NEW YORK CITY: There is one thing about travelling to New York City. It becomes pretty addictive. My family and I recently wound up there for a rare summer trip, stopping off for five days en route to Wildwood, New Jersey.
For this trip, we definitely had Broadway on our minds. We were fortunate to find accommodations right in the Times Square area at the historic Algonquin Hotel. As well, our two chosen restaurants –Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House and Patsy’s were right in the same area.
BROADWAY: There are many reasons to go to New York City, but the extraordinary selection of Broadway productions heads the list. On our most recent trip, we got to see four spectacular musicals: Hamilton, Waitress, The School of Rock and The Color Purple.
Hamilton is without a doubt the biggest theatrical juggernaut to hit Broadway. It was recently nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tony Awards, winning 11 including Best Musical at the award ceremony in June. The cast album, which includes an amalgamation of many current musical styles, hit number one on iTunes and was ranked the second best album of 2015 by Billboard.com. Tickets are already sold out until May 2017 at the Richard Rogers Theatre at 226 West 46th Street, with an open-ended run beginning in Chicago in the fall. The national tour is set to begin in San Francisco next March.
So what is this show that has every celebrity and talk show host buzzing? Inspired by the biography “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and direction by Thomas Kail, Hamilton tells the story of the man on America’s ten-dollar bill, “the ten-dollar founding father without a father.” An orphan immigrant with a talent for writing, Hamilton lived a full and dramatic life, playing a major role in the American Revolution and acting as the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. In hindsight, a hip-hop musical seems like the perfect way to tell his story.
The show opens with the song “Alexander Hamilton,” which tells of Hamilton’s upbringing in the Caribbean and his arrival in New York City, summarizing the first 100 pages or so of Chernow’s biography. It quickly becomes clear that hip-hop truly is the only style that can adequately showcase Hamilton’s genius and gift with words.
Hamilton’s genius is reflected in the musical’s creator, who also played the role of Hamilton until recently, Lin-Manuel Miranda. For his work on Hamilton, Miranda was awarded a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation as well as the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama along with many other accolades. First Lady Michelle Obama has seen the show twice, calling it “the best piece of art in any form I have ever seen in my life,” an opinion I have to agree with myself.
As the show has been running for over a year at this point, many cast-members have decided to move forward, leaving room for a new cast of talented actors to take their places. While the original cast is incredibly talented, as evidenced by their multiple Tony Award wins, the show is special enough that it stands on its own and doesn’t rely on any one actor to carry it forward.
Javier Muñoz, our new Hamilton, is not really a rookie to the role. In fact, he was Miranda’s alternate; performing the role two shows a week for the past year. He has already performed for President Barak Obama, as well as for Beyoncé and Jay Z. After having seen him live, I understand why he is right for the role. His performance takes inspiration from Miranda while simultaneously making every word his own.
The show breaks boundaries and poses questions relevant both to Hamilton’s story and to modern day. At a time when Hollywood’s diversity has been under fire, Hamilton features people of color as America’s founding mothers and fathers. At a time when the debate on gender equality is escalating, Miranda features and empowers the women often forgotten by history. Do we place enough value on immigrants and their potential to shape our countries? Do our history books always give us the full, unbiased story? What does it mean to leave behind a meaningful legacy? Now used as a teaching tool in schools, Hamilton’s central questions engage students in a whole new way. History has never been so much fun.
When will the show be coming closer to home? Reports are that David Mirvish is in discussions to create an all-Canadian cast edition of Hamilton and park it in one of his Toronto theatres, but no timeline has been discussed at the present moment. To quote lyrics commonly sung throughout the show, “look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now”.
For more information, log on to http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com
Waitress is a musical based on the 2007 cult Indie movie starring Keri Russell, showing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 West 47th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue).
The storyline revolves around Jenna (Mueller), a waitress and expert pie maker stuck in a small town and a loveless marriage. Faced with an unexpected pregnancy, she fears she may have to abandon the dream of opening her own pie shop forever… until a baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s handsome new doctor offer her a tempting recipe for happiness. Supported by her quirky crew of fellow waitresses and loyal customers, she summons the secret ingredient she’s been missing all along – courage.
