Friday, March 8, 2013

Old New York: The Broadway Restaurant is Still Just the Ticket

By Mitch Broder

The menu says “Photos Are For Suggestion Only,” which explains why the Broadway Restaurant does not look like the Parthenon. But it is a temple — a temple of New York short-order cookery. It’s the perfect place to nestle while awaiting a dawdling New York spring.

It’s one of the last of the bygone Manhattan coffee shops, the kind with pastrami and eggs for breakfast and meat loaf parmigiana for dinner. The kind where the pastrami and eggs is $6.65 including potatoes and toast, and the meat loaf parmigiana is $12.95 including potatoes, vegetables, and soup.

It’s a place to find a sumptuous five-dollar burger, and to chase it with an intriguing five-dollar “Milk Shake with an Egg.” It’s a place where your waitress calls you “honey” and sounds like she means it. It’s a genuinely homey place. There are so few left.

I felt at home when I came in alone and saw the signs that said “Seating of 2 Or More in Booths,” and the waitress promptly seated me in a booth. I felt at home when the waitress took the time to help me choose my short order. I felt loved when she called me “honey.” I felt married when she called me “dear.”

I had the burger, which beats ones that cost three times as much, though I postponed the Milk Shake with an Egg so I’d still have it to look forward to. And I was not alone, after all. I dined with Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, and Sophia Loren, who smiled at me from the wall. It was the perfect lunch.

My waitress was Ann Taylor, who told me how, when the prices go up, she changes them on the menu signs with red nail polish. “Stuff goes up for like a nickel,” she says. “It’s so much work for a nickel.” But she knows it’s worth it. The signs are among the things that make the place homey.

They date to around 1970, which is when Broadway opened, says Angelo Arsenis, who bought the place in 1980. He chose to keep the signs. He had to keep the wagon-wheel lights. “I tried to change the lamps,” he explains. “People complained. I put ’em back up.”

Most important, he kept the horseshoe counter, which evokes an old-time doughnut shop, which is what Broadway reportedly used to be. Customers say that in the sixties it was part of the Twin Donut chain. Back then, doughnut shops were supposed to be pleasant.

Angelo figured that a coffee shop also ought to be pleasant. And he figured that his ought to be homey — not only for you, but for him.

“This is my house. This is my second house,” he says. “When I leave my house and come here, I feel like I’m in my house.”

Settle into Broadway Restaurant & Coffee Shop, 2664 Broadway, between 101st and 102nd streets, in New York City.