Two Toms Restaurant in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn announced in October that after more than 70 years in business, it is going to close its doors at the end of this year.
Founded in 1948, Two Toms is an institution unlike any other restaurant that is open to the public. It’s a modest and understated very simple dining room in a relatively narrow space, with a street-facing entrance in the front and a kitchen in the back. The food is outstanding and often served family style in large groups, at least that is their specialty. I’ve seen regular tables order off a menu there. But every time I’ve been there it’s been a large meal with several courses.
An Italian restaurant with great pasta and shrimp parmesan among other dishes, it’s most famous for its pork chops, that are enormously thick and juicy and will count as one of the most memorable meals you ever have. I rarely take photos of food, but I had to stop and take a photo of my meal while I was working on one of the pork chops there last year.
I became aware of Two Toms after meeting a group of friends for dinner there several years ago. The restaurant then was known mostly to locals and has a distinct following among law enforcement. My friend Poppy knew of Two Toms from his time working in Brooklyn with the NYPD and it became a regular spot for people we worked with at JFK Airport to hold meet up.
The several courses are conducive to long dinner conversations, the perfect setting for families and old friends. Its unassuming décor adds to its appeal. You are at home there. You can help yourself to beer or soda or bottled water from the refrigerator that is there in the dining room. You knew there was going to be another amazing course coming soon. You didn’t have to worry. Everyone was going to have a good time, and no one was leaving hungry.
When Two Toms owner announced in October that the restaurant would be shutting its doors at the end of the year, its many fans were in shock and jumped into action. Loyal customers flooded the restaurant with so many reservations they began opening extra days and even still they were quickly booked through the end of the year.
My group of friends that took to meeting at Two Toms worked to get a gathering together, but by the time I called to make a reservation, all bookings were gone. I asked the woman I spoke with on the phone to please let me know if any openings at any time for any number of people would be available—if the usual group couldn’t make it at least a few of us would be able to give a final farewell to the place. Social media is alight with tributes pouring in, and legions of New Yorkers who managed to get a reservation are paying their respects.
Two Toms achieved a devoted following because it does what it does best simply and without pretention. It doesn’t boast a celebrity chef or change its menu to some trendy fusion to match the hip flavor of the month. It also refuses rest on its laurels and scream to the world about how long it has been around either. It has stayed true to its roots and has never let up.
New Yorkers will continue to search for the kind of honest authenticity embodied by Two Toms and we owe the legendary eatery a debt of gratitude.
Thank you, Two Toms!
New York City was treated to a Hunter’s Supermoon to start the week. It was fitting and inspiring, as hunting season is getting under way.
The fall is time for harvest and as we celebrate harvesting crops we also celebrate harvesting the animals that have traditionally been hunted in these parts. In the Northeast that is deer and turkey. The Northeast as an abundance of deer and it can be a problem. Housing development has taken away land the deer need and put them in closer proximity to humans. Overpopulation of deer causes more traffic accidents and make it more likely that deer will die of starvation or disease.
At the same time hunting is attracting fewer participants. I’m happy that it’s still very popular but there was a time when people of every kind would hunt regularly. I’m proud to say that I have a very wide variety of friends, but among my friends I’m one of the few that goes hunting.
Living in New York City, there is no legal place to hunt within the five boroughs and very little in the immediate suburbs at all approved for hunting. And the densely populated areas of Westchester to the North and the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk mostly only allow bow hunting. Bow hunting is great but it is much more difficult to hunt that way.
I’ve heard the arguments against hunting: that we can somehow coexist with an overpopulation of animals that raid our gardens and run in front of our cars or teach deer to use birth control. That hunting is somehow cowardly because it involves killing an animal. Unless you are a Level Five Vegan, your life is made possible by the deaths of animals. I would be a hypocrite if I ate meat but wasn’t willing to go hunting.
Taking an animal’s life shouldn’t be taken lightly and many experienced hunters have let deer escape their sights if taking them doesn’t feel right. I don’t take a shot unless I have a very clear kill shot. There may have been deer that I could have taken if I was willing to wound them first and then track them and kill them, but the idea of letting an animal die a slow painful death is not something I’m willing to chance. And I guarantee the deer I take from the woods and eat has a much more pleasant life and death than the average steer that winds up as hamburger or steak.
The hunter that doesn’t treat animals with respect is no real hunter at all. Hunting isn’t easy. It means standing in the cold for hours at a time for the chance to take a shot you might miss. Sadly there are plenty of mindless cream puffs who want to treat hunting like it’s a video game, but these are a small minority who lack the patience and discipline and will soon tire of having to hunt in the real world.
So start by taking a hunter safety course. You’ll enjoy spending time outside and having some fresh food to eat.
Thanksgiving is coming up and there are a lot of things to be thankful for. It is easy to look at the state of the world and feel that our generation got the short end of the stick and that things were better years ago. The human species has a habit of romanticizing the past to a fault. The present always looks lacking to Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular because we are an ambitious people who always see better possibilities.
But if we are living safely with food in our stomachs and a roof over our head, we should be thankful; there are a few billion people who would gladly trade places with us.
Here are some things I am particularly thankful for:
Family. I am lucky to not only have a wife and kids who love me but numerous other relatives and step-relatives who love me also. I can tap into the wisdom of several aunts and uncles, cousins, and my amazing grandmother, the indomitable matriarch who is our rock. My family has demonstrated time and again how to persevere through hardship and loss with grace and strength. I am lucky to be of such strong blood.
