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Brooklyn is a place of change, where streetscapes are built up, ripped up, torn down, rebuilt, then ripped up again. And for each construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction, there’s a story to be told, retold, re-jiggered, then retold yet again, on and on, ad infinitum. Etc.
But on one corner of what used to be known as Bay Ridge — Greater Bay Ridge, as it were — time seems to have stood still.
Back in 1936, when the immortal Ray Berres was catching for a Dodger team that would finish in the second division with a lowly 67-87 record, a husband and wife team began slinging red sauce and greeting hungry, thirsty customers on a quiet corner of Greater Bay Ridge.
The new restaurant was the dream of one Vincenzo Colandrea, who came over from Naples, seeking his fortune and chasing his dream by working the borough’s hardscrabble waterfront, a job that afforded him the opportunity to save up enough scratch to buy a little slice joint on Eighth Avenue between 72nd and 73rd streets.
For two years, he and his wife, Theresa, were the only employees, with him running the front of the house and her cooking in the back.
It was a recipe for success, and by the early ’40s, as Nazi U-boats lied in wait in the nearby sea, the couple expanded the joint, setting up a dining room and bar.
In the time before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge’s long shadow loomed large, and before the Gowanus Expressway ripped the heart out of the neighborhood and split it in two, the great food and comfortable atmosphere of Colandrea’s became famous, drawing New Yorkers of all stripes — from dockworkers taking their girls out for Veal Marsala, to big stars like Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante — the schnoz himself — who were drawn to the place’s hopping bar scene and hectic pace in the early 1950s.
And the restaurant stayed popular into the 1960s when Bay Ridge was torn apart by the approach to the aforementioned bridge — a path of destruction that just missed the New Corner Restaurant’s front door near the intersection of Seventh and Eighth avenues.
But not everything was spared in its wake. In fact, there was a time when the restaurant went from famous to infamous.
In the late 1960s, a vengeful father hired a hit man to take out a chef who had fooled around with the hot-head’s young daughter. The gunman burst into the kitchen and shot the chef dead, in cold blood.
Of course, not even murder could quell the crowds, and their hunger for Italian food made the right way — until that hunger called for something else.
Even when the clientele’s demands changed, the owners of New Corner — which, by 1964, was Vincenzo’s son, Joseph, and, since the 1980s, has been passed down to Stephen and Vincent had the guts to stick to their guns and serve the kind of food on which that they built their reputation.
Nowadays, even as truffle oil and sweetbreads have replaced Sunday gravy and calamari as the hot new foods, Colandrea New Corner Restaurant has managed to survive — no, thrive — thanks to its old-school charm — and its classic menu.
In fact, Borough President Markowitz, Brooklyn’s second-biggest booster behind our own Standing-O, and a lover of all things edible, said he remembers a time when Colandrea was the place to bring a girl when you wanted the relationship to go somewhere.
“This was not a first-date place,” said the beep, with a certain glimmer in his eye, the kind where you can tell what he’s about to say holds a special place his heart.
“It’s the kind of place you take someone for a second date.”
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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