Even before seeing this show, I knew that it was full of promising ingredients. The catchy music and lyrics were written by five-time Grammy Award-nominated singer songwriter Sara Bareilles and the direction was done by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus. Waitress is also the first Broadway musical with an all-female creative team.
Yes, the show will make you hungry for pie. The delicious-looking pies on both sides of the stage, featured in tall glass freezers, along with the ones integrated into the story, will make you hungry enough to buy some pie from the vendors. Each pie is sold in a small jar at $10 each with the phrase “it only takes a taste,”also the title of a song from the show, written on top.
While pie is prominently featured, the real star is Jessie Mueller, winner of the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Mueller elevates an already excellent show with the quality of her performance, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award this year.
Mueller is nothing short than fabulous to watch. She made her Broadway debut opposite Harry Connick Jr. in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, for which she received Tony Award and Drama Desk nominations. She was also seen on Broadway in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Drama Desk nomination) and Nice Work If You Can Get It. In her native Chicago, Mueller has won acclaim for starring roles in She Loves Me (Joseph Jefferson Award), Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, Curtains and Carousel (Joseph Jefferson Award), among other musicals.
When I saw the movie Waitress, it reminded me of the movie Alice Doesn`t Live Here Anymore and the TV show Alice. This is likely because at the diner where she works, Jenna, like Alice, has two interesting co-workers. Becky (Keala Settle) is strong and full of funny quips. An exchange with her boss, Cal, goes as follows:
“Lady, you are really pushing my buttons today,” says Cal.
“Which one is mute?” Becky responds, to many laughs.
Dawn (Kimiko Glenn from the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black) is an awkward girl who unexpectedly finds love with an odd man named Ogie, played hilariously by Christopher Fitzgerald. He won a Drama Desk Award and was nominated for a Tony for his performance, including his show stopping number “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.”
Another standout is Drew Gehling, who plays Dr. Pomatter. His affair with Jenna is scandalous and hilarious to watch, in part due to his superb comedic timing.
Despite some over-the-top moments, the characters are all relatable in some way or another, particularly our main character, Jenna. Director Paulus says, “What’s riveting to me is this is the story of a waitress struggling with these issues, and yet when I saw the film I thought of all kinds of people I know — girlfriends of mine — who have struggled with the same kinds of issues that this character struggles with.”
From the moment the curtain rises, when Mueller belts out the fabulous and catchy song “Opening Up,” you are immediately hooked. Having seen the movie, I wondered how they would adjust the storyline to include music. Well, songwriter Bareilles did a magnificent job. The show is two and a half hours, with intermission, and it rolls by quickly.
Producers have announced a national tour of the show will kick off at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square in October 2017. No word on whether any of the stops will be in Canada. Info: wwww.waitressthemusical.com
SCHOOL OF ROCK: I did know quite what to expect from School of Rock – The Musical at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway). Based on the smash hit 2003 film of the same title, it features an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, a book by Julian Fellowes and direction by Laurence Connor. Alex Brightman and Sierra Boggess lead the cast as “Dewey Finn” and uptight principal, “Rosalie Mullins.”
Let me just say right from the start that I loved every moment of this production. In fact, it is better than I could have possibly imagined. Had tickets been available, I would have gone back to see it again the following day. Most of the performers in this show are young kids and as the voice of Andrew Lloyd Webber himself tells us before the curtains go up, they really are playing their own music live.
The show opened to rave reviews last December. It was nominated for four Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Brightman). The storyline involves Dewey Finn, a failed, wannabe rock star who decides to earn a few extra bucks by posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. There he turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. While teaching these pintsized prodigies what it means to truly rock, Dewey falls for the school’s beautiful, but uptight headmistress, helping her rediscover the wild child within.
Alex Brightman more than earned his Tony nomination. He truly did leave everything on that stage, giving what must be an absolutely exhausting performance. While watching, I couldn’t imagine him doing this very performance eight shows a week, which is the standard Broadway schedule.
