SCENES AND OTHER HAPPENINGS FROM AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT-CATALDO’S By Sandra Castillo

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The distance from 45th Street in New York City to Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn is roughly seven-and-a-half miles. If one were to travel by vehicle across the great expansion of the Brooklyn Bridge to get there, it would take less than thirty minutes to reach their destination. The only thing that might impede one’s prompt arrival time is Manhattan’s notorious traffic jams which frequently occur in the most populated metropolis of the entire United States. 

When this writer set out on foot the morning of April 23rd, 2018-crossing the threshold of the front door of my hotel situated just a few blocks from Times Square to seize that first stride of the day over the iconic Brooklyn Bridge-it was the aforementioned location, over on Vanderbilt Avenue, to where I was promptly headed. Just the mere thought of reaching my journey’s end in a matter of hours immediately prompted my salivary glands to over activate. Because if anyone has ever dined at Cataldo’s, then he would be hard-pressed to find a legitimate reason to not have sensory overload, by way of the palate, when realizing this very spot would be where his next scheduled meal was going down.

Simply put, Cataldo’s Restaurant & Pizzeria is one of the best Italian eateries in Brooklyn, New York. Recognized and praised by locals and out-of-town guests since it opened its doors for business in 2009, the establishment serves up a mighty fine helping of “ Italian home-style cooking,” thanks to the love and care that its owners/namesakes, Salvatore and Cecilia Cataldo, and their dedicated staff deliver seven days a week, 365 days a year, to ensure its patrons a rewarding dining experience that will leave them wanting to come back time and time again. Whether it’s the stuffed Ricotta Cheese Manicotti, Lasagne Fettucini Primavera or any of the assorted array of wood-fired pizzas, which are sure to whet the appetite of even the most skeptical of food aficionados, it will take less time to determine just how incredible and most satisfying the culinary experience will be at Cataldo’s than it would be to shout out “Buon cibo, buon vino, buoni amici!” (Translation: good food, good wine, good friends)

RG Magazine recently met up with Cecilia Cataldo on that beautiful Spring afternoon at her famed restaurant. She was extremely gracious enough to take the time to speak with the publication, in between her hostess duties of ushering in patrons to their tables, expediting their orders and making sure libations flowed without ceasing. Aside from her daily involvement and managerial operations at Cataldo’s, she realizes what it takes to draw clients in and ensures their return to a place revered for its ambience and fabulous cuisine.  

First things first. The aroma in this place is simply intoxicating! 

Thank you. Our motto at Cataldo’s is this…”We won’t serve it, if we won’t eat it!”

Curiosity strikes at the hearts of those who truly recognize that authentic Italian fare originates from the country recognized as “The Boot.” Let’s go back to the beginning. Where were you born and how many years did you live in Italy before emigrating to the United States?

I was born in Mola di Bari, which is a small town in the Southern Italy region of Puglia, and lived there for 13 years. It truly was a blessing, my Catholic upbringings-strict, loving parenting, where I learned to pitch in with housework at a very young age, learned to cook from Mom, my grandmother, aunts, neighbors. We were one, big, happy family! I was also one of seven children. Sadly, my brother, Vitantonio, passed away just last year, in July 2017.  

It is worth noting that you did not, at first, pursue a career in the food industry. Rather, it was one involving fashion and design, where you briefly attended the Fashion Institute of Technology of New York. What did you do, prior to becoming a vested owner and worker in a New York restaurant establishment?

While in school, I started working as a temp at Abraham & Strauss Department Store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. I worked the jewelry counter on the first floor. Within a year, I got promoted to Assistant Buyer and eventually ran the office area. In 1980, I got engaged and married to Sal. I continued to work at Abraham & Strauss until the birth of my daughter, Phyllis, in ’82…went back after a six-month maternity leave, to find out I could not be away from my child. “Mommy Full-time” was my calling. I worked from home for several years and opened a garment factory, Mola Fashion, with one of my sisters. We did work for designer Norma Kamali, when she first started, in ’83, ’84 and also for Giorgio Sant’ Angelo, as well as many others.

