Thanks be to the restaurant gods | Pamela’s Food Service Diary –

Wynwood at Urby in Stapleton has be remodeled after a flood destroyed its dining room, floor to ceiling. Here's a sneak peek at its new look. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Last week, a visit to the newly reopened Wynwood Street Eats at Urby in Stapleton inspired a line of thinking about why entrepreneurs venture into the restaurant business. Speaking with owner Mike LiDonni, one might realize really what a feat it all is — physically, emotionally and even psychologically.
Look at what happened to Mike and his crew and it’s rather remarkable how he keeps such a positive attitude. As we photographed a massive shellfish display and other new dishes on Thursday morning, he shared what it was like after the restaurant was almost destroyed on June 8.
He said, “We had a really bad storm — it was a torrential downpour. There was a pipe that ran across the roof, above our ceiling and it separated somehow. You had all the water from the whole building, from the roof, pouring over the hostess station.”
A post shared by Wynwood Restaurant & Bar (@wynwoodrestaurant)
He recounted, “There was nothing you could do — you just had to get out of the way. Urby did a great job to help us get it cleaned up quickly. But with water, we couldn’t get it up quickly enough — the floors buckled, the ceiling had to be replaced.”
Now the floors are a patterned marble. Granite moldings mark the base of each wood column, cutting out the water damaged sections. Practical and pretty, Mike said, “It goes with the art deco bar — we thought they were nice touches.”
Wynwood Cafe and Street Eats' dramatic seafood platter (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)
Also on Thursday of last week, I spent time with Ralph Tafuri at Ralph’s Sports Bar in Dongan Hills who showed off a dozen or so new dishes — one better than the next, frankly, including an exceptional pan-seared salmon served with a refreshing salad.
Ralph is another inspiring figure these days in the business. After all, COVID could have killed his spirit with the bar industry cut off at the knees for almost a year. But he’s still kicking — and confidently marching forward. Although it’s not just the restaurant gods stirring the soups and sauces — his Mom, Rita, who works in the kitchen. That’s one of Ralph’s aces-in-the-hole.
Ralph Tafuri's mom, Rita (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)
We’ll talk more about the great brunches and entrees at Wynwood this week. And I’m looking forward to writing about Ralph’s food as well. It’s also incredibly exciting to be talking about new restaurants popping up — Bliss in Great Kills in the former Emilio’s spot, Lobo Loco coming to the Mall and The Boulevard, O’Sfizio soon in Annadale.
If you’ve been in the restaurant business, you might relate to the excitement of building up a restaurant. Acknowledging its stresses and serious challenges, its allure comes from the camaraderie among staff and the happiness of customers who ultimately become like a big family. And a day somewhere in the future there will be lots of stories about which to laugh and cry with those folks over a drink. So pour one for yourself and I will leave you with one from our place, the former American Grill when it lived at 420-422 Forest Avenue in West Brighton.
Outside the kitchen of the American Grill with Dave Fleming and Pamela Silvestri in 2004. (Photo by Bill Higgins)
One night, the bartender spotted the food critic for the Staten Island Advance sitting at Table 3, right under an American flag we had hanging on the wall. In those early days of the restaurant, I was terrified to speak to the customers so I hid in the kitchen and expedited, a task that involves checking orders, getting to-go packages ready and garnishing plates.
Some of the American Grill kitchen crew and staff (Photo by Bill Higgins)
All was just fine when the server from Table 2 (next to the critic) came into the kitchen and said the customer wanted “more fire” on the lamb chops. I put it in the window and the sous chef who had grilled it took a look at it and said, “It’s perfect.” And he pushed it back to me with a pair of tongs.
I didn’t want to make a fuss with the critic in the dining room so I nudged the plate back to the sous chef and ye, little woman, said, “Customer says more fire” to which he gently moved it back with the tongs and ultimately refused to cook it any further. Finally after more of that tug-of-war on the plate, he made the sound of a bleating goat — bahhhh! — and walked out the back door of the restaurant, tongs and all. That’s when I really learned the business. And we did OK in our Advance review — thanks be to the restaurant gods. Because there’s no other way to think of how we kept moving forward.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].
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