Even after his tiring performance, Brightman exited via the stage door after the show. He was personable and interactive with his fans, posing for selfies and signing autographs. He told me: “I have lost 55 pounds in this role since last November”. After having seen him perform live, I can’t say that this number is surprising.
I loved the movie, actually watching it several times, so seeing the musical was a treat. Brightman had a big challenge as everyone who has seen the movie remembers Jack Black’s iconic performance. Brightman stays true to the original while still making the role entirely his own. Leaving the theatre, Jack Black was the last thing on my mind.
“I can’t, for the life of me, do a Jack Black impression. Gun to my head, it’s not something in my wheelhouse,” Brightman told The Village Voice. “When I came in to audition for it, I was like, ‘I can’t do an impression, so I’m just going to do my thing.’ I put myself in the same situation of a burnout who is then saddled with thirteen kids in a school that he has no business being in — how would I, Alex Brightman, react to that?”
While he gives an outstanding performance, the true stars of the show really are the children. Many of them were cast in a large open call in New York City. Children lined up all day for the chance to audition, and I noticed in the playbill that many cast members were making their Broadway debuts.
They are not only amazing instrumentalists for their age. They play their instruments just as well as a Broadway house band would play the songs, and their energy is infectious through the show’s most popular tunes, including “Stick it to the Man” and “Teacher’s Pet”.
Aside from the upbeat numbers, a highlight of the show is a song called “If Only You Would Listen” in which the children lament to the audience about their parents who do not understand. Many sniffles could be heard from the crowd around me following the powerful and emotional performance.
This is such a crowd pleaser that by intermission everyone in my row was saying “wow!” repeatedly. The closing number really sends everyone home on a high. It is more like the conclusion of a live rock concert as the traditional curtain call is replaced with Brightman introducing the cast as they take their bows.
Tickets for School of Rock – The Musical are $59 – $155 and are available by visiting the Winter Garden Theatre box office Monday to Saturdays between 10 am and 8 pm and Sundays from Noon to 6 pm, online at Telecharge.com, or by calling 212-239-6200. Performances are Mondays and Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and 1 pm and 6 pm on Sundays. Info: www.schoolofrockthemusical.com
Accessible seating is available for Hamilton, Waitress and School of Rock. Wheelchair locations are available in the orchestra section of the theatres (pending availability). You may purchase one wheelchair and three companion seats per order if available. For guests with limited mobility, there are seats available with movable/folding armrests. The mezzanine requires stairs, as this theatre does not have an elevator or an escalator. All seats in the orchestra section are accessible without using any stairs. For guests with sight or hearing impairments, accessible seats are available in orchestra sections. For more details on accessible seating policies you can contact the box office directly by calling 212-719-4099.The Brooks Atkinson is equipped with one wheelchair accessible restroom on the orchestra level. There are designated wheelchair and companion seats in the rear of the orchestra section. Although animals are not permitted in the theatre, an exception is made for guide dogs and service animals. Headsets for sound augmentation are available at the theatre, free of charge. Photo identification is required as a deposit.
THE COLOR PURPLE: It is hard for me to believe that I saw the motion picture The Color Purple more than 30 years ago, starring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. When I heard that it had been revived, following a successful run almost a decade ago as a Broadway musical, I knew I just had to add it to my list. You can see it at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre at 242 West 45th Avenue.
The original production opened on Broadway in 2005 and played 910 performances. This reimagined production opened in London during the summer of 2013 at the Menier Chocolate Factory before transferring to Broadway. The musical is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the 1985 Hollywood film it spawned.
At the 2016 Tony Awards, The Color Purple won for Best Revival of a Musical while Cynthia Erivo, took home Best Actress in a Musical honours for playing the iconic role of Celie. I cannot possibly start this article with anything other than the magnificent performance given by Erivo, unbelievably in her Broadway debut. With this performance, she has solidified what is sure to be a long career for her.
