This is the fifth edition of Who Goes There? a new regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors of mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.
The 50-year-old Queen Restaurant, situated next to a garish McDonald's and even more lurid Popeye's on Court Street near Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn, all but fades into the background. Its blank façade does almost nothing to attract attention. The interior isn't much more prepossessing. The Vitiello family, who own it, favor that sort of anodyne-cum-kitschy décor that many old-style Italian joints in NYC seem to mistake for class: a cream-and-beige color scheme, mirrored walls, plastic plants, a fake Roman column. Call it Banquet Hall Chic.
Neither this—nor the prices, which are high—deter the restaurant's devotees. Queen (once called Queen Marie, after the wife of Italian King Umberto II, in case you're puzzling over the name) is a favored haunt, I'm told, among Brooklyn politicians and lawyers as well as the occasional mobster. I saw plenty of the former: big tables filled with briefcase-toting professionals, and important-seeming middle-aged men who knew the staff and happily ate large dinners quickly and alone. Can't be sure whether any goodfellas were about. Whoever came in the door knew Frankie, the dignified and generous-spirited Maitre d' who stands about as high as a Fiat and appears to be beloved by all. As for the Vitiello brothers, Pasquino and Vincent, Frankie told me at least one of them is always back in the kitchen cooking. Now that’s devotion.
The menu is two-sided. On one side are classic dishes that have been served here since Queen opened a few doors down on Court back in 1958. On the other side are numerous "specials," which are there all the time as far as I can tell. Between my two guests and I, we ordered not one lemon, from the Gnocchi with Veal and Eggplant to the Carciofi Al Vapore to the simple Cheese Ravioli. The portions were large. Also a pleaser were the free lumps of Parmesan-dusted fried bread that were passed around. The dessert list is a maddeningly vast array of homemade Italian specialties. The wine list, meanwhile, while short, is actually smart and well-chosen.
Summation: The charm and appeal of Queen Restaurant emanates from two sources: the attentive, friendly staff and the more-than-capable kitchen. Frankie must be used to winning doubters over. He gazed down at my empty plate and said, with mock gravity, "You don't like it, I send it back, OK?"
—Brooks of Sheffield
· Who Goes There?: Pergola des Artistes [~E~]