Thursday, February 25, 2010


"Next week."
"Next month."

These are just a few of the multitude of answers I've heard over the past year in regards to the question asked incessantly by everyone in New York, "When the hell is Totonno's going to re-open?" After nearly a year behind the metal shutters, Coney Islands's greatest pizzeria finally re-opened its doors to the public on Friday, February 12.

Don't let me mislead you, I wasn't there for it. Totally lame, I know, but had they opened when they said they would two days earlier, I was ready to trek through the gnarly blizzard to get my first taste of the place.

After fixing the place up following the fire that forced Totonno's to close its doors last March, it was fully restored to its small, quaint, original style. Quick primer: Anthony "Totonno" Pero made his first American pizzas at Lombardi's, America's oldest pizzeria.

(courtesy of Passion-4-Pizza)

That's Perro on the left and Lombardi on the right. Supposedly, Anthony did most of the pizza-making at Lombardi's (it's hard to see, but there's flour on Perro's shoes and none on Lombardi's) and was sick of Gennaro getting all the credit, so he bought a place on Neptune Ave. in Coney Island in 1924 and named it after himself.

Totonno's, along with Lombardi's, Patsy's, and John's, comprises the four pizza forefathers of New York, and ultimately, America. With three locations now (two in Manhattan), the joint is now run by Cookie, her husband Joel, and son/pizzaiolo Lawrence Cimineri, which despite the difference in last name makes Totonno's the longest family-owned and operated pizzeria in America.

I showed up the following weekend and had no problem grabbing a table, which is surprising considering there's only about 10 in the whole place. As soon as I was able to, I ordered a traditional Margherita (one size; no slices).

This pizza is the embodiment of a year of anticipation. It's beautiful, isn't it?

The sauce is naturally sweet from the Italian tomatoes, the cheese is stretchy and fresh, and the crust is nicely toasted and crispy-

The cornicione was bready and fluffy with a great chew to it. For some reason, it seems much darker than end-crusts at any other pizzeria. I suppose this can be attributed to the placement and length of time the pie is in the coal-fired oven, but it almost looks like rye bread, am I rye-ght?

Ultimately, and I know I'm going to catch some coal-fired heat for this, I wasn't blown away. Great pizza? Definitely. Legendary? Not so much, at least in the way of taste and flavor. Maybe my expectations were set too high, maybe they were having an off day, but I just wasn't knocked out.

Would I go again? Absolutely, if not just to pay tribute to one of our forefathers.


If you've been following my past posts, you'll know that I've been pretty disappointed by what my surrogate home city, Philadelphia, has to offer in the way of pizza (Stella excluded). I could go on a rant about how it seems as though the famous Philly cheese steak has hijacked and drained all of the attention and talent out of Philadelphia's Italian population, but a recent stop at Pietro's Coal Oven Pizzeria on South St. has me second-guessing my opinion.

Heading east down South Street towards the Delaware River, past Jim's Steaks, Eddie's Tattoos, and one of my least favorite slice joints Lorenzo's and Sons, eventually you'll end up at one of Pietro's three locations. Just as it's name explains, it is in fact a coal oven pizzeria.

Shortly after grabbing a seat and taking a few sips from a refreshing Newcastle Brown Ale, I ordered one traditional pie with Ricotta on half. At Pietro's, all pies are one size and unless you specifically ask for no cheese, it comes with homemade fresh mozzarella. Just a few minutes later, my steaming pie arrived-

Looks almost like it came from Angelo's, doesn't it? It should, considering Pietro's has family ties to Angelo's and Nick Angelis of Nick's in Queens. I'm going to be honest with you- I don't really have a lot to say about this pizza. Overall it was pretty rad, probably a 7.5/10 or so, clearly taking the cake over Tacconelli's (what a disappointment that was). While the sauce had a nice zing to it and the mozz was fresh, the best part of the pizza is the crust.

The bottom is cooked perfectly, which in my opinion means a "titch" of char and enough firmness through-out to keep the pizza from looking like it's falling asleep in your hand- the ultimate pizza turn-off. They also seemed to put some hard grated cheese and pepper (?) around the edge crust, which may sound weird but I was into it at the time.

While I was scarfing my pie, I came to the realization that I was the only person in the whole damn restaurant not on some sort of a date. I've eaten plenty of pizzas on my own before, but what the hell was going on here?

Oh yeah, it was Valentine's Day, that explains it. No matter, I was happy enough with my pizza, just me, myself, and pie.

Toby's Public House

Back in October while scarfing some pies at Nomad Pizza, I met Mark Horowitz, a fellow Park Slope pizzaphile. When I asked him where his top pizza joints in the hood were, he said something like, "I don't know, I only go to Toby's." After three or so months, I finally paid it a visit.

Pretty classy spot, eh? Almost looks like something out of a 1920's gangster flick. The place, for all intents and purposes, is in fact an Irish-style pub (hence the name), with one exception:

It has a bad-ass brick oven built into the wall like it's not even a big deal. Look how fresh that thing is! Toby's serves up Neapolitan-style pies, and does a pretty damn good job at it. As always, I was obligated to order the Margherita, in addition to a quattro formaggi and a smoked pancetta and something else I'll get to later.

The Margherita was tasty. Not amazing or ground-breaking, but pretty delicious. The crust is thin but airy and light, and the pie had some great pizza warts (I think I just invented that term, thank you very much).