Celie’s journey is not an easy one and is surely challenging to perform eight shows weekly. Celie endures decades of abuse of all kinds: sexual, physical, and emotional. Despite many losses and obstacles, she somehow finds her way to independence and self-acceptance.
By the show’s end, when Erivo sings the show’s most famous number “I’m Here”, telling us that “I believe I have inside of me everything that I need to live a bountiful life”, audience members can’t help but tear up with joy. It is impossible for the crowd to not cheer when she looks directly at us and finally declares: “I’m beautiful”. Deservedly so, the crowd rose to its feet mid-show for a lengthy standing ovation when she completed the song, the first time that I’ve ever seen this occur.
While Erivo is incredible in this production, the entire company of performers showcased their outstanding talents. The show features powerhouse Danielle Brooks from “Orange is the New Black”), who was unfortunately not there when I attended (her understudy, however, was spectacular as well). In the role of Shug Avery, originated in this production by Jennifer Hudson, Tony Award-winner Heather Headley now takes the reigns, giving a brilliant performance.
Directed by Tony Award-winner John Doyle and with a memorable score of jazz, ragtime, gospel and blues, this musical handles heavy material beautifully.
Thinking back to the movie, I struggled to remember the meaning behind the title. After watching the titular song “The Color Purple” performed live, I can’t imagine ever forgetting that it serves as a reminder that we can always find beauty in the world around us. It is impossible to leave the theatre without feeling uplifted and empowered.
The Bernard Jacobs Theater is not completely wheelchair accessible. There is some accessible seating in the Orchestra section. There are no steps to the designate wheelchair seating locations.
Once on the Mezzanine or Balcony level, there are approximately two steps per row. For information on performances for the Hearing Impaired and Deaf call: (212) 221-0013. Performances for the Partially Sighted and Blind call HAI (Hospital Audiences Inc.) at (212) 575-7663, Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm (EST). For Assistive Listening System, call: (212) 582-7678 to reserve in advance. A Drivers license or ID with a printed address is required as a deposit. There is a wheelchair accessible (unisex) restroom located on the orchestra level. Additional restrooms (not wheelchair accessible) are also located down one flight of stairs. Info: www.colorpurple.com.
WHERE TO STAY: There is no greater gift when it comes to accommodations in New York City than finding a place near Times Square. Last year we discovered the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.algonquinhotel.com). On our most recent trip, a rare summer visit for our family, we were fortunate enough to secure reservations again. Located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, this jewel of historic New York hotels commands the center of 44th Street, just a block and a half away from Times Square. The Algonquin first opened its doors in 1902. Today it is part of the Marriott chain’s Autograph Collection, an evolving ensemble of strikingly independent hotels. Each destination has been selected for its quality, bold originality, rich character and uncommon details. From near to far, iconic to historic, the result is an array of properties that is nothing less than unique. The Algonquin Hotel was the first New York City property to become a part of the collection.
For 100 years, the Algonquin has been greeting and lodging the country’s most prominent writers and literary personalities, as well as the leading figures of the American stage. The hotel is best known, perhaps, for the members of the Round Table, a group of luminaries who had in common both the ability to fire blazing witticisms and to withstand being on the receiving end of them. The tone they set during their daily meetings set the literary style of the 1920s. After World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching at the Algonquin. Though society columns referred to them as the Algonquin Round Table, they called themselves the Vicious Circle. “By force of character,” observed drama critic Brooks Atkinson, “they changed the nature of American comedy and established the tastes of a new period in the arts and theatre.”
Each of the 181 rooms and 25 suites features a comfortable well-lit work desk, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi. Always one step ahead of everyone else, the hotel was the first to offer accommodations to actors and single women travellers. We stayed in a very comfortable one bedroom Noel Coward Suite, named for the legendary playwright, composer, actor, singer and director. There are framed Playbill covers from Coward’s productions in the room.
The layout was ideally suited for us. There is a nice sized entrance, with the master bedroom to the right, a large bathroom straight ahead and the living room with a pullout couch to the left. But that is not all. The latter is also somewhat of library, with shelves of books to choose from. You can also download the special Folio app, which will provide access to a wide variety of ebooks you can read as long as you remain on the premises.
