By Kymberly Breckenridge
Photographed by dKol Photography
From Speakeasy to Wheat Grass the Montes are Back
It’s 1906: You are fresh off the boat from southern Italy with only determination and a belief in possibilities as your guide. You move into a shack in the boondocks known as Brooklyn, NY. You find a job in a windowless factory making widgets for 12 hours a day. The only thing you look forward to in your dreary world is a ready-made meal waiting for you at Philomena Montemarano’s house, whose cooking transports you back to the Old Country and the simple peasant food your mama used to make.
It’s 15 years later—Prohibition: Lightning cracks as a cold rain drips down the back of your neck. You are late meeting someone and tired after a long day of work. You hurt the fleshy part of your fist as you bang on the heavy oak door in order to be heard over the boom of thunder. A small window slides open and a pair of bloodshot eyes peer out at your dripping self. You murmur, “The Yankees have a good shot at the title this year,” and the window slides shut. The door opens to reveal your favorite speakeasy, Monte’s Venetian Room, in Brooklyn, NY. The Monte clan greets you, and you feel for the first time today like you are a welcomed sight.
It’s 1970: Friday has finally arrived, and you can stop being a nameless worker bee in the city. You board the train and ride to the end of the line, Montauk in Long Island, to your favorite weekend getaway. At Gurney’s Inn Resort and Spa, the Monte family knows your name and your favorite drink and treats you like family as you sit at the bar and talk sports with Angelo Sr.
Throughout the centuries, people have wanted to feel like they belong. It’s in our DNA; we sense in our very being that there’s safety in numbers. And truthfully what we most want is to be part of a large, loud, supportive, funny family; everything that is the Montes. We go back time and time again to their establishments because they treat us like family. And because they know how to make a drink.
For over 100 years, the Monte family has been there for the people of New York, offering stability and the comfort of family in a century that has seen devastating wars, financial collapses, political intrigues and head-spinning leaps in technology. The history of the Monte family is a sexy one and so exciting you can’t stop thinking about it. According to “The Life and Times of Monte’s Venetian Room” by Peter Justice (Patch.com, 9/7/2011), Angelo’s (Monte’s) was a late-night hang-out and concert venue favorite of ole Blue Eyes himself. It was a place where farm to table was invented out of necessity. The kind of place where parents would send the kids to fill up the beer bucket. The immigrants’ son, Nick, saw an opportunity in 1956 to buy a 20-room resort out at the tip of Long Island and turn it into a 15-building year-round complex with an indoor seawater pool. A true rags-to-riches story, which we Americans adore. Hedy Lamar and Sammy Davis Jr. ate there. And, sexiest of the sexiest, the Venetian was a speakeasy. I rest my case.
In a world that changes more times than a baby’s diaper, the Monte family clings to tradition and the comfort that only strong family roots can provide. After spending a delightful late afternoon with the newest generation of Montes sitting at their bar in Amenia, NY, I am convinced that the family hasn’t been in the hospitality business since 1906 due to a lack of imagination, but for the true joy of fellowship and the comfort that simple food and drink can provide.
Angelo and Philomena Montemarano, newly emigrated from Italy, found their calling when they opened the Venetian Room in Brooklyn in 1906, dragging all seven boys into the family business. How could they avoid it, living on the top floor above the restaurant? Even World War II could not separate the boys from the business in a Saving Private Ryan storyline of six Monte brothers each surviving the horrors of war and the D-Day beaches of Normandy to make it back to their parents’ restaurant. Looking to expand the family’s interests, brother Nick brought a few members out to the tip of Long Island and bought the successful Gurney’s Inn in 1956. It was a family affair as Nick, Angelo Sr. and his wife Gladys managed the business while Angelo’s children worked their way up through the ranks, eventually taking over the management of the resort—apparently no free rides in the Monte family! Paul earned the title of General Manager/CEO, Angelo Jr. (Chip) was the executive chef for over 30 years and Phyllis was the conference and banquet sales director. The expanded family also joined the management team with Chip’s wife, Candice, taking charge as spa director and Phyllis’s husband, John Lomitola, handling the restaurant manager duties. Angelo’s many grandchildren grew up working at the resort, learning how to bus tables and fold napkins, among other duties, without a shred of resentment.
In May of 2013, the Monte family sold their interests in Gurney’s, and many of the siblings became unfettered without a family business to tie them together. Ann Marie Pallan, one of the sisters who was living in Millbrook, NY, at the time, was having breakfast with partner Robert Trump at a local diner in Amenia when it occurred to her that the building she was sitting in was an exact replica of the old family restaurant in Brooklyn. As luck would have it, the business and building were for sale, so Ann Marie called in the family troops and once again, the family is back in business.
