The first thing I noticed when the train became above ground, entering into the Bronx, was the graffiti. It’s so unapologetic.
Touring the 5 boroughs has really left it’s impression on me. Every borough is so unique. Sunday, the Bronx showed itself as the king of hole-in-the-walls and family-owned restaurants. Whereas I get excited in the other boroughs when I see steam tables, in most neighborhoods in the Bronx, along with fish fry and dunkin donuts, they are ubiquitous.
The tour was to start at Cross Bronx Pizza on the Cross Bronx Expressway service road. We ended up going to 6 places. Though only 5 were planned.
Cross Bronx Pizza – This was a style of Bronx pizza I knew I had to hit for the tour. These are huge slices, I feel like a clown or Alice when I approach one towards my face. Strangely, ordering by the slice seems to yield even larger slices… may have been just ours or perhaps it’s just how they do it. Still, I have no idea how someone can get a whole pie to go, they don’t make boxes nearly this big.
It was a good slice. Sumptuous cheese, nice crust and a good amount of grease. For a first slice, this may have been a callous selection. I had to do it though. The exploration would have been incomplete had it been omitted. Speaking to some customers, I saw how passionate their regulars are – and for good reason, this slice is what memories are made out of.
And no one finished their crusts.
I liked the pizza restaurant feel of Louie and Ernies. The people who make the pies love doing it and it shows. With cornmeal on the underbelly, the grains are kept lassoed with that great char on the outer edges of the crust. L&E showed itself as a step-up from the standard slice in it’s cute gnome-like structure.
Entering Zero Otto Nove (089) feels like walking into a cave. The staging area with a bar where you wait for your guide, then through a narrow hallway, and finally everything opens up into an expansive stone room. You can feel the stillness of the marble all around you, the dwellers hovering over their feed, with a fire in the center keeping everyone safe.
The pies were full of flavor. Expectedly, I liked the taste of the crust, being wood and coal oven. They set their own bar high with the San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil on the Margherita and Riccardo’s butternut squash puree, smoked mozzarella, pancetta, and basil pie.
Some people say it’s old school, some say it’s new. I don’t know and I don’t care.
It is full of expectations and they are unapologetic for it. The mix of heat sources do a great job, but now i fully realize the smarts of the rotating oven… the pizza guys keep having to rotate and it can lead to some human error (or artistry) at times.
but we didn’t come here for butternut squash….
At 089 (Zero Otto Nove), the chefs work hard, with great ingredients, but that something which I felt was missing was found only a few moments later…
A few doors down and across the street stood our next task, the patriarch of Arthur Avenue, Mario’s.
Not much has changed in the 54 years the pizzaioli has been churning out the pies. And I don’t blame them. That simple pie sticks out as one of the tour favorites.
Crisp and full of flavor. They removed the coal oven decades ago, but the crust still sticks out in my mind as one of the best. Incomparable to any other pizza maker’s.
The people who run Mario’s seem to love what they are doing and, consequentially, are easily likable. The pizza man has been making pies since he was 14 and doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. The sauce felt like it was from an Italian restaurant. Strong basil flavors. Much less pretension than the baby brother across the street, and subtly packs the heat stronger. Despite the damp lighting, old carpets and older everything else, I dug the pizza. This pie is not listed on the menu, being a bane on busy dinner times, so the price was a mystery until the check. $19.
The next stop on the Bronx leg of the 5-Boro Pizza Tour was an exploration on choosing a pizza parlor. We positioned ourselves between Rocco’s and Carmine’s near Fordham University. After a brisk walk through Rocco’s and then the open kitchen of Carmine’s, we unanimously chose Carmine’s. It turned out to be a solid neighborhood joint for the kids of Fordham. The slices were standard and the round Sicilian pizza was notable for it’s shape.
This was supposed to be the end of the tour, but at the suggestion of our Bronx native tour member who didn’t want to end on Carmine’s, we went to his favorite neighborhood slice at 149th and 3rd Ave – known not by name but by the huge sign PIZZA. What a score!
This was the Ultimate neighborhood shop. The actual name is Best Italian Pizza, though I would guess 95 percent of their regulars do not know this. “Hey! Hey! You can’t take pikchas here. You can’t just take pikchas witout askin fuhst. Are you a tourist or somfthin?” Nearly enraged by the T-word, I kept my cool and said it all for a good cause “It’s nothing bad, don’t worry. You’re not in trouble.”
The slices were surprisingly great. The cheese was hard almost burnt, the sauce just a little sweet and the crust had some good flour remains on it. I dig that place. Totally under the radar and on the other side of the tracks. Was it forbidden love?
We were lucky to have that final suggestion and end on such a high note. Again, the graces of God were with us as we had one full pie’s worth of people: 6 Queens residents, one Manhattanite and one Bronxonian. I definitely opened myself up and am ready for more adventures in the Bronx. I hope this tour did the same for the group and even pizza fans reading this right now. There is a lot more to be explored and I am looking forward to living a long time so I can have much more Bronx pizza, fish fry, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Jamaican, Ecuadorian…