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Tag: New York

Staten Island-Brooklyn Pizza Tour!

This wasn’t Michael and Will’s first attempt to strategically gorge on famed slices for hours on end, it was their second. Once we found out that Will would be leaving…

This wasn’t Michael and Will’s first attempt to strategically gorge on famed slices for hours on end, it was their second. Once we found out that Will would be leaving the country for another long adventure, we had to bid him a temporary farewell in a special way. Hence, the urgency and refusal to postpone the pizza tour despite a clearly forecasted snowstorm on Valentine’s Day.

allboxesNow, we’re no dummies. We knew what kind of stats we were dealing with, and could only imagine the actual number of pizzerias per capita in a 5-block radius in any part of NYC. We also knew that getting around by car would be an advantage but to an unfortunately limiting day trip. Throw in the snow, well…we needed a strategy. Ground rules. Guidelines.

  • No way were we going into Manhattan that day. Two boroughs, tops: Staten Island and Brooklyn could get us in and out of the city with little tunnel time, just the way we like it.
  • We took recommendations from several Top Ten lists, and the guys marked down places that needed to be revisited from the first pizza tour. Our combined list of 18 must-see pizzerias realistically trimmed down to eight to accommodate time, and well, the spaces in our bellies.
  • You’ve got to get the whole, fresh pie to experience the real deal, none of this under-the-hot-lamp stuff.
  • However, only one slice per person at each place. Any more than that would ensure a premature gut-bust. Besides….leftovers!
  • Rotating tab. Take turns paying for the pie. Saves time and confusion.

There was four of us total — Will, his brother, Michael, and myself. By 10am, we were on the road, loaded with caffeine and growing appetites. Before we knew it, one parking ticket (in Philly!) and a couple of missed exits later, we had arrived in frosty ol’ Staten Island, the glamour of Manhattan dimly twinkling in the cloudy horizon.

Anyway, on to the reviews!

Nunzio’s Pizzeria & Restaurant: 2155 Hylan Boulevard | Staten Island NY 10306
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Nunzio’s. Oh, Nunzio’s. Discreetly located across the parking lot from a Papa John’s, this cozy restaurant (with a fantastic alter displaying homage to its founder, warmly overlooking patrons) had the advantage of winning our bellies for most of the day. Having skipped breakfasts and fasted the night before, I was absolutely starving and sure, anything that I ate could be the best thing I ever tasted. But this classic slice of mozzarella islands atop a sea of bright tomato sauce had us spewing compliments like Shakespearean actors. It was the tartness of the chunky sauce, soaking into the thin yet still sturdy body of the pizza that got me — until I mixed a bite with the buttery, pastry-like crust. We stood at the take-out counter, gushing and moaning over our slices before composing ourselves to slice #2. It would be hard to beat #1.

Joe & Pat’s Pizzeria and Restaurant: 1758 Victory Boulevard | Staten Island, NY 10314
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Just a few minutes away is Joe & Pat’s Pizzeria and Restaurant. We didn’t walk too far in, as the front counter was bustling with impressive yet obviously hectic efficiency. But I could tell it was another no-frills, casual neighborhood place. The common theme throughout the day, was to no surprise, that the older and less trendy the venue, the better the pizza.We ate our slices in the car this time. Popping open the white cardboard lid, we all marveled at yet another mouth-watering sight, and divvied the slices. This slice and crust was cracker-thin, with a sauce none too memorable. But the cheese was somehow meaty and rich. At first Will and I reminisced to a slice from Mack and Manco’s at the shore, but if I were to choose, I’d go for the boardwalk slice. More flavor, I think.

Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern: 524 Port Richmond Ave | Staten Island, NY 10302
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On to Denino’s Pizzeria & Tavern. Eight minutes away from Joe & Pat’s, I realized that we were denying the laws of physiology. If it takes someone 20 minutes to realize they are full even after a small amount food, then the natural healthy decision would be to…stop. I calculated. Eight minute drive. Ten minutes to park, sit and order. Fifteen minute wait. By then, I was most certainly full, but I couldn’t deny the treasure that was suddenly placed in front of me — a half cheese/half M.O.R (meatball, onions, ricotta) pie. We went with the M.O.R. because that is what Denino’s is highly praised for.

It seems blasphemous, but as I chewed my first bite, I thought, “Philly cheese steak. It tastes like a Philly cheese steak.” We all went wild for the juicy, greasy (goooood kind of greasy) mouthfuls of meatiness. Michael, who is a vegetarian, took a nibble off of a non-meaty slice and agreed that the cooked onions were an added touch of genius. As for the plain cheese slice, Michael agreed that it was also marvelous.

