In the age of intense turnover in New York City, it feels like something is closing every week. Whole Foods, Apple, Equinox, Chipotle and the laundry list of chain stores that have opened in Williamsburg in the past year or so seems endless. It’s easy to feel discouraged when big corporations start taking over once small unassuming communities, but particularly when there are still longtime business owners in the area adapting to the changes and aiming to serve big and do it well.
The neighborhood is still home to a special class of family-owned businesses in North Williamsburg, where the Italian community’s roots stretch back more than 100 years. All are within a 10 minute walk of each other in Williamsburg. They know each other, and they often work together by selling each other’s products. Although they may get a whopping offer from a real estate agent every now and then, or even every day, the people involved in running these old-school establishments seem optimistic and sure of their method. They’re emblems of a not-going-anywhere attitude while remaining loyal to their customers, with low prices and high quality products.
Part of being a good New Yorker is embracing the things that were in a neighborhood long before you came along so the neighborhood can stave off transforming into another chain-filled anywhere, USA. Here are six old-school Williamsburg businesses still hanging on, and some good reasons to visit each one too.
355 Graham Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
718-384-8669 (or TONY)
Opened: Although Tony’s switched owners 10 years ago, they have been serving their slices from the same shop since 1950.
Known for: The cheap slice and the conversation you might overhear while eating it.
Best deal: For $2.30 a slice, Tony’s is the kind of place where you can have lunch with all of the change you piece together from the bottom of your bag. Try their baked ziti for $7.95.
This is how they’ll probably take your order at Tony’s Pizza:
“What do you want?”
“And what else?”
As Colin Quinn put it in his Colin Quinn: The New York Story, “what’s rude to the rest of the country is polite to us.” Tony’s is an old-school New York Slice joint, the kind of place that is becoming increasingly hard to come by when you just really want that traditional slice, no frills.There’s nothing new about the decor. Tables. Chairs. Some old Italian men. You’re there for the pie.
Simply specializing in traditional Neapolitan and Sicilian pies, Tony’s is the type of place that if you show up enough, they’ll remember you and that you like your slice extra hot, and it’ll be in the oven before you can finish saying “one cheese…” These are the tiny, seemingly insignificant, interactions that make you feel a part of the old neighborhood.
It’s also a slice and run type establishment, perfect for commuters coming from the Graham Avenue L stop across the street.
Oh and when you’re really struggling with hunger or life and just need to order a pizza, having the name of the establishment as the last four letters of the phone number is welcoming assistance. Just dial 718-384- T-O-N-Y.
616 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211
Opened: 1981, but was a bakery prior to that and uses the same brick oven.
Known for: People come from every borough for the lard bread.
Best deal: Cheap brick-oven loaves. $2.75 for a standard Italian loaf, $2.25 for a small.
Napoli Bakery is not for the “no-bread people.”
The hot red and green light up sign broadcasts a message of “Fresh Bread” into the streets. Fresh bread lines the racks in the window. Step inside and you’ll meet one of the family members who is usually sitting at the counter, surrounded by more bread: Italian, sourdough, semolina, whole wheat, focaccia and specialities like broccoli rabe bread. To the right, there is a simple table with a pot of hot coffee. Serve yourself.
Old-school Italian and family run, Napoli has been operating on Metropolitan Avenue for more than 30 years and it has always been all about the bread. They are one of the last bakeries that specialize just in bread and are one of the last brick-oven bread bakeries in neighborhood, says Linizio Cirone, the guy behind the counter and a young part of the family who has been working at Napoli for five years. If you’re a fan of Emily’s Pork Shop’s Italian sandwiches (more on them below), the bread comes from their cousins over at Napoli.
Their products taste like that gourmet, artisanal bread you’ll find for at a much higher cost at artisanal bakeries (or Whole Foods), but here a loaf generally costs under $3, and their variety is extensive. True locals know them for their famous lard bread. They also serve as a small Italian grocery store for the community, where people who know what they’re looking for will be surprised to see items they couldn’t find since they were last in Italy.
Or merely, if you’re in a hurry, run in on your way to the Lorimer stop subway for the coffee. It’s 75 cents and it’s not bad. And it’s cheaper than bodega coffee.
Emily’s Pork Shop
426 Graham Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211
Known for: Italian Sandwiches
Best deal: $7 and under sandwiches.
Graham Avenue Meat and Deli, the “godfather” of subs, closed its doors in 2015, but neighbors must remember Emily’s Pork Shop is still here.
Emily’s is an Italian grocer, meat market, sandwich shop–by any other name it would fit right in with the gourmet artisanal universe–that has been a staple on Graham Avenue for more than 40 years. The only thing that has changed about Emily’s Pork Shop since it opened in 1974 is its paint job and the installation of some metal shelves.
Owner Gennaro “Jerry” Aliperti, who started working at Emily’s when he was 13 years old, explained the change in an interview: “The homemade wooden shelves used to sway with the product.”
Truly a family joint, named after aunt Emily and passed down from Uncle Frank to nephew and current owner Aliperti, the shop’s breads come from their cousins at the Napoli bakery (the one mentioned above). Meats are prepared daily in the shop and almost all of the sandwiches are less than $7.
In 2014, the Village Voice rated Emily’s Pork Shop as the home of the best Italian sandwich in New York City. Meat hangs in the window and throughout the store. The shelves inside of the store are stocked high and low with all the Italian fixings: Homemade sausages, cheeses, oils, drinks, pastas, olives, a range of antipasti, in-house handmade salamis, sweet peppers, and more affordable family selected delights fill Emily’s. Kids can be kept busy with the colorful display of imported cookies while parents shop for the night’s dinner.
