco has served Sheepshead Bay patrons since the 1970s, and has been named one of Brooklyn’s best diners. Employees were hit hard by the news of its impending closure, according to diners who visited this morning.

“My wife was there this morning and the employees were all devastated,” said Michael Goldstein, the director of marketing at Kingsborough Community College. “They also told her in secret.”

UPDATE (December 12, 2014 at 2pm): The deal officially closed this morning, confirmed owner George Venetoklis. He did not disclose the sale price or the buyer, but did add that El Greco’s last day of operation is slated for Friday, December 19.

This is what robot-facilitated sex assault looks like.

This is what robot-facilitated sex assault looks like.

T.G.I. Fridays wants to make dinner a little hotter this holiday season, so they’re deploying drones equipped with dangling mistletoe to hover over diners’ heads and encourage a little heavy petting.

The Sheepshead Bay Fridays at 3181 Harkness Avenue will become the second location in the United States to feature the drones, with the weaponized make-out makers taking to the air inside the restaurant from 5pm to 9pm.

A fleet of the drones was released on U.K.-based T.G.I. Fridays last month, and made their first appearance earlier this week in Westbury, New York. If the gimmick proves popular with diners, it will continue in other Fridays across the United States.

The drones are equipped with cameras that point down towards their target. As they hover over a dining duo, the pair are broadcast onto large screen televisions throughout the restaurant, as well as on Fridays’ social media accounts – and those who hook-up get a gift card.

But Eater notes that even those who can’t make it into the restaurant can participate by posting a photo of you and your beau sucking face under the mistletoe on social media using #happyfridayholiday to have a chance to win a gift card.

The intrepid reporters over at the Daily News attended the Westbury event, where apparently most Fridays patrons are douchebags:

“I’m drinking Jack [DANIELS], so I was like, ‘Let’s go,’” said Joe, a Westbury customer who declined to give us his last name…

“He has a girlfriend – but she doesn’t live in New York so it doesn’t count,” said Hazel, 25, who not only declined to give her name, but asked the News to keep the randy recon off Facebook…

…”Some people might be on a date with their side chick and wouldn’t want their face up on the screen,” said Waterbury native Billy Casseus, 20. “I’m keeping it PG.”

Translation: If you’re having girl problems, I feel bad for you, son. I’ve got 99 problems and they’re all chain restaurant social media promotions.

All we know is with Fridays’ new look post-Sandy, all you can eat appetizers, and now this, our local Applebees better up its game. We recommend prophylactic-filled pinatas on Cinco de Mayo, or maybe for the Hannukah crowd, some LSD latkes.

Photo by Soo Koon Lee

Photo by Soo Koon Lee

Do you miss the days of heading down Emmons Avenue to Brown Street for some Chinese food at Hong Kong City? Well, the former owners are back with a new place in Bensonhurst.

Hong Kong City, the one of the only places to get Chinese fare on the waterfront, shut down some five or six years ago. The 3081 Emmons Avenue storefront has since served up Turkish food, Mexican-American food and, most recently, Italian food in the shape of Vittoria Seafood & Grill.

Owner Peter Wong is now in a new space at 2332 86th Street with a soon-to-be-opened Cantonese eatery named Shun Deck Restaurant.

Our sister site Bensonhurst Bean reports:

Long-time restauranteur Peter Wong told us he teamed up with chef Karmon Chan to build a restaurant that served the food of his hometown in the Chinese province of Guangdong. Wong had previously owned and managed the popular Hong Kong City in Sheepshead Bay (3081 Emmons) as well as a Chinese restaurant in Bay Ridge. His latest venture, Shun Deck, will be open for business on Monday, December 8.

Chan says the restaurant will serve “home-style” Cantonese recipes from Guangdong, China. The menu will include items like fresh seafood and fish, casseroles and soups, as well as rice congee for lunch.

Shun Deck Restaurant

Photo by Rachel “GimmeCredit” Silberstein

Best of luck to our former neighbors!

chipotle-2

I spent way too much time making this happen.

First Starbucks. Then Red Mango. Now Chipotle Mexican Grill is headed to Kings Highway, replacing longtime clothing store Beverly Boutique at East 14th Street.

Wooden fencing recently went up around 1325 Kings Highway, and permits were issued in late September allowing the interior to be reworked for the establishment of a Chipotle Mexican Grill. Since then, additional permits have been issued for interior and exterior demolition and signage.

It’s the second Chipotle in Southern Brooklyn, with the first being at Kings Plaza. There is one in Bay Ridge as well.

Chipotle is known as a healthier fast-food alternative, selling burritos, tacos and salads that might make you need to buy special products from Billy Mays’ ghost.

Kings Highway itself seems to be on the way to a remarkable turnaround. When the economy tanked in 2008, vacancy rates along the strip skyrocketed. Now national chains are stepping in to fill the gap alongside mom-and-pop businesses, including T.J. Maxx, and several new commercial developments have popped up. Perhaps the largest one currently underway is the construction of a commercial and office space on the block-long stretch between East 16th Street and East 17th Street.

Are these chains good for Kings Highway, and the mom-and-pops that have historically fueled the strip’s growth? You tell us.

Tsob Tsobe! at Coney Island Avenue

Tsob Tsobe! at 2817 Coney Island Avenue

It was with great dismay that we noticed Back to USSR pulling down its signs over the summer, after two years in business. The kitschy, Soviet-themed restaurant at 2817 Coney Island Avenue was a great place to bring people from outside of Sheepshead Bay, pulling back the curtain a bit on the area’s Russian-speaking cultures with a tongue planted firmly in-cheek.

But the storefront didn’t stay empty long. Some time in the past few weeks Tsob-Tsobe! took its place, declaring itself a”cafe lounge bar.” They redid the entire storefront, interior and exterior. Unlike its predecessor, which elevated the atmosphere with a large statue of Vladimir Lenin with kielbasa in hand, Tsob-Tsobe! is tastefully decorated and is earning kudos from Yelpers.

The online directory says it’s serving Mediterranean, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine, but we’ve learned that with local restaurants, that could mean Turkish, or it could mean the menu is a smorgasbord of Turkish, Uzbeki and Russian foodstuffs. With their website not yet built and no menu available online, we’ll just have to wait to visit to find out.

As for the name? We’re having trouble tracking down its provenance. Some Googling suggests it’s something Cossack cowboys yelled at their cattle, or farmers upon receiving a good harvest – but we can’t say for sure. Anybody able to fill us in?

wolf-cave

Photo by Bob De Thomas

Emmons Avenue has a new restaurant in Wolf Cave, a decked out eatery and lounge on the corner of Batchelder Street.

Located at 3099 Emmons Avenue, the business opened its doors to diners about two weeks ago. They’ve yet to launch a website, but a waiter told us the menu includes salads, sandwiches, barbecued meats and sushi. In sum, he described it as “American-style barbecue.”

Photos on their Facebook page show a fairly cozy, almost hunting-themed restaurant. It’s decked out with warm colors, murals of wolves and trees, a fireplace and even a mounted deer head.

It’s also got a fairly rad, yet familiar, logo, seen on the awning above, which also declares Wolf Cave to be the place for “Good Natural Food”. They have live music in the evenings, Thursday to Sunday, which the waiter described as Russian-American.

The location has gone through a number of iterations the past few years. It housed a sushi spot, a Ukranian restaurant, and then, most recently, an Italian – Turkish pizza joint.

We wish Wolf Cave more success than their forbears, and hope to stop by soon to check it out!

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