Michael Gatti's Family Tree

 

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The following article and photos appeared on pages D1 & D12 of the Staten Island Sunday Advance on Sunday, February 18, 1990. It gives a great overview of what the Lido was all about...


Dining is 'family style' at the Lido

Exterior

 

Rudy & Richie

The Lido is believed to be Staten Island's oldest operating restaurant. Chef Rudy Gatti gets an assist in the kitchen from his brother and partner, Richard Gatti.

Laura Bruno, About Staten Island

It was a spring Saturday in 1967, seven years before John Kearney took office as the borough's, public administrator. Splashing on aftershave, he had to remind himself not to stop at the Lido, the Tompkinsville restaurant where he usually spent every Saturday lunching with a group of good- natured politicos.

On this particular Saturday, May 27, Kearney's sister Mimi was to wed his good friend and fellow member of the lunch gang, Pete Cusick. Kearney was an usher, and Mimi and her father personally made sure he didn't take a Lido detour.

However, they forgot to remind the groom.

"One last drink with the boys" is all he stayed for, claims Cusick, now a state Supreme Court justice.

"Mimi didn't find out until someone blabbed it at the reception," Kearney recalled, but she took it in stride. "As long as Pete showed up at the church."

Besides, she couldn't fault him for stopping at the Lido, a place where the concept of family is as important as any ingredient Chef Rudolph Gatti uses in his delectable continental and Italian dishes.

Gatti's parents bought the Lido in 1946, when Rudy was in grammar school. "I've been here ever since," he joked.

He and his three brothers grew up around the Lido, which is believed to be Staten Island's oldest operating restaurant. More than 100 years old, the Lido was formerly known as the Arietta Hotel in the days when Victory Boulevard was the Richmond Turnpike.

In 1930, under the proprietorship and name Frank Monge, the restaurant was padlocked by federal authorities acting under the prohibition law. It was a great disappointment to non-teetotalers who regarded Monge's as a fine speakeasy.

Now, at 53, Rudy and his kid brother, 40-year-old Richie, run the restaurant together.

The rest of the crew, from busboy to bartender, might as well adopt the Gatti family name.

From 16-year-old Sal Melilli to 79-year-old Charlie Elia, the staff will say that working at the Lido means "family."

An oil portrait of the late Frank and Josephine (Josie) Gatti hangs above the centered mirror at the Lido bar. But painting or no, the couple could not be forgotten within the brick walls and arched sandstone ceilings at 37 Victory Blvd. - especially "Mama."

"Their mother was an angel," Elia said fondly. "She was the first one here and the last one out. She used to take care of everyone - her husband, her sons, the help, everyone. I really miss her."

Even Thomas Adair, a 66-year-old part-timer who wastes no words or praise, mellows at the mention of Mrs. Gatti. "She used to cook us breakfast every morning," he said. "We used to call her mom."

Charlie

 

Kitchen

Seventy-nine year-old waiter Charlie Elia stops by John Kearney's table at lunchtime.

 

The Lido's kitchen staff are kept busy handling special orders. Low cholesterol, low fat, no sugar - personal requests are no problem at the Lido.

Mrs. Gatti died in 1984, 13 years after her husband. Both had immigrated as teenagers from Piemonte, a town in northern Italy. Later, as parents, they moved to Concord from Brooklyn a few years before they bought the Lido.

Though no one can replace Mama Gatti, Elizabeth Moreno - manager, hostess bookkeeper, waitress, decorator, curtain maker and, according to Richie, "queen bee" - brings a motherly touch appreciated by those who lunch and dine at the Lido.

Richie's welcoming sense of humor makes strangers feel right at home, and Rudy's food makes patrons never want to leave. Some hardly do. Hardcore Lido fans are known to eat there five or six nights a week. And keep in mind the restaurant is closed on Mondays.

Special orders are Rudy's specialty. He prepares meals to suit any diet - low cholesterol, low fat, no sugar, you name it.

"Sometimes Liz'll call out an order and you think it's a prescription," Rudy joked.

But those of hearty appetite, fear not. Portions are more than generous (and moderately priced).

"If somebody wants a one-inch steak, they get it; if they want a two-inch steak, they get it," Richie said. "We don't have precut portions; Rudy's right there with the saw."

Great food, warm atmosphere and a friendly staff make the Lido something of a hidden treasure on the busy stretch of boulevard across from Tompkinsville Park. A city bus shelter obscures the front entrance, but at night, the overhead flashing Lido sign is a beacon.

"I don't know if new Islanders realize it's here," said 27-year-old Josephine Bishop. She had just finished a romantic Saturday night dinner with her fiance, Matthew Bendix, 25, who started coming to the Lido with his parents when he was 12.

The restaurant has remained a favorite of the Wadsworth couple, and they plan to have their wedding rehearsal dinner there.

John Noble, the late New Brighten maritime artist, used to stop by for lunch almost every day. Sometimes the artist and his wife, Susan, would come in around 3 or 4 p.m. and join the staff at the "family table" near the kitchen door.

"We'd be cleaning fresh string beans, and he'd be sitting there with a Bloody Mary or a martini, and he'd draw a picture in 20 minutes," Richie said. "He was a gruff old codger and a very gentle man," whose works are proudly hung in the Lido.

Other celebrity diners have included scientist Albert Einstein, baseball great Mookie Wilson and performer Shirley Jones.

But everyone's treated like a star at the Lido.

Bartender

 

Diners

Tom Otto tends the Lido's bar beneath a portrait of founder Frank and Josephine Gatti.

 

Waitress Francesca Guglielmetti keeps a brisk pace at lunchtime.

"We're just getting ready to put some cornish hens in," Rudy said late one recent morning. "The roast beef just went in, and being it's Friday, we'll have a lot of seafood."

The soup of the day was shrimp bisque. Rudy's soups are favorites among customers. "Starship soups," John Kearney calls them. "Remember how Father Flanagan of Boys Town said every boy is a good boy? With Rudy, every soup is a good soup."

Back in the days of the Saturday lunch club, Kearney recalled, politics and sports dominated conversation at Table 9, where judges, lawyers, bankers and the occasional newspaper editor gathered.

St. George attorney Jack Turkey, Surrogate Charles J. D'Arrigo and his predecessor, the late Judge Frank Paulo were among the regulars that numbered 14, by Kearney's count. And there were numerous cameo appearances by other members of the political scene.

They were at the Lido in 1969 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon; they were there in 1978 when Pope John Paul II was named successor to the late John Paul I, and they were there to speculate on countless pieces of Staten Island history.

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Theodore Barlow, who' now resides in Arizona, "was kind of the center" of the lunches, Kearney said. After the judge suffered a stroke in 1980, the tradition started to trail off.

But you'll still catch Kearney in a cozy Lido booth at least once week, maybe enjoying the sausage parmigiana with a cup of Rudy's soup, and maybe even telling the one about how his brother-in-law, the esteemed supreme court justice, couldn't even forsake the Lido his wedding day.

Richie

Richard Gatti, right, talks to Mark O'Callaghan at the bar.

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