The Algonquin was recently the site of a large pre-Tony Award party for the creative team and cast of Waitress. Delighting thirsty revelers when it opened at the demise of the Prohibition in 1933, The Blue Bar has moved – both physically and eruditely – through decades of Times Square hotel bar trends. There is also The Round Table Restaurant and the casual Lobby Lounge.
As a cat lover we are always excite to see Matilda, the house cat. She is a real beauty and can be found sleeping in atop her cat house at the front desk or making her way through the different cat doors on the main floor. Matilda is a large ragdoll cat, soft as velvet.
For many years the history of The Algonquin Cat was believed to have its origins in the 1930’s, when a stray cat came wandering into the hotel for food and water. After the hotel acquired an out-of-print book written by the hotel’s first general manager, Frank Case, a chapter was discovered about a cat named Billy. Based on the timeline of the book, the hotel is now proud to say the lineage of The Algonquin Cat dates back to the early 1920’s. Two days after Billy passed, a stray cat wandered into the hotel and The Algonquin welcomed Rusty. The famous classical actor, John Barrymore, was a resident at the time in the early 1930’s and Rusty was renamed Hamlet in his honor. Hamlet is said to have been Barrymore’s greatest stage role. The hotel has had a total of 11 cats, including Billy. The lineage includes seven Hamlets and three Matildas. Each cat that has reigned at The Algonquin has been a rescue. In 1980, author Hilary Knight immortalized The Algonquin Cat with his cartoons for a children’s book on which he collaborated with Val Schaffner. The current Matilda began her residence in December 2010.
Today, Matilda is looked after by the hotel’s Chief Cat Officer, Alice De Almeida. The hotel’s executive chef cooks her special meals on holidays. She receives fan mail and gifts constantly, from around the world, including Japan, Australia and Russia. Matilda can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She can also be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The hotel hosts an annual cat fashion show where the cat models— “mewdels” – were mostly stationary, arranged on a circle of tables in the Oak Room, just off the main hotel lobby. The traditional sold-out show benefits charities such as the animal-welfare non-profit the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, in addition to paying tribute to New York City’s first responders.
It should come as no surprise that with the return of the musical Cats on Broadway, a special partnership has been developed with the Algonquin. A variety of promotional activities will be lined up, including the wrapping of elevators and the introduction of a “Cats” suite.
In the book the Algonquin Kid: Adventures Growing Up In New York’s Legendary Hotel, author Michael Colby tells the story about his grandparents Mary and Ben Bodne built this legendary landmark. Southern Jews, they owned the hotel from 1946 to 1987. As a kid, Colby and siblings visited their grandparents every weekend. Colby took up permanent residence in the hotel at the age of 18 and made his way into the theater world as a librettist, composer and lyricist. His musical, Charlotte Sweet, an all-sung, all-rhymed original musical with libretto by Colby and music by Gerald Jay Markoe, received three Drama Desk Award nominations and was critically lauded as “adorable, strange and delectable” by the New York Times, ”
The Algonquin, its bar and restaurant, have easy access for wheelchairs from the street. There is valet parking. The hotel has six ADA rooms and one ADA suite. There are two elevators. Staff are very helpful and friendly.
DINING OUT: New York City is indeed the place to dine, with an endless array of choices to please your palate.
For dinner one night we made our first visit to the fabulous Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House (www.delfriscos.com). This is an energetic, luxurious three-story restaurant, located at 1221 Avenue of the Americas. To say we were impressed is an understatement. General Manager Orlando Santana sat us at a beautifully placed top floor table of this seasoned dining establishment, which can accommodate more than 500 people at a time.
