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December 19, 2023
BROADWAY EATS with Jim Caruso

The spirited Birdland host and performer shares his fave food spot in the Theatre District ahead of his holly jolly holiday concert at the jazz venue. 

Though we understand their circumstances may have been a bit different, like Oliver and his clan of orphan boys, we’ve all fallen into a daze dreaming of “food, glorious food” at one point or another.

After all, it’s been said that food is the great equalizer, connecting us and bringing us together, either with family or friends, colleagues or companions, or any others from all walks of life, to dine often at a communal table or gathering space wherein we share stories and reveal the most authentic parts of ourselves.

In our continued effort, however, to find our way into others’ hearts (and stomachs!), sometimes it helps to venture beyond our tables and into the kitchens of others — especially in a city with such a diversified abundance of eateries as New York.

And of course, you can’t spell “theatre” without “eat.”

So, in this new series, we’ve polled some of the Great Bright Way’s best to “dish” (get it?) on where they love to eat, drink, and take in the vibes either pre- or post-show, while also answering why they love to sup there, sharing a favorite dish or two, and more.

Photo Credit: Bill Westmoreland

Next on our lineup is the indefatigable Jim Caruso, who, along with equally talented pals Klea Blackhurst and Billy Stritch, will headline the annual “Swinging Birdland Christmas” at the titular jazz locale. The seasonal celebration has always proved to be a hit around the holidays and the 2023 engagement promises to be no different. Accompanied by Steve Doyle on bass and Daniel Glass on drums, the trio – now in their 14th year of evoking Yuletide euphoria at the club – will once again offer jazz-tinted twists on such warm and wintry classics as “Sleigh Ride,” “The Christmas Waltz,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and Kay Thompson’s “Jingle Bells,” among others. (The three also released a 2019 album in honor of the annual event, which will be available for purchase at the show).

It all kicks off December 21st at 5:30pm with performances continuing through Christmas Day – and a special livestreamed performance on December 22nd – so snag a ticket if you can and give yourself the holly jolly holiday lift you deserve.

A regular fixture at the Birdland Jazz club, Caruso has hosted his namesake Cast Party (rebranded as “Pajama Cast Party” during the pandemic, and available via YouTube) at the venue every Monday since 2003. He also curates the venue’s “Broadway at Birdland” concert series each week.

In addition to his involvement with Birdland, he performs regularly with Billy Stritch at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel; he’s won six MAC Awards and eight BroadwayWorld Awards for his nightclub work. Other venues and events include the Russian Tea Room, the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, the famed Carnegie Hall, and the White House for President Clinton’s First State Dinner.

A versatile vocalist, he’s also released two albums, The Swing Set and Caruso Live and In Person, both of which are available online and streaming on all platforms.

And, of course, he made his Broadway debut appearing alongside Liza Minnelli in her 2009 Tony-winning extravaganza, aptly titled, Liza’s at the Palace.

So, where does this multi-talented multi-hyphenate like to eat?


Joe Allen

(326 W. 46th Street)

In operation since 1965, Joe Allen – known simply as “Joe’s” to the regulars – was originally mounted as a place for the namesake restauranteur’s performer pals to have a casual hangout pre- or post-show — a spot “to grab a 75¢ burger, a drink and a schmooze,” says Caruso.

Almost 60 years later, it’s cemented itself as an industry institution and — unsurprisingly to Caruso — “it’s still all about the community.”

“The food is terrific, the staff is uber-friendly, and the environment is comfortable,” he continues, noting the alluring “glitz-and-glam” aspect of the establishment’s “showbizzy” clientele.

“When you come,” the performer advises, “take a moment to peruse the customers. You’ll see Broadway, TV and movie folks, lots of creatives, theater aficionados, and out-of-towners who are hip to the scene.”

Another can’t-miss highlight? Their infamous wall of flops.

The tradition began the year of Joe’s inception, when the cast of Kelly—a musical that closed on opening night—came in to jokingly celebrate their would-be inaugural bash, and suggested Joe adorn his wall with their poster.

After closing in previews, Breakfast at Tiffany’s followed, and a new, longstanding tradition was born.

Today, while notwithstanding the hope that most Broadway productions do succeed, once they have accepted their show is doomed, producers clamor to get their poster on the wall, a feat many have been known to consider an honor.

Photos courtesy of Joe Allen

As for the eats? “I’m usually chowing down on the burger, the pork chop or the vegetable stew,” Caruso says, the latter made with tofu, brown rice, peanuts and finished with scallions.

Another undeniable staple, according to floor manager Brian Shaffer (or any Joe Allen regular), is the meatloaf, available on a rotating basis.

Other favorites include the calf’s liver, served with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach, and the signature La Scala Salad, made with salami, provolone, chickpeas, and red peppers, and served with a creamy Italian vinaigrette.

“And if I’m being bad, I’ll order the banana cream pie,” Caruso says, with a mischievous grin. “[It] always looks enormous, yet magically disappears without seconds.”

But it’s more than just a restaurant for Caruso – it’s home. “Some of the most memorable nights of my life have happened at Joe Allen,” he says, recounting a post-show dinner with friend Stacia Goad following her 1985 Broadway debut in Starlight Express, or gathering with Ms. Minnelli and the cast after their show won the Tony in 2009. “I can’t say it enough… it’s my place.

So much so that when it shut down in 2020 as a result of COVID-19, he felt as if a part of him was missing. “I’ll never forget the night the restaurant reopened, with plexiglass partitions between a dramatically pared-down smattering of tables,” he recalls. “It was weird and slightly disturbing, but heartwarming nonetheless.”

And ultimately – and especially – for Caruso, it once again signaled hope: “New York City was on its way back. We had made it to the other side. If Joe’s was open, we knew everything was going to be fine.”

Jim Caruso at his place.” / Photo Credit: Jason Butler Harner

Joe Allen is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, from 12pm-11:30pm; Wednesday & Saturday from 11:30am-11:30pm, and Sunday from 11:30am-10:30pm. Consistent with the New York show schedule, the restaurant’s closed on Mondays.

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Written by: Matt Smith
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