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.[Adam Lerner]
I didn't think I would have any trouble getting a seat in a restaurant in Corona, Queens, on a Wednesday night in August. I was wrong. The Park Side was packed. The fat maitre d' in the tuxedo said it would be a half hour. Should I leave my name? "No," he said. "I'll find you, young man." I joined the overflow crowd in the bar and ordered a glass of Park Side's famous "homemade" wine. They buy the grapes in California and ferment the juice here. It's not complicated stuff; full, dark, fruity and juicy. Not my kinda wine, but it's awfully likable. I could see myself drinking it all night.
The young lady in the black dress, heavy mascara and frosted lipstick couldn't get the bartender's attention. "These guys have been waiting a while," he said, excusing himself. "I thought it was 'Ladies first,'" the woman commented to me. "I guess I'm spoiled. I grew up with five brothers." I asked the old guy next to me what to order. He didn't know; it was his first time, too. "I'm here with my friend. We've been friends for 40 years. Every month we go out to a different place. He kept talking about the food here. I said, 'I'm not driving to fucking Corona.' So he drove. He has a Porsche."
Mr. Porsche told Frankie, the bartender, a story about a friend of his who, drinking Cognac for the first time, liked it so much he chug-a-lugged half the bottle. The bill was enormous. Mr. Porsche himself drank Dewer's. Everyone at the bar was taking either wine or whiskey or Campari, picking up their glasses with bejeweled, braceletted and French-cuffed hands. Not a bottle of beer in sight. Class, of a sort.
My table was ready. The fat maitre d' daintily took my wine glass between his thumb and forefinger and led me down a corridor lined with tables, palms and ferns. The Park Side anchors the most intensely Italian blocks of Corona. It's owned by the Federici family, a clan which is of interest to federal authorities; they have had their share of run-ins with the law. (My favorite was when Anthony Federici was arrested in 2000 for shooting at hawks with a 20-gauge shotgun from the roof of his restaurant.) I remarked to the maitre d' that it was busy for a Wednesday. "And that's three floors of busy," he retorted. The waiter told me the Park Side is always like that. People came from all over the city; from Long Island and Jersey as well. The locals of Corona know better. They show up at 9:00, when the wait for tables has abated.
The bread basket is the only one I've ever seen that included slices of prosciutto bread. I ate each one. My food was brought out by men in white baseball caps. The baked clams were excellent. The generous portion of veal capicola was rather dry, the pasta just slightly overdone. Decent food, not inspired. The two old couples seated across from me kvetched to the staff throughout the meal that they were being ignored. I made not a peep and was given a free glass of wine. Homemade wine.
—Brooks of Sheffield