Ten years ago when Issac Elvis planted grapevines in the tree pit in front of his Trattoria Casa Di Issaco on 9th Avenue near West 40th Street, people on the block teased him, asking if he had a permit.
“Everyone in neighborhood bother me,” he laughingly recalls, with the sonorous accent of his homeland. I say, “I have-a permission because I’m-ma mayor of the block!”
He’d grown wine grapes on an island in the Mediterranean and here on the isle of Manhattan he knew what to do in his tiny sidewalk plot.
“There’s not too much soil,” he admits, of the tree pit, “but I water, clean them every day.” After three years they bore fruit and today the 20 thriving vines — Concord and Thompson varieties —
hang above the busy sidewalk and scale the building, nearly subsuming the restaurant that serves standbys like calamari, seafood fra diavolo and tiramisu.
He credits his heavy harvests to daily tending (“I clean them every morning and afternoon”), irrigation (“because I water, they’re almost double in size”) and an organic application of sulfur to prevent pests while the fruit is forming.
“At night time, when I’m closing, I use sulfur after the flowers, once a week for one month. The grapes come in perfect.”
As a result, his sidewalk vineyard yields a staggering 200 pounds of grapes a year, their perfume mingling with that of his roses and the figs he grows out back. He picks the first grapes in July and continues the harvest, he says, for a full six months, all the way ’til Christmas.
He lovingly washes each bunch in ice water and serves them to customers by the bowl.
“They’re so sweet it’s amazing,” he says, sighing with pride. “Sweet like honey.”
Photo Credit: Vicky Wasick