My new book, Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, debunks myths about Italian food in the United States. One of those myths is that returning GIs from World War II brought pizza back from Italy to America and that’s how pizza became popular in America. DEBUNKED. Pizza was already here–brought by the Italian immigrants of 100 years ago who opened Italian restaurants around the country wherever they settled. Villa Tronco is one such restaurant, opened in 1940, which predates WWII, and it claims to have introduced pizza to South Carolina. (It is also the oldest operating restaurant in South Carolina.)
The family originates from Naples and Sicily, according to owner Joe Roche. The Carnaggio family first moved to Columbia in 1910 and opened a fruit store. From Philadelphia, James Tronco was stationed nearby during World War I. He met the daughter, Sadie, and they married, eventually opening what would later become Villa Tronco.
Current owner and granddaughter of the original owner, Carmella Roche, details the racial discrimination her grandparents endured in an article in the Cola Daily, such as having to sit at the back of the bus and having to use non-white bathrooms. (In my book, I also discuss racial discrimination that Italians endured in the United States.)
Recently, I had the pleasure of dining there and meeting one of the owners. Villa Tronco is located in a historic firehouse in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.
And you can still see the exposed brick in one of the dining rooms.
The menu details the history of the restaurant.
Of course, while visiting I ordered the pizza. The pizza here is a square pie cut into square slices. It is a thin crust pie with a crunch. The tomato sauce is fresh and tomatoey–not herby. There’s a good amount of cheese.
For dinner, I ordered one of the specials, a pork with creamy polenta dish. I really enjoyed this dish. The pork was cooked perfectly, through but not dry, and the creamy polenta was a delicious accompaniment.
My friend got the eggplant parmigiana and enjoyed it.
For dessert, we got Carmella’s famous cheesecake. It is excellent.
And a generous serving of some tricolored spumoni ice cream. Yum!
–Dina Di Maio
I have been wanting to make pizza with cauliflower crust for a long time now. I had a package of frozen cauliflower, so I decided to try it. Most recipes I saw called for fresh cauliflower, but I figured I’d try anyway. I used this cauliflower crust pizza recipe on Tasty Kitchen as a guide. So I used frozen cauliflower and thawed it. When it was thawed, I followed the directions here to pulse it in a food processor and microwave it. I used paper towels to get the water out. Then I added about half the amount of parmesan and mozzarella. I also added oregano and parsley but nothing else because I didn’t want garlic or pepper in mine. I forgot to add the egg, but it was OK. The cauliflower became like a dough ball and I patted it down to a circle on a baking sheet. I baked 8 minutes and then added pizza sauce, mozzarella and turkey pepperoni and baked 5 more minutes. I probably could’ve left it in to get a bit more crispy. I really liked this. It was flavorful. I mean, it’s not pizza, so don’t eat expecting pizza. You can still taste cauliflower a little bit, so if you don’t like cauliflower, you may want to disguise it more with the garlic and pepper.
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.
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.
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 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.
Posted in America, Brooklyn, Cheese, History, Italian, Local, New York, Pie, Pizza, Restaurant
Tagged Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, cheese, coal, coal-fired, Coney Island, crust, L&B Spumoni Gardens, New Haven, New York, pie, pizza, Sally's Apizza, sauce, Sicilian, Totonno's, wood
New York City Honey Festival, Saturday, September 15, Shore Front Pkwy & Beach 96th Street, Queens, NY, 10 a.m. to sundown: This festival is the culmination of a weeklong festival celebrating honey.
New York City Pizza Run, Saturday, September 15, Tompkins Square Park, Manhattan: Participants run a 2.25-mile course while stopping to eat pizza at three checkpoints. Sounds like a crazy event, but a part of the proceeds go to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF).
San Gennaro Festival, Thursday, September 13 through September 23, Mulberry Street, Little Italy, Manhattan: The 86th annual festival is an open street fair with booths of food and games. The festival includes a Mass and procession on the saint’s feast day. There are cannoli- and pizza-eating contests as well as sausage and peppers, zeppole, clams and other traditional Italian festival food.
Vendy Awards, Saturday, September 15, Governor’s Island, NYC: A cook-off of street food vendors with the crowning of the best street food vendor.
Posted in Benefit, Cannoli, Event, Italian, New York
Tagged cannoli, Governor's Island, honey, Little Italy, New York City Honey Festival, pizza, San Gennaro, Vendy Awards