Del Frisco’s was established more than 20 years ago. The cornerstone of the menu is aged USDA Prime Beef. They serve only the best hand-cut steaks, chops and freshest seafood, including Australian cold water lobster tails while using the freshest ingredients to create mouthwatering appetizers, flavorful side dishes and irresistible desserts. The sommeliers are on hand to guide you through their very extensive wine list while the bartenders will lift your spirits with hand-shaken martinis and handcrafted cocktails. We lucked out, with sommelier Kristin Beckler and our waiter Tim. Kristin mixed and matched our selections of wine impeccably with the items Tim recommended. Did we really need to read the menu? Perhaps not, for we put our trust in Tim and the experience exceeded our wildest expectations.
We started off with their signature VIP cocktail, Svedka Clementine Vodka infused with fresh Hawaiian pineapple. Then came the appetizers. We shared another one of the house specialties, the crab cake with Cajun lobster sauce, shrimp cocktail and a Caprese salad – a simple Italian salad, made of sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and green basil, seasoned with salt and olive oil. It closely resembles the colours of the Italian flag: red, white and green.
When it came to main appetizers, we also decided to share. Since Del Frisco’s is known for its fantastic steaks, that is what we wanted to sample. Tim recommended the bone in filet and the bone in prime rib eye. As sides, he suggested we try the Cauliflower and Brie au gratin and the Lobster Mac and cheese. We trusted him implicitly and he did not steer us wrong. Tim was accompanied to the table by three other servers who cut the meat and apportioned the sides. First class all the way around!
As for Kristin our sommelier, this lady clearly loves her job. She is, of course, a walking encyclopedia on their huge selection of wines. We started off with the Corra “Tail Feathers” 2015 from Rogue Valley, Oregon – a Viogner/Muscat Blanc/Riesling. Kristin soon came back with another bottle, this time the Pierre Bouree Fils 1er Cru “Les Morgeots” 2009 Chassagne-Montrachet. When dessert came she concluded our evening with a sweet Royal Tokaji “5 Puttunyos” 2008 from Hungary. Oh yes, the dessert. We left just enough room to enjoy their fabulous lemon cake split in three and a serving of their equally spectacular chocolate mousse.
Out of the 12 Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House locations across the country, this one is an iconic staple and flagship. The 18,000 square foot restaurant boasts floor-to-ceiling windows with breathtaking views of Sixth Avenue, truly bringing midtown Manhattan to life for every diner as Radio City Music Hall’s lights shine brightly in the distance. Our table faced the Fox News building. As a new junkie it was unique to see the latest headlines flash across the screen on the facility’s façade.
The restaurant is often packed with the city’s broadcast, business and sports elite and is an ideal locale for visitors looking for a top-notch dining experience before or after a Broadway show.
Del Frisco’s Steak House also recently unveiled new menu updates to appeal to guests’ modernized palates and now offer a refreshed take on the restaurant’s classic steakhouse fare. In addition to staples such as rare cuts of wet-aged steaks and fresh seafood, the menu now includes a variety of elevated classics including Wagyu Beef French Dip, Lobster Roll and Sautéed Chicken Picatta, along with eclectic appetizers and sides like Seared Rare Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Crab Fried Rice and Thick Cut Bacon Au Poivre. It has a wine list of over 1,200 selections.
Del Frisco’s offers specials tailored to holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Thanksgiving, as well as prix fixe menus to make things a little simpler for everyone. If you’re planning a bigger gathering for holiday celebrations, their private rooms can accommodate anything from a couple of tables to 75 or 100 people, with amenities like a separate bar, dedicated service, flat-screen TVs and other niceties. All it takes is a phone call to one of their coordinators, and they’ll be happy to set you up with whatever your holiday plans might entail.
The restaurant is owned by Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, which is based in Southlake, Texas. It owns and operates three contemporary, high-end, complementary restaurant concepts: Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, and Del Frisco’s Grille. Each of our three concepts offers steaks and other menu selections, such as chops and fresh seafood, complemented by an extensive wine selection.
The main entrance and floor is handicapped accessible. You can call 212-575-5129 for reservations. One dining establishment that had never been on my radar screen before was Patsy`s Italian Restaurant (http://www.patsys.com). Well it sure is now! Located at 235 West 56th Street, just a few short blocks from Times Square, this legendary Midtown Manhattan spot had been known for years as Frank Sinatra’s restaurant of choice and has become a favorite with countless stars including Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Ben Stiller, George and Amal Clooney, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few.