Health. No doubt my steady diet of weekend egg sandwiches has left me the worse for wear and my back is a scramble of slipped disks and strained muscles, but compared to many people, I am in very good health. I know too many family and friends who have suffered bad setbacks to take my health for granted.
Employment. While I have known great unemployment and underemployment in my time, I am currently gainfully employed at a stable company. Having worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years, I crossed over “to the dark side” of public relations last year. I landed in a good place with smart, friendly co-workers; a lot of people can’t say that.
Creative Ambition. One of the reasons I am lucky to have the family I do is that I’ve inherited my family’s desire to create. My family is full of writers, musicians, actors and more and I am honored to be among them. Being creative gives you a constant reason to live even when all else looks dismal.
America. While the American Empire is deep into its twilight, the America I grew up with and love is very much alive though casting a cautious eye towards the future. America is the greatest nation on Earth because it is my country. We have a lot of problems, but we have a lot of freedom that many people never see.
New York City. No city inspires as much simultaneous love and hatred from its inhabitants as New York. There is no other place on Earth that is constantly rewriting its own mythology and acts such a magnet for creativity and ambition. New York will outlive us all. As much as we hate to see New York change, we know it will never die as long as the Earth remains intact.
As I approached the Pier 17 mall, I found it surrounded by barricades with the only entrance guarded by a security guard turning people away. He admits that the restaurant is open, but calls it a “café” when it clearly is not.
“I understand there’s one restaurant still open inside,” I said to the guard, who was discouraging someone from entering.
“Well it’s not a restaurant, it’s a café. If you want to check it out it’s on the third floor.”
The restaurant that remains open among dozens of empty storefronts is called ‘Simply Seafood’ and it’s clearly a restaurant like any other food court restaurant in any food court, only this one is the only business left in a large three-level mall at the South Street Seaport.
The restaurant is the lone holdout in a large mall that a developer is trying to tear down. They have a lease and expect it to be honored. The landlord has used illegal and very underhanded tactics to try to remove them, such as locking the doors to the mall and reporting that the restaurant had closed, and is still using dirty tricks today. With shady developers normally getting away with their violations of private property rights in the name of economic development and the city normally either turning a blind eye or helping out in with corrupt deals, the urge to score one for the little guy is immense and well worth the price of fried shrimp.
Howard Hughes Corp. owns the property and wants to build another, fancier mall there. I would hope that if Howard Hughes were alive today he’d throw a jar of his collected urine at the people running this namesake corporation. Howard Hughes didn’t need to harass small business owners; he flew airplanes and banged Katherine Hepburn.
Security guards pace the otherwise empty mall eyeing customers suspiciously. There are bathrooms open on the second floor, but otherwise the mall is a ghost town of abandoned stores, makeshift barricades, ‘No Trespassing’ signs and caution tape.
Despite the best efforts of the rent-a-cops, people continued to come for seafood. The restaurant’s struggle with the landlord generated publicity that has brought some people; it’s why I was there. The allure of touring a mostly-abandoned place brings more, and hopefully the chance to stick it to a real estate Goliath will bring more. New Yorkers can’t help but respect and admire the people who fight for their rights even against overwhelming force.
New York landlords are notorious for their unscrupulous behavior. The price of real estate is so high and both the expenses and potential profits so huge, a hold-out tenant can cost an owner lots of money. In the case of a prime commercial real estate in New York’s tourist-heavy downtown, developers stand to lose millions of dollars if they have to maintain a mostly abandoned building for the next seven years.
A small group of tourists asked the men working why they were the only business still open at the mall.
“We’ve got a lease,” said one of the men. “We’ve have a lease until 2020.”
I had a lunch of friend shrimp and fries. What made it such a delicious meal was helping a determined small business stick to their guns.
As I left the mall, the security guard at the entrance was turning away another group of potential customers, wrongly calling the restaurant a café. But not everyone was turned away, many continued through and moved on to give the restaurant their business, and I hope Simply Seafood is there for a very long time.
One of the perks of working as a financial journalist is that you sometimes get to go to parties in nice places where food and drink are free. It doesn’t make up for working for years without a raise and being in constant fear of being laid off, but it’s nice nonetheless.
Last evening was one such party, a charity event put on by people in finance.
Ostensibly my coworker and I were there to meet people that would help us do our job. Schmoozing with financial people is part of my job, but it’s a part of the job that I am bad at.
I dressed well enough and was pleasant and polite and still had no hopes of blending in. Members of the financial class are their own race, though they are made of different races. They can look through you as if you are not there and walk with a confidence that bristles with a condescending hostility and feels perpetually offensive and false. I wore a nice suit but maybe there was something in the way I said thank you to the caterers, or the fact I thanked them at all, that gave me away as decidedly not one of the financial class.
There’s nothing wrong with finance, but the people who work in the higher echelons of finance today are not cut from the same material as the people who invent things or pioneered and forged new industries. They are custodians of other people’s money and often speak in a gloating jargon that moves lots of money but creates little of value. I’m sure many of them are decent people and good at their job, but they do not possess the fire of the technology entrepreneurs or venture capitalists I met during previous jobs.
After thirteen years of working in financial journalism, I have actually gotten worse at the art of fitting in at these types of gatherings. My motivation for the easy smile and the glad-handed talk has waned. But I am glad not to fit in among this alien class. Somehow I feel that in the important calculus of life I’ll have more to show for it at the unspoken reckoning at the verge of the great beyond.
I ate as many miniature lobster rolls as I could without making a spectacle of myself and made my discreet exit after putting in a respectable amount of time at the event. I briefly enjoyed the sights of the city on the first really warm evening of the spring before making my descent to the subway for home.