For those of you in the legal profession, serving on a jury or simply "on the wrong side of the law," it's heartening to know that lunchtime in the Manhattan courthouse area offers a load of wonderful options, including Forlini's, which according to the New York Times, is a hot spot frequented by judges and the accused alike:
In New York's stratified legal world, one might think that you are where you eat, but in the packed blocks around the city's civic center, lunch, at least, proves to be the great leveler.
Take, for example, Forlini's, the Italian restaurant on Baxter Street whose clientele is a who's who of the court world. The restaurant's homey interior and reassuring pasta dishes appeal to police and court officers as well as to powerful members of the legal establishment. The Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, is a frequent diner, as are judges and the occasional mobster.
Booths that line the restaurant's walls form a legal hall of fame. They are adorned with plaques with the names of judges like Edwin Torres, who wrote "Carlito's Way," a 1970's novel about a Puerto Rican drug dealer. Staff members have also achieved renown: A former busboy, Michael Imperioli, plays Christopher Moltisanti in "The Sopranos."
"It's a courthouse celebrity spot," said Norman Williams, a defense lawyer in private practice. "You feel like you're in a place with a lot of history."
The restaurant opened in 1956. It was a looser time: A betting ring was run from the bar, said Mr. Morgenthau, a contention that one of Forlini's three owners, Derek Forlini, did not dispute. Owners put quarters into the air-conditioners when they wanted to cool off. Mr. Forlini, the son of one of the restaurant's founders, said that on one particularly frustrating day, his father told a mobster who seemed to have a quarrel with the restaurant that he would help him blow it up.
Many of the booths lining the walls of Forlini's have brass plaques inscribed with the names of regular customers. Paintings that hang above the booths have not always met with the approval of the honorees' families. Mr. Morgenthau's daughter said she thought the woman in the painting above his booth was dressed too provocatively, and a former federal judge, John S. Martin, said his family was concerned that the painting of the tousled, haggard man above his would be mistaken for a portrait of him. (It has since been replaced by a landscape.)
At Forlini's, it is not unusual for criminal defendants, prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges to dine next to one another over plates of Caesar salad and eggplant Parmesan - usually without incident.
And, considering the courthouses' proximity to Chinatown, the legal eagles and legal bird feed also congregate over pho and such:
Those whose culinary tastes are more Asian than Italian - often, it seems, scrappier defense lawyers and public defenders - frequent the Vietnamese noodle bistros in the area, where a bowl of pho, beef noodle soup, costs $4. Court chatter also hangs in the air over steaming plates of curry at the Thai restaurant Pongsri, at Baxter and Bayard Streets. An assistant district attorney, Charles Curlett, said last week that he had been dining there at least once a week during lunch breaks in the trial he is prosecuting.
For those who have neither time nor money for a sit-down lunch, the Civic Deli on Worth Street - referred to by locals as the D. A. Deli for the throngs of young prosecutors who flock there - offers take-out from the salad bar.
And the chicken and hot dog cart of Moustafa Moustafa, a New Yorker originally from Egypt, is invariably parked just outside the criminal court's south entrance on Centre Street.
Even in winter, court employees and lawyers can be seen wolfing platefuls of his chicken over rice near the cart. When the line of people waiting to pass through the metal detectors is long, Mr. Moustafa also does a brisk business in hot dogs.
As for who orders his vegetarian offerings, Mr. Moustafa answered with certainty.
"The lawyers," he said. "The skinny ones."