Molfetta’s Restaurant

David Wronski remembers . . .

Once upon a time in New York City there was a restaurant named Molfetta’s. It was located on 47th Street just west of 8th Avenue. There were a whole lot of other Greek restaurants in the vicinity, along with groceries and bakeries featuring Greek specialties.

The restaurant was on the lower level, with a night club upstairs. The restaurant itself was divided into sections, the main dining area with waiter service, and a smaller section for cafeteria style.

I often went there for the generous, tasty portions and good prices. In the cafeteria section, you were greeted by a man who seemed to be a fixture of the place, and who was probably the head man in the kitchen; a small, square and sturdy Greek with the biggest smile and most hospitable manner.

[Sidebar: And, I know Cooky Cat would agree with this. Of course a restaurant has to have food that you like, then some comfortable atmospherics. But, the service makes a huge difference in the dining experience. To put a point on it, if the service is brusque, rude, hurried, indifferent, unconscious, or lazy then there’s no amount of wonderfulness coming out of the kitchen that would make us want to come back. Put another way, sometimes the most prosaic restaurant meal is a peak experience when the service shows the love.]

Now back to Molfetta’s. . . At the back of the cafeteria section the amiable cook presided over a steam table with several covered pots, each easily 30 inches in diameter. For my delectation, he would happily lift each lid to show what was on for that day. Typically, always something with lamb. Lamb and string beans, lamb with artichokes, lamb and orzo, braised lamb shanks, even roasted lamb head. Also, some sea food offerings like a fish stew, something with squid, and grilled fish. There was a side salad bar with the staple steamed escarole swimming in a lemon-olive oil dressing. It was a complete menu, so there was also the requisite Moussaka, Spanakopita, Pastitsio, Avgolemono soup, classic Greek salad, and the Trinity appetizers: Taramasalata, Tsatsiki and Skordalia.

Here’s a favorite meal. Taramasalata appetizer with some good fresh baked neighborhood rustic whole wheat bread and Retsina wine. When I ordered the roasted lamb head it would arrive carved off the bone. That, and the escarole salad. Food for the gods.

Once at lunch time I had the place to myself. Something unexpected happened that looked like right out of a movie. An attractive young woman came in—also by herself—and sat down near my table. No one else in the place. I was smoking a hand rolled cigarette, and she asked me if she might have one. With a line of dialogue right out of a B movie I said, “Of course, I’ll make one for you; but don’t be intimidated if is rather large.” Cheeky monkey, huh? I invited her to join me and the waiters all got very enthusiastic helping her move to my table; like they were party to some classic cliché beginning of a screen romance. After our lunch she invited me to accompany her to her nearby apartment where I stood by as she geared up to go roller skating. And we met up later at a wild nightclub called Circus (something or other). It was on West 45 near where the Peppermint Lounge used to be. It was a walk on the wild side. Melody Reed was her name. (Really! Some name, huh?) The lady was way out of my league. A great, vivacious and beautiful creature. No further details, just to say . . . that dame was as varied and complex as a Greek salad. As fast and hot as a shot of Ouzo.

Speaking of dames, when I would go to Molfetta’s, upon entering, was a wall of celebrity photos. Melina Mercouri was snapped cavorting at the upstairs night club.