With so many vanishings in the city, it's comforting to know that some things never change. One of those changeless places is Manganaro's Grosseria on 9th Ave near 37th St. Opened in 1893 as Petrucci's, it became Manganaro's in the 1920s, and stepping into the shop today is like walking into your grandfather's New York.
The shop is dimly lit and sparsely stocked. Pepperoni and salami hang from above, beneath a ceiling of pressed tin and before a backdrop of empty green shelves. Keep walking, under the skylight, past the big Toledo scale, and you'll come to a small cafe furnished with chrome tables under cloths with chairs that must hail from the Nixon administration.
The walls of the trattoria are paneled, the lights are florescent, and the back-room ambiance makes you feel like you've stumbled in on a secret meeting-place. A flight of red-railed stairs goes up to a second-floor dining room, which is closed and dark, and strangely beckoning.
Proprietor and cook, Seline Dell'Orto (James Manganaro's grand-niece), leaves her kaffe klatsch to step behind the counter and say, "Come over here and tell me what you want." It's like being fed by your Italian aunt--warm, welcoming, and a little brusque. She heaps a plate with macaroni and when you say, "That's plenty," she ignores your request, heaping on another spoonful or two, for which you will be grateful. The food is good.
I asked her about the sign chalked out front: "M. Foods is not connected to Hero Boy; but that's old news!" She spoke bitterly of the rift between Manganaro's and the Hero Boy cafe next door as if the wound were fresh, the rift recently torn, as if Hero Boy were an upstart in the neighborhood. But it turns out that Hero Boy opened half a century ago and this feud has been going on for decades. That's authentically Italian, too--it's not an Italian family unless somebody's not speaking to somebody.
I asked how the grosseria was doing, with all the changes in the neighborhood, and she said they're not going anywhere, despite the disturbing influx of foreign investors and rising Con-Ed prices. "This summer," she said, "we're doing it European style." What does that mean? "No lights!"
I had just missed meeting her father, but Sal still works in the shop. On Manganaro's website it says, "Watch Sal at his espresso machine and imagine what he thinks of the Johny come latelies who think they understand coffee." This quote sums up the Manganaro's experience and reminds me of the conversation I had with Annie of DeRobertis' Pasticceria, who said, “People come in and tell me I don’t know how to make cappuccino. They tell me, 'Starbucks makes it this way.' I tell them, 'I’m here before Starbucks.'"
Manganaro's was here before Starbucks, too. So go in and tell them what you want--but don't tell them how to make it or serve it. Just eat it.