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.
[Bari Musacchio and Amina Hassen; Krieger, 09/15/11]
It's no surprise that Rubirosa is many people's new favorite restaurant. One reason is the thin crust pizza, which owner AJ Pappalardo brought over from his dad's Staten Island pizzeria, Joe and Pat's. Another is the menu of Italian soul food from Olana vet Al Di Meglio, and then there's the scene and soundtrack from nightlife man Angelo Bianchi. Eater recently sat down with General Manager Bari Musacchio and host Amina Hassen to find out what it's like to get a table there on a busy night, and what they've got planned for the Feast of San Gennaro this weekend.
It's 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? Bari Musacchio, General Manager: It could be five minutes, or an hour and five minutes. Amina Hassen, Host: We have a bar and some people ask to sit there, so that cuts down the wait time, but it really just depends on how many people have walked in ahead of you. BM: It can really jump to extremes in just a matter of seconds. It's kind of two different crowds. The earlier crowd is more like families, neighbors, and a lot of the older Italian grandma-kind of people, and the second round is like the new-era of the neighborhood, for lack of a better term.
Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? AH: You can hang around. I recommend staying close to the restaurant, because tables open up, there are cancellations, or someone decides to eat at the bar. What about gifts or cash to speed things along? BM: No. AH: It won't work on us.
Tell us about your favorite customers. BM: There's a few. One of our wine reps, Michael Church from Domaine Select Wines, he's one of our regulars. He's actually been going to AJ's father's pizza place on Staten Island since he was a little kid, so he's been a regular for quite some time on Staten Island and now he comes here all the time. Also, Olivia Kim from Opening Ceremony is definitely a staff favorite here.
How do you deal with a VIP when there are no tables left to give? BM: A lot of our clientele know each other in one way or another. It's either friends or neighbors, so it's this small little community. So, everyone's in the same boat. It's not like anyone's more of a VIP than you, and people just accept the wait.
Do you get a lot of customers who've been to Joe and Pat's? AH: We get a fair amount of customers that come from Staten Island who are regulars at Joe and Pat's. Yeah, that happens a couple of times every weekend.
Has Little Italy embraced the restaurant? BM: Yes, for sure. I get phone calls on my personal cell phone from Dina, the landlord who sits in the lawn chair around the corner on Spring Street, and she'll say, "I need a macaroni with the braciole." So, that's her order. We cater to whatever they like, so I go, "Okay, macaroni, braciole." I put together a dish for them, and then her and her sister eat it up in their apartment. So, yeah, they've definitely embraced it. We also have what we call the "Soho Grandies" who hang out on our bench all the time. They are definitely fans of the restaurant, too. AH: They understand that we're juggling people who are walking in plus reservations, so they're usually willing to wait a little bit.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you've accommodated? BM: For the most part, we haven't really had that many outlandish requests yet. Do you get a lot of large parties? BM: We do. We actually offer a family-style prix fixe for a large party, so it kind of takes the restaurant in a whole different direction — it's kind of like you're coming to our house and we're cooking for you. There's no menu, and we pretty much cook a three-course dinner, or an Italian feast for you. How many people do you need for that? Eight is the minimum, 20 is the maximum.
Any requests that you couldn't accommodate? BM: For the most part, we try to accommodate anything within reason. AH: Sometimes people will call in and ask for a reservation for two minutes ahead of time, and we don't really do that. We keep a wait list, but it's on a walk-in basis.
What are you doing for San Gennaro this weekend? BM: Braciole. It's kind of a staff favorite, so we were just thinking about what we could do at San Gennaro that's a little original, and something that we can really stand behind. So, we're going to do braciole on these mini slider buns — they're kind of like an Italian brioche from Parisi bakery. They're going to be $5 each.
What's your most important Gatekeeper tool? BM: Candy at the host stand. AH: We always have candy. BM: The amount of candy we have at the host stand is a very good indication of how busy it is at Rubirosa. Friday nights, it's full of candy. Almost every night someone goes on a candy run. What kind of candy? AH: It depends. Some people like the sweet things, other people like sour things. BM: Sour Patch Kids, Gummi Bears, and Peanut M & Ms are really popular.
When you're not at Rubirosa, where are you eating? BM: I go to Barney Greengrass a lot, like multiple times a week. I live right near there and it's the best. AH: There's this bakery in my neighborhood that I really like, it's on Lafayette and Grand.
So, do you ever find customers comparing Rubirosa to Joe and Pat's? BM: They do, but it's an equal battle. I don't think there's really a winner. Joe actually comes and moonlights back behind the pizza area. Sometimes you can catch him on Thursday nights making pies, if you're lucky.