Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Manganaro's Grosseria

With so many vanishings in the city, it's comforting to know that some things never change. One of those changeless places is Manganaro's Grosseria on 9th Ave near 37th St. Opened in 1893 as Petrucci's, it became Manganaro's in the 1920s, and stepping into the shop today is like walking into your grandfather's New York.



The shop is dimly lit and sparsely stocked. Pepperoni and salami hang from above, beneath a ceiling of pressed tin and before a backdrop of empty green shelves. Keep walking, under the skylight, past the big Toledo scale, and you'll come to a small cafe furnished with chrome tables under cloths with chairs that must hail from the Nixon administration.



The walls of the trattoria are paneled, the lights are florescent, and the back-room ambiance makes you feel like you've stumbled in on a secret meeting-place. A flight of red-railed stairs goes up to a second-floor dining room, which is closed and dark, and strangely beckoning.



Proprietor and cook, Seline Dell'Orto (James Manganaro's grand-niece), leaves her kaffe klatsch to step behind the counter and say, "Come over here and tell me what you want." It's like being fed by your Italian aunt--warm, welcoming, and a little brusque. She heaps a plate with macaroni and when you say, "That's plenty," she ignores your request, heaping on another spoonful or two, for which you will be grateful. The food is good.

I asked her about the sign chalked out front: "M. Foods is not connected to Hero Boy; but that's old news!" She spoke bitterly of the rift between Manganaro's and the Hero Boy cafe next door as if the wound were fresh, the rift recently torn, as if Hero Boy were an upstart in the neighborhood. But it turns out that Hero Boy opened half a century ago and this feud has been going on for decades. That's authentically Italian, too--it's not an Italian family unless somebody's not speaking to somebody.

I asked how the grosseria was doing, with all the changes in the neighborhood, and she said they're not going anywhere, despite the disturbing influx of foreign investors and rising Con-Ed prices. "This summer," she said, "we're doing it European style." What does that mean? "No lights!"



I had just missed meeting her father, but Sal still works in the shop. On Manganaro's website it says, "Watch Sal at his espresso machine and imagine what he thinks of the Johny come latelies who think they understand coffee." This quote sums up the Manganaro's experience and reminds me of the conversation I had with Annie of DeRobertis' Pasticceria, who said, “People come in and tell me I don’t know how to make cappuccino. They tell me, 'Starbucks makes it this way.' I tell them, 'I’m here before Starbucks.'"

Manganaro's was here before Starbucks, too. So go in and tell them what you want--but don't tell them how to make it or serve it. Just eat it.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

The feud with te neighboor went to court. Both were Manganaro and the neighboor had to change the name. The story was on the cover of the NYT 3 or 4 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I have this. These yunnies walk into these Italian institutions, tell them they are making the coffee incorrectly, and proceed to invoke the name Starbucks. That, golden children, is the penultimate definition of assholes.

Anonymous said...

asshole is right. but don't you mean ultimate?

anon said...

yeah, assholes they are. I'd still prefer to label them as narcissists -- more precise and ad nauseam.

innamorato said...

fugeddaboutit -- STUGOTS or Vaffanculo or Stronzo, these Yunnies are

Anonymous said...

The Yunnies and Hipsters don't have respect for places like Manganaro's. Hopefully, it will survive these rough times.

Little do they know the food there is better than any of these trendy dumps replacing the old spots. The trendy places could vomit on a triangle plate, garnish with green herbs and call it "contemporary cuisine" and the Yunnies and Hipsters will eat it because it's trendy.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Yunnies will eat all kinds of traif. This place is really worth visiting - it's even stranger and more interesting than the old stuffed easter bunnies in the window let on!

Todd HellsKitchen said...

Love these Hell's Kitchen treasures!

Jonathan said...

just give these guys your business and give them a reason to stick around. besides, I'd be a bit pissed if they weren't there with their fresh mozz. a little saltier but not as cream heavy as joe's on sullivan and more character than the mozz dipaolos. and eat as much of it as you can before stuffing it in the fridge. it is much better closer to room temp. *shrug*

-jon

Anonymous said...

Don't care how good the food is, the family still in the old store (at least the women we met) were total jerks. I brought my grandfather and mother and aunt back there for a special nostalgia trip cause they all grew up across the street and were customers of the original shop and we were confused by the crazy signs outside the two shops and asked what was going on and the women treated us like dirt. I literally thought they were going to attack us, I actually stood in front of my mother because I thought I was about to have to protect her, these women were that bitter and angry. Even after we explained we were from the old neighborhood and had moved before the 2nd shop appeared (over 50 years ago!!) and even apologized for our not being up to date (no idea how we could have been) they still treated us like dirt. It was really sad because the old store wasn't like that, no one treated you like dirt, they treated you like family. This poor family is trying so hard to keep the store "the same" as it used to be but it couldn't have been farther from the spirit of the original store. I hope someday they get it back.

Anonymous said...

ha, that's the manganaro's i remember [i worked there]. even some of their best friends stopped coming around because of the nastiness. most returned anyway. it was a love hate thing. too bad, because without the hate they would be raking it in.

Senobia said...

This is what those of us who have never been to NYC want to believe NYC is like.

Thank you for this blog...It's absolutely wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I went to high school will one of the great neices,
that was is NJ. She ended up going to the same college I did in NYC.
She was the nastiest, meanest person I could remember from that era. I was told the whole family was nuts, nuts, nuts. Glad to say so after 30 years!!

Anonymous said...

Give them a reason to stick around? You can't be serious.

