An iconic Throggs Neck businessperson has passed away.
Antonio ‘Tony’ Cortese, described by family as “a force of life in any and all his endeavors,” was the owner of the popular Amerigo’s Italian Restaurant at the corner of East Tremont Avenue and Sullivan Place, from 1980 to 1998.
Cortese passed away from natural causes at the age of 89 on Friday, October 20, said his daughters Maria Cortese and Gianna Fleischmann.
“He was a powerhouse,” said Maria remembering her dad, adding: “He helped everybody.”
Gianna said she still runs across people who remember her dad fondly and who worked at the restaurant, which was in existence for 60 years.
Anthony Cortese worked at Amerigo’s from 1966, starting as a busboy and becoming a manager, before purchasing it from the original owner.
Cortese, who was born in Naples, Italy, emigrated from Ponza, Italy in 1954. His family had a restaurant in Italy.
According to his daughters, he worked first in a pizzeria in lower Manhattan before making his way to Amerigo’s.
In the borough, outside of Arthur Avenue, Amerigo’s was likely the only four-star restaurant, said Fleischmann.
People would travel from near and far to visit, and the dishes were reasonably priced, she said.
She recalled that the restaurant was often the scene of many first dates, and that ‘Tony,’ as he was known, was a gracious host, she said.
Attention to detail my have been one of his keys to success, with Cortese personally visiting wholesale food markets to pick out what he would use in the restaurant, according to his family.
Maria Cortese said that her father would individually train each cook to ensure consistency in food quality.
“Everything was really home cooked,” said Cortese.
He was one of the first cooks to appear on television talk shows, his family said, appearing on three occasions on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.
The restaurant, at a location now home to Bruckner Hobbies and a recently shuttered Radio Shack, seated about 200 people.
According to his daughters, their father became known both in the US and in his native Italy.
They believe he lived the ‘American Dream.’
Community activist John Marano remembers Cortese, recalling that he and his family would visit Amerigo’s frequently.
“It was definitely a place to be back in the 1980s,” said Marano. “He was a gentleman and very humble; his presence will be missed.”
Elizabeth Engeldrum, whose husband Donald Engeldrum ran Engeldrum’s Exxon service station across the street from the restaurant and who worked for Cortese as hostess and manager, said that Cortese “was a pleasant man and very hard worker.”
Bob Jaen, president of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association, said Cortese was a pioneer in helping the community get to where it is today.
Antonio Cortese was married to his wife Anna Maria Cortese for 61 years.
His wife, four grandchildren and two siblings survive him.