By Penny Gray
The owners of Walker's, Tribeca's favorite neighborhood eatery at the corner of North Moore and Varick streets, are rolling out an Italian alternative to their American fare next door at the new pizzeria Girello ("Walker" in Italian, posing a potential confusion for the multilingual)."This is a real departure for us," said Gerard Walker, co-owner of the eponymous restaurant. "We've been the neighborhood regular for the last 30 years, so we decided it was time to become the neighborhood Neapolitan thin-crust pizza joint as well. We love the idea of evoking the same warmth with varying cuisines-that's why we created Girello."
Whereas Walker's has all of the ambiance of a nostalgic American saloon, Girello has been decorated with a decidedly European feel-it looks like a simple, clean trattoria in a fading southern Italian town. "We had the option of expanding Walker's into the space," co-owner Scott Perez said, "but we thought it'd be fun to create the same sort of friendly environment using superior products, just different flavors."
Walker and his partners, Perez and Martin Sheridan, first opened Walker's three decades ago and have enjoyed steady, prosperous business there ever since. The secret to their success? "Err on the side of the customer," Walker confided. "New York restaurant customers are the best in the world. If you treat them well and serve them quality food, they'll return. Never, ever take them for granted."
Walker says it's the customers who keep him in the business. "I have the opportunity every single day to make somebody's night special. A customer I haven't seen in a while will come in, and I'll say, 'Where ya been?' And he'll look at me like he can't believe anybody would remember him. You make someone's day like that. How many people get to show up to work and do that?"
Perez is quick to add that it's not just the customers that keep Walker's (and now Girello) in business, it's also the staff. "There's such a joy and an instant gratification in working with people who understand how to treat customers well," he said. When the restaurant was the only spot in the neighborhood that remained open during Hurricane Irene, both men agreed it was the combined goodwill of the staff and customers that made the experience such an enriching one.
Girello may have missed the hurricane, but the new restaurant has not been without its own complications. The toughest aspect of opening the new joint? "Perfecting the dough," Walker said. "For water, yeast and flour, there's a lot that can go wrong before you get it right. We actually had emails from chefs all over the city writing in about 'dough behaviors.' Luckily, we mastered it. We mastered the dough."
And dough there is in abundance. With nearly 30 toppings to choose from and the choice of either a margherita or white base, Girello is the controlling pizza-topper's dream. When pressed for a favorite combination of flavors, both Perez and Walker are without answers. "Nah," Perez said. "It's all good. It all comes from the same dough, right?"
Also on offer are a handful of Italian and Italian-American sandwiches (including the New Orleans-style muffuletta), salads and appetizers; look out especially for the pancetta wrapped shrimp and the oven-roasted P.E.I. mussels. And in true Walker's style, Girello offers plenty of alcohol to wash down a meal-a selection of Italian wines and a more international choice of beer, including Peroni and Heineken, along with specialty brews like Victory Hop Devil IPA and Ommegang Witte.
"It's all just been a lot of fun," Walker said with a glow. "Opening Girello now has reminded me of what it felt like to open Walker's all those years ago-makes me feel like a young man again. Maybe that's what we mean when we say Walker's is the sort of place that makes the old feel young and the young feel like they've been there forever. Judging by the way I feel, Girello is following that tradition."
Girello, 16 N. Moore St. (betw. N. Moore and Varick Sts.), 212-941-0109; 11 a.m.?11 p.m.
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