Though new restaurants are opening up in Brooklyn every day, there’s nothing like dinner at a family-owned restaurant that’s been around for decades. The food tastes like it’s made with love when a family is cooking and serving it together. Many of Brooklyn’s oldest restaurants are family-run and have been passed down from generation to generation. In a city where so many restaurants and stores come and go in a few short years, it’s comforting to have several mainstays to rely on. Here is a list of some of the longest running family-owned restaurants in Brooklyn. As always, let me know if there are others I should add to the list.
Peter Luger Steak House (1887)
b/t Driggs Ave & 6th St
When this Williamsburg favorite opened in 1887, it was called Carl Luger’s Café, Billiards and Bowling Alley. Peter Luger owned the establishment, and his nephew, Carl, ran the kitchen. Sol Forman, who ran a factory across the street with his brothers, frequented the restaurant and was disappointed when it fell into disrepair following the death of Peter Luger. Forman purchased the restaurant at the auction, and Peter Luger’s is still run by the Forman family to this day. The restaurant has since earned a Michelin star and opened a second location in Great Neck, Long Island. I’ve mentioned their burger as one of my favorites in the city, but Peter Luger is of course known for their steaks.
32 Withers St
b/t Union Ave & I-278
Bamonte’s opened in 1900 and has remained in the family ever since. Anthony Bamonte, grandson of founder Pasqualte Bamonte, has kept the menu largely unchanged. The massive open kitchen and old photos of Bamonte family and friends give the restaurant an old-school feel, and their claim to fame is their red sauce.
Ferdinando’s Focacceria (1904)
151 Union St
b/t Hicks St & Columbia St
Columbia Street Waterfront District
Paul’s Focacceria opened in 1904, serving traditional Sicilian sandwiches to the local community and longshoremen who worked at the nearby piers. Frank Buffa took over the reigns 40 years ago, when his father-in-law, the third owner of the establishment, passed away suddenly. In the 30 years since, Frank has kept the menu and added dinner service and a few Sicilian dishes. Ferdinando’s famous panelle sandwich, made of a fried chickpea patty with ricotta and caciocavallo, was on the original menu and continues to draw crowds to this day.
451 Carroll St
b/t 3rd Ave & Nevins St
Originally called Angelo’s Tavern, Monte’s was founded in 1906 by husband and wife duo Angelo and Filomena Montemarano. Angelo’s was a speakeasy during Prohibition, and remained one of Brooklyn’s best-kept secrets until the late 1930s, when Angelo and Filomena’s son Nick renovated the place and renamed it Monte’s. Legends like Sammy Davis Jr. and James Caan frequented Monte’s, along with politicians and mobsters. Today, Monte’s is run by Dominik Castelvetre, the great nephew of Nancy Stuto Montemarano. They serve authentic Italian cuisine, and are known for their pizza in particular.
2911 W 15th St
b/t Surf Ave & Mermaid Ave
Gargiulo’s, Coney Island’s oldest Italian-American seafood restaurant, opened in 1907. It was run by the Gargiulos until 1965, when brothers Michael, Victor, and Nino Russo acquired the restaurant, keeping the name and adding Neapolitan-based seafood dishes to the menu. The high-ceilings, chandeliers, tuxedo-clad waiters, and linen tablecloths make it easy to forget that Coney Island’s beach is just steps away.
Randazzo’s Clam Bar (1916)
2017 Emmons Ave
Started by fisherman Joe Randazzo in 1916, Randazzo’s Clam Bar is currently run by daughter Helen’s grand- and great-grandchildren. At first, Randazzo’s was a fish market with a small counter for fast food. A clam bar was added in the 1960s, and Helen Randazzo began making her famous Sauce, a red sauce that comes “spicy” or “medium.” Randazzo’s was almost destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but Rosemary Randazzo reopened within months, much to the delight of Sheepshead Bay locals.
379 Columbia St
b/t Luquer St & Coles St
Nick Defonte bought the Red Hook storefront in 1922, and soon began making sandwiches to feed Brooklyn waterfront workers. Nick’s son, Dan, has since taken over the store and opened a second location in Staten Island. The heroes at Defonte’s are notoriously large, so if you make the trek to Red Hook (or Staten Island), make sure to bring your appetite!
782 Washington Ave
b/t Sterling Pl & Lincoln Pl
The Vlahavas family opened Tom’s in 1936, serving pancakes and lime rickeys. Gus Vlahavas was a well-known and beloved figure at Tom’s, and ran the diner until 2009, when he passed day-to-day management over to family members. This breakfast-only spot is known for its spicy omelettes and pancakes – there are now five different kinds on the menu.
Brennan & Carr (1938)
3432 Nostrand Ave
b/t Avenue V & Gravesend Neck Rd
Eddie Sullivan started out rolling silverware at Brennan & Carr as a young boy, but now he’s running the place. Sullivan’s father bought the place in 1938, and many of the staff have been working at Brennan & Carr for decades. The most famous item on the menu is the Hot Beef, a roast beef sandwich dripping in broth. However, what was for many years a secret menu item has recently been added to the takeout board: Italian bread from Gargiulo’s, with a roast beef on top of a cheeseburger – dipped in the beef broth, of course. You’ll need a car to get to this South Brooklyn mainstay, but it’s well worth the trip.
386 Flatbush Ave Extension
This now-famous chain started with one restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn in 1950. Harry Rosen worked with baker Eigel Peterson to devise what is referred to as “The World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake.” The restaurant is named after Harry’s two sons, Walter and Marvin, who now run Junior’s. On the menu, you can find standard diner fare (burgers, cheesesteaks, fries), but the cheesecake remains a crowd favorite.