LOCATION: Grimaldi's (Front Street and Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn Heights, BROOKLYN)
GUEST(S): Mark Lee, Ruby Marez, Robin Rothman
ORDER: 1 slice of cheese, 1 slice of pepperoni
PIZZA REPORT: Wonderful. Grimaldi's proves when the best ingredients are prepared using the best cooking methods, the best pizza will result. All of my slices contained fresh mozzarella cheese, a touch of olive oil, San Marzano tomato sauce, shredded basil leaves, and superbly cooked coal-fired brick oven crust. I know this because it is all done in plain view. The one thing I could not see was the secret blend of Italian spices added to the sauce. Man, I'd love to know that secret. What I do know is that Grimaldi's is the gold standard for pizza. My Margherita slice was a tad underdone, but even underdone Grimaldi's is still pretty darn good.
ATMOSPHERE:The line is long, the seats are cramped, the waiters are forgetful, the service is rushed, and the music volume is loud at times. But, don't sweat the small stuff and once you take a bite into a Grimaldi's pizza, everything else is exactly that - "small stuff". These are Pizza people, not People people. There's a reason for the long line so what are you waiting for? Get in it! Oh, and bring about $12 per person (cash only) for your fill of pizza (with tax and tip, without drinks).
VERDICT: 4.5 out of 5
MISC:1. This was the last pizza day so I had some fun editting Ruby Marez, Robin Rothman, and Mark Lee in their costumes dancing to the dance music.
2. The music was courtesy of a mariachi band we randomly bumped into after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (which is utterly amazing). If anyone knows the name of the song they are singing, please let me know!
LOCATION: Lazzara's (38th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue, NYC)
GUEST(S): Sylvija Ozols, Kevin Cragg, Robin Rothman
ORDER: 2 slices of Margharita, 1 slice of Pepperoni
PIZZA REPORT: Tangy tomato trays. The last time I had pizza cooked on a cookie sheet, I was at lunch in my high school in Florida. I liked it there and then but I love it here and now. Lazzara's pizza is made with premium ingredients on a uniquely solid crust in a very hot oven (unlike my high school on all accounts). My favorite part of Lazzara's pizza is the sauce. It tasted a lot more tomato-y than other pizza sauce but I welcomed the change. I was amazed at how stiff the crust remained under the strain of the thick sauce and heavy toppings. The pepperoni slice had shredded spicy pepperoni which really mixed well with the tangy sauce. The Margharita slices had fresh mozzarella cheese, which I love, and thinly sliced tomatoes which I like (in moderation).
ATMOSPHERE:Shhh...Lazzara's must be one of Manhattan's best kept secrets. I don't want to blow its cover either. How a delicious and well priced (~$12 person with tax and tip, w/o alcohol) pizza place with plenty of seats and nice music could be uncrowded in the middle of midtown during dinner means it must be a secret. I know it's closed on weekends and hear it's pretty busy during lunch but we were the only people in the store at 7p. I want to go there for every dinner. Care to join me? Psst...don't tell anyone else though. Let's keep Lazzara's between the two of us.
VERDICT: 4 out of 5
MISC:1. Check out Silvija Ozols, Kevin Cragg, and Robin Rothman as they bob their respective heads to Dean Martin's classic pizza-eating song entitled "That's Amore" in the video clip. 2. Camera was on wrong setting when it was turned on me but we made do.
LOCATION: Nunzio's (Hylan Blvd and Midland Avenue, STATEN ISLAND)
GUEST(S): Dan Dunford
ORDER: 2 slices of cheese
PIZZA REPORT: A second slice is twice as nice! I first only ordered one but the perfectly sliced slabs of mozzarella cheese resting on the sweet and copious tomato sauce was too much to have just one. I am pretty impressed the crust is so sturdy, yet so thin and cooked in a conventional oven.
ATMOSPHERE: Nunzios, second to None-zios...if you're into pun-zios! It's been around since it opened as a slice place in 1947. The current location offers both a restaurant in the back and a slice/takeout place in the front. Although there are no seats in the slice side, there is plenty of standing room and surprisingly pleasant Staten Island residents. Good, well priced pizza (<$2 pre tax per slice) tends to bring out the best in people. Too bad Grant City, Staten Island is so far away.
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5
MISC.:1. Following my last day of Queens jury duty, I began my journey to Staten Island. After leaving the court house, picking up Dan Dunford in midtown, hopping on the subway to the ferry to the Staten Island Railroad, I was only 4 short blocks from Nunzio's. We ate a couple of slices then headed back. Five hours after my trek had begun, I was back in my apartment. 2. The Staten Island Ferry is free and around twilight in Autumn offers just about the most spectacular views of New York City and the surrounding areas as I have ever seen. I tried to capture a couple in the video clip. 3. As for jury duty deliberations, I had never done it before...but I recommend it! By the way, our verdict was not guilty but don't worry, it's not like there is a bad guy on the loose. The crime was burglary but nothing had been taken.