Talk a bit about Cataldo’s, when it began as a business and exactly where it got its start. Also, who are the main players involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant?

While Sal worked in the pizzaria and restaurant of his older brother Nino’s Restaurant of Carroll Gardens (est. 1968), I worked there, as well, at the catering hall in Carini Palace, which was an extension to the restaurant. In ’98, ’99, Nino’s was sold. Sal kept working for the new owners. Then, Nino regained ownership under Sal’s management; the restaurant regained its old glory, only to be resold. Sal went to work with his brother, Vincent, at Vinny’s of Carroll Gardens, after a few years. With Vinny’s blessings, the idea of Cataldo’s Restaurant was born. At the time, we both worked at Vinny’s. Also, my daughter, Phyllis, she started working there before us, as a waitress, while in high school. She now teaches English at New Dorp High in Staten Island. Phyllis is very dedicated to the success of Cataldo’s and still comes by on the weekends to help us. It really is a family affair!

When reflecting on the very first day Cataldo’s opened its doors for business, what was that personally like for you?

The restaurant officially opened on January 19, 2009. Sal, my son, Rosolino, and Phyllis, who put her teaching career on hold to help the family business, were there. My brother, Tony, made pizza. Mario, who worked with Sal at Nino’s, came on board with us and the kitchen staff. We all were so hopeful for a nice turn out! There was filming going on Dean Street. The street was closed to traffic, so, I decided to make coffee and butter rolls. I went across the street and offered food to the filming crew, mentioning to them that it was our first opening day, left them menus and welcomed them to our establishment.

Hospitality always works! They kept us busy all day. First day was a success!

What are some of the most popular choices ordered from the menu at Cataldo’s?

Veal Parmigiana, Lasagne, Stuffed Artichoke. Well, it’s hard to say. The patrons love everything we make, because it’s made with love. You can taste the love!

Cataldo’s is well-known to be frequented by an eclectic coterie of diners who come here, near and far, to enjoy authentic Italian cuisine. For those curiosity seekers, who want to know if the restaurant has ever been frequented by the “Rich and Famous” of New York and beyond, do you care to divulge the names of those in-the-know?

Through the years, we have met many, who are well established in the music and movie industry. Liberty DeVitto, former drummer for Billy Joel, and his wife, Anna, stop by often and are really great people. From time to time, they will gift us with meeting other friends and musicians. Billy J Kramer and his wife, Ronnie,  celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary here, which was hosted by Liberty and Anna. Drummer Carmine Appice has eaten here, accompanied by Liberty and Anna. They invited Fran Strine, Producer of “Hired Gun-The Documentary,” with Phil X, bassist of the Bon Jovi Band. Michael Sackler-Berner of The Slim Kings has also dined at Cataldo’s. Mr. Danny Seraphine, in the company of Liberty, Billy Amendola and his wife, Chris, celebrated a birthday at Cataldo’s. Mr. Billy Amendola is the Editor of Modern Drummer Magazine. Music Producer Butch Jones has dined here, too, with Liberty. We also had comedian Tammy Pescatelli film a part in an episode of “Stand Up Mom” at Cataldo’s that aired on WE tv. We had country singer Luke Bryan come in for an early dinner one night. A real gentleman. He picked up the check for the entire restaurant. Most there were going to see him in concert at the Barclays Center that night. Of course, actress Torrey DeVitto, Liberty’s daughter, has been here, whenever she’s in town, as well as her sisters.  

We thank them all for their patronage, but above all, their friendship. 

How do you like to spend your free time, when you are not busy running one of Brooklyn’s best Italian restaurants?

My favorite thing to do? Rest! (laughter). I like to paint with acrylics, watercolor, oils; gardening, traveling and listening to good music.

What do you feel is the “main ingredient” behind the continued success of Cataldo’s?

Honestly? We love what we do… 

Cataldo’s is open daily 11 am. – 10 p.m. Sunday thru Saturday. The restaurant is located at 554 Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y. For more information, please call (718) 857-6700 or visit www.cataldos54.com  

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