If you’ve strolled westward along the Coney Island boardwalk anytime since, say, 1923, you know the Childs building—that grand old nautically-themed Spanish Colonial Revival structure that began its life as a restaurant during Coney’s heyday. It spent almost 50 years as a candy factory, sat abandoned for a bit, reawakened briefly as a roller rink in the aughts, followed by a short-lived restaurant, and now, courtesy of the Russo family, is embarking on a new adventure as La Tombola.
The appeal of the physical space here is obvious, with the terracotta depictions of King Triton and various sea beasts, and the overwrought crests and flourishes all over the facade, and the magnificent arched windows running the length of the place, and the gleaming wooden bar that’s purported to be one of the longest in Brooklyn. Not sure we needed all twenty or so of the flatscreens playing one of the Taken movies on mute, but I imagine this place could get extremely loud with a crowd watching a big game.
Of course it’s touristy–inside there are Coney props for photo ops, like a slightly battered bumper car and a seat from the old Parachute Jump just outside–but it’s also an authentic piece of local history and, most important considering its location by an amusement park, a concert venue, and a baseball stadium, it’s definitely kind of fun. I only wish that a thunderstorm hadn’t prevented us from dining on the roof deck.
The big surprise for me, though, was that the food at La Tombola is actually quite good. Not that the Russo family is new to the restaurant game; they’ve been running the iconic Gargiulo’s just up the street near Mermaid Avenue for more than half its 114 years, including the part when Mimi Sheraton gave the place three stars in the NY Times and lines formed around the block.
Still though, La Tombola offers a different sort of casual, beachy dining (and drinking), and they didn’t mess it up. The menu is huge, and plays it safe with crowd pleasers packed into every section, but each of the four dishes we shared earlier this week delivered on their promise. The half-dozen orange Buffalo Wing were semi-spicy, crisp, messy pieces of chicken that may lack any accoutrements, but once you start eating you’ll be fine. See also: the side of French Fries.
The Margherita Pizza, one of several varieties coming out of the big wood-burning oven in the back, also made us happy, and the Neapolitan Style pie had enough gooey cheese and bright tomato sauce to balance out the doughiness. My favorite dish of the night, though, might have also been the beachiest—a Shell Pot (really more of a Shell Tray), loaded with skillfully cooked mussels and plump, juicy clams in a lively “Cajun” broth. The sausage that came with was pleasantly spicy too, though the corn was inedible, just a cob of flavorless mush.
Among the many other options here: a full Raw Bar, a bunch of sliders, Fish Tacos, Spaghetti and Meatballs, BBQ Pork Ribs, a Burger, a Cheesesteak, a Cubano, a Chicken Parm, Disco Fries, and a Lobster Roll. There are bound to be missteps in a menu this lengthy, but it feels like, for the most part, the kitchen knows what they’re doing. And if it’s booze you’re after, La Tombola will provide, with lots of cocktails, frozen drinks, lots of beers, hard seltzers, and wines.
La Tombola is located at 2102 Riegelmann Boardwalk, and is currently open on Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to midnight (718-962-0602; latombolaci.com)