Traffic was light and we arrived early to check out the first day of Coney Island’s new Luna Park. It looks bright and more kidlike than before, though still eerily empty of yesteryear. Tell Ratner to bring the Nyets here and end it.
1524 Neptune Ave.
Di Fara Pizzeria
1424 Avenue J
Brooklyn, NY 11230-3702
The initial plan was to start off on two prongs of a fork and meet at Elegante Pizzeria. Unfortunately, illness took Dom DiMarco of Di Fara’s and we had to fit 3 pies worth of pizzapeople into Totonno’s. For those of you who’ve been there before, you might know that any irregular surprises on the waitstaff aren’t usually appreciated, so we made sure to be first on line to get seated without a hitch.
Before noon struck, the door was guarded by three of Coney Island’s finest locals. The three of them sitting in front looking gruff as possible with the intention of not one tourist to inquire within. When the boys finally released, it was apparent that we were there before the infamous sweetheart/hellfire server/owner arrived. Instead, we were seated and briefly waited on by one of the brash but pleasant cooks. She told us it was self-serve water. I did not mind at all. With the picture frames on the walls and brick-a-brac tables, it felt like we were hanging out in their own home.
Totonno’s excelled. More than the aftertaste of my memory. Undeniably great crust. The bakery flour is caked on and the unrelenting ingredients smooth out the top, flowing into the senses. For the group, it was uniformly loved across the board. As a tour, it is unfortunate for Totonno’s to be first because everything else only pales to it’s standard. Totonno’s is one of the few places in NYC to live up to the hype. If Coney Island ever revives to what it should be, we need Totonno’s at the head of the table.
6922 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11209
On to Bay Ridge, we headed for Elegante. Messy, cheesy, doughy, saucy and tasty. Big slices. Big everything. It proved to be an essential real NYC slice. This is necessary on any tour of Brooklyn Pizza.
7704 18th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11214
This Bensonhurst white-table cloth restaurant served us individual pies delicate with high marks of quality in every ingredient. In the front room, away from the actual restaurant, we were left to tear apart the fresh basil leafs adorning the center of each pizza. This gives a ceremonious touch, akin to breaking bread; It was a pause to contemplate, pray, and acknowledge that this is it. We also ordered the Il Colosseo pie which interestingly enough had hot dogs on it. Those dogs were eaten quickly, but I and the other garbage compactor, Joe, ended up eating the rest of the slices minus the dogs.
I was concerned with repercussions of bringing a group of 16+ here for only a few pies. Initially, by the young waiter, we were met with question marks. Then it was relayed to management and it became a challenge for them to figure out ways of seating us. The higher up the chain of the restaurant, the more proud of their food they appeared and the more they got the tour. Even on my exploratory tours here, I was witness to the same respect divide between the ones who achieved and the ones who wanted to. The kids were kept in line though, and none of this was a problem, more of a thing to sit back and watch.
This restaurant piqued many of our groups attention for their integrity, class and even their easy prices. More than a few in our group picked this place as one they’d like to go back and explore the menu further.
686 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215
From here, we went to the 2009 winner, Luigi’s of South Park Slope. Last year, Gio swooned us with his pesto drizzled regular pie, tales of his last-man-standing flour, and his grandfather’s farm. This year we were met with iron gates. Eff double Udge hockey sticks.
60 Greenpoint Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11222
With that flabbergast behind us, we made our way up to the northernmost section of Brooklyn, Greenpoint, where one of the newest entrants to the NYC pizza paradise calls home. It was 4pm and Paulie Gee’s opened early for our group.
After ordering a few margarita pies, we went a bit freestyle in one of the neatest dining rooms in Brooklyn. We ordered a Greenpointer (Fior di Latte, Baby Arugula, Olive Oil, Lemon, Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano) and Anise & Anephew (Fior di latte, braised fennel, guanciale, and a post-oven drizzle of anisette cream with a garnish of fresh fennel fronds) and something with his ridiculous sopresatta. I actually took no pictures of the pies because they were eaten so quickly. The picture of the pie below is courtesy Rachel A. Thanks Rachel.
The rooms have a wooden theme like Roberta’s but darker and more cavernous. All ingredients are chosen with a priority put on local ingredients but also to exceed Gee’s standards. In his Napoli oven, the round is cooked with great char in the form of leopard spots, something that would please any discerning pizza person.
Paulie later sat down with us for a while, first chatting up the ladies then the more hardcore pizza people of the group. He rattled off obscure, great pizzerias in Brooklyn that he loved – giving him the respect he deserves to garner. Paulie Gee is not a pizza prophet like Dom DiMarco or Gennaro Lombardi, though I would consider him a Pizza Priest. He’s a student of the greatest pizzerias of NYC and a man of lore who himself retired to the backyards of New Jersey for years, perfecting his pies in his homemade pizza oven – only to emerge when he was able to create something that would please the ghosts of Antonio (Totonno) Pero and John Sasso (of Bleeker).
Today he’s bringing out offerings each trying to coming closer to the apex. I do not see him being satisfied any time soon. In less than 6 months, he’s already made a pizza shop that churns out a top ten and an eating room that only a cataract-stricken one would feel uncomfortable in. Along with Gio of Luigi’s, Sal from Salvatore of Soho, and Dom DiMarco I consider him one of the must-meet players in NYC pizza today. I cannot imagine what Paulie Gee’s will be like 3 years from now.
These tours aren’t about finding the Best in Brooklyn. All I tried to do was make a great tour of styles and neighborhoods: We went from the latitudinal nadir to zenith of the borough, we had sloppy slices and white table cloth pies, we went from 1924 to 2010 – And each selection were what I consider to be among the elites in each class. I recommend anyone to take a tour of these selections, but first call ahead to Luigi’s. You gotta get there too.
Near misses for the tour: Papa Leone, Franny’s, Saraghina, Di Fara’s (sickness)