You probably know Chazz Palminteri from his appearances in films like Bullets Over Broadway, The Usual Suspects or A Bronx Tale, based on his own life and childhood in the Bronx and soon to be a Broadway show, making its debut this fall. But these days, Palminteri also spends a lot of his time at his eponymous restaurant in Midtown East (a collaboration with the owners of Empire Steakhouse), where we sat down with him to discuss his new role as restaurateur, Sicilian vodka, sharing olives with Frank – yes, that one – and where to eat in the old Bronx neighborhood.
Drinking With Chazz Palminteri
Tell us about your beverage program here at Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano.
We have a lot of Italians, Super Tuscans, Tignaellos, Sassicaias, and we also have some great wines from California. Our clientele also likes whiskey, so we have a lot of high-end scotch, single barrels. And I have my own vodka line called BiVi. The word for drink in Italian is Bevi but in Sicily it is pronounced “bee-vee”. I went to Sicily and met my now partner, Giovanni, one of the top grappa makers in the world. This guy is a fanatic! We decided to make BiVi and, like me, he is a perfectionist. Our vodka has to be handmade in small stills and he will distill when the moon is a certain way that makes the molecules the most tasty and perfect for BiVi vodka. I thought that he was BS-ing me; I was like ‘come on, is he serious?’ Chazz Palmenteri Restaurant wine menu.
We noticed that you had a cocktail on the menu, called the Sicilian Martini. We want to hear more about a famous martini olive that you shared with…
Frank Sinatra! Yeah! I got to know Frank pretty well, and I was at his house in Malibu and we were talking. He was drinking a martini and I was drinking a Perrier. We were talking about movies and he was telling me how much he loved A Bronx Tale. Frank was one of the few people that I could never get over who he was, do you know what I am saying? I mean, I have worked with (Robert) DeNiro and (Al) Pacino and I was always like, they’re my friends. There was something about Frank that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around, for some reason. I was always like that’s Frank Sinatra, I’m with Frank Sinatra. I just couldn’t get over it.
Anyway, at the end of the conversation he had the two olives on a toothpick and he finishes his martini and says, “Chazz, share my olives. I want to share my olives.” I didn’t know what he was doing. Then he said it again, “Come on take it, share my olives”. So I took the olive off and he took the other olive and we popped the olives in our mouths. Then he hugged me and said, “I love you, you’re a good kid.” I was like what was that about?
So, I was telling a bunch of people that were there that night and I hear a voice behind me go, “Frank shared an olive with you?” I turned around and it was Gregory Peck. they were best of friends. Gregory said, “That is sign of great friendship Chazz. That was Rat Pack tradition. All of the Rat Pack used to drink martinis and, at the end, they would share their olives.” So I brought that tradition here to the restaurant. When people order a martini with two olives, they share their olives with friends, family or a date and they are bonded for life.
Talking about some of your friends, who would be your favorite drinking buddies on set?
I’m not a big drinker, especially on set. But there are so many great guys! Bob DeNiro is always fun to go out with and he can drink. I would say him, and Chris Walken; he’s a funny guy. I did a movie with him and we went out a few times and he is great. (editor’s note: Chazz does really awesome impressions of both DeNiro and Walken)
Your restaurant seems like a great date spot. What would recommend someone coming here on a date to drink?
It is a great date spot. Well if they really want to get the relationship off right, You come here, you order a BiVi Martini with 2 olives. Then you are bonded for life.
You’re originally from the Bronx – do you ever go back to the neighborhood? Where would you recommend people to go for drinks?
Yes, yes, at least once a month. The restaurant that I really love there is Roberto’s – they have great cooking, great pasta, great cooking in foil, great fish. Wonderful Italian restaurant. I mean, all of the restaurants there are great, and I go to all of them there so I need to be careful. But I love Roberto’s, it’s special to me. Also, go to Mike’s Deli, some great sandwiches for 60–70 years. Casa Mozzarella for fresh mozzarella. When you walk in, he is making the mozzarella and there is a line around the corner. And Geno’s Pastry, the Cannoli King, the greatest Cannolis that you ever tasted. And if you want cheeses, olive oils then Teitel Brothers. They have been there 105 years. So those are the places. If you go to those places, you will be fine.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee. I like it Café au lait. Just coffee with a little coconut milk or almond milk. I have been drinking almond and coconut milk before it was trendy.
How involved were you with the drinks menus here at Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano?
I trust Jack Sinanaj, my partner, he is really knowledgeable. He owns a number of restaurants. The real thing that we really wanted here was really first rate stuff, class. The food, the waiters, the service, everything. Look, if my name’s on it, it’s not a pizzeria; it’s going to be a high-end Italian restaurant where people from anywhere can come here on a date or for a meeting. We have a huge lunch business. To me, that was very important.
It seems like you are very hands on with all of your projects.
Yeah, I am. I am in the city a lot, especially with A Bronx Tale opening on Broadway (with De Niro and Jerry Zaks are directing, with Alan Menken doing the music, it begins previews on November 3rd and opens on December 1st, at the Longacre Theater). I am at the restaurant three or four times a week, getting ready for everything with rehearsals so I say, ‘Let me go to the restaurant.’ I also like to go to the Empire Steakhouse, my partner’s steak house. I met my partner by going to his restaurant and watching, then I got to know them. I saw that he runs a tight ship.
Advice for people that might want to break into the restaurant industry?
That you have to, have to, have to, do it with someone that is very experienced. You cannot do this business on the fly and learn it while you do it. You will fail. Unless everything is perfect, you will fail. I see it, that’s why I’m with Jack. These guys were dishwashers, they were chefs, bus boys – they know everything. They can do every job and they’re smart. You want to do a play and a movie, talk to me; you want to do a restaurant, you need to talk to them. I know what I do well here and I know what they do well there.
When we first started talking about the restaurant, I wanted to open in the Theater District. I’m on Broadway a lot, and I wanted to be able to say, “Come to my restaurant it’s right next door.” I had these romantic visions, and my partners were very nice and they listened to me. They said, we know that you want to do it there but over there the lunch business is really nonexistent. The east side by the UN is a neighborhood, Second Avenue is a neighborhood. People go out to dinner here three, four times a week. All of these buildings people live in and these buildings do lunch, we do a huge lunch business. So, I said, “OK. Forget the theater.”
What else are you working on?
A Bronx Tale on Broadway, opens on December 1st and tickets are on sale now. Come to Chazz Palmister’s, have a vodka martini then head to the theater. The show is playing on 48th and my restaurant is on 48th. Purchase Tickets Here
Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano Details890 2nd Ave, New York, NY
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