Everyone in New York has a favourite Italian restaurant. Some are impeccable with white table linen, several stemwares preset on the tables, and a maître d to greet each customer or guest as they enter. However, many others are mom and pop. And then, there are a few that outsiders may consider a dive. The latter type of venue becomes a place local loyalists go to not just for the food, but for the inherent promise of a rampant, wholesome good time.
Puglia fell partially into the latter at the time I patronized it, although it is has changed over the years. Considered the only continuously family-owned restaurant in New York, I dined here for 3 decades beginning in the 70s; most times with my dear friend and dining out companion.
Planted by the owner, Gregorio Garofalo in 1919, Puglia's original location was located at 117 Mott Street. He had just arrived from Puglia, Italy to begin his American dream. Hence it would make sense to name his venue after his home town. After WWII, the restaurant moved to 189 Hester Street, in the heart of New York's Little Italy.
The menu offered customary but super delish and significant portions of Southern Italian fare. Each time, I would try a different dish. For me, the food was excellent and my friend, whose roots hailed from Sicily, rated it thumbs up.
Not known for having an impressive atmosphere, this is what made it exceptional (besides the food). Often you would hear arguments in the kitchen, plates breaking and your table filled with mix-matched china and cutlery. Tables for two were not available, so it was not unusual to share a table with other diners.
On Saturday evenings, a singer performed. Although tourists stayed away, the locals filled the place up to hear 'Cherry Herring' (yes, that was her name and quite a character) sing her spicy selection of Southern Italian tunes. Amid the raunchy crooning, the noise from the kitchen, loud talking and food was being served, it still made it a night to remember and I think of Puglia quite often.