To speak of Denino’s atmosphere, it was the warmest place we visited. The hostess automatically guessed we were pizza-crawling, and indulged in taking a photo with Will with the other waitresses. We spoke with an awesome bartender who took a look at our map, gave suggestions and complimented our choices. Throughout the restaurant were no-fuss booths filled with obviously local families, enjoying their early lunches to the tune of a jukebox. Fantastic experience!


Pier 76: 76 Bay Street | Staten Island, NY 10301
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By now it is snowing and cold, and I’m pretty getting pretty full. We walked into Pier 76 and were told that the main seating area was closed off for a Valentine’s Day event, which looked fantastic. To the boys’ delight, two cute young ladies helped take our orders, and enthusiastically agreed with our choice of the vodka sauce pizza. While we waited, we took a walk along the nearby pier, which meant experiencing a full blast of high winds from all sides for a good 20 minutes. By the time we returned to the restaurant, I was ravenous and desperate for a warm meal.

The slice was immaculate. Thin and  j u s t  soggy enough, I slurped at the leaking triangle with no struggle. There was no way I was going to lose a drop of that savory, rich, creamy vodka sauce. The firm crust at the end was a perfect combination for what my body needed at that moment. We wanted to eat more, and could have fit it at the time but that would be breaking the rules…


Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana: 1524 Neptune Avenue | Brooklyn, NY 11224
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With a modest store font, and over 90 years worth of family photos and old celebrity headshots adorning the wall, there’s no denying that Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana is the real deal. The founder’s grandaughter, Louise Cimineri, sat at the table next to us and answered any questions we had about the place. She seemed appropriately cordial with our curious questions, answered them like script (one of many interviews with the family were framed next to my seat) but with pride.

We took this one to the car. Another very meaty-tasting slice for a plain cheese pizza, though this definitely stood out from the rest of the day’s selections. A thicker crust by far, doughy and filling on the edge but just crunchy enough through its body. It was also the first slice I couldn’t finish on my own, but that’s what Michael is for, and for that, he agrees doubly that the crust was, “Oh my god, the best bread in the world.”


Ramagi Brick Oven Pizza: 594 Rogers Avenue | Brooklyn, NY 11225
At this point, now deep in Brooklyn, we picked up an old friend to the boys, and a new friend to me, Charlotte, who was dazzling. Enthusiastic about our journey, we unfortunately started her test slice off at Ramagi Brick Oven Pizza. It was conveniently located near an errand we had to run, and for the sake of killing time, Will tried a buffalo chicken slice, Charlotte a pesto (they both said it was meh), and Michael and I split a white pizza topped with basil. It was certainly good, like a garlicky slice of cheese toast with that bite of mozzarella that we had learned to adore that day. But not worth revisiting for our next crawl.

DiFara Pizza: 1424 Avenue J | Brooklyn, NY 11230
difaras
To give you an idea about how passionately I feel about DiFara Pizza, after a full day of touting Nunzio’s as the best, once I bit into DiFara I yelled, mouth full, “NUMBER ONE!”Before we hit Ramagi’s we had to put in an order for a regular pie at DiFara’s an hour and a half ahead of time. Will and Michael had raved about DiFara’s from last year, so I had high hopes for this one. The small restaurant was the size of my last studio apartment, with enough room for a squished line by the front counter, and a few tables not too much deeper beyond that.True to Will and Michael’s recollection, the original owner, Dom DeMarco, can still be found at the front counter, dousing olive oil and gingerly snipping fresh basil on top of his pies before releasing them into the hands of hungry foodies — the small, hole-in-the-wall experience that you can only hope for in a pizzeria.The five of us huddled into a nook by the doorway and ceremoniously passed out slices. The thin but sturdy slice dripped with savory and juices and olive oil between snappy bites of mozzarella and cool basil. It was like downing pizza with a shot of hot soup. It was…simply the best. Go here.

Roberta’s: 1758 Victory Boulevard | Staten Island, NY 10314
pizzaparty
Last stop, Roberta’s. It can quickly be described as hipster pizza, though I wouldn’t want to simplify the experience. Amazing graffiti artwork adorned the walls of this warehouse-turned-pizzeria/tiki bar experience. Brilliant 90’s dance music had me and Charlotte lip-syncing and bopping almost immediately. Young men and women ran the show in their trendy gear — I spied a cowboy hat and artfully groomed mustaches — a sign of the times, I guess.Three more friends and a baby(!) joined us in this dance-party-like setting, but instead of staying, we took the celebration back to their apartment, five pizzas and a calzone in tow.I was too full, the pizza had gotten cold by the time we returned home, and there was too much catching up to be done. The trendy, artisanal flavors that Roberta’s offered were lost in our own world, but complemented the festive experience of a reunion, a ridiculous journey completed, and eventual farewells-for-now, something we were all too familiar with.

