Two Toms — the Gowanus Italian-American restaurant known for serving police officers, firefighters, and other folks hungry enough for pork chops hefty enough to knock down sheetrock — will shutter in December after more than 70 years. It has operated continuously since 1948.
Owner Anthony Catapano, who’s worked at the restaurant for 50 years and has been running it as a one-man show, tells Eater that he’s selling the building. The 61-year-old says that business has been slowing, citing a changing neighborhood with younger residents and evolving tastes. The chief reason for closing, though, is his retirement.
Catapano took over the venue from his late uncle Tom Giordiano, one of the literal two Toms who founded the institution. (He does not know the last name of the other Tom.) In August, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reported that the property, which also houses four residential units, was coming on the market, but it was unclear until now whether the storied restaurant would close as well. The last dinner service will occur in the days after Christmas.
It’s an end of an era. Though old-school red sauce spots continue to thrive throughout Brooklyn, Two Toms is among the last of its kind in post-industrial Gowanus. It is small, wood-paneled, and tableclothed. It is only open four days a week, and the menu rarely changes. Catapano does the prepping, cooking, serving — and reservation booking. During an interview this week, he stopped at least four times to take calls on his mobile phone, then paused to pencil in the corresponding booking on a large paper wall calendar.
The food is typical for an Italian-American chophouse, though the execution is somewhat distinctive. Linguine with clam sauce arrives in party-sized punch bowls, filled to the brim with floppy noodles and enough olive oil and shellfish broth to qualify as soup. (“I like olive oil. That’s my problem,” Catapono says.) The pasta’s never al dente, or anything close to it, but it always packs a wallop of grassy, salty, fatty oomph. Baked manicotti appears on giant platters, singed from the high heat of the oven. And the chief draw is the pork chops, which are bigger than the head of a sledgehammer. The loin meat is firm, while the darker cap is soft, rich and fatty. If anything turns out a hint dry, and it sometimes does, patrons simply dredge the flesh through a light jus of pickled cherry peppers.
Mostly, though, the restaurant is known for its cast of characters, in the past a rotating crew of municipal workers. Robert Simonson, writing for Eater NY in 2010, called the space “equal parts social club, American Legion hall and grandpa’s rec room.” Those who call up Two Toms on any given day might find the entire space reserved by large parties — sometimes members of “New York’s Finest or New York’s Bravest,” per Simonson.
But Catapano told me private events from those workers slowed down about five to ten years ago. “A lot of the guys moved away,” he says, adding that his style of cooking is probably not what newer residents are looking for.
“If you go down to Pig Beach barbecue on a Saturday, the line is to the corner,” Catapano says, referring to the nearby outdoor-indoor restaurant. “They’re gonna have a few beers; they’re gonna have a little barbecue; they’re gonna watch the game. It’s a great day out, I wish I was there right now.”
The new Gowanus — replete with luxury apartments and a Whole Foods — signaled the end of Two Toms. But again, there’s the retirement. “You wake up one day and you say you’ve had enough,” Catapano says. And now, “the price is right.” A Zillow listing for the address, which also has four residential units, asks $3 million. He hasn’t found a buyer yet but says he expects to have one by the year’s end.
And Catapano says he will “absolutely not, with an exclamation point” reopen.