I break some bread, dip it into some olive oil and ask for my favorite dish: sausage and peppers. Before I know it, someone I recognize from the movie I saw last night strolls in. “What’s that you’ve got there?” he asks.
“Sausage and peppers. It’s not on the menu, but if you ask Nicky, he’ll make it up for you special.”
“Thanks!” says the actor.
“No problem,” I say, nodding in mutual recognition. Not of each other, but of the fact that everyone’s special here.
Tucked away on the corner of Bronson and Franklin, hidden in the shadow of the Scientology Celebrity Center and the star-studded Mayfair Market, a near afterthought at the base of what was once called Hollywoodland, lies a modest strip mall that those in the know know is home to the hip neighborhood’s decidedly unhip crown jewel: Victors Restaurant. A perfect blend of New York deli and Italian bistro, Vic’s offers a vast menu of consistent quality and an environment that the father and son who run the restaurant make sure welcomes the famous, the almost-famous and the not-so-famous alike.
Established in 1990, the restaurant was the natural extension of the extremely successful Victors Deli, which is still next door. Genial, shiny-domed owner Bill Gotti explains: “I put some nightly specials on the menu and mixed up different pastas with different chicken dishes, and before we knew it, everyone was coming in for the dinner specials.” Victors now offers chicken prepared with 65 different recipes, and an extensive list of nightly pasta plates, complemented by a comprehensive and impressive wine list.
In a town where you’re only as good as opening weekend and quickly forgotten afterward, Gotti and his wisecracking son, Nicky, have been the local dining equivalent of a long-running Broadway show.
On the subject of being in business with his father, Nicky, who manages the restaurant, says, “It’s tough. It has its ups and downs, just like anything else.”
“Hey, you didn’t ask me what it’s like to work with him!” Bill shoots back, laughing.
The strong sense of family, though, is a big reason why Victors has been successful over the years. I’ve been going there since it was just a deli, and I always have the same feeling when I enter — that I am pulling up a chair at the family dinner table. Several years ago, on one of our birthdays, Bill surprised the birthday boy with one of his delicious homemade chocolate cakes — it took about a month to finish. Then, there was the time Bill cooked up a six-course dinner at his apartment — everything from hors d’oeuvres to a lamb roast to chicken to dessert on his beloved Weber charcoal grill. We even go to each other’s weddings.
Nicky has taken to calling one of our crew the “Mouch” — half man, half couch. To which the answer is: “Just keep doing what you were put on this Earth for, Nicky — bring me my dessert!”