LOCATION: Totonno's (26th Street and 2nd Avenue, NYC)
GUEST(S): Robin Rothman
ORDER: half of a small Margherita/Bianca
PIZZA REPORT: Half Margherita, half Bianca (white) - what a cool pizza! Sure, a little of the sauce oozed over into the Bianca side but Totonno's sauce is delicious. The golden brown coal fired brick oven cruster surrounded the pie like a ring of freshly baked Italian bread. It's light but sturdy, sturdy yet chewy. How do they do it? I suspect magic.
ATMOSPHERE: Totes Totonno's! If they needed an ad campaign, that might be what they use, but, thankfully, they do not. Although the Kips Bay Totonno's franchise is slightly more expensive ($18-24 w/ tax and tip, no alcohol) than the no-frills Coney Island original, the taste of the signature coal-fired brick oven pizza is nearly identical. There is also more seating, season decoration, and televisions than the original. Go at off peak times and you'll have the whole restaurant, bar, and nice music to yourself. It is slightly off the beaten path but it's totes worth the trip.
VERDICT: 4 out of 5
MISC:1. There is a debate as to whether Anthony "Totonno" Pero or Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in America. Although both began making pizza in 1905, Totonno did not establish his pizzeria until 1924. I like 'em both. 2. Robin Rothman and I watched what turned out to be the final game of world series. If you still don't know who won, the video clip may have a spoiler.
GUEST(S): Robin Rothman, Steve Jackett, Jaime Jackett
ORDER: 3 slices of sausage, 1 slice of a vegetarian
PIZZA REPORT: Solid. This thin crusted, tasty tomato sauced, pizza loaded with shredded mozzarella cheese and toppings really hits the spot [in your stomach]. On both pies, there was no shortage of quality toppings which both flavor each bite and fill you up, since the crust likely will not.
ATMOSPHERE: Kinchley's is the ideal place for a pizza party for a group of kids. It's family friendly, well lit, with plenty of decorations ranging from seaonal to railroad-ial (tons of trains). Its also open late and plays a great collection of nice music at the perfect volume.
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5
MISC:1. Kinchley's was the third pizza place we tried and, luckily, was still serving to enable me to get pizza just before midnight. Thanks Steve and Jaime Jackett for keeping Pizza Month alive! 2. I misprounce the name of the place everytime but the first time. I also forget where I am in the rush.
LOCATION: La Pizza Fresca (20th Street and Broadway, NYC)
GUEST(S): Terry Jinn, Maddy Mako, Tony Carnevale, Jen MacNeil, Kevin Danenberg
ORDER: half of a Margherita, one fourth of a Funghi
PIZZA REPORT: La Italian name for la good reason. La Pizza Fresca prides itself on serving authentic Italian pies. It even has the Neopolitan seal of approval for authenticity. Having never been to Italy, I must say that La Pizza Fresca makes me want to book a flight tomorrow. Looking around the table I could see that some pies differ more than others. I went the traditional route and had the Margherita. The cheese was fresh mozzarella, the sauce was made with San Marzano tomatoes, the crust was hand sculpted and cooked in a wood burning oven to perfection. I loved it. It also came with complete olives on it but they were easy to remove. The Funghi mushroom slice I had was pretty good too.
ATMOSPHERE: Clean, classy, and comfortable. La Pizza Fresca's owners keep the place looking sharp. White table cloths, fancy dishes, fine wine, an imported wood burning oven and a well dressed wait staff are a few of the nice touches that qualify La Pizza Fresca as a great date place. It's not cheap ($20-25/pie with tax and tip) but it's a lot less than a trip to Naples and La Pizza Fresca is the next best thing.
VERDICT: 4 out of 5
MISC:1. Jen MacNeil writes a blog where she endeavors to do a new thing every day until she turns 30. Terry Jinn, Maddy Mako, Tony Carnevale, Kevin Danenberg, and I were all witness to Jen's new thing #215. I even videotaped it! 2. More dating advice courtesy of me. I really should probably not give dating advice.
LOCATION: Two Boots (3rd Street and Avenue A, NYC)
GUEST(S): Erik Tanouye, Matt Pack, Brock Mahon
ORDER: 1 slice of andouille, 1 slice of Bayou Beast
PIZZA REPORT: Oldie but a goodie. Normally I do not like old pizza but Two Boots makes a quality product that tastes almost as good old and cold as new and hot. I think this is because the toppings are so unique here. Two Boots is named for the geographical shapes of the locations that influence their pizzas - Italy and Louisiana are both shaped like boots. Although I am forever indebted to the Italian mainland for creating such a perfect food, the Cajun flare on my Bayou Beast really set it apart from any other slice I have had all month. Toppings such as andouille, bbq shrimp, crawfish, and jalapeno blend together with the mozzarella atop a very thin yet firm crust to produce a delectable slice of pizza. The only thing that could have been improved was the age of the slice. Order a pie as opposed to a slice and you won't be sorry. I added support to this theory with my slice of andouille sausage I ate in the booth at East Village Radio.