Founded in 1944 by Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo, Patsy’s has been in its current and only theater district location (in the building next to the original site) since 1954. In almost 70 years of existence, Patsy’s Italian Restaurant has had only three chefs; the late Patsy himself, his son Joe Scognamillo, who has been at the establishment since the tender age of seven, and Joe’s son Sal Scognamillo, who has been manning the kitchen for the past 29 years. I had an opportunity to meet Sal, an incredibly friendly and personable gentlemen. He greeted me with signed copies of his two cookbooks, one with a foreword by Ben Stiller and the other by Nancy Sinatra. Not only are the recipes and accompanied photos superb, but so are the stories about the celebrities who have dined there. Sal even sent me away with a jar of one of their homemade pasta sauces. These famous sauces, made from the freshest ingredients, are available in supermarkets and specialty food stores throughout the U.S. The tomato-based sauces, 100 percent natural, with no preservatives or added sugar, are available in six varieties, including marinara, tomato basil, Fra Diavolo, puttanesca, vodka and pizzaiola.
Sal is a proud owner. While his 84 year old dad still comes in regularly, he is preparing for the next generation. His eldest son Joe, 20, is completing university and working at the restaurant when class is not in session. Sal and his wife, who gave up her law practice to join the team at Patsy’s, live on Long Island. Sal comes in almost every day, working a 10 am to 11 pm shift, and loves every minute of it. He spends the early hours in the kitchen and during the evening works the two floors and mixes with the customers. The restaurant can seat 180 people and with its lunch and pre-theater specials, is busy all of the time.
Patsy’s attracts a varied clientele, including an extremely loyal following of regular patrons, Italian food aficionados, tourists, and celebrities. They enjoy the restaurant’s remarkable signature dishes, including succulent veal chops Siciliano, spicy lobster Fra Diavolo, tender chicken contadina, and savory calamari stuffed with seafood. Spectacular seafood such as striped bass marechiare, lobster oreganata, and shrimp scampi are always requested, as are meat favorites like sirloin steak pizzaiola with peppers and mushrooms, stuffed veal chop marsala, and chicken livers cacciatora.
I was dining alone on this evening, as other members of the family enjoyed a show nearby. My server Tony gave me time to review the appetizing menu and then helped with some recommendations. I started off with orders of fried calamari and fried zucchini. The former was served with yummy marinara sauce on the side while the latter was prepared in the form of French Fries – crispy and delicious. I followed that off with a magnificent chopped salad, one of the best I can remember having in years. For the main course there were so many options. Tony assured me I could not go wrong with the spaghetti and meatballs and he was correct. The meatballs cut like butter and melted in my mouth. By this time I literally had to take a break in order to regain enough of an appetite to sample some of the mouthwatering homemade desserts that passed by my table on a large cart. When I had a hard time choosing, Tony made it easy. He provided me with the equivalent of one piece of cake in three different variations: chocolate mousse, cannoli and Napoleon (custard, whipped cream and puff pastry). I was glad that I had a nine block walk to meet up with my family, for I needed some exercise after this very special dining experience.
For more information call (212) 247-3491, e-mail email@example.com or log on to www.patsys.com where you can view the entire menu. Sal wanted me to share with readers the fact this is “the only” Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in the world that his family runs. The temptation to franchise might be there, but why mix with perfection?
CITY PASS: Before your departure look into purchasing the New York CityPASS (www.citypass.com). You will save 42 percent on the city’s six best attractions -plus skip lines. New York CityPASS includes admission to the Empire State Building Experience, American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The cost is $114 for adults (a $195 value) and $89 for youth (aged six to 17, an $89 value. It is valid for nine days. You can purchase the booklets or printable vouchers at citypass.com or at participating attractions for the same low price.
-With files from Alexandra Cohen
Mike Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. See his travel advice column at www.sandboxworld.com/travel.