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.
Its diner-like name notwithstanding, there has never been on "old corner" for the Colandrea family. Their Dyker Heights restaurant has always been where Eighth Avenue meets 72nd Street, though it has come to dominate that largely residential intersection more and more over the years. It began as a one-room pizzeria, founded in 1936 by Vincenzo Colandrea. Several expansions later, there's a spacious bar room, the "booth room" (booths line the walls), the main dining room and a party room. The most recent renovation, which doubled the joint's size, was in 1973, and the decor retains the flavor of that era: colors of brown and orange, wood paneling, brick arches and oil paintings of pastoral scenes. (Look at some of the old photos near the bathroom and you'll weep for what was lost, including a beauty of an art deco bar.) Fate and construction has given the restaurant an unobstructed view of the Fort Hamilton Parkway, added to its seeming isolation.
The sprawling restaurant is now in the hands of the third generation of Colandreas, Vincent and Steven. They are very much on the premises. Even during the lunch trade, Vince was walking the floors in a gray blazer (no tie), greeting the guests. There were few he didn't recognize. One group he knew so well that he sat down and began eating with them.
My waitress was Russian, and very friendly. But not as friendly as she was with the longtime regulars who sat in the booth next to me. She anticipated their every order, and reacted with surprise when they strayed from their usuals. "Chicken Parmigiana! That's something new for you!" Most of Colandreas patrons are loyalists of many years standing, and quite a few drive a distance to get there. There are a lot of graying temples—though those oldsters bring along their progeny and progeny's progeny—and you hear Italian spoken, if only a little, at most every table. Everybody orders a lot of food.
They should. It's good food. New Corner makes many of its own pastas, and the recipes date from Vincenzo's time. I had the linguine with clams and white sauce. It was among the best linguini dishes I'd ever tasted, served perfectly al dente. The broth was flavorful and the clams amazingly fresh. This dish had been well-attended to; no one in the kitchen had fallen into a rut, as so often happens at Italian restaurants that reach this age. The mozzarella carrozza were also fresh, and as large as hockey pucks. The meatballs were large, mild in flavor and had a fine, tender texture. I could have used more spice and zip in the marinara sauce, but a lot of old-school red sauces are tame in that way.
The secret of Colandrea New Corner's history is that it has not always been the Colandrea's. If you read a framed article from 1962 about the place, you learn that Vincenzo Colandrea, who came from Naples, was felled by a heart attack in 1949. He was forced to sell the place. The new owners ran the place into the ground for a decade. When it was up for sale again in 1959, the Colandreas bought it back. And here's a historical tidbit: Vince's cousin, Tony, worked at the old Astor Hotel before leaving to become New Corner's maitre d'. Swank.
Perhaps what most impressed me about New Corner was how much the Colandreas still care what a stranger thinks about what they do. As I passed through the vestibule, I ran into Vince. "How'd we do?" he asked. He really wanted to know. I told him how much I had enjoyed the linguini with clams. "You know what we like to do," he said. "We order a little bit of the red sauce and a little bit of the white and we mix it up." I'm going to try it that way next time.
—Brooks of Sheffield
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