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Michael’s of Brooklyn: An Old-School Revelation

Our Editor-in-Chief finally makes it to legendary Michael's of Brooklyn and his experience is nothing short of a revelation.

The exterior of Michael's of Brooklyn.

The exterior of Michael’s of Brooklyn. Photo by Anthony Sciarratta.

Even as immersed as I am in the Italian food scene in NYC, there's plenty of noteworthy places that I haven't experienced. Then there's those places that people look at me funny when I say (admit?) I've never been. Case in point: Michael's of Brooklyn.

If I had a calamari for every time someone asked me about Michael's of Brooklyn...

What made this absence all the more noteworthy (embarrassing?) is that I've lived in Brooklyn for more than 25 years. What can I say? I'd never been! Until last week.

What a revelation.

Out in Marine Park, not far from Brooklyn's Italian Riviera, among the low-slung brick houses and Mom & Pops, Michael's is clearly established at the intersection of Avenue R and Nostrand Avenue. Half-a-block down one way and a quarter-block the other, the scripted "Michael's" appears early and often in every direction above the stone, ground-level facade that looks like it was repurposed from The Thing of Fantastic Four fame. No offense...

The interior of Michael's of Brooklyn.
The interior of Michael's of Brooklyn. Photo by Anthony Sciarratta.

The fortress-motif of the exterior, though, is belied by the immediate immersion, through solid oak doors, into one of those rooms. You know: Warmth and chandelier light and wood paneling. A piano being played in concert with the cacophony of a happy room in full swing. It's a big space with white tablecloths and servers in suits or uniforms. Despite the formal touches, Michael's is not stiff. Smiles abound, and everyone is welcomed like regulars (including this cat, an Italian food writer who has lived in Brooklyn for 25 years and had never been to Michael's...).

Opened in 1964, Michael's has been owned all along by the Cacace family. Now in its third generation, the contemporary Cacace leadership team has father & son, Fred and Michael up front, and Chef John in back, though the latter is often found in the dining room chatting at tables with customers, even newbies like me. We talked about the menu, including the vaunted "Specialties" equal in volume to the "Extended" or regular menu. "Let me bring you one of those," Chef John said repeatedly before darting to the kitchen.

Fried Lobster at Michael's of Brooklyn.
Fried Lobster at Michael's of Brooklyn.

What Chef brought back included a fried lobster, a "Baked N' Burnt" rigatoni with sausage and ricotta, and a braised rabbit cacciatore. All spectacular and not items found on the Extended menu that also exceeds in originality and volume the typical Italian-American palate card, among those most recommended is a legendary pounded and fried veal cutlet (next time).

All that said about the superior cuisine, what defines the Michael's of Brooklyn experience is the aforementioned hospitality and ambiance. It's just one of those joints where you walk in — first time or regular — and know that the people who run the place and work there are passionately invested in all the best reasons people dedicate their lives to the restaurant business. They don't give a shit about Instagram. They care about people. They are devoted to the same ethos of providing an experience you can't get at home and making it all worth your while. This is why we go out to eat.

Michael Casace, part of the third generation of owners at Michael's of Brooklyn.
Michael Cacace, part of the third generation of owners at Michael's of Brooklyn. Photo by Anthony Sciarratta.

If you are able, get to Marine Park for an unforgettable meal at Michael's of Brooklyn.

Pick me up on your way there!

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