We started for home by 11pm. Will braved the terrifying drive home like a champ. We didn’t get back to Philly til 2:30am, at which point, passing Tony Luke’s, Will declared that he was turning around for a pork sandwich. Well-deserved; if I weren’t exhausted I would have gladly joined him. But maybe next time he visits, that will be our next crawl, if I’m not still full by then.

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I Went To Ithaca & Didn’t Get A T-Shirt: Overview

Almost every weekend, we make it a point to be out and about, confident to find something exciting in or outside the city. Yet even though my entire summer this year…

Almost every weekend, we make it a point to be out and about, confident to find something exciting in or outside the city. Yet even though my entire summer this year has been full of mini-adventures, we still planned the “big” summer vacation — a four-day trip to Ithaca, New York, via motorcycle.

I had never been to upstate New York, but I’d been told from like-minded and reliable sources (outdoorsy folks and general lovers of fun) that I would love it. The sights, hikes, views, the food…and finally having tied up the trip just yesterday, I can attest that indeed, you need to get yourself to Ithaca.

Blog Posts
Big Diving: Robert H. Treman State Park
New World: Watkins Glen, NY
Home is Where the Airbnb Is: Ithaca Edition

I’ve written a few posts to bring together the trip, should you feel the urge to pack up and trace our steps. This was only four days, so hopefully, should we return in the future, we’ll hit new spots to add to the list. Happy traveling, you might still have time to check it out this summer!

Where to?

Google Map Route: See our day-by-day trek, via motorycle.

Arcaro & Genell: 443 S Main St | Old Forge (“Pizza Capital of the World”) PA 18518
Order by the cut! I highly recommend the double crust white pizza with cheese and broccoli.
Halfway to Ithaca, this town is dubbed the Pizza Capital because of the number of pizzerias per capita.

Robert H. Treman State Park: 105 Enfield Falls Road | Ithaca, NY 14850

Buttermilk Falls: 105 Enfield Falls Rd | Ithaca, NY 14850
This hike reminded me of Rickett’s Glen. Lovely views with lots of shade and quiet.

Watkins Glen State Park: 3530 State Route 419 | Watkins Glen, NY 14891

Dennis’s Homemade Ice Cream: 1076 Elmira Road | Newfield, NY 14867

Signal Camp in Ithaca: East Shore Drive | Ithaca, NY

Log Country Inn: 4 Larue Road | Spencer, NY 14883

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Home Is Where The Airbnb Is: Ithaca Edition

For me, the priciest expense while traveling is usually lodging. Airbnb and a few other neat resources (bidding on Priceline, Expedia) have been fantastic tricks to keep costs low while…

For me, the priciest expense while traveling is usually lodging. Airbnb and a few other neat resources (bidding on Priceline, Expedia) have been fantastic tricks to keep costs low while still having a unique experience. For Ithaca, we went all Airbnb. Michael did a write up about where we stayed, and both sites are definitely on the radar for future summer trips!

Signal Camp in Ithaca

Signal Camp in Ithaca is a bed and breakfast run out of an old train station. There are 3 distinct buildings on site; the building we stayed in was the station master’s house about 100 years ago. The decor is rustic-chic, and was really comfortable. There is no air-con, but luckily, the cool evenings didn’t require any! From the cottage, downtown Ithaca is a quick 5-minute drive, and there is lake access about 300 feet away! We found and booked it through Airbnb, and it gets quite popular, so book in advance. We actually couldn’t stay the desired 3 nights, as someone else had reserved before we did.

Log Country Inn

Log Country Inn is bout 15 miles south of Ithaca, surrounded by woods and small farms. Our host was the matronly and sweet Wanda. She made us feel like friends come to visit right away, and made sure the room we had was comfortable (and tall enough for Michael). The main house has a comfy common area, with a great TV and connections to all our favorite streaming media. That only distracted us for a short while, before the hot-tub in our room called for us. In the daylight, we ate an awesome homemade breakfast of Ukrainian pancakes,made from scratch by our hostess. It is a really comfy place to stay, quiet, welcoming and close to Ithaca.

Where to?

Signal Camp in Ithaca: East Shore Drive | Ithaca, NY

Log Country Inn: 4 Larue Road | Spencer, NY 14883

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New World: Watkins Glen, NY

I’ve seen enough nerdy movies to yearn to walk majestic trails that look like Watkins Glen. Open to the public in 1864, this spot is definitely not a “new world”, but the moment you step…

I’ve seen enough nerdy movies to yearn to walk majestic trails that look like Watkins Glen. Open to the public in 1864, this spot is definitely not a “new world”, but the moment you step through the cavernous entrance of this sanctuary, negativity and disappointment no longer exists — save maybe for the lack of dinosaurs and fairies you expect to be fluttering through the air. But if you let that ruin your good time, you’re a chump, plain and simple.