I like a breadier, chewier crust, so I wasn't knocked on my ass with this pizza. I also wish it had some more basil, but like I said, it was tasty. Next up was the tomato-less, sauce-less quattro formaggi, which consisted of mozzarella, Gorgonzola (DOP), Parmesan, and Pecorino Toscano (DOP).

This guy was yummy, but ultimately nothing new. I like Gorgonzola, especially on a four-cheese pizza with no sauce, but I think it's hard to execute. It's easy to get carried away with a cheese like this, and with such a strong flavor, it's even easier to turn the pie into Gorgonzola with a side of pizza, know what I mean?

The undercrust on all the pizzas was fair, I think it could have stood another 20 seconds in the oven, but it was by no means under cooked. Now let me get to the crazy smoked pancetta pizza-

Here's what is on this sucker: tomato, mozzarella, crimini mushrooms, black garlic, and smoked pancetta (at least on half- I'm a veggie remember?). Now just what the hell is black garlic? Adam at Slice goes into some detail about the stuff, but basically it's fermented garlic that has a slightly sweet taste.

I'm not gonna lie- this was a pretty great pizza. All the toppings worked really well together, and I bet if I ate the pancetta I'd only feel stronger about this. I could never really pinpoint the black garlic aside from an occasional fruity taste, but I liked that none of the ingredients stole the show here. I would definitely go back to Toby's just to order this.

Just before leaving, I nearly forgot to do something I rarely do- order dessert. Paulie Gee had been raving about Toby's dessert calzone filled with nutella and ricotta cheese, and considering I'd never had a dessert calzone, I figured one was in order.

I know, I know, you're not getting the full effect here. Basically what happened was the thing looked so incredible that I forgot to take a picture of it until I had nearly destroyed the whole calzone- give me a break for cryin' out loud! I never would have thought nutella and cheese would go so well together, but with a blizzard of powdered sugar on top, how can anything taste bad?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pizza Pazza

After cleaning our plates at Cancun's arguably best pizzera Rolandi, we decided to get an eyeful of the "clubbing" area that makes the city an infamous destination for spring break trips. I don't even know if it has a real name; we just called it Fiesta Zone for obvious reasons.

It's "sexylicious," can't you tell? Woof. I can't even imagine what this place is like in March. In an area so heavily populated by drinking establishments, wouldn't one think there needs to be a stop for drunken pizza?

Oh, there it is. Pizza Pazza. I don't really understand the name, but I know "paz" means "peace," so maybe this is Cancun's version of America's Peace a Pizza. What a strange... cart? Stand? I don't even know what to call that thing, but it has the cutest little gas deck oven I've ever seen. Since everything else had meat on it, I ordered a plan square:

Wow. Um... okay. I don't think this had any sauce on it, since there isn't any visible nor could I taste any. Let's be frank: this slice was disgusting. No flavor, just salt, and the smallest sprig of basil on Earth. It wasn't crispy, or gooey, or anything appetizing; it was floppy and flavorless.

It was however extremely hot, and since they serve it on wax paper instead of a plate, I looked like a street performer juggling the slice between my hands while occasionally taking a bite. The flavor (or lack thereof) here represented my feelings on the surrounding area: tacky, overpriced, and tasteless.

Hey, they can't all be winners, right?


Earlier this week I did a sporadic thing by hopping on a plane to Cancun with a friend for no apparent reason other than to get out of frigid New York. Other than an hour-long foray into Tijuana (which I don't think counts), I hadn't been to Mexico before or the Caribbean in general for that matter.

I'd never taken a vacation to a destination where the most popular thing to do is nothing, so after a day of laying on the beach, I started to get antsy. What better way to explore a new place by trying to find the best pizza in town?

After dusting off the cobwebs from my high-school Spanish education, I decided to ask around. I was starting to get discouraged when the first three responses were, "Domino's." I knew I was in a tourist trap, but there had to be something better. Something with a brick oven, perhaps? "Sí, estás buscando por Pizzeria Rolandi." Rolandi it is.

We headed for the less-touristy downtown Cancun to find Rolandi, a semi-open air pizzeria with a wood-fired oven.

While we browsed the menu, we were brought a wood-fired pita and Mexican Coca-Cola (I'd be an idiot not too, right?). Mexican Coke differs from the stuff in the states because they actually use sugar as a sweetener instead of high-fructose corn syrup, giving it a crisper, less-"gunky" aftertaste. I'm not a huge soda drinker, but it goes great with some pizza.

My friend ordered the Margherita and I ordered the "Che," essentially a Margherita with some Roquefort cheese. Minutes later...

This was the Margherita. Pretty cheesy with not a lot of basil, but the deliciously sweet tomato sauce had no problem fighting it's way through to our taste buds. There wasn't a whole lot of charring going on, and the pie was a bit wet in the middle, but it was still pretty decent.

I couldn't tell if my "Che" had less sauce than the Margherita or if the Roquefort was just a bit too overpowering, but it tasted more like a white pie than a red in comparison to the Margherita we were served.

I'm starting to develop a liking towards blue cheeses on my pizzas, but only in small doses. Most blues are so unbelievable strong, they'll completely steal the show. Like any good pizza, there should be a healthy balance between crust, sauce, and cheese, and a lot of places go a little too crazy with strong cheese.

Rolandi straddled this line, but ultimately it was delicious and I scarfed the whole thing (when don't I?). While I wish I had a longer stay in Cancun to soak up some more cosmic rays and continue my pizza exploration, I'm just glad I didn't settle for Domino's.
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