Sunday, July 17, 2011

Emilio's Ballato Restaurant: His Signatures Are His Signature


By Mitch Broder

Every restaurant in New York City has an autograph from Ernie Anastos.

Emilio’s Ballato Restaurant has an autograph from everyone else.

Actually, Ernie’s pretty trim for a guy who’s eaten at 25,000 places, but that’s a topic for another post. The point here is that Emilio’s is a place where celebrities can hide from the world — after which they can see to it that the world knows they were there.

It makes sense if you’re a celebrity, and it makes sense if you’re Emilio Vitolo. He’s proud of his clients, so he serves them, then takes their names. On his walls are four giant canvases covered with the signatures of famous people from assorted disciplines and assorted eras.

The canvases are about five feet high and two feet wide. Two are behind glass; two are exposed. The exposed ones are the works in progress. Among the signatures are those of Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Whoopi Goldberg, Brad Pitt, Kiefer Sutherland, Drew Barrymore, and Alex Rodriguez.

“These people, they come here, they eat,” Emilio says. “Nobody bothers them. Nobody cares.” The canvases, he says, are “a memory that when I go, I leave to my kids, to show that I met these beautiful people. They could go anywhere in the world, but they come to me.”

One reason is that he’s not so easy to come to. Emilio’s is a single restaurant that’s in at least six different neighborhoods. New York magazine says it’s in the East Village, Time Out New York has it in both Little Italy and Chinatown, Citysearch calls it NoLita, and Yelp puts it in NoHo, while Emilio himself maintains that he’s in SoHo.

Wherever it is, it’s hidden and homey, with distressed walls and mirrors, and soothing song from the likes of Sinatra and Roselli. While I was there, Emilio insisted I eat. I had Tagliatelle alla Bolognese and warm prosciutto bread. The food was so good that it made me forget my planned lunch of Katz’s hot dogs.
Emilio has given the restaurant its current old look, but it really is old; John Ballato opened it in 1956. Emilio is the third owner, and he takes his stewardship seriously. That’s why he didn’t ask me to sign one of the canvases.

I understood. It didn’t hurt my feelings.


And anyway, I know that my status will change after my post about Ernie Anastos.

Sign in at Emilio’s Ballato Restaurant, at 55 East Houston Street, between Mulberry and Mott streets, in the neighborhood of your choice in Manhattan.


  1. This place sounds really excellent and how much fun is the canvas wall of signatures?! Now, on to the question of could all these folks feel its in a different neighbor? What neighborhood would you consider it in?

  2. He should have let you sign. That would have been the signature to covet. A big mistake.