By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It seems like only yesterday that one of Henry Street’s highly regarded destination restaurants, Noodle Pudding, had a manufacturer as its neighbor.
“Eighteen years ago, they were still making brushes at the brush factory next door,” chef-owner Antonio Migliaccio remembers fondly. “The lady who ran the place, we got along very well. I have a broom at home she gave me.”
Because of the Ace Wire Brush building at 30 Henry, there was a distinctly working-class flavor to the street in the mid-1990s when he picked 38 Henry as the site for his Italian restaurant.
“The collar wasn’t exactly blue, but it wasn’t white,” he said.
Migliaccio – who had previously owned a restaurant on Court Street in Cobble Hill – said at the time, people in other parts of Brooklyn Heights looked on lower Henry as less than genteel.
“This wasn’t exactly the cool place to be,” he said. “But it was a spot with potential – I could see it was not going to stay like this forever.”
Before he decided for sure to rent the space, he sat by the A and C High Street/Brooklyn Bridge subway stop with a cup of coffee – and saw that many people came in and out.
“I thought, at least three out of 10 have to eat. If I make good food at a good price, they’ll come,” he recalled.
Building owner Rose Scarola, who lived upstairs, was supportive. “She said, ‘I’d be happy to have you as a tenant. I’m rooting for you,’” he remembered.
These days, 60-seat Noodle Pudding – which is the English translation of his Italian last name – draws diners from all over. One of the most popular dishes is the bass, grilled with olive oil and lemon on it, which is line-caught by a fisherman in Montauk who loads his catch into a cooler and drives it to the restaurant.
One elderly man who made a pilgrimage from out-of-state a decade ago didn’t come to eat. He wanted a look at the building where he was born and lived as a little kid.
The thank-you note he sent afterwards – which Migliaccio has kept – describes “horse-drawn wagons delivering burlap bags of coconuts” to the Peak Mason Mints candy factory at 20 Henry.
“In those days Henry Street in front of our home was paved with cobblestones,” wrote the then-84-year-old man, whose name was Al. “As the horses trotted down Henry Street, sparks would fly from the horses’ shoes as they struck the cobblestones.”
The candy factory has been converted into condos, and the brush factory – which later was the Brooklyn Eagle’s office – has been torn down for new condo construction as Henry Street becomes more upscale.
Noodle Pudding, which is a dinner-only restaurant, doesn’t get a lot of visitors to Brooklyn Bridge Park as customers, but their presence on Henry Street is beneficial to many businesses, Migliaccio said.
He’s got some memories of his own about the industrial past: After emigrating from Italy as a teen, he worked as a longshoreman on Pier 1, which is now part of the manicured, upscale park.
“I still cannot believe it, how much it has changed,” he said. “When I take a walk down there, I close my eyes and still can see them unloading the ships.”
He’s hopeful the increased prosperity on the street won’t translate into big rent hikes. He’s in lease-renewal negotiations with Scarola’s niece Louise Ebert, who inherited the building several years ago after Scarola died.
“Louise is a good landlord; it sounds like she’s going to treat me well,” he said.
The anticipated opening of Sociale at 72 Henry later this month means there will be three Italian restaurants plus a pizzeria along the short stretch of lower Henry where shops and restaurants are clustered. But he thinks there’s room for all of them.
“I feel the best place to open a shoe store is next to another shoe store,” he said.
“Another restaurant doesn’t mean less business for us; it means more people are walking on Henry Street. The opportunity gets wider for all of us.”
That said, Henry Street isn’t about to catch up to Montague Street as a restaurant and retail corridor, he predicted – and that’s just fine by him.
“I hope Henry Street remains what it is – the underdog,” the Carroll Gardens resident said. “It’s a good thing to be the underdog. It makes people feel good when they ‘discover’ this place.”