We landed at JFK tired, a little confused, and hungry. We were right on track following the steps of the Italian immigrant history of pizza, here in old New York City. It’s 28 of us, Austin. Some of us have gone every year for the last six; some of us have never been to New York before at all. Some of us worked until about three hours before the plane took off @7:00 AM yesterday. Some were too nervous too sleep. All of us, dear Austin, came here on our pilgrimage w/ a piece of Austin in our hearts. It is the graffiti we leave behind here in this concrete canyon, here is this tall city w/ small strips of sky. We come like the immigrants before us, with our native Texas soil in the crease of our shoes, to New York so that we can learn more than we know, test what we believe, and, unlike the immigrants, to return home to the soft and rolling hills, the clear and wide sky, the sweet and cool rivers and greenbelt, of the City that is our home, the place where our ovens burn.
We went straight to L&B Spumoni, in Gravesend, Brooklyn, just spitting distance from Bensonhurst. It is an aging Italian community and there, for 63 years, is this pizza shop: L&B. It has a wall of ovens, 3 triple stacks in a row, w/ a fourth in the corner, a pounding table between it and the long line of shiny, metal deck ovens. Out front there is a large patio, lined w/ long rows of bench tables. The locals outnumber the tourists 2:1, and tourists arrive in busses for the famous Sicilian Square pie. The accents are amazing, Austin. They are sharp, and lyrical, and hard nosed. Everyone, it seemed, was talking about “Dis Guy” or “Dat Guy”. Everyone was advising the other: “fuggehdaboutit”. We could not fugghedabout their pie, their famous Sicilian. Its lift is something else, Austin – like pound cake. The sauce is sweet, not quite like cake icing but somehow not quite not like cake icing. The pizza men carried pie after pie out of their kitchens into the patio, to the waiting groups of families, and strangers who had become friends. I can’t lie, I think our Sicilian is different – crisper, lighter, less saucy, but saucier in attitude. Confident and sexy. Just like you, Austin.
We later went to Lucali, in Carroll Gardens. This little shop is just over seven years old (remind you of any other pizza shops you might know?). The owner and pizza maker, Mark Ionoco, is a neighborhood guy who made good and took over a failing candy store and converted it into a shop which is, in its own way, an homage to Dom DiMarco @ DiFara’s Pizza. Mark is cooking in a 900° wood fired oven. He hangs his kitchen mandolin on the parmesan grinder mounted on the corner of the thick marble slab where he hunches and stretches his dough. His pies cook in just under three minutes, with minimalist but bona fide ingredients. Oh, Austin, I wish you could meet Mark. We’re trying to convince him to come visit. He’s dying to do so. He’s heard so much about you. Mark opened his shop to us, and talked pizza w/ us. He was kind of stunned at what we knew, and that there were so many of us. It is simply him and an apprentice, in his shop, with three very, very pretty women working the front of house and lavishing us w/ hospitality. We shook hands when we left, pleased to meet a brother in arms, and friend in a strange place.
Today we took pizzas from Ben’s, pizzas from Prince Street Pizza, Italian, Meatball, and Eggplant subs from Faccio’s (est. 1932) and carried the entire picnic across the island of Manhattan to the piers on the West Side, with the beautiful Statue of Liberty directly South of us, and New Jersey to the West. We stared West, past that industrial skyline, and knew you were past that horizon, Austin. We ate slices, sharing bites. We fed each other sandwiches, careful of the messy and downright sexy marinara sauce on the meatball and eggplant parms. Their Italian Assorted was brilliant in the contrast of the spices in the cured Italian meats, and the zing of the vinegar dressing the lettuce and tomatoes. The picked peppers are an amazing touch. The bread, so soft and deep in texture and flavor, is dusty w/ flour, and split up the side like a taco.
There are no Breakfast Tacos here, Austin. It is hard to believe. It’s most hard to believe in the morning, when you really want a taco.
We leave in a couple of hours for Staten Island, to Denino’s Pizzeria. It’s a home grown, family shop now run by ex-fireman Mike. Mike’s great grandfather John (American born and Sicilian Immigrant’s son) opened the shop in 1937Mike also has a room full of ovens, like L&B, satisfying the community that grew up eating that pie for special occasions of celebration, or simple occasions of families joining for food. Their pie is special, Austin. Crisp and perfectly cooked. Served w/ a kind of Staten Island sass that warms your heart, and tickles your ribs.
We are two days in, Austin, w/ two more to go. There is so much to see, so much to try to learn. So many great cooks and pizza makers. And, I have to tell the truth: the people here are really, really nice. New York has been kind and loving to us.
But we look forward to coming home, Austin. To be with you, day and night. To feed you the pie we make with love, in the town that is our home. We are immigrants no more, Austin. And in two days, we will be home.
Our week in the Big Apple was incredible, and once again the wonderful world of New York pizza has left us excited, inspired, motivated, and most of all, uncomfortably full. Although we almost certainly didn’t hit everyone’s favorite pizza joint, we hit as many as we could and had such a blast doing it. We are proud to be part of the rich culinary history that is New York style pizza, and are excited to be back in Austin with some new pages to add to the textbook.
As soon as we landed at JFK we hitched a ride to L&B Spumoni for some much needed Sicilian pies and adult beverages. This place is so rich in history and pride. Everywhere you go in this part of Brooklyn, cabbies, bodega attendants, and just about everyone else under the sun will tell you stories of going to L&B when they were kids. Its such a cool place, and is always dependable for some good conversation with some locals.
What else would we do after gorging ourselves with pizza and beer but ride roller coasters? This is not for the faint of heart, or body for that matter, kids. Coney Island is another place that immediately transports you to another time; A time when six fresh clams and a soda cost a dime, and the Cyclone was the eternal summer dream. Although the prices may have changed since the first carousel was opened in the park in 1876, the magic of Coney Island certainly hasn’t. If you’re in the area, don’t forget to go see our friends down at Totonno’s. This is the home to one of our favorite white pies in the entire universe, and they’ve been making it the same since 1924!
Dinner on our first evening came from the always incredible Lombardi’s Pizzeria. One of the (if not the) oldest pizzerias in the world, Lombardi’s continues to impress us every year. Their homemade ricotta cheese is out of this world, and they have been cooking their pies in the same oven since 1905! This place is the perfect end to a long day in the city.
Day two started with some INCREDIBLE sandwiches from Parm, formerly known as Torrisi, which has since branched out into dinner service. There are simply no words to describe the perfection of these sandwiches. The turkey roll continues to blow us away every year, and the chicken parm is not far behind.
After a day spent scouring the city for Sicilian slices and new clothes, the team was off to Staten Island and Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern. This place holds a very dear place in the Home Slice family’s heart, and never ceases to be one of the most comfortable and welcoming places we visit. Denino’s has been family-owned since 1937, and they make sure you leave happy every time. If you go there, be sure to try the wings, you won’t be sorry you did!
Day three brought us to uncharted territory, venturing into New Haven, Connecticut for a visit to Pepe’s Pizzeria. This place has been doing it the same way since 1925, and it did not disappoint. If you make it to Pepe’s, don’t miss the clam pie (bacon optional), and the white pie with spinach, mushroom and gorgonzola. This was yet another place where we were treated to incredible service. A table for 19 in a place that holds roughly 40 is no small task, but they made it feel like it was nothing. If you ever happen to be in New Haven, don’t miss Pepe’s.
Our final day in the city took us to Harlem, and Patsy’s Pizzeria. Patsy’s is old school (est. 1933), and has a way of making you feel like you’re in the middle of a mafia movie. There are countless celebrity pictures hanging on the walls and they are able to cook their pies in a mind-blowing 2 minutes!! This is certainly a place to check out if you are in the neighborhood.
“The Last Supper” went down at the lovely Ristorante Rubirosa. They crafted a menu tailor-made just for us!! Our final dinners are our opportunity to wrap up our trip, relax, and really enjoy our last evening together. Rubirosa was the perfect host, never letting a wine glass go empty, being incredibly hospitable, and of course knocking our socks off with some incredible Italian cuisine. All hand-crafted pastas and sauces made to order make for an incredible dining experience. Everything on the table was awesome, but you can’t go wrong with the rigatoni or eggplant parmesan, both of which were incredible!
The week, as most do, went by much too fast. New York opened her big arms to us once again, and we gladly accepted the love. Home Slice group 2 will be headed back in just a couple of weeks, after which you can expect more exciting news and pictures. Till then, keep your parm shakers high and your wine glasses full!!
The time has come once again for the great Home Slice Pizza pilgrimage to the birth place of the slice. This will be our 6th annual trip, and as always we will be taking our most seasoned pizzavores. Two groups of 16 Home Slicers on two separate trips will be scouring the big city in search of new joints as well as some old school classics to remind us of just why we love pizza so much.
Don’t worry, we are going to make sure that we keep ourselves limber by hitting the rides at Coney Island. And as a reward for our hard work, we will be stuffing our faces at Totonno’s Pizzeria right down the street. These peeps have kept it in the family, and have been doing it the same since 1924!
Places like Totonno’s serve as a constant reminder of why this trip is so important to the Home Slice Family. “We make this trip to remember that we are part of a tradition” says Nano Whitman, General Manger. “Coming back here reminds us all that we are part of something much bigger than Home Slice, and that it is our responsibility to bring that tradition back to our home.”
Come on into the restaurant and we will tell you all about it. Just so you know, we’ll be closed at original Home Slice on Tuesday or Wednesday (Sept 4 & 5). (More Home Slice will be open every day as always.)
This year’s journey promises to be a great one! Stay tuned here for updates.