Bay Ridge

Thomas Perone bolsters Bay Ridge dining possibilities with his new restaurant, The Corner

June 27, 2024 Alice Gilbert
Thomas Perone in front of his restaurant. Photo courtesy of Thomas Perone.
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In my experience interviewing Brooklyn food personalities, I have run across the names Brooklyn Roots and Thomas Perone more than any others. They were mentioned in conversations by Louis Coluccio and PepinoJoe when I asked about their favorite place to get Italian food in the borough. Restaurant recommendations (like the one from your friendly neighborhood food newsletter) can be great, but a personal recommendation is even better. I had to get down to therootof what Thomas Perone, the Chef and Owner at Brooklyn Roots, is doing right, and what he’s looking to achieve at his new restaurant, The Corner, opening just down the street. 

Tell me about yourself and how you came to own Brooklyn Roots. 

I’ve been in the business for 26 years. I previously had a company called Pig Guy NYC that didn’t work out. I worked at several places in Manhattan, in all types of cuisines, and my stepfather is from Pakistan, so I learned how to make Pakistani food. I lost my job in the pandemic, and I was on the express bus home and I thought,Let me just do an old-school Italian place. The first guy I called had an open storefront that he owned. I just started marketing online on Facebook and Instagram. The first day we opened, we had no deliveries, no pickups. Next day, we had like 11, then 14, then 20. We were at 46th Street and 4th in Sunset Park originally. People were driving down from all over Brooklyn. 

The Matty Guns Special. Photo courtesy of Thomas Perone
The Matty Guns Special. Photo courtesy of Thomas Perone

It just took off. I kept my head down and kept working. Brooklyn Roots ended up in Bay Ridge about a year and a half later. My partner at the time was finished with the restaurant industry, so I called my friends at Tuscany Grill and asked them to work together. Within two weeks, we had signed a contract, and October will be three years. 

So it not only was born out of the pandemic, but it thrived amidst it. 

I thrive in traumatic situations, I guess. The last time I exploded within the culinary scene was right after [Hurricane] Sandy. We cooked in my apartment for 30,000 people. After that, everything took off. It was a terrible time for many people, and myself as well, in both situations, but I made the best of it.

How did your work during and after the pandemic differ from your work before it?

Before the pandemic, everybody was a foodie. I think the pandemic made everybody become a cook in their own right. Social media made going to a restaurant an even bigger deal. It became an event because you couldn’t do it for a couple of years. The restaurant industry has suffered more than it has excelled, but, especially in Bay Ridge, that’s turning around. A lot of places are closed, but we have places opening

People know their stuff now, and they’re not quiet about it. If you charge somebody $30 for a plate of pasta and it’s not outstanding, they will complain. I think it puts more pressure on restaurants to be on the top of their game. Before, you could get by being average but not anymore.

Tell me about the name Brooklyn Roots. 

I can’t take all the credit. My brother used to work for the Brooklyn Cyclones; they had a night after Sandy, and there was a T-shirt that said Brooklyn Roots on it. I was like, “I love that. I’m going to open a restaurant called Brooklyn Roots.” It explains my background. I’m 43 years old. I was born here. I never plan on leaving. Many people get upset by the change in Brooklyn and how things changed rapidly, especially in the 2000s. I embrace it because it’s a melting pot. 

Chicken marsala. Photo courtesy of Thomas Perone
Chicken marsala. Photo courtesy of Thomas Perone

It used to be that you would walk down Bay Parkway, and it would be all Italian pizzerias. Now, you never know what you’ll get — there’s a Vietnamese place, a Thai place, and I love that. If you can’t afford to travel to those places, you’re gonna get pretty close to what you would get. My partners here are also Brooklyn natives. Everybody knows somebody somehow, especially in Bay Ridge. Brooklyn Roots was all Italian in the beginning, but as I went on, I added a little bit more of the other types of cuisine that you find in Brooklyn. This corner — we call it the magical corner — is the foundation of everything we do. That led us to open this new restaurant called The Corner.