We went to Manganaro's Groceria because like many other people we had seen it on the 'No Reservations' TV show. We had hardly walked eight feet into the store when a sour-faced shrew of a woman pounced on us from behind like a vulture and spat out a curt "May I help you?" We turned around, smiling at her politely, and went on to say that this was our first time here, we had seen them on TV. Before I even finished my sentence, she interrupts me with, "Are you going to have lunch?" I said, "Oh, no, not this time, but w--" I was going to tell her that we live four blocks away and were thinking of getting some of their sliced meats. But I didn't have a chance. As soon as I said we weren't going to eat she replied with, "Then have a nice day," while MOTIONING TOWARD THE DOOR. We got the point and started leaving, and I said, "I guess we never will have lunch here after all. You are rude." Her response? "I just said have a nice day, that's all..." I go, "Yes, while pointing us to the door, ma'am?" And she just shrugged her shoulders and went, "Yeah, well..." What. a. god. damn. BITCH.

What in the world would possess a business-owner to behave in this manner? Do they expect you to walk in with your cash in hand, immediately stating your business lest you be kicked out? Did she think we were tourists and that since we weren't going to eat, it wasn't worth even letting us browse around (we actually live four blocks away)? Did she have a problem with us being an interracial couple? I simply cannot think of one good reason for this kind of commercially suicidal behaviour. Look, folks, we have all dealt with the occasional crazy person living here in New York. I've been snapped at by MTA employess, ignored by restaurant waitstaff, given a bad attitude by cab drivers--this all flies over your shoulders when you're a New Yorker. But I have never in my life dealt with such a deliberately absurd and disgusting attitude as this woman gave us the other day. When I told this story about Manganaro's Groceria to my mother, who has been in the food service industry for thirty years, even she was left speechless!

To think we walked in there considering given them our money nearly makes me nauseous. Every cent in my pocket is the result of my having sold my time--an irreplaceable commodity--in exchange for that money. When I spend it, I am in effect saying this service or good was worth a small part of my life. It makes me sick to think I even for a moment considered giving it to this ungrateful, rude, and revolting woman. Dear reader, if I may say, Manganaro's Groceria does not deserve your hard-earned dollars. I saw the reviews below of people saying they ordered two $7 sandwiches and were suddenly charged $35 and it made my skin crawl, like yours probably is right now. However long they may have been there, it's obvious they have run their course and the best thing to do now is simply ignore them and let them die off gracefully. There is a reason the TV show segment of 'No Reservations' in which Anthony Bourdain visited this restaurant was called 'Disappearing Manhattan.' Good effin' RIDDANCE.

Anonymous said...

Please just vanish! Go to yelp and read some reviews. It is true. The woman who runs this place is the nastiest bitch I have ever met in the service industry. I can't even comment on the food because I didn't get any. I won't bore you with the story of how and why she denied me my spaghetti. This woman won't ever get a dime of my money.

Anonymous said...

How do they stay in business if this woman that I encountered today was the meanest witch I ever met?! I was standing to read the menu on the wall and she said I can't and would have to read the paper menu. Her attitude was so disgusting, I couldn't believe it! I yelled to her how rude she was but no reaction. I guess she's used to it and doesn't care. Just amazing! Nobody should give a place like this their money if they treat customers like this!

Anonymous said...

I went in there today, asked for Bresaola and the lady behind the counter insulted me. I won't go back. Too bad because it is really old school and smelled great.

Anonymous said...

I eat at Manganaro's Hero Boy next door once a week and have been doing so for 15 years. I only set foot in this place and decided I would never go back after a nasty run-in with one of the women who runs the place. I made the mistake of walking in with a bag of takeout from Manganaro's Hero-Boy in my hand, thinking these stores were somehow related and maybe I could pick up a few items there, too, and she started screaming at me, "How dare you bring that bag in this place?" I didn't know what the hell she was talking about given that I assumed the two places were related. She actually told me I was lucky she didn't hit me. I was with a few friends and was not only mortified but a little scared. So my loyalty is to the guys at the Manganaro's Hero Boy next door! This woman was a crackpot!

Jen said...

I went in today and did not experience bitchiness, but they were just eh...a bit cold, unlike the Italians I know! And the area around them is so nasty... :(

BUT, the lasagna I had was great!

My advice, go to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

I went here because Anthony Bourdain went. lol!

Jen

Lunchmeat Dribbins said...

A few years ago I rented the upstairs and threw a bachelor party for a friend of mine there. They catered a great meal and tolerated our shenanigans. I don't remember any particular nastiness. Are we all too used to the plastic-smile pre-scripted "welcome to the Gap how may I help you?" greetings we received from the mall shops?

Anonymous said...

I haven't been there in years but had a GREAT lunch today with two friends. As much as I wanted to I didn't DARE mention that as a little boy I was lifted up in the air and weighed on their big Toledo Scale.
I can't wait to go back. It's like visiting my long lost aunt!

Anonymous said...

I have been to Manganaro's Grossseria three times in a row now having been in NY only a week. I had no idea what I was walking into but loved the whole experience. Though I had originally walked in next door to eat, it was precisely the two ladies serving and their demeanor that appealed to me; The food too looked great. As it seemed I walked into their kitchen I asked if they cooked the food. Their response prompted me to stay. It was wonderful! The genuineness of these hard working ladies was refreshing. To walk into such a place and have home made cooking in the middle of New York was quite an experience. Kudos to these women who chose to maintain the family tradition and continue to offer their public such delicious food. Though I'll go back there tomorrow, when I leave the city in only a few days i will do so knowing I have been lucky enough to have experienced a very real N.Y, a place with an attitude, with a strong heart and imposing soul.