DAY 31: OCTOBER 31st, 2010
LOCATION: Totonno's (Coney Island, Brooklyn)
ORDER: 1 slice of cheese
GUEST: Scott Wiener, Ronnie Palmer, various other pizza tour guests
Oldie but a Perfect-ie.
Anthony "Totonno" Pero began making pizza at Lombardi's, America's first pizzeria, back in 1905. After distinguishing himself as a master pizziola, Totonno opened his own pizzeria in Coney Island in 1924. It still stands in the same location, still run by the same family, and, fortunately for us patrons, still uses the same recipe. Why alter perfection? Instead, Totonno's embraces it and somehow manages to repeat it.
The experience at Totonno's is like stepping into a delicious time capsule, where each ingredient and technique has been carefully preserved. Photographs hung throughout the dining area immortalize Totonno and his pizzamaking techniques. Aside from the man behind the counter, nothing has changed. The ingredients, dough arrangement, flour type, and coal-fired brick oven are exactly the same, except, of course, the photo is sepia tone.
In addition to using top quality ingredients including imported Italian olive oil, homemade mozzarella and savory tomato sauce, the secret of Totonno's success lies in their mastery of the coal burning oven. Maintaining a temperature of around 600'F enables the pizza chef to evenly and thoroughly cook the outer edge. Typically, coal-fired pizzerias cook pies at temperatures in excess of 800'F resulting in various degrees of charring. While, in moderation, charring can be a good thing, too much can add a carbon-filled bitterness that may affect the flavor of the whole pie. Totonno's has the cooking process down to a science and the culinary "scientist" wearing the apron is one of the best in the business.
Although the oven does not burn quite as hot as other coal-fired pizzerias, with coal comes risks and no one is more aware of the risks than Totonno's. Two years ago the old wood foundation of the oven caught fire overnight. Luckily, no one was injured but the oven was in need of serious repair. After a year and a half, Totonno's is back and, in my opinion, better than ever.
In Manhattan, there are other franchised out pizzerias with Totonno's name but nothing beats the no frills Coney Island original. Served on disposable plates and paper napkins by direct descendants of the founder, a visit to Totonno's is an old timey trip to the local pizzeria. Next time you go to Coney Island whether it's to take in a Cyclones game or a day of people-watching at the beach, I say forego the requisite Nathan's hot dog and head on over to Totonno's instead.
Irrefutably, Lombardi's became America's first pizzeria in 1905. However, there is some debate about which pizzeria, Lombardi's or Totonno's, is the orginal New York pizzeria.
- Here is why...
- Totonno used to work at Lombardi's so, technically, has been making pizza since 1905 as well.
- Totonno's still stands at its original 1924 location. Lombardi's was forced to move in the mid 1980s from its original location on Spring St. when the coal oven deteriorated from decades of NYC Subway trains literally shaking its very foundation.
- Totonno's in Coney island is still family owned and has (with the exception of the fire renovation) been continuously operated by Anthony "Totonno" Pero's direct descendants. Lombardi's did not operate between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s when John Brescio, a close family friend, took over and moved it to its current location at Spring and Mott St.
5 out of 5
21/21 = 1 x 5 = 5
1. Scott Wiener has pizza tours on foot and on the bus to any borough.
2. Ronnie Palmer is the name of the bus driver that drove us to Coney Island.
3. Louise "Cookie" Ciminieri, the granddaughter of Anthony "Totonno" Pero owns and works at the Brooklyn location. I was fortunate enough to meet her.