JACKSON HEIGHTS — A beloved restaurant displaced by a massive fire has reopened in a new spot nearby with a revamped menu and decor less than a year after they closed.
After a massive blaze seriously damaged the building last April, Jerry and his wife Patricia, both 67, admit they thought about closing forever.
But after decades in Jackson Heights, they weren't ready to leave just yet.
"I didn't want to be pushed out by the fire," Jerry said. "I didn't want to go out like that."
They searched for available spaces on 37th Avenue but jumped at the chance to take over the space occupied by Trieste on Northern Boulevard after a neighbor told them the eatery planned to close.
By January, they owned the spot and spent four and a half weeks gutting the kitchen and revamping the dining room and bar, designed by Patricia.
The staff is the same from the former location, but the team kept one of the cooks that worked at Trieste.
Armondo's new decor is modern, inspired by their travels around Italy. There's a Vespa hanging above the bar, and a photo taken by their son of a lemon tree in Italy hangs on one wall.
The menu got an upgrade, too, with the addition of a roasted beet salad and a white bean and arugula salad.
The Criscis, who decided to reopen on Valentine's Day, had a packed house for their first meal, filled with regulars who missed Armondo's.
One customer even called herself an "Armondo's refugee," according to Jerry, whose nickname is "Mr. Armondo."
"It's a funny feeling to be in a strange restaurant but all familiar faces," he said of the new space.
New customers have also found their way to the restaurant, which they're thankful is so close to the old location. The Criscis took over the space in the Bruson Building from the original owner in 1972.
At that time Jerry, who had a degree in education, couldn't find work in the city's public schools.
The restaurant business seemed to offer more to them — especially when he found out the restaurant's dishwasher made more than he did teaching.
On New Year's Eve, 1972, their chef showed up drunk, so Jerry had to take over. Patricia then hopped behind the bar, reading drink recipes from a book.
"We got better every year," she said.
At the Northern Boulevard location they're offering 20 percent off Monday, Wednesday and Thursday (they're closed Tuesdays) on all food items, and will have a rotating list of specials on the menu.
"Our menu is a moveable feast," Patricia said.
Armondo's, 73-16 Northern Blvd., is open every day except Tuesday. For deliveries and reservations, call 718-899-0035 or 718-898-0113.