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Elastic Waistbands Welcome at Joe's of Avenue U

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This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on 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.

[Horine, 5/12/11]

Joe's of Avenue U. Now there's a restaurant name that could only be born in New York. More specifically, Brooklyn.

There are two Joe's in NYC, but the true blue item has dwelled in the historic center of the age-old town of Gravesend for 60 years. (The second, a baby, is a one year-old bringing sausage and peppers to Staten Island—which is sort of like bringing coals to Newcastle.) The facade is all modern-ed up; the great old sign was replaced recently with a rather too-slick yellow number. The interior is divided into a take-out area dominated by a long, silver counter, and, to the left, a dining area of serviceable, no-frills booths and tables. In terms of decoration, there are Sicilian style marionettes and a large mural depicted the rustic life in the Old Country.

Along with Ferdinando's Focacceria in Carroll Gardens, this is one of the last places left in New York where you can sample Sicilian specialties like panelle roll (smashed, deep-fried chickpeas), vastedda (spleen) and paste con le sarde. It's hearty fare, and the clientele, judging by their average size, are faithful and appreciative. One lunch party of five men easily exceeded the half-ton mark. They had the look of locals, and, indeed, Joe's gets plenty of those, particularly at lunch. But to love Joe's once is to return. My waitress said patrons came from "all over," by which she meant any neighborhood you care to mention, and a good many states as well.

The atmosphere is casual. There's a host of sorts, but he mainly waives you through, and customers choose a table of their liking. Some chew the fat, while others happily clap eyes on the television perched near the ceiling. Athletic wear—jerseys, sneakers, jogging suits—is favors by both the diners and some staff members. There are no barriers to comfort here. And, after you've finished your meal, you're gonna be thankful for that elastic waistband.

As I left, a party of seven arrived. Tables were pushed together. All communication between the host and the arrivals was in Italian—a language that is heard as often as English here. Joe's has had a number of owners in recent years, but a few years back the Russians who ran it for a while sold the restaurant to Leonardo Llovarde, placing the landmark back safely in Sicilian hands. So those pink-and-black collages dedicated to Palermo's soccer team are no pose.
—Brooks of Sheffield