…but we just hit two really good ones.
First Johnny’s, which is run by second generation pizzaman, John, Jr. His pops opened the shop in 1968 and handed it over in 1991. So you have a classic shop, great slices, family run, friendly staff, that’s been around for over 40 years…and what happens in 2007? Papa John decides to open one of his frozen pizza buffets directly next store.
“It was the same time that my dad passed away,” said John, Jr. “My dad passed away in July, and I found out they [Papa John’s] were moving in in July. They didn’t actually open up until October. So I already knew about it, but I didn’t tell my dad about it because he was in frail health already.”
So what did he do? “It made us evolve,” John told us. They got a website together, started taking orders online, and dutifully began waging a pizza cold war that persists today. I can report that while we were there, at least one Papa John’s employee came in for a slice.
But the real difference? “See, when someone comes in here and tells me they are short a couple bucks, I’ll help them out. That would never happen over there.”
Next we hit Grandma’s, up the street. There, you can chat with photogenic owner Benedetto, who took over this 45 year old shop a few years ago. Benedetto is a humble man.
“I’m not looking to be rich, I just want to make a living and enjoy my family,” said Benedetto. “That’s all I want. Today, you don’t get rich from owning a pizza shop. Before, a person with a pizza shop was able to accomplish many things. I just want to pay my bills.”
If taste is a currency, Benedetto is a wealthy man. He makes a banging grandma’s slice with marinara he learned to make looking over his own grandmother’s shoulder.
We were all geared up for a big Queens pizza trip this Saturday, but car trouble, crappy weather, traffic, and fate all had other ideas. We eventually made it out to Howard Beach, but the folks at New Park wouldn’t let us shoot photos and asked us to come back another time. Same with the staff at Alfie’s in Richmond Hill. Both places serve up solid slices, and are worth checking out.
Lucky for us, we saved the best for last: Dani’s Pizza in Kew Gardens, Queens.
Dani’s is unassuming. It’s signage is more 80’s Miami nightclub than old school Queens pizzeria. Inside we were greeted by some of the friendliest, most jovial pizzamakers around. Yes, they said, take all the photos you want.
One of the pizzamakers, Cesar, has been making pizza for 12 years. It only took him two days to learn how though.
I started washing dishes, watching all those guys make pizza. Then they told me to start, and I think that’s why I learned so quickly. I was watching, and when it comes to make it, I make it.
Also, notice all that beer behind Cesar!
We have all the beers. Some times, around October, we have 70 or 80 different beers.
The owner don’t drink, he just like to have the customers have it. The customers come, they just love it…pizza and beer, pizza and beer.
There’s a bar on the corner over here, they close around 1 o’clock, so they’re drunk, they come over here to eat pizza and drink beer.
Also, this happened:
Customer: ‘I’ll have a Wittenberger’
Cesar: ‘Amigo, get this guy a cheeseburger and a Corona’
Basit, a local kid who moved to Flushing after growing up a few blocks from Dani’s, has seen the neighborhood around Dani’s develop.
I used to live right up the street when I was young, and this used to be the spot to get pizza. The neighborhood keeps developing, and it’s like new people come in, usually people from other countries, fresh, come to this area..it’s good for people who are not familiar with America…
I’ve seen buildings that were never here, now they’re here. They’ve refurbished old buildings and stuff. This place hasn’t really changed that much. A lot of the stuff around here, yeah, but not this place. They like to keep it original…that’s what they do.
There’s more pizza spots around here too. They got one across the street, but that’s not really, it’s not the same as a real pizzeria. People love pizza for the originality… you just get a slice…they make it by hand…I dunno. A lot of companies comin’ out with pizza…Little Cesar’s Pizza and all this, it’s not the same as New York pizza. New York pizza is the best.
I should also mention that Dani’s Pizza hosts a pizza eating competition in the summer. Three Saturdays in a row, from July 27 - August 8. According to Cesar, last year’s winner took down 14 slices in ten minutes.
Tucked in to the bottom floor of a row house on Crosby Avenue in the Bronx, Louie & Ernie’s Pizza has been serving up superlative slices since 1959 (math math math…that’s 53 years). According to Cosmo, who has been running the place with his brother John for the last 25 years Louie and Ernie were just two pizza makin’ brothers.
They are two brothers, the original owners. They started in Harlem on First Avenue, right down the block from Patsys. I don’t know why they came up here. But only one brother started up the business, that was Ernie. And then, he just ran with it. They tried selling it a couple of times over the years, but it never really panned out, they always took it back. Ernie is gone now. He died in ’91. That was my lucky break. He got sick, and someone else’s misfortune became a lucky thing for me and my brother. Other than that? They were just pizza men. That was their trade.
And now Cosmo and his brother John are continuing that trade.
We’re just a pizzeria. We’re one of the last of the Mohicans. No fried mozzarella sticks. What you see is what you get. You won’t find many places like this left. Most places out there nowadays have to play to the crowd.
Originally, it was just a neighborhood thing. It still has a neighborhood following. You get a lot of people who moved out coming back for a slice. We got a big cemetery up the block. After a funeral, they’ll pop in because they are in town. A family come in this morning. Their son is in the military. Their first stop when he got back from duty was to come in and get a slice.
