Bret’s Brooklyn Pizza Tour

OK, just a few words and pics from our pizza tour from earlier this year. My little-bro, Brian, was visiting from our home town (Las Vegas), and our mission was pressing and clear: how many famous Brooklyn pizza joints could we hit up on the day before New Years Eve?

We quickly assembled the The Pizza Tour Team and hit the road. My brother had already been to Grimaldi’s on a previous trip and was convinced he would never find a comparable pie. Of course his judgment may have been somewhat tainted by the fact that right before we ate we went on a marathon death march from my apartment in Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, down to Battery Park, out to Ellis Island, and back over the Brooklyn Bridge. Needless to say, we easily put away a large, brick-oven margherita between the two of us.

Grimaldi’s is pretty good (relatively speaking), and watching the sheer number of pies they turn around is pretty cool, but it’s far from my favorite pizza in Brooklyn. Some days you go in there and it knocks your socks off, and on others, it’s just kind of “eh.” Regardless, you have to avoid the weekend tourist crowd or you’re going to be waiting forever to get a table …

Before I go on, it should be noted that New Year’s Eve’s eve is apparently not the time to get a slice in this town. With Grimaldi’s already under my bro’s belt, the team decided to go further afield. First stop: DiFara’s in Midwood … my favorite pie, hands down. On the way there, we were going on and on about how there’s no pie like DiFara’s and that Domenico De Marco (the maestro) hand makes EVERY pie with fresh bufala mozzarella and herbs from his window, and on and on and on. For those of us who live in Bklyn, you know there’s no shortage of hype surrounding DiFara’s. My favorite lately has been the uproar (and I mean “uproar”) that has ensued since DiFara’s raised their slice price from $3 to $4. A classic quote from Chowhound:

“DiFara’s, at least on this board, has morphed into some kind of strange, comical and unpleasant microcosm of life within which lines are constantly being drawn in the sand. You’re either the savvy tough regular who knows how to navigate/maneuver your way to the front of the line, or, lord help you, you’re a newbie/tourist/outsider/ weekling who doesn’t know pizza from a doormat and doesn’t deserve to. Dominick DeMarco is either a celestial being, a golden shining pizza oven with wings in the form a man who is able to levitate things other than just dough, or he’s an inconsiderate, oblivious, money-mad cynic.”

Celestial being, or mere mortal, DeMarco doesn’t work on December 30. Our arrival at DiFara’s was met with a locked metal gate. Brian and Niels were clearly shaken .

Dammit! The clock was ticking … if we were having this much trouble now, we knew we were going to be out of luck on New Year’s Eve … so we b-lined it all the way out to Coney to try and hit up Totonno’s. Man. I love this pie. I think it must the pizza that Domino’s is oh-so-pathetically trying to emulate with their new Brooklyn fuhgehdabboutit pizza, or whatever the hell they’re calling it.

Totonno’s Owners

Here are Louise and Joel Ciminieri (above at their original Brooklyn location) in an old photo from their Website. Sadly, Mr. Ciminieri passed a few years back … but his wife is a mainstay in the Coney shop.

For me, Totonno’s is the gold standard for the traditional NYC pie. The crust is thicker than Grimaldi’s or DiFara’s, but still in the classic NYC thin style. If you like toppings on your pie, this is the place to go. The crust has enough structural integrity to support the them and is hearty enough to ensure that the essence of your pie isn’t overwhelmed with strong sausage or pepperoni flavors. But again, our timing was suspect. While the gigantic liquor store across the street had cars triple-parked in front to stock up for the holiday, Totonno’s was boarded up tighter than Astroland in the off-season. Perhaps this video which I DID NOT SHOOT (please do not mistake this as my work) will give you a sense of our emotional state.

Wow. Brutal. 0 for 2. What the hell kind of pizza tour was this? The team was about to call it quits.We were so hungry even those inexplicable Mexican/Chinese restaurants started to tempt …ortunately we had one last hope. L&B Spumoni Gardens out in Bensonhurst. It’s all about the squares (aka grandma slices) at SG. They have regular slices, too, but they’re not nearly as good as DiFara’s, Totonno’s or even Grimaldi’s. It’s slightly difficult to compare SG with the rest of the Brooklyn contenders since it’s a different sort of pie, but those extra cheesy, extra saucy squares need to be in the conversation somewhere. When I’m in the mood, the SG squares rank a close second to DiFara’s. But after so many heartbreaks already, Brian was skeptical… until he entered SG ecstasy…The five of us nearly put away an entire tray of squares before pigging out on some spumoni. Just as the snow started to fall, we jumped back in the car and headed west …My final Top 5 Brooklyn pizza rankings:1) DiFara’s
2) Totonno’s or Spumoni Gardens (depending on my mood)
3) Whichever one of the above I’m not in the mood for
4) Grimaldi’s on a good day
5) Lucali (a new place on Henry Street in Brooklyn) This place is kinda spendy, and always crowded, but it has some serious potential.

I’m curious … how do you all rank them?

***Pizza Tour Post Script: In a game-time decision, just before Brian’s flight left from JFK, we swung by DiFara’s on the way to the airport, sending him back to Vegas with a stomach full of cheesy, doughy goodness …

Brian and Katie at DiFara’s

B & B in front of DiFara’s


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