Forget looking ahead and making resolutions in 2013. Since this year will mark my 25th reunion from Edgemont High School (insert gasp of horror here), I'm going to enjoy a little looking back. Like a shrunken and wrinkled grandma visiting the old neighborhood where she grew up, please indulge me as I take you on a brief yet colorful tour of Central Avenue, circa 1980.
One of the best things about growing up in Edgemont was my proximity to Central Avenue and all that it offered. On the strip of ½ mile between Old Army and Ardsley Road was everything I needed for sustenance, first as a child and then as a teen. In the space that now houses Staples was Child World, the biggest toy store my five-year-old eyes had ever seen. It was a superstore before there were superstores, and it competed with Toys R Us. (My parents wouldn't let me go to Toys R Us because it was located in a very dangerous place: Yonkers.)
There were so many dining options for me on Central Avenue. I loved the chicken cutlets and ambrosia salad from the German Deli, and the pizza at Gennaro's. In the same shopping plaza as Child World was a Chinese restaurant called South Seas that served delicious-slash-gross Pu-Pu platters, the kind with the fire in the center and fried everything all around. It was dark in that restaurant, and so the fire really glowed. I ordered it mostly to play with my food, as spinning the wood dish was easily my favorite part of the meal. When I got older, that restaurant became my favorite for another reason: it served Mai Tais and Scorpion Bowls to minors. The drinks were pictured on a laminated menu, so you could see just how blue the Blue Curacao liquor would be before ordering your preferred concoction. With a straight face, one of us would order for the group. "Can we get that with two paper umbrellas, one silk flower, and three straws, please? Thanks." Then we'd giggle into our napkins. The tackier the drink, the better it tasted.
Alas, the restaurant closed in the mid-1980's due to health violations. But the news was no biggie to us. We could always hang at The Mont.
Mont Parnasse diner, lovingly referred to as The Mont, was THE place to be almost all the time, especially during biology class and after a big Saturday night party at either Tamir's or JD's house. I'm talking old school here, before the renovations that changed The Mont from a dark, faux-wood 70's time warp palace into the bright, cheerful, glass and turquoise Florida diner it later became. Before it moved to the corner of Ardsley Road. Back then, each booth had a juke box. The chocolate pudding lived in a rotating display case up front and had 'skin' on the top of it. I loved it topped with whipped cream. I also loved fries with gravy.
Ah, you could smoke in restaurants back in those days. There wasn't even a smoking section; the whole place was just fogged up with carcinogens. I used to smoke Marlboro Lights in a coveted booth, the juke box playing Madonna while I downed several coffees in a row, confessing my innermost secrets to friends under the soft glow of a faux-Tiffany style plastic 'chandelier.' I would arrive home reeking like an ashtray.
"Were you smoking?" My mom would ask, eyeing me suspiciously.
"Nah, Mom, gross!" I would fake-shudder, pretending to take offense. "I was just at the Mont for hours. You know how it smells in there."
Who wouldn't love a restaurant that could be used as an alibi?
Most everything from those days is gone now. One of the last hold-outs - besides from Gennaro's, which is still an awesome place for a slice, and not just because the owner remembers me as a high school cheerleader - was Pizza and Brew.
Pizza and Brew was the place to go for regular meals as well as celebrations. On a random Thursday night after the Greenville Chorus Concert, that's where my family would go. There would be a line out the door as we waited for a table. Need to have a birthday party with the grandparents on a Sunday afternoon? Head to Pizza and Brew.
The quirky design feature that defined P and B was the train. You had to request your preference to sit in the train, which was, like it sounds, an old-fashioned trolley-like space in the middle of the restaurant. The tables had black and white advertisements on them and there were wooden slatted benches inside a green train with old movie posters overhead. In the 30 years that I ate at Pizza and Brew, I think I only sat outside of the train three times. In those cases, I liked sitting at the old-fashioned ice cream counter, which had, similar to The Mont, fake Tiffany stained glass lighting. But it also used wax ice cream sundaes for décor.
I am so glad that I brought my own children there to dine several times, now that Pizza and Brew is gone. Over the summer, the Rachanelli family that owns the restaurant closed its doors to renovate. Last month, it re-opened as Racanelli's New York Italian.
I had to go!
Perhaps because I was walking around the restaurant randomly taking photos with my phone, I was approached by John Racanelli, one of the owners. "Hi! So, what do you think of the new place?"
I oohed and ahhed as John gave my kids and me a tour or the beautifully designed new restaurant. "Did you make it bigger?" My 10-year-old son, Andrew, asked.
John laughed. "No, it's just funny what happens to a space once you remove a train from the inside of it. It feels a lot more open."
The restaurant mixes industrial-style elements, such as exposed ductwork and original concrete floors with reclaimed wood and honed marble to make it architecturally appealing and very current. Huge sliding garage doors front the space, which can open in good weather. Hints of the restaurant's past are all over the space, from the red and white ice cream parlor chairs in the waiting area to the original signage, now hanging as artwork. Black and white photos of the Racanelli family surround the bar.
John explained that the restaurant, which his father, Martino Racanelli, opened in 1972, was due for a change. "When the lease came up for renewal, the landlord told my father he needed to do two things: add a bar and update the décor. But then my father got sick."
Martino Racanelli passed away in 2011, and, a year later, the family began remodeling the restaurant. "We refocused the concept onto New York Italian and we've elevated everything. It's Pizza and Brew grown up," John said.
I guess, just like me, and after all these years, a lot of Central Avenue had to grow up too. And Racanelli's is a nice destination for a family looking for a slightly fancier but still kid-friendly night out.
But, to be perfectly honest, dear 2013, I kind of wish I could rewind time, so that I could sit in that train enjoying a greasy slice of pizza after an elementary school chorus concert, maybe just one more time.
Columnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia. Read about her new book Lauren Takes Leave and keep up with the latest from Julie Gerstenblatt at http://juliegerstenblatt.com