Monte’s Local Kitchen & Tap Room opened its doors in 2014, beckoning all walks of life to a return of simple meals prepared with love by those who love to entertain. Like Mama Montemarano, owner Ann Marie Pallan makes sure to take advantage of what the area has to offer, using local ingredients from nearby farms. Perhaps as a nod to their speakeasy past, the bar commands an unusually large percentage of the space, and one cannot escape the surreal draw to its stools. One wall in the restaurant is devoted to the Monte past, with black-and-white photos of weddings, men in military uniforms and children playing in the surf. You would be tempted to assume that all the figures in the photographs were Montes; you would be incorrect. Because the genius behind the Monte family is their natural ability to create “family” wherever they go. Many of the photographs are people who had married into the family or merely walked through the door one day and never left.
When I drove to Amenia, I was determined to discover how the Monte family could be sustainable. Eventually all American families scatter to the four winds, don’t they? How could one family remain in business, together, for over 100 years without wanting to kill each other? Like most answers, it involves a complicated web of personalities and their collective ability to reinvent the family through the communities where they put down roots. Ann Marie theorized that the siblings were able to stay close because “we all have real genes. We never fight. Well, actually we are pretty harsh, but we get it out and it’s better in an hour.”
In a stroke of genius, the Montes found bright-eyed chef Dafna Mizrahi—then a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America—lured her away from her Manhattan gig and persuaded her to take the reins of Monte’s Local Kitchen & Tap Room. Although she was recently the winner of Chopped on the Food Network, she couldn’t be further from the puffed-up personalities whisking up their complicated fare on various cooking shows. When I arrived at the restaurant, Dafna was knocking one back with the locals at the bar, making arrangements to buy cakes from a woman down the street because she couldn’t stop eating the chocolate-drenched creations. Dafna is as real and down-to-earth as they come, and I had to practice great restraint to not beg her for a job so I could hang out with her every day.
Granddaughter Genna tried to escape the family business with every intention of becoming a mental health counselor. But in the immortal words of Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” When Genna broke up with her boyfriend who was slated to run the financial side of the new restaurant, her mother told her that she could either take over the books or find someone else who could. Genna chose the books and hasn’t looked back. She looks forward to helping the Monte empire continue. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Genna explains while sipping her wine. “I can have a business meeting in pajamas with the people I love.”
In an ironic twist of fate, soon after Genna was brought on board, she fell in love and then married a brilliant young construction contractor named Flynn Nixon who was hired to redesign the restaurant. His company, Aries Building Company of Falls Village, CT, did a beautiful job capturing the light with giant windows and light woodwork throughout the bar and restaurant. The restaurant is now on a mission to bring healthy food and local specialty items to the area combined with a desire to share knowledge about a more holistic approach to living. When restaurant patrons enter the front door, they will be able to see the addition of a market table displaying local healthy- choice items that can either be purchased in-house or pre-ordered for pickup at a later date. Plans are in place for healthy-choice vegetarian and vegan options as well as raw juices and smoothies to be added to the menu for lunch and dinner. “Our overall specialty is wheat grass; one shot and you are relieved of a whole laundry list of inflictions,” says Ann Marie with a smile.
But wait! Just when you thought the Monte family couldn’t get any bigger, the clan has embraced yet another disenfranchised group—although this time in the nonhuman category. The Montes have been working hard to raise money for Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue in Dover Plains. Lucky Orphans rescues abused, unwanted or neglected horses to stay their no-kill shelter. Recently, Chef Dafna donated her $10,000 prize money from winning Chopped to save the lives of these worthy equines.
What caught our attention at OHV was the Montes’ commitment to the community they now call home. They are not only invested in sustaining their own family’s way of life, but also believe in the importance of supporting and uplifting those around them. Excited about the prospect of Silo Ridge Golf Course partnering with Discovery Land Company to develop a dynamic new neighbor- hood, Monte’s Local Kitchen & Tap Room has begun vital partnerships with other local businesses to strengthen everyone in the community. Ann Marie plans to begin monthly food- pairing events at the restaurant highlighting local businesses like Taconic Distillery and Crown Maple. Year one of their “farm of the week” menus was a huge success, highlighting the best produce, meats and dairy products of local farms such as Dashing Star Farm of Millerton, McEnroe Farm of Millerton, Arch River Farm of Millbrook and Thunderhill Farm of Stanfordville.
The Montes have survived the tides of time and have now set their sights on the Hudson Valley. As you set foot into Monte’s Local Kitchen & Tap Room, you become part of the century-old family, regardless of class, race, age or any other trivial differences that may separate us from them. All are welcome and made to feel at ease with the Montes. After 100 years of practice, the Montes have hospitality down. Perhaps Sister Sledge described the Montes best with their song “We are Family”: Here’s what we call our golden rule. Have faith in you and the things you do. You won’t go wrong. This is our family jewel.
For more information, you can visit their website at www.monteskitchen.com or contact them at 845.789.1818. █