The crew was arriving from all over. Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Jersey, Westchester, Massachusetts and even a few from the destination borough of Staten Island. A group of us took the ferry over. Every time I take the boat, I love it a even more, but do get a bit more used to it and bored like the native Islandites. That being said, I would rather take a ferry than a subway any day. One of the best parts is that it seems to be reliable, a saving grace from that morning’s roundabout train ride due to delays and construction. The ferry leaves on the half-hour and when I reached the ferry terminal, I saw the numbers 11:57 on the giant clock. I was relieved that I would miraculously be on time to my own event.
Pier 76 seemed like a logical place to start the tour. It’s the progeny of Joe & Pats, the reviews were promising, and the location is a short walk from the ferry. This was one of the two places for the tour I hadn’t explored yet, but I was confident it would at least be a passable introduction. I had some doubt that it wouldn’t deliver, having illusions it might be a careless bar pie, a shadow of the father’s place. A part of me thought I should take it off and replace with another pie, but the location is too good to not take advantage.
Arriving, our spirits were high and the 18 of us lined the dining room. Many knew each other from other pizza tours and food excursions, while others were quickly absorbed, ploying friendships with tales of their pizza past. And except when discussions of the most polarizing pizzeria in the city, L&B Spumoni Gardens, came up, everyone seemed to get along well.
And on to the pizza: Pier 76 surpassed expectations. It had a strong, tasty thin crust but I loved the sauce more than anything. It was cheesier than expected, making it more guilty pleasured than dad’s version, and it was appreciated. I’d love to compare it straight up against Joe and Pat’s.
An excellent rendition of a Staten Island slice. I recommend it to anyone starting a Staten Island tour because it’s up there with the best. Pier 76 definitely whet our palates for what was to come in the day. And when leaving the checkered tablecloth table, the crowd was ready for all of Staten Island. Great job, P76.
Next was Trattoria Romana, the 2nd stop of the Staten Island leg of the 5-Boro Pizza Tour. This and Pier 76 were the pizzerias I’ve never been to before. I always put on places I’ve never been, relying on pictures (this one sparked from What Joe Ate) and respected scuttlebutt to decide. I usually have good intuition for things like this, and I’ve only been burned once: the first stop on the first tour last year – Rose & Joe’s Bakery – It still pains me. These wildcards keep me excited for the tour, I like organizing the eating, but even more, I love the discovery.
Initially, it seemed like our experience at Zero Otto Nova in the Bronx all over again. Last year, we were relegated to a room away from the other diners and subject to an insipid waiter who didn’t quite Get the tour. Here in SI, when I said 18 for only pizza, I could see pencil drawings of storm clouds above the manager’s head. I asked to sit outside, mainly because I didn’t want to create too much of a stir with the place settings. They started us off with polenta cubes, which felt like overkill for just pizzas and they were just doing it out of tradition; even the busboys weren’t quite clear how to approach us when putting them on the tables. But it was appreciated by most and was a nice palate cleanser from Pier 76.
The pizzas here are smaller than a regular pie, so for our 4 tables of people, I asked everyone to order whatever pizza they wanted for their individual table, and then I’d order an extra margarita for tour comparison’s sake. I was surprised that in the end, only one table ordered something other than a margarita. It was cool that the group was into the regular pie system even when going out on their own. It was like my son left the house on his own one day, and then a year later decided going to college was the right thing to do.
Another appreciated pie. Delicate crust and a fuller feel of the fresh mozzarella. Nice placement of big crust bubbles and an appreciated char at the ends of each crust. The lone other pie was an artichoke – which was also very good! No sauce on it, so it lent it’s cheese fat nicely to the crust. This is definitely a place that shows care to their food. By the middle of our meal, we were creating a hubbub in the restuarant as waiters came out to see what this mad group of one-slice diners were doing. The chef even came out and proudly represented his pies in person.
This was the first in our “Trinity” of pizzerias on Hylan (thanks Greg for the term). Next up was last year’s king, Salvatore of Soho.
And Sal demolished last year. This is no exaggeration: It was one of the most incredible eating experience any group of pizza fiends has ever had. People said it was like a scene from a movie. It was better than even any homemade family kitchen could pull off. Only a restaurant of this caliber could create the display of pizzas we were subject to. And even though this is a tour of the base model pie, Sal took many liberties with us by fixing something spectacular. When magic is taking place, who are we to stop it? What are we, Germans?
