Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: Richard Gibbs' Staten Island
It's not uncommon for chefs working in trendy restaurants located in trendy neighborhoods to live nowhere near where they spend long hours in front of the stove. When Richard Gibbs, the executive chef at Battery Harris in Williamsburg, isn't cooking up what he calls Afro-Latino cuisine or bottling his own barbecue sauces, he's spending time on Staten Island. He's lived there for nearly 16 years—"the rent is way cheaper than even in Brooklyn," and "it's a great place to raise my two kids"—and is always happy to tout his neighborhood.
Pizza: I think some people would dispute it, but I go to Brother's—not only because I live right around the corner from it. I'm not particularly fond of the thin crust pizzas that a lot of places do. At Brother's it's chewy crust but there's a crunch to it. I usually get the Grandma pizza, which has sauce with fresh mozzarella on top. It's a little sweet and savory.
Breakfast: To tell you the truth, one of the better ones we go to is the King's Arm Diner. I really like diner food. I don't care if it's morning time or late night. They're pretty old school here and their service is good. Even when it's crowded, we don't have to wait so long. Normally when I go I get a nice over easy egg with corn beef hash, wheat toast, and if I get greedy, I get the home fries with that.
Sandwich: I get a nice sandwich from Brother's. I get a chicken parm on garlic bread, toasted. They don't normally do it, but I ask them. Again, it's the sauce. It's a pretty large sandwich, too.
Burger: The Dugout Pub. It's pretty good but here's my trick: I don't get my burger more than medium. I order it one notch below what I want and usually they overcook it. So I'll order it medium-rare. If you do that, the burger is juicy and never dry. It's not Pat LaFrieda, but it's a good burger I get from over there. It's done how I ask for it if I use my trick.
Bagel: It's a place called Bagel Time. I usually get a variety in a baker's dozen. I like to eat the cinnamon raisin or the everything bagel. I go for the everything bagel first with cream cheese and lox. But my son is adventurous and gets cream cheese and bacon. It's pretty good, actually. Also, I always get my bread toasted. I like that texture.
Italian: Trattoria Romana is the only place that I'll go for Italian food in Staten Island. It's run by two brothers. One works the front of the house and the other cooks. I like the quality because the food is always fresh. I like their service, too. They're very Italian. I think he barely speaks English, but he'll talk to you. When he found out I was a chef, he once shaved big chunks of truffle on my dish. A chunk fell in my glass of wine and he just laughed and said it'll make my wine better. I usually order whatever the special is. It's a big black board full of specials.
Dominican: I like to go to El Pollo Bar & Restaurant. It's amazing. The food is always fresh. The pernil is amazing: it's pork that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. They have good rotisserie chicken, and I also get mofongo. If I'm up early enough, I'll get the Dominican breakfast. It's fried white cheese, pan fried salami, and medium eggs. The killer of it all is the mangu. It's green plantains that are boiled and mashed, then served with red onion that's been pickled in vinegar and salt.
Southwestern: Adobe Blues. If you didn't know Staten Island, you wouldn't find it. It's away from the main thoroughfare. It has a lot of southwestern stuff. It's a cool, fun spot, loud and not so serious. The price range is not bad either. I usually order from their specials. It's usually something already on the menu, but they substitute a special meat. I think they did buffalo once.
Take out: We'll get Chinese from Mandarin House. It's not like going to Chinatown, but we get their shrimp toast. I usually get their special house lo mein with everything in it. I always ask them to make it spicy.
Ice cream: Ralph's has great ice cream and Italian ices. But they're only seasonal and the lines can be really long. I usually get the mango and sour cherry mix of the ices. They also make great milkshakes.
Brunch: There's a new gastropub called The Phunky Elephant. I've tried it before and like it. It has a good ambiance. I go for pretty simple stuff like their poached eggs.
Bar: Drunken Monkey is nothing fancy but it's a neighborhood bar. You're not going to order fancy cocktails here. I pretty much get a Hennessy with ginger ale. I don't stray too much. They're pretty heavy handed.
Date spot: Enoteca Maria is a small place and has all these nonnas cooking in the back. It's a nice, quiet little spot. They change their menu all the time.