ATMOSPHERE: The Two Boots slice place in the East Village (across the street from the Two Boots sit-down location) has about 6 tables giving it a somewhat crowded feel even when there are not many people. Also, the signature pies are pre-made so you are limited to what is available on display. And pizzas weren't the only thing "on display". There were Mets pennants hanging down from all around the interior of the store. I guess the owners like pizza and the Mets...as do I.
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5
MISC:1. I was on an East Village Radio show called Fist City. Since it is just audio, I tried to add some video to the video clip by swapping in snap shots of whomever was talking. 2. There is an awesome pizza eating song played while we eat our pizza in the studio. 3. After the radio show, Matt Pack, Brock Mahon, Erik Tanouye, and Anna McNicka (Brock's girlfriend) went to Two Boots storefront to get another slice.
LOCATION: Nick's (94th street and 2nd avenue, NYC)
GUEST(S): Robin Rothman, Lewis Sandler, Kitzi Taylor
ORDER: 1 slice of cheese, 2 slices of pepperoni and mushroom
PIZZA REPORT: Oven question solved! Coal-fired brick ovens are great but they're also highly regulated and therefore extremely expensive to build. Due to the fire hazard, no new pizza place can open with a coal oven in the building unless 'grandfathered in' (i.e. built before the regulations). Nick's pizza has a solution. Their cynderblock material oven powered by gas comes about as close as possible to coal-fired brick oven pizza with what some would argue as an improvement. The two noticiable differences are that the edges are only slightly charred and the pizza crust, as a whole, remains soft and chewy even as it cools. Nick's, in the tradition of the better known pizzerias, also uses high quality ingredients. The pepperoni and mushrooms were delicious on their own. I know this because they fell off the slice when I lifted it. I suppose the fresh mozzarella and the copious tomato sauce combined with the toppings to overpower the archetectural integrity of the gas powered crust. This caused one of my slices to fall apart and make a mess. Of course, pizza is one of those messes I don't mind cleaning up.
ATMOSPHERE: All the comforts of a date place. Nick's ovens serve both form and function. In spite of cooking a slightly soggy pizza, they provide a beautiful backdrop for the seating area in the front of the store. The comfortable temperature inside, despite the chilly weather outside, almost makes it seem you are being warmed by the very visible flames in the back of the twin ovens. The soft background music, nice wait staff, clean interior, great tasting pizza, and reasonable prices make you wonder how come there isn't a line out the door. Then you realize there is another equally pleasant seating section in the rear. If you want good and you want it now, go to Nick's!
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5
MISC:1. My mom meets Robin Rothman for the first time and they rate each other based on pizza slices.
2. Lewis Sandler explains the stain on his shirt and does a real spit take.
3. I put a portion of Kitzi Taylor's stand up comedy routine.
LOCATION: Amorina (Vanderbilt and Prospect Place in Prospect Heights, BROOKLYN)
GUEST(S): Keith Huang, Rebecca Willams, Carl Bialik
ORDER: 2 slices of Margherita, 1 slice of Diavala, 1 slice of "Will to Live"
PIZZA REPORT: Seasonal Affective Delicious! Amorina has a handle on traditional Neopolitan pizza and proves it is not afraid to create its own. Of course you have heard of pumpkin pie but what about pumpkin on a pizza pie? I had it as part of my specialty pizza tagged the "Will to Live". The thin crust gives you a guiltfree excuse to try out all of the quality toppings including the pumpkin (seasonal), the spicy salemi (which was on the Diavola), and fresh mozzarella (which comes standard on all pies).
ATMOSPHERE: Fun for everyone. If you can find your way to Prospect Heights, you will see and meet the people of Amorina. Although I was not yet part of it, there is a family atmosphere amongst the waitstaff, chefs, and patrons which endear Amorina to your heart. The employees like working there and if you're in the area with $18-22 to kill, go give yourself a "will to live"!
