Andreas “Andy” Koutsoudakis lived a life surrounded by his diner’s regulars, but he died alone, in between check-ins by his nurse at Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island. He was 59. It was March 27, 2020, roughly 30,000 New York City pandemic deaths ago.
“I could have shut it down and everyone would’ve understood, but I decided to keep it going,” says Koutsoudakis’s only child, Andreas (“Andy Jr.”). With wet eyes, he sighs: “Nobody misses the old restaurant more than me, because it had my father.”
On the anniversary of New York’s first confirmed COVID-19 case on March 1, 2020, the city’s restaurants are still facing a slew of massive, meandering pandemic questions. Is New York dead? What’s the future of dining? What will change? Perhaps the most pressing question can be boiled down to two words: What next?
Tribeca’s Kitchen, located at 200 Church Street, at Duane Street, is what’s next. With Koutsoudakis’s death coming so early in the pandemic, it makes sense his diner’s recovery would lead the charge on post-pandemic New York. Andy Jr. put the diner through a top-to-bottom renovation, a deft reunion of diners and dining.
Under Andy Jr.’s father, the menu was fairly standard — eggs Benedict, club sandwiches, burgers, and roast chicken — and had a loyal following. The elder Koutsoudakis had arrived as a spitfire 14-year-old Greek immigrant at an infamous low point in the city’s history: 1974, just shy of President Gerald Ford telling New York to drop dead. He loved the grit and pluck and was forever proud of attending the Sugarhill Gang’s first concert. He climbed the ladder of the city’s storied Greek diners and opened his own, Tribeca’s Gee Whiz diner, in 1989 before leaving it to open Tribeca’s Kitchen in 2014. Michael Bloomberg, Keyshawn Johnson, Keegan-Michael Key, and Taryn Toomey were all regulars. When Koutsoudakis died, his diner became blanketed in condolence bouquets, balloons, thank-you notes, and children’s drawings.
Now it has entered a new chapter that knows its place as a next chapter, too.
Mac and cheese now arrives as a sculpture of al dente calamarata with ox cheek, royal trumpet mushrooms, mascarpone, taleggio, and 18-month-aged Parmesan peels. A deconstructed gyro comes as an assembly kit of melt-off-the-bone lamb shank, pitas, pickled onions, and tzatziki topped with a dark green pool of basil oil. A mushroom lasagna is an umami mille-feuille.
Its brunch menu, which debuted this past weekend, includes an updated Western omelet made with prosciutto and leeks and served with green goddess-dressed greens, a hash-and-eggs dish made with house-smoked pastrami, a smooth Michelada made with fermented carrot juice, a frothy iced Freddo cappuccino, and a French toast that is served on a pillow of brioche with a syrup inspired by Old Fashioned cocktails.
But don’t presume froufrou fuss. Egg creams and boozy milkshakes are coming, too.
Andy Jr. was motivated by his father’s legacy but also by his other career as an employment lawyer representing, he said, more than 100 restaurant clients.
“What do I do? Run for the hills because it’s too hard? Here I am telling you to pay me to do it better and I can’t do it myself?” he asks. “I definitely had a professional obligation as a lawyer, like a case study: let me show you, soup to nuts, everything I’ve told all of you collectively to do differently. I’m going to do it all at once in the worst year on earth — on my own.”
In an industry now dominated by metrics — seating capacity, PPP dollars, body temperature, percentiles of risk, and vaccine efficacy — Tribeca’s Kitchen is almost a throwback to restaurants as an aesthetic playground for the senses. Manhattan born-and-raised chef Jack Logue leads the kitchen and doesn’t shy away from experimenting with the menu: The diner isn’t just open, it’s open-minded. It’s fun — a reminder that creativity is its own comfort food. And it’s a diner in love. They’ve built a mantra around an intangible hashtag: #LoveLikeAndy.
“I feel like my husband is still here because of my son,” says Koutsoudakis’s widow, Vanna, at the debut brunch. “I feel more comfortable here than in my house, because my husband spent more time and energy here than there.”
The diner’s transformation is not gentrification or gentefication, but rather the kind of generational adaptation with a rich history that’s common among the city’s hallowed institutions.
The original Waldorf Astoria was torn down to build the Empire State Building, but nobody walked into the Park Avenue follow-up mumbling about how it’s not the real Waldorf. At another father-son business, none of the ladies who have lunched at Freds pined for the days Barneys was a bargain shop selling roast beef sandwiches. Who complained when Chinese restaurants started serving heretical egg rolls? Or feuding Upper West Side venues invented brunch? Quality and charisma will always trump the snowglobe prison of authenticity and nostalgia. If Katz’s could serve the city’s most passive-aggressive vegetarian sandwich and Shopsin’s can have 900 menu items, then Tribeca’s Kitchen can do whatever its family wants, too, in the city’s palpable palimpsest.
The diner’s rebirth doesn’t just offer light at the end of the tunnel, but also a breath of fresh air once you step into that light.
“It’s not delivery. It’s not takeout. It’s not pop-ups or apps or whatever,” says Andy Jr. “The only way to touch lives in the way that restaurants are meant to touch lives is to do it in-person, face-to-face, day-to-day, one meal at a time.”
Just before the debut brunch, he walks a block away to the Balloon Saloon and buys $500 worth of balloons and goodie-bag trinkets for kids. Sharon Hershkowitz, the store owner, tells him how much his customers will love it. He shrugs. “It’s how my dad ran things,” he says. “You and me, we’re both in the smile business.”