Cosmo and John are lucky enough to have their family around at Louie & Ernie’s. We got the chance to talk to their other brother, Ettori and his two pizza lovin’ kids Matthew and Nicholas, who had stopped by for lunch because “the price is right.” Ettori dropped some Louie & Ernie’s history on us, but it was his kids who spoke truth to power.
The pizza has changed from good to better, and better to great, and then great to awesome, and awesome to excellent, and then to perfect, and I could keep going…
Daddy, I feel like I’m in pizza heaven right now.
Nestled along the LIE service road in Flushing, Queens, Brother’s Pizza has been slingin’ slices to neighborhood folks for the past 50 years.
Our pizza team recently got the chance to spend some time at Brother’s, where we spoke with Dennis, the owner, and Joe, who has been Brother’s pizzaman for 40 years.
"Joe knows me from when I was born. My mother used to bring me here in the stroller."
"I bought the store about 3 years ago, and I worked here about 14 years prior to that. I started work here the day I got my drivers license. I always told the owner, ‘when you’re ready to go old man, I want in.’" -Dennis, Owner
Joe started making pizza here 40 years ago.
"I remember they were looking for a pizza maker, I called them up, and I came to their place, I came over here, and I’m still here." - Joe, Maker
For Joe, making pizza is good work. He admits that “working in a place like this for 30 years is like working somewhere else for 50,” but he still loves his job. “For me, right now, I don’t wanna do nothing else except this.”
And as you might have guessed, making pizza for 40 years can really build up the ol’ “pizza muscles.”
Dennis: “When he takes off and goes on vacation, and I make the pizza, my shoulders hurt, and my hands hurt…”
Joe: “Maybe when you start, but to me, it doesn’t bother me. I make 20 pies, or I make 200 in a day, I feel the same.”
Brother’s is a straightforward New York pizza place that serves up a legit slice and not much else. But while customers come for the food, it’s the people that make it more than just a pizzeria.
"80% of the people who walk in that door know our names. Which goes a long way because they’re happy for you. So many people when I took the store over, were happy and proud of me, that they come back here because of that, because they saw me grow up, they saw me come here and start delivering a week before I got my drivers license, and they’ve known me now for 15 years and are glad." - Dennis, Owner
Last but not least, Brother’s has some serious NYC celeb cred.
"We have Alec Baldwin come here all the time. He was here last week. Now he lost weight, so he can’t eat here that much anymore…his wife won’t let him." - Joe, Maker
Popped into Pizza Suprema for an Upside Down slice this afternoon and noticed these cards next to the name plaques for each of their pies. According to the pizzaman, the cards are a response to a Department of Health regulation that requires pizzerias to record the time each pie was taken out of the oven, the temperature of the pie at that time, and to note when the pie will have to be discarded (4 hours after it was initially made). Initially I thought this was some sort of “freshness gimmick,” like a Born-On Date for a slice, but apparently Pizza Suprema has had these cards up for a over a year now, and a bit of research revelaed that this DOH regulation is at least a couple of years old.
If you’re as worried about the fate of the uneaten pizza as I was, don’t be. The pizzaman, gesturing towards the street-facing window that looks out on the southwest corner of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, assured me that they don’t throw out very much pizza. “We got a good pizza, and we got a great location.”
A couple weeks ago, we gathered the pizza team to bring some pies over to Staten Island, and to help some folks clean out their homes.
You don’t need to hear it from us that the Staten Island shoreline is decimated. What we can report, that you might hear less about, is that there is a lot of people power, in the form of eager volunteers, out there, helping people rebuild their lives.
One guy helping is Vito Parente, at Pizza Wagon in Bay Ridge.
We stopped by Pizza Wagon because we love their pizza and it’s near the Verrezano. We ordered 15 pizzas to go.
Us: We’ll take 15 rounds to go.
Vito: Where you going with these?
Us: Staten Island. Help some people out.
Vito: Go to Annadale. There are a lot of people hurting out there.
Us: Thanks. Will do. How much we owe you?
Vito: Nothing…just hurry up and get them there before they get cold.
Thanks again to Pizza Wagon and to the folks of Great Kills and Annadale that let us help!
Home in Annadale
Home in Annadale
Hit up Sacco Pizza in Hell’s Kitchen on Saturday afternoon. Sacco, which is featured on Eater’s Oldest Pizzeria’s in NYC, has been serving up slices on the same block for over 50 years, and run by the current owners, cousins Dominick and Giuseppe (Joe, to most), for over 30 years.
50 years on one block is a long time. Dominick says they’ve been able to stick around because they put out a good quality product, and he and Giuseppe, along with their two sons, still put in 10 hour days.
"Even when there’s not much to do, I don’t wanna sit down, because then you get tired. I get here at 7, 7:30, I get home at 6. That’s when I sit down."
- Domenick, maker
Domenick’s son, Vito, is now working with his father and uncle, and hopes to one day take over the business with his cousin.
