For nearly three decades, restaurateur Joe Accurso was the man to see for Southern Italian cuisine just south of the Plaza. Generous, jovial, good-natured Joe opened a little delicatessen at 5044 Main in 1984 when he was 24 years old. The sandwich shop later became the classic incarnation of a family-style Italian-American restaurant: red-and-white-checked vinyl tablecloths, Chianti bottles used for candlesticks, family photos hammered into every inch of available wall space. The food was cheap, the ambience casual, and there was always Joe - delivering plates, opening wine bottles, hanging out with his regulars.
When 5044 Main was slated to be demolished, Joe Accurso rented space in a new building being constructed down the street at 4980 Main - the same glass-box structure that contains Spin! Pizza and Glace Artisan Ice Cream - and opened a shiny new Accurso's in 2009. The menu didn't really change, and the Accurso family photos were back on the walls, but the place just wasn't the same. That essense of an old-fashioned neighborhood joint was gone, and some of the old restaurant's eccentricities (erratic service, an inconsistent kitchen) were less tolerable in the sleek new dining room. Also, Joe, now the father of a toddler, didn't seem to be around as often.
In 2011, Joe sold his restaurant to his cousin Craig Accurso and Craig's son, Anthony. Since neither of them had much, if any, hands-on restaurant experience, they spent the first 15 months operating the restaurant as it had been for the previous two years. Sure, they painted the dining rooms, added linen tablecloths on weekends and replaced the photos of Joe Accurso's clan with photographs of their side of the Accurso family. And to understand the workings of a busy restaurant kitchen, Anthony Accurso - the owner and senior manager - spent a year cooking behind the line.
Last month, the big changes were unveiled at Accurso's. And Anthony is out of the kitchen and working the dining room.
There's something you need to know about Anthony Accurso: The 26-year-old has such a potent sense of confidence that he should bottle it and sell it like salad dressing. He's so upbeat and friendly that he makes his congenial cousin Joe seem almost dour.
And now that he understands the workings of the old Accurso's, he's ready to put his own fresh imprint on the joint. "No one was doing any marketing for this restaurant," Accurso says, "let alone using social media and new media to get the word out. We're doing that now. We have a new website, and Facebook has been an incredible sales tool for us."
"Spumoni," he says. "No one was ordering it, and why would they? We have superb cheesecake - my grandmother Mimi makes it from scratch! - and the very best house-made tiramisu!"
Accurso returned chicken Marsala to the menu, added a ridiculously rich seafood ravioli smothered in lobster champagne sauce, a perfectly seasoned pasta puttanesca (one of several new vegetarian-friendly dishes) as well as spaghetti carbonara, and linguini tossed with whole-shell fresh clams in a lemony wine sauce. Anthony changed the sausage that the restaurant serves, but the Accurso family red sauce is the same.
And then he took on the bar. "We have a drink list now and unique cocktails. We upgraded all of the liquors in the bar and the glassware. When I took over, Accurso's only had one beer on tap, Peroni. We now have eight beers on tap. And we offer 102 wines, both by the glass and full bottles."
Accurso continues to close the restaurant on Sundays: "I have two small children," he says. "That's my day to be with them. But sometimes, during the week, my wife, Sarah, will come in and work with me. It's still a family business, like Accurso's always was. But now it's my family business."