Lines are unavoidable on weekends outside Tom's Restaurant. (Marie Claire Andrea)
Part antique collection, part old-time diner, Tom’s Restaurant in Prospect Heights has remained a bedrock institution for more than 70 years, seeing its Brooklyn neighborhood through ups and downs.
The diner, converted from an ice-cream parlor in 1936, is reveling in the neighborhood’s resurgence. The Great Recession failed to take much of a bite out of the lines that snake out the door at Washington Avenue and Sterling Place. And the restaurant even began opening on Sundays recently to keep up with the demand.
Owner Jimmy Kokotas greets customers every day, some he knows on a first-name basis and others who are visiting from out of town, often trickling in from the Brooklyn Museum three blocks away.
“People are coming here from all over the world,” said Kokotas, who took the restaurant over from his uncle and longtime owner Gus Vlahavas last summer.
Kokotas attributes the restaurant's survival, and low prices, to the constant influx of visitors and write-ups it receives, beginning with one review 20 years ago that pulled it out of citywide anonymity. He proudly recalled French tourists translating for him their guidebook summary of Tom's earlier in the week.
The neighborhood is also a draw. Kokotas has seen Prospect Heights rebound, with families looking to move in and prices spiking.
Tom’s appeal also stems from its vintage character, with the classic “Restaurant” and “Coca-Cola” signs outside and its collection of tiny booths and stained-glass windows.
Yet the main attraction is the food. which ranges from egg-and-bacon basics to Lemon Ricotta Pancakes and Crabcakes Florentine, all for under 10 bucks. An acrylic painting on the wall even pays homage to Tom's signature Cherry Lime Rickey.
Locals Gabe Herczeg and Rachel Wetts waited in line for their weekend fix: the huevos rancheros and beef sausage.
“It’s a friendly place. It’s nice to have someplace where you feel like people know you, even if it’s just your order,” Wetts said.