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5
MISC:1. Carl Bialik and his girlfriend, Rebecca Williams know a good portion of the folks that work at Amorina and gave the opportunity to interview them. During the interview, I found out what the employees "pizza names" were. 2. The absolutely gorgeous photos of the pizza in the video clips were courtesy of Keith Huang. He also took others available on his blog located here... http://keithhuang.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/national-pizza-month-2007-amorina/
LOCATION: Patsy's Pizzeria (117th Street and 1st Avenue, NYC)
GUEST(S): Birch Harms
ORDER: 2 slices of plain Margherita, 1 slice of Margherita with pepperoni
PIZZA REPORT: Same logo, different taste. Typically, when a brand is franchised, you would expect the franchises to be similar but not quite as good as the original. The opposite is true, in my opinion of Patsy's. I love the franchise, but only like the original. Don't get me wrong, it's still coal fired brick oven pizza with tomato sauce superior to any large chain. Patsy's just does not stand up to itself. Perhaps because the original prides itself on offering slices, whereas the franchises do not, sacrifices in the quality of pepperoni and cheese are made. I had to order a margherita to ensure I would get fresh mozzarella cheese on my pie. And, of course, when it came, I devoured it.
ATMOSPHERE: Being such a fan of the Patsy's brand, I must point out the differnces between the East Harlem location versus the franchises. Patsy's, in general, are located centrally around the city. They also have cloth napkins, nice tablecloths, an assortment of wine, and romantic mood music. In my opinion, the East Harlem (original) location, is more of an old fashioned pizza parlor. The franchises are more suited for dates, whereas the original would be an ideal spot for families or a local little league pizza party. Each has its own merits. If you don't mind the trek to get there, you will find the Harlem Patsy's to be spacious, clean, and quiet with hardly any wait to get in. No matter where you go, expect to pay about $18-24 a pie (w/o alcohol).
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5
MISC:1. I say the word "Patsy's" 11 times and Birch Harms tacks on 3 more in the 4 min video clip. That is a rate of 1 per every 17 seconds. 2. Birch Harms and I pose for a photo re-enacting a photo we took 5 years before. 3. I also attempt to give date advice in the video clip.
LOCATION: Lucali (Carroll and Henry Street, Carroll Gardens, BROOKLYN)
GUEST(S): Terry Jinn, Victoria Moy, Tony Powell
ORDER:2 pepperoni, 1 portobello mushroom
PIZZA REPORT: Jackpot! Lucali is definitely the best discovery of Pizza Month 2007! This wood fired brick oven pizza offers the highest quality crust charred-to-perfection around the rim, fresh mozzarella cheese, mouthwatering tomato sauce and topped with just the right amount freshly grated parmesan cheese held in place by a kiss of olive oil. It's near impossible to find pizza as good as Dom Demarco's Di Fara, but I will proudly go on record as saying that Lucali is pretty darn close.
ATMOSPHERE: Lucali makes heaven a place in Brooklyn. If you can embark on a journey to Carroll Gardens and disembark $19 from your wallet, then you will be glad you did. Aside from a sandwich board out front, the only sign you are near Lucali will be the line. If there is no line, Lucali is either not yet open (late hours) or there is no more dough. Once inside, a romantic mood (candles and soft music) is set while you get acquainted with your remarkably patient and courteous Brooklyn wait staff. Soon thereafter, the pizza arrives, and well...fuhgetaboudit!
VERDICT: 4.5 out of 5
MISC:1. I blow out the candle in the video clip 2. Victoria Moy was the first random person to meet me for pizza this year. Last year, that honor went to another of my guests, Tony Powell. Terry Jinn, on the ather hand has been my guest early and often over the years and is the one that told me about Lucali to begin with.
LOCATION: Una Pizza Napoletana (12th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue, NYC)
GUEST(S): Garrett Palm, Robin Rothman
ORDER: 4 slices of Marinara, 1 slice of Margherita, 1 slice of a Filetti
PIZZA REPORT: Every bite at Una Pizza Napoletana should be savored, and not just because it costs $21 a pie. Anthony Mangieri, the well tattooed chef and owner of Una Pizza Napoletana, has mastered at least three of the four different types of pies he offers and I have heard good things about the fourth. I strongly recommend this place for any pizza aficionado. I think Mangieri's crust, which is golden brown on top and wood-charred below with a chewy center, is the best in the city. It's numera "Una".
ATMOSPHERE: Bring cash, and plenty of it. Also, arrive early because you are likely to be waiting in line outside and beware, the doors shut when the dough runs out. Despite the wait, this is a great date place. Una Pizza Napoletana offers a nice mix of non-intrusive music, the subtle smell of burnt wood, soft lighting, and a helpful and friendly wait staff to ensure a nice dining experience. Anthony Mangieri, the owner, himself even stopped by to find out how we liked the pizza. It was delicious, even for $21 a pie (tax and tip and drink not included)!
VERDICT: 4 out of 5
MISC:1. Afterward, Robin Rothman and Garret Palm and I went to Veselka to do the post pizza analysis and eat milk shakes. The milk shake was good but the freakin gigantic sign behind me doing the pizza review is so distracting! 2. Also, in the video clip, we all do our rendition of the chorus to "Sad Eyes" by Bruce Springsteen. They have a lot more musical training than I...apparently.