Salerno Service Station
451 Lorimer St., Brooklyn, NY 11206
Known for: “Mario’s Gym” in the back of the service station.
Best deal: 24/7 service, seven days a week, all year.
“Is it strange that I actually look forward to getting my car serviced?” Yelp user Alex S. asked on Sept. 18, 57 years after Salerno Service Station opened up on Lorimer Street.
If you don’t have a car, this place might make you wish you had one just for the experience of getting it serviced by the Avallones.
Salerno is a simple-looking service station located on 451 Lorimer St. that you may have walked by without thinking much about it, but if you step inside you’ll see the three generations of Avallones represented on the walls in hundreds of old faded images, notes and mementos. Salvatore “Grandpa” Avallone opened Salerno Service Station in 1959. With time, his son Mario and grandson Sal joined in.
Salerno Service Station offers prices that are usually much cheaper than the larger auto shops where people will end up spending “a whole bunch of money,” the younger Sal Avallone said. As the neighborhood changes, they’ve pretty much stayed as busy as always, he says. “Because we enjoy what we do, we are happy people and we give very good prices.”
You can come in for an oil change, have a cup of coffee, play with the shop dog and you’ll be out of there in 10 or 15 minutes. They are open 24 hours a day. Seven days a week. 365 days a year.
In order to stay strong so that they’re ready to lift cars out of the snow and stuff like that, the staff goes out to “Mario’s Gym” located in the back of the shop in between jobs, sometimes five times a day, to keep in shape and socialize.
Mario & Sons Meat Market
662 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211
Opened: On Metropolitan since 2000 but, the shop in Queens opened in 1980.
Known for: Mario the neighborhood butcher.
Best deal: You’ll have to ask Mario.
With bold fonts on green, yellow and orange paper, signs taped to the window proclaim: “SAUSAGE HOT AND SWEET,” “ALL BEEF FRANKS,” “DELICIOUS QUAIL.” The signs are among other decor, like plastic pigs and cows and images of the old neighborhood, that helps the market retain its old-school feel.
74-year-old Mario Vollo answered the phone — with a thick Italian accent — but passed it over his son.
“We’ll pretty much cut anything you want,” his son said. “We’re just an old-school meat market.”
Operational in Williamsburg for 16 years and in Queens for 20, Mario’s & Sons Meat Market boasts some of the lowest-priced meats in the neighborhood. They sell rib eye steak for $14 a pound (for reference, a modern Italian grocer like Eataly will sell two 16 oz. rib-eyes for $75 dollars.)
Prices aren’t visible from the outside, so you’ll have to enter the shop with a little confidence. Inside, Mario will briskly take your order with a “whaddaya want.” If you ask, Mario will give you a story of where the meat is from. He has a wide range of locally raised meats; if you’re unsure of your cut, he’ll help you learn about it. The shop carries goose, slabs of bacon, rabbit, homemade Italian hot and sweet sausage and soppressata.
The internet offers further evidence that they treat their customers well. Instead of the negative complaints people so often voice on Yelp about places being cash-only, one Yelper wrote that after just two visits to the meat market, Mario did her a solid. She was short on cash, and as she was running out to the ATM next door, Mario stopped her.
“Just pay me next time,” he said.
Another customer wrote of the time he called Mario’s late on a Sunday, unaware that they were closed. Mario answered and told him to come by anyway. He opened the store personally for a late-night caller just so that he could pick out the perfect tenderloin.
Metropolitan Fish Market
635 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Opened: The Metropolitan Avenue location opened in 1994.
Known for: One of the last fish markets of its kind in the neighborhood.
Best deal: Lobster for $9.99 a pound.
It’s hard to imagine that just minutes from the bustling BQE, there’s a shop that’ll make you feel transported to a quaint seaside town. But when you step inside of Metropolitan Fish Market, that’s exactly what happens. Old painted buoys and wooden fish decorate the store’s walls and hang from the ceiling. Live eels and lobster swim in tanks, alongside an assortment of fresh fish often caught days before.
Metropolitan Fish Market is one of the last of its kind in the Williamsburg neighborhood. When it opened 23 years ago, there were five similar fish shops on the same block; now it’s the only one.
Located on the corner of Metropolitan and Leonard, Metropolitan Fish Market started with family. Owner Pat Zollo grew up four blocks away, on Withers Street. His father Jerry ran Jerry’s Meat Market, which used to be right next door, where Zollo started working. It’s also no coincidence that Zollo’s uncle Mario runs the aforementioned Mario’s Meat Market down the street.
Aside from their walk-in customers, Metropolitan Fish Market sells to restaurants, pizzerias and diners, both in Brooklyn and in Queens. For Zollo’s business, the philosophy is simple: he buys at a decent wholesale price and keeps his retail prices low to make a small profit, which keeps his customers returning again and again.
“[I] buy at a good price and sell it at a good price, it’s what keeps the people coming back,” he said. “Other stores want the last three cents, I don’t do that.”
One of their best deals is the lobster, which goes for $9.99 a pound. They are known for their high-end fish, shrimp, salmon and branzino. But most of all, Zollo just knows what his customers are looking for and what they’re going to buy.
“It’s my personality,” he says. “I’m nice to everybody.”
If you go in there and chat him jup, he’ll give you a fish recommendation. He may even give you a free Ocean Glory 2017 calendar, too.
Stay up with this and other important Brokelyn guides: Subscribe to Brokelyn today!