What is The Corner going to be like?

It’s going to be on the same block as Brooklyn Roots. To me, this corner is special because 24 years ago in June, I met my wife on this corner, at the original Casa Calamari. I was training this girl, and I, of course, gave an attitude. I was busy. I didn’t want to train anybody. Then I turned around, saw her and said,I’ll train her!I told her,Listen, you don’t know me, but I’m going to marry you one day.” 

The space on 86th and 3rd Avenue became available, and I told my partners I wanted this place. I wanted a restaurant where I could wake up and cook whatever I wanted. I want to merge everything I’ve done into one venue but also be able to change the menu. The great thing is that we have such a great base from Brooklyn Roots who I know will come. I know that when they taste the food, they’ll see what else our group is capable of doing

I have four guys doing this with me, and I’m happy I’m doing it with this group because we work so well together. We’re all the same age, and we have the same attitude toward things. This is a big deal because it’s a restaurant we’re building from the ground up. Brooklyn Roots has wooden tables everywhere; it’s an Italian restaurant. You know the deal. At The Corner, there are granite tops and marble everywhere. It’s a beautiful place. And the beauty of it is I can cook whatever I want every day, except (sorry to everybody) I’m not going to do Italian. We’ll have a pasta special here and there, but I’m not going to try to cross what we do. If you want Chicken Marsala and you want to wear your pajamas, you can head to Brooklyn Roots. We wanted a place that’s still casual Bay Ridge, but where it’s stepped up a little bit. I have an excellent pastry chef, who I’m very excited about. 

I’m confident because I can’t even leave my house without people stopping to ask when it’s going to open. And I’m like,Stop asking me!I’ve aged like Barack Obama in the past four years because the expectation level is very high, but it’s good stress. 

Tell me more about that loyal customer base. Are they coming from Bay Ridge, other parts of Brooklyn or beyond?

People travel three hours from Philadelphia and Connecticut every weekend. People come from California to visit their families and tell us this is the first thing they want to do. We didn’t have a lot of money to do PR and marketing. We try to do self-promotion and word of mouth. To see it work this well means we’re doing something right with the food, and we have a great front of house that’s very welcoming and warm. The whole place is a vibe. It’s always jam-packed with people, which is not always the most ideal situation, but I would never move because it’s perfect here. We try to make everybody happy, but there’s something you can feel when you walk in here. The kitchen is the size of my car. It’s hot, and we’re producing over 150 covers out of this box. I think The Corner will bring more of the downtown crowd to Brooklyn, which I’m very excited about. With the addition of this place, and some other new spots, we may have a bit of a Bay Ridge restaurant renaissance. 

A new dish that will be served at The Corner. Photo courtesy of Thomas Perone
A new dish that will be served at The Corner. Photo courtesy of Thomas Perone

What are people ordering most often at Brooklyn Roots?

The Matty Guns Special is a rigatoni alla vodka with mozzarella, hot and sweet sausage and meatballs, and it feeds about three normal people. The Chicken Marsala is probably the second most popular. The marsala is a sweeter one, and there’s no filler or water in there. It’s almost syrupy when it’s done. It’s a special dish and probably my signature dish. I’m partial to dishes that people don’t order all the time, like the Chicken Scarpariello. It’s on the bone, so people stay away from it, but to me, that’s the best dish. It’s the sleeper. 

What are you doing on your days off?

I’ve had more freedom recently since a guy has come to replace me on the line. I took a little mini vacation to South Carolina to do some research and development because I’m obsessed with southern food and trying to put my take on it on The Corner’s menu. I’m trying to take some time for myself, but I still work six days a week. I’m getting into the building on Monday to start cooking at The Corner. 

Mondays are always spent with my daughter, Callie. We call it Daddy-Callie Day, and whatever she tells me to do, we do. Yesterday, I stood at a waterpark for 12 hours. It was great. 

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