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.
Now, 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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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.