Going to Ithaca with the intention of seeing gorges initially had me feeling skeptical. The vast green land and blue skies all around were obvious attractions, and even the several large bodies of sparkling lakes we drove by had my jaw dropped behind my helmet. But waterfalls? Just how many times can you have your mind blown by waterfalls?

Answer: Lots. Better answer: Go straight to Watkins Glen if you really want to get your rocks off. We walked throughout the park for over an hour, exploring the effortless trails, running into visual treats around every corner. In addition to one of my favorite waterfalls in the park, Rainbow Falls, we were taken and tempted by the dark, round eroded pools, perfect a swim day (alas, no dipping allowed). There wasn’t too many people when we got there, but it was not like Utah, where we felt completely alone. There is one trail in the park, called something like Lover’s Lane. We got a bit of privacy there, and seized the opportunity to belt out bad late 90’s pop parodies to the theme of hiking.

Anyhoo. Sit back and enjoy the view.

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Where to?

Watkins Glen State Park: 3530 State Route 419 | Watkins Glen, NY 14891

The Crooked Rooster Brewpub: 223 – 301 North Franklin St. | Watkins Glen, NY 14891

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Big Diving: Robert H. Treman State Park | Ithaca, NY

Two things to know about me: I am scared of a lot of things, but I also love facing fears. There’s something about putting my life in danger, or at least…

Two things to know about me: I am scared of a lot of things, but I also love facing fears. There’s something about putting my life in danger, or at least attempting dangerous things knowing that many people have survived (therefore, I will be OK), that gives me a twisted sense of growth. Many of my acquired skills involve learning on the fly or under pressure. Swimming, or the possibility of drowning, is no exception.

I tried swimming a couple of feet, and shallow diving into a lake, with nothing to immediately grab on to, and freaked out. A little bit. A mix of cold water shock and panic sent me into a barely controlled asthmatic fit that was pretty embarrassing. I’ve gotten by with doggie paddling in the past, but something that day went terribly wrong, and my first lake diving attempt was not as genius or magical as I had wished. But, I believe with practice, I’ll get there.

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Michael and his buddies, however, are seemingly expert swimmers. Blessed with childhood summers filled with swimhole-seeking, Michael can move like a fish; I have seen it. Philly has many public pools which we visit after work to cool down. While I wobble over from the the shallow end, he’s usually circling me like an eel, then splashing to the surface, shaking out his hair like a slow-motion merman. It’s hard to feel bad or even stupid around the skill; it’s awesome, and fun to watch.

After taking care of packing business over at the Robert Treman campsite Friday morning, we worked off the sweat with Michael’s BFFs by taking a dip into the nearby Lucifer Falls. More accurately, I slowly lowered myself, waist-high, on a few rocks by the freezing waterfalls. Michael and his buddy took the irresistible liberty of taking the full-on plunge.

The boastful exchange continues to amuse me; I grew up with infrequent visits to the public pool, no swimming instruction, and few opportunities that involve the valiant risk of drowning. The guys called back and forth to each other their dares.

“I’m gonna reverse cannonball this one!”

“Did you see what I just did?”

“I’m going to try to do a pencil and touch the bottom!”

They kept going back for more, making sure to impress freezing hugs around our arms in between dives — I’m surprised our skins didn’t fuse together.

And on it went, big feet, little feet, delicate feet, skinny bodies, tall bodies, old skin, young skin, pounding on the diving board like a bowling ball hitting pins then plunging into almost 14 feet into the aqua abyss. I loved how everyone seemed to know each other there — as swimmers, or more, vacationers, sharing similar days and weeks out of the year. Everyone in the water oohed and aahed at the more impressive and perfect dives (see the top photo, that man was a pro) and charmingly, everyone even snickered and laughed at accidental belly flops and the more botched attempts. It was extremely encouraging and soon, I forgot about my previous floundering and found myself excited to try again — just maybe not in 61 degree waters and an audience, no matter how polite.

About thirty minutes or so of diving was enough. We laid on on our towel and warmed up in the sun before moving on to the next adventure: Dennis’s Homemade Ice Cream. The only thing scary about that was how amaaaazing the salted caramel scoop was.

Where to?

Robert H. Treman State Park: 105 Enfield Falls Road | Ithaca, NY 14850

Dennis’s Homemade Ice Cream: 1076 Elmira Road | Newfield, NY 14867

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