Initially, fresh, quartered baked bread came to the table, giving us a taste of lightly dusted char on the crusts scooping up his already famous tomato dipping sauce. He started us off with 2 margherita pies – surprisingly adhering to our comparison system for the tour. It showed off the basis for what his pies were: perfectly charred, tomato sauce that makes you cry, and homemade mozzarella tying it all together. Every ingredient in the ultimate top tier.
From there, it was an onslaught of showcase pizza. We had metal pizza bases on each end of the table and one in the middle, which were refilled again and again by the time each superlative pie was finished. Out came a dreamy white pie made with ricotta impastada normally used in cannolis, then a pepperoni, onion & garlic pie which was gnarly as hell – the pepperoni heating up the mouth and the onions cooling it down, he gave us a vodka pie which elicited dreams similar to the white pie but has an incredible spark to it that I’ve never before been privy to, then a tomato, basil & onion which is more subtle but ultimately satisfying, and finally a calamari & hot cherry peppers pie whose peppers lend an intensity not for the faint of tongue. And throughout all this, ziti was coming onto the table in the forms of of alla vodka, with meat sauce, and another topped with a layer of fresh mozzarella, then platefuls of lobster ravioli and squid ink ravioli. On and on, more pizza to our table, more pasta, more bread. Our group became a celebrating frenzy in the restaurant. It was like a dream or a movie how the food kept coming and everyone was so happy to be there. Smiles were beaming and it was even sad towards the end because we knew that this could not be topped.
Sal came out to our table, explained his methods and philosophies and showed us around his shop. We saw the authentic turn of the century accents throughout the restaurant and his custom coal/gas hybrid rotating pizza oven. Us walking around the restaurant, hearing every tale we wanted to hear, convinced nearly every one of us that it does not get any better than this. Sal gets his ingredients from the company’s own organic farm, but organic isn’t a buzz word here. It’s a matter of fact. This is the best way for him to get his ingredients at his standards.
Salvatore of Soho is the absolute Pizza King of NYC. This is one of the reasons there will not be another pizza tour next year. It is useless to look for another. There is zero above.
and I told him to take it easy.
At this point, everyone was waddling out the door. But we had to trudge on, this was only the 3rd stop on the tour. Nunzio’s is a half-mile down the road so most of us walked in an attempt to find more pizza pockets in our stomachs.
At Nunzio’s, there is a restaurant in the back, but we ordered and ate at the front counter while also pouring into the street. We ordered only 1 pie this time, split into 16. Initially I was concerned because if you don’t order a full slice, you might not get the full impression of the pizza. You don’t get an onslaught of sauce, you don’t get to fold it properly and hold it like a NYC gentleman, and you don’t get the creases that mangle the dough and fill with cheese and grease. But better judgement dictated only 1 pie. Some of the group couldn’t even stomach a 16th, choosing to sit out this round and just smell.
As for the taste test, it was highly appreciated by most. Everything about this pie is remarkable in the neighborhood slice sense, especially their bright sauce and thick, non-uniform cheese. I totally dig Nunzio’s, and although it came after Salvatore, it showed well.
The last stop was Ciro’s. Again, we dined under the outdoor umbrellas. Again, we ordered 1 pie for the remaining tour members. Some of us regained our composure and were able to comfortably stomach this 16th. This crust was one of the most legendary and faithful representatives of Staten Island Pizza. I liked this on the tour because it’s far down on the island and not necessarily the most accessible to us tourists. Again, well received but suffered from slice lethargy. For the tour as a whole, 5 out of 5 were big hits and I believe love was increased exponentially for the island by everyone in attendance.
This tour exceeded every expectation I had for the afternoon. Even without Salvatore of Soho, the tour was extraordinary. I have no idea what would be the favorite if not for SoS. It would have changed the tour entirely and we probably could have appreciated the others more. What an asshole. What a day.
All of these locations are easily accessible from the Staten Island Railway (SIR), which offers a free transfer if you take your initial train less than 2 hours prior. Nunzio’s is a great casual neighborhood spot, but the others are more than worthy of devoting an entire evening to. And when you go, tell them you saw their stuff on the 5-Boro Pizza Tour!
SI Pizza Tour list:
Pier 76, 76 Bay Street
Trattoria Romana, 1476 Hylan Blvd
Salvatore of Soho, 1880 Hylan Blvd
Nunzio’s, 2155 Hylan Blvd
Ciro’s, 862 Huguenot Ave