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Something Up at 203 Fifth

203 5th Avenue, home to a long-shuttered pizzeria best known for its vintage Coca-Cola signage, is seeing some action for the first time since closing nearly two years ago. The gate was rolled up this morning and there appeared to be some activity going on inside. According to a DOB permit issued last month, the existing storefront is going to be replaced and a new floor will be installed.

So long, great old sign!


Who's Jackie Connor?

Walking up Seventh Avenue past the Old First Church, at Carroll Street, it's easy to not notice that the northwest corner has been renamed in honor of Jackie Connor. Who was she? And why does she have a corner?

For those who lived in the area over five years ago, and spent any time walking around this part of the neighborhood, that would be an easy question to answer. According to OTBKB, Jackie was a friendly, perennially visible presence on the stretch of Seventh near the church, and could often be spotted pushing a shopping cart around and keeping an eye on the area. Even though she may have appeared homeless, she wasn't, and served as the eyes and ears of the neighborhood, and helped those in need. 

"Civic minded doesn't even begin to describe Connor, who cared deeply about the neighborhood where she was born and raised," says Louise at OTBKB. "Everyone knew her and she knew everybody; she kept the police abreast of what was going on on Seventh Avenue by cell phone. And she had her pet peeves like flyers on lamp posts, which she waged a one-woman campaign to remove." 

She held court from her perch on the church's steps, which she referred to as her "office," for over thirty years. One of her biggest accomplishments was convincing the city to pick up trash twice daily along Seventh. She also fought to keep the fire house on Union Street open after 9/11 and for security guards in bank lobbies after hours. There wasn't a local issue she wasn't willing to take part in, even if it was just giving advice to those looking to get involved.

Apparently she used to frequently call the cops in order to keep three emotionally disturbed homeless men who'd hang out in front of the church at bay. Old First Pastor Daniel Meeter chimes in: "She had the time to sit there on the wall until the cops came. And it didn't matter to her how many times she had to call them. And the men were afraid of her. Jackie even had a direct line to the NYC Commissioner of Transportation! For a neighborhood to work (think "It Takes a Village"), there have to be people like Jackie who are the watchers, vigilant, tenacious, and not afraid."

When she passed away in the spring of 2006, the community launched a campaign to rename the corner in honor of the unofficial "Mayor of Seventh Avenue." It was unveiled on July 15, 2006, what would have been her 64th birthday. From what I could gather, if anyone ever deserved a street sign, it was her.


Friday Foodporn: Juventino, Formerly Get Fresh Table and Market

Juventino, the two year old, Michelin-recommended farm-to-table restaurant on Fifth Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets formerly called Get Fresh, has to be one of the most comfortable places to eat a meal in the neighborhood. The dining room is spacious and airy, service is friendly, and the double-wide storefront and floor-to-ceiling windows fill the space with light. Dining in the backyard, surrounded by an herb and vegetable garden, transports you far from Brooklyn. 

The best time to visit is during the day, when light fills the room, it's not too crowded, and the daily brunch menu is available. Dishes as simple-sounding as a chopped salad or a braised chicken sandwich are elevated by seasonal ingredients like pumpkin (in the former) and pickled vegetables and farmstead cheese (in the latter). The prawns and polenta, above, comes with poached eggs and a drizzle of aged balsamic. The Indian-spiced turkey burger is probably the best one in the area, and a rotating selection of fresh soups make for a satisfying, inexpensive lunch.

You can tell that each ingredient on every dish on the menu was selected with an eye on seasonality and freshness. This spot would feel right at home in Northern California; you can tell Alice Waters is a big influence here.

There's also a surprising taco menu, inspired by owner Juventino Avila's mother's recipes. Giannone chicken, Wagyu lengua, and seared duck breast are standouts. 

Next time you're considering which top-tier neighborhood restaurant to have a relaxed, seasonally inspired meal at but don't want to wait long, be crammed in, or hurried along, I'd suggest Juventino.

Juventino, 370 5th Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. 718-360-8469.


Villa Rustica now Pizza Rustica

Villa Rustica, the relatively new, well-liked pizza place on Third Street just downhill from Fifth, got a new owner a couple weeks ago, and along with new ownership it's also been re-christened Pizza Rustica.
An employee tells me that the chef and menu are exactly the same, and the only thing the new owner changed is the name. I have a feeling that proximity to La Villa, a similarly named restaurant just a few blocks away, also played a part in the decision. Too many Villas can get a little confusing.


Metro PCS Store Headed for Fifth Ave and First Street

Signage went up today at a soon-to-open branch of cell phone service provider Metro PCS at 274 Fifth Avenue (between First and Garfield), next to the also soon-to-open spin studio Cycle Bar (which is actually having its first open house tomorrow).

While a new cell phone store isn't incredibly exciting, it's always good to see a long-vacant storefront find a new occupant.