THE MECCA OF PIZZA: LOMBARDI'S IN LITTLE ITALY, NYC

-A +A
0

MAFIA PRINCESS: One Lucky kid got one of the first pizza shops in America, Lombardi's in Little Italy, NYC all to herself and made four pies. Even French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Lombardi's in late September, was not allotted this high honor.  

For those currently walking the Earth, pizza has always been around. Every major city in the world has it some form, whether its Domino's, Pizza Hut or Papa Johns. But pizza's poularity took off when it hit New York City in the late 1800's. From there, pizza spread around the globe.

Unfortunately, not all pizza is created equal and for New Yorkers and those who have visited know that pizza in New York City, and the tri-sate area is far superior then anywhere in the country. You can get good pizza outside of NYC. Trimbo's in Butte, Montana made great pizza and there are plenty of joints up and down the West Coast, In San Francisco, folks try to make pizza all fancy. Escape From New York Pizza is the perfect antidote to that with fat $5 slices you can buy right from the window at three Bay locations. 

Yet pizza in NYC has always had that authenticity that almost no one can replicate outside of it. That goes for bagel's too Many claim it is the water. I think it may be a combination of the water AND the humidity levels in the tri-state area. S & J's in Scarsdale, NY, Connