Category Archives: Pizza

Two for Tuesday: Brooklyn Pizza

I finally made it out to Brooklyn to try Totonno’s in Coney Island and L&B Spumoni Gardens’ pizza in Bensonhurst.  Pizza is a controversial topic, I realize.  My grandmother talked about wood-fired pizza from Naples.  My mother grew up on coal-fired pizza.  As my family worked in the pizza business and owned a pizzeria, I’m pretty critical of pizza.  Among aficionados, Totonno’s has a history and is known as some of the best pizza.

Totonno's
On our visit, we didn’t have to wait on line.  There was one table available.  There are no frills here.  You sit; they bring you paper plates and plastic cups.  You have your choice of canned or bottled soda and water.  Service is rushed and not friendly.  Because of the demand and lack of space, you may have to share a table with other patrons, as we did.  We ordered the large plain cheese pie, which is a steep price at $19.50.

Totonno's pizza
The three elements of pizza are crust, sauce and cheese.  With a coal-fired oven, one would expect the blackened bottom and a certain flavor.  Sally’s Apizza in New Haven has the perfect coal-fired crust.  Totonno’s crust didn’t have that blackened bottom, and the dough was lackluster.  The tomato sauce was bland–just a tomato taste.  The cheese was also pretty flavorless.  I had really wanted to love this place because of its history, but I felt it was lacking in taste.  I really don’t think it’s worth a trip out to Coney Island just for this pizza.

L&B
L&B Spumoni Gardens is a subway stop and short walk away from Totonno’s.  Here, the specialty of the house are Sicilian-style pies.  For those who don’t know, Sicilian style pies are square pies that are more doughy.  My mom says that when she was young, Sicilian pies came with tomato and onion, but that is not how they are served today.  The pie at L&B is good, but where’s the cheese?  I understand the sauce is on top of the cheese, but I don’t think there’s enough cheese.  It’s unfortunate because the sauce is very good, slightly sweet and with oregano.  With more cheese, this would be one hell of a Sicilian pie.

L&B Spumoni Gardens pizza

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Neighborhood Watch: Little Italy’s Grand Street

Today, it’s hard to imagine that Manhattan’s Little Italy once encompassed a much larger area than a few blocks along Mulberry Street.  Yes, my family lived on Mulberry Street south of Canal Street close to Bayard Street.  And Italians lived as far east as the Bowery.  Little Italy shrinks as the years go by.  It’s pretty much just Mulberry Street now maybe from Spring to Canal.  But that’s a stretch, as most of the businesses along that strip are not Italian or Italian-owned.  I would say the most Italian section of Little Italy is right off Mulberry and Grand Streets.  Here is the fairly new Italian American Museum, opened in 2001.  The building was the Banca Stabile, a bank founded in 1885 to aid the local Italian community and arriving immigrants.  Due to financial reasons, the museum is seeking a developer to build a new building at the site, so if you want to see the historic building, you should visit now.

Museum

The Alleva Dairy for cheese and meat and other Italian grocery items and the Piemonte Ravioli Co. for pasta.

Alleva

Piemonte

Across the street is E. Rossi & Company, an Italian housewares store that used to be on the corner and that every Italian American from NYC remembers.  Here is a great history of the store.  The article also mentions Paolucci’s, a restaurant that closed as rents went up.  Paolucci’s actually had perciatelli on the menu.  The owner introduced me to Goodfellas‘ author Nick Pileggi at the restaurant one night.

Rossi

Of course, no stop to Little Italy is complete without a visit to the famed pasticceria Ferrara.

Ferrara2

Try gelato or pastries, such as cannoli, napoleons, eclairs, or rum babas.

At the end of the block on Mott Street is Di Palo’s, an Italian deli/grocery.

Di Palo

Head south on Mulberry Street to the Church of the Most Precious Blood.  Established in 1891, this church is the site of the San Gennaro festival in September.

Church

For coal-oven pizza, try Lombardi’s on Spring and Mott Streets, the first pizzeria in the United States, opened in 1905.

Lombardi's pizza

Lombardi’s pizza

What to Eat:  Cannoli from Ferrara, pizza from Lombardi’s

Where to Shop:  E. Rossi & Company for housewares and Italian novelties; Alleva Dairy and Di Palo for cheese, meat and grocery items; Piemonte Ravioli for pasta

What to See:  Italian American Museum, Church of the Most Precious Blood

Neighborhood Watch: Father Demo Square

Father Demo Square

Many a New Yorker has perched herself on a bench in Father Demo Square, watching pigeons circle in unison from building top to building top.  There’s always that one lone pigeon bopping its head back and forth as it walks, waiting for someone to drop part of a bagel.  On a sunny day, there is nothing better than visiting the neighboring restaurants, Bagels on the Square, Joe’s Pizza, Grom, eating a bagel slathered with cream cheese,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

a warm slice or a refreshing gelato.  This square has been one of my favorite parts of the city since I moved to Manhattan.  To me, it was the gateway between the middle Village or NYU territory and the West Village, the land of quiet, quaint streets.  I fell in love with the delicious bagels and creamy flavored cream cheeses of Bagels on the Square.  When I got a craving for pizza, I’d get a slice of Joe’s and stand at the window, looking out at the square.  A few doors down on Bleecker, I’d get pastries at Rocco’s, a wonderful Italian pastry shop with an incredible smell as you walk inside.  Let the big fat cookies in the window beckon you in.  Up the block from Rocco’s is Murray’s Cheese where I can get whatever cheese I desire.  (I remember when Murray’s was on the opposite side of Bleecker Street in a smaller shop.)  Next door to Murray’s is Faicco’s Italian Specialties where you can get Italian meats as well as other Italian grocery/deli items.  I love Bleecker Street and could keep on walking and telling you what I like, but I need to turn around and walk southeast because this is about Father Demo Square.

Who is Father Demo?  I used to ask myself that question.  Now I know the answer.  Father Antonio Demo was pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii church from 1899 to 1933.  Our Lady of Pompeii is the Italianiate church with the domed bell tower west of Father Demo Square on the corner of Carmine and Bleecker Streets.

bell tower

According to the church’s Web site, Father Demo comforted families of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire victims.  Originally from Vicenza, Italy, he immigrated to Boston in 1896 and later became assistant pastor of the church before becoming its pastor.  The church provided support to the immigrant Italian community that arrived during the turn of the last century.  Italian immigrants created businesses in the nearby area, and the area later developed into a mecca for artists and writers.  (Personally, this is the church where my grandfather was baptized, and this is the neighborhood where his family lived.  In fact, at one time, they lived on Carmine Street right opposite the church.)

interior of Our Lady of Pompeii

interior of Our Lady of Pompeii

Today, Our Lady of Pompeii represents diverse cultures and has Masses in English, Italian, Portuguese and Tagalog for the diverse community of Americans, Italians, Brazilians and Filipinos.  This beautiful church continues to aid immigrants, visitors and the neighborhood, and its beloved pastor is recognized and remembered in Father Demo Square.

What to Eat:  bagels from Bagels on the Square; pizza from Joe’s Pizza, gelato from Grom; pastries from Rocco’s (especially the cannoli which is filled to order–how it should be!); cheese from Murray’s; deli items from Faicco’s Italian Specialties.

Where to Shop:  Avignone Chemists, founded in 1832, the oldest apothecary in America; for a bit of history, check out the window display of old prescriptions, many written in Italian.

Information on the Mass schedule for Our Lady of Pompeii.  Information on making donations to support this historic church.