This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Resto, the year old Belgian spot on East 29th, earned itself some high praise when it first opened—including a two star review from the Brunz— for its hearty food (think fried pork jowls, lamb ribs, and some strong beers) at reasonable prices and its Resto burger. By now the place has settled down into a nice popular neighborhood spot owned and operated by one person who basically lives and breathes the restaurant. That person is Christian Pappanicholas. He'll bus your table, take your order, and more often than not, he'll be the one directing you to the bar while you wait an hour for a two-top.
Christian Pappanicholas/ owner: The dining room seats 45, and there are 10 seats at the bar. Come warmer weather, we’ll have 6 seats outside. My favorite is the one we call the horse leg table. My brother built it for me, and the legs of the table are shaped like horse legs, hooves and all. It seats six, and is right up in front by the windows. When it’s warm, we open up the whole front of the restaurant, so it’s a great spot.
8 PM on a Saturday night. What’s the wait for a table? It will be about an hour to an hour and a half. Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? We treat everybody the same, and we are sincere and honest about the wait time. There is a good size bar area and we are glad to pour some drinks during the wait....How about gifts or cash to speed things along?
No, definitely not. Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? The first customer that came in. He lives in the area, and we always wanted this to be a neighborhood spot. He sat at the bar and ordered a Grotten Brown. He still comes in all the time, and brings his family. No celebrities have been in, that I can speak of at least. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? We treat them just like everyone else. They are welcome to squeeze up to the bar...the owner’s friends? They’re my friends, they can wait longer! No, my friends are understanding, and they are happy to wait with everybody else, and of course, have a few drinks.
What’s the most outrageous request from a customer you’ve had to accommodate? There have been so many, it's hard to think of a specific example. We're a busy New York restaurant, so it's always something. There was somebody who came in and ordered a Resto burger with no meat. Just a bun, mayo, red onion, pickle and cheese. I thought, 'wow, that's amazing.'
What’s the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Led Zeppelin. Definitely Led Zeppelin. When you’re not at Resto, where are you eating? Spicy & Tasty, ‘Inoteca, PDT (great drinks and tater tots, can you beat that?)