"My dad and my uncle…they’re strict, they’re old school. I don’t mind working hard… But, if you don’t wanna do it, if you hate your job, its gonna come out in the pizza."
- Vito, maker
We got the chance to speak with Louise, a loyal Sacco customer for as long as she can remember. Louise grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, and remembers coming to Sacco’s.
"This was a Sunday thing. On Sunday you’d get a quarter, and first you would go swimming for 10 cents, then you would walk from 60th Street over here, and you’d get your pizza for a dime. If you had 30 cents you could go to the movies. "
- Louise, eater
Sacco’s has one of the best slices in Manhattan. It may be the only legit slice joint north of Pizza Suprema on 31st street and south of La Traviata on 68th street.
Sadly, this is what many a born and raised Manhattanite, like myself, thinks of Queens: “Sure I’ve been to Queens. Shea stadium, Rockaway, Astoria, PS1. Great borough.” Turns out that there is way more to Queens than the hip pockets of commerce, art, and food that I’ve previously enjoyed. There are actually lots of unique hoods in Queens and people live and work in them! Much of the borough is still undiscovered country to the hipster-elite, which makes it a refreshingly diverse kind of awesome. Not to mention that it has Amazing (yup, capital A) pizza.
We drove out Bayside to stop by VI Pizzeria, where we got to try one the best Sicilian slices on the planet, and talk to a guy who always eats pizza before going to the gym. VI has been around for decades, and the co-owner Louis, refused to let us take his photo without his partner there. Now that’s loyalty. We got you next time.
From Bayside, we rolled west on 495 and hopped on the Van Wyck to get to Amore Pizzeria, in what I guess I would call, Downtown Flushing. This joint is shouting distance to the Van Wyck on the way to the Whitestone Bridge, located in a strip mall, where it lives with a Pathmark, a liquor store that uses old Pathmark letters for its sign, a Carvel, several hucksters pushing DVDs in the parking lot, a drive-thru falafel stand, and a check cashing spot…among others. According to Andy, the pizzaman running the show for over 39 years, Amore is at the crossroads of America, with Citi FIeld just a stone’s throw away, and traffic from the Whitestone Bridge and LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports constantly bringing people through the shop.
What’s amazing to me is that, despite its context, Amore is, and has been, a destination for northern Queens denizens for over 40 years. The place was jam packed on this Saturday afternoon. After I put down one of their heavy looking, yet unfathomably light and crispy slices, I could see why. That’s what keeps Tommo (Tom-Oh) and his family coming back.
This place has nothing attractive around it, except the pizza itself. Who wants to park over here? It’s insane getting to. Getting out of here, you’re sitting in traffic. It’s hard, but it’s worth it for the pie. Definitely worth it.
- Tommo Haubert, eater
The last stop on this trip was John’s Pizza of Elmhurst. If Amore is the crossroads of the world, John’s is an idyllic old New York bubble floating on a quiet side street in a land that time forgot. John’s is the only female-run pizza shop we have crossed on our journey. They haven’t changed a thing since they moved here in 1976.
We have been here since 1965. I want to change the place, but my customers don’t want me to. I’ve been looking at it for 45 years! The customers say, “Leave the way it is. We want to remember the way it is.” We have people who started coming here in second, third grade, now most of them are married, they went to the City, they went to Jersey, they went far away, they come with the kids and they say, “Oh, how nice! It’s still the same!” It makes them remember the good times they had when they were young.
- Rose Bagali, owner
"This is part of New York. You cant take away the slice of pizza from the city of New York and the culinary history of this town. It’s part and parcel of who we are. And its non-discriminatory. Gimme a slice of that, gimme a slice of that, gimme a slice now! This is the world that we created. So there are the guys that say ‘I’ll have ten pizzas to go,’ and the guys that say ‘Gimme a slice!’ A little poor urchin like in David Copperfield, but instead of porridge, its ‘Gimme a slice, please.’
We’ve satisfied the need, and Patsy was the master at this, of what the people needed.”
- John Brecevich, owner, Patsy’s Pizzeria, East Harlem
We hit Phil’s Pizza on Varick, just north of Houston, this week. Phil’s has been run by the owner, Tony, since it opened in 1972. Tony ran the shop with his cousin until the early 80s, when his wife, Rose, came on board. Tony and Rose have been running the place together ever since. They’re only open weekdays until 7, and not at all on the weekends. It’s a two person operation, and they aren’t interested in hiring anyone else.
"It’s a family business and we wanna keep it that way. We’re happy just working lunch, cleaning up, leaving, and having a normal life." - Tony, owner
Phil’s isn’t as well known as some other West Village pizzerias, but they have a loyal following of regular customers, some of whom have been coming here since the 80s. We got a chance to talk to Angelo, a regular who eats at Phil’s two or three times a week.
"You come here and they know your name. It’s a mom and pop place, you see the same people every day. Not like a place, you go in, and you’re just another customer. We actually talk about our families, what you’re going to do on the weekends. I grew up watching Cheers, so it kind of reminds of that. You walk in, and its like, ‘Hey how you doing!’" - Angelo, eater