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Brooklyn Roots Shines with Italian Food and Community

Chef/owner Thomas Perone at Brooklyn Roots.

Chef Thomas Perone has created a hub for “Old School Italian” in Bay Ridge

Note: A previous version of this article about Brooklyn Roots appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. It has been edited and reprinted with permission from the publisher.

At Brooklyn Roots in Bay Ridge, on a wintery Saturday night, the crowded room teemed with conviviality, from the happy-go-lucky bartender, to the friendly waitstaff working the floor, to the open kitchen in back where the crew prepared the type of Italian food that has generated similar excitement every night since opening in October of 2021. The Italian eatery has hit the sweet spot of cuisine and community that chef/owner Thomas Perone dreamed of throughout his decades-long cooking odyssey in New York.

“It’s the only thing I’m good at,” Perone jokes.

Like a lot of restaurant veterans, Perone got his start as a dishwasher. As a kid from Bensonhurst, an Italian enclave of Brooklyn, Perone began scraping plates at 14 and moved on to busing tables. He worked an array of Brooklyn kitchens and eventually ended up on the line at Coney Island’s legendary Garguilo’s, where he found his culinary calling and realized formal training was required. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education, he began his own catering company, Thomas Joseph Catering, out of a kitchen space in the waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook.

When Hurricane Sandy literally washed away his equipment, Perone went home to Bensonhurst and began cooking for communities in need. With donations directed through nearby wholesale butcher, and a few other local purveyors, Perone cooked tirelessly for 30 days straight, furthering his reputation among New York food circles as a hell of a chef and a stand-up guy.

This credibility led him back to catering major events, kiosks at Citifield and the Barclays Center, retail spaces at the Gansevoort Market and in Bay Ridge, a steakhouse gig in Manhattan, followed by a stint in fine dining.

Serendipity, via the pursuit of some margaritas with his wife, led Perone to 3rd Avenue off the corner of 87th Street in Bay Ridge, where they ran into a neighborhood guy who was part of a successful restaurant group, in desperate need of a chef for a place about to open in Staten Island. Perone helped with the launch but knew his future was back in Bay Ridge, right where they stood.

“I always loved this corner. I asked my wife to marry me across the street,” Perone says. “I always knew this was where I was going to be.”

He also knew that he would return to his roots of Italian cooking. After a false start on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park, Chef Perone partnered with the same local restaurateurs from Bay Ridge, in the space he deemed his destiny.

Under the awning of Brooklyn Roots, a neon sign reads “Old School Italian.” And that ode to nostalgia is all over the restaurant, including an interior that resembles something out of a Sons of Italy lodge circa 1972, but there’s modern touches and interpretations on the menu gleaned from Perone’s vast cooking experience in myriad cuisines. So, this is your father’s Italian food, but it isn’t at the same time. The menu is more expansive and the staples are more refined. The seafood is extraordinary, and there’s even something called a “Matty Guns Special” that reads like a disaster but tastes like a dream.

“I took all the things I learned about how to make a complete dish and added it to Italian food,” Perone says. “It must be working because everywhere I go people are talking about this restaurant. It’s bananas. Recently, a guy who just got out of prison came here before going home.”

There you go!

Brooklyn Roots, 8620 3rd Ave., Brooklyn, NY, 11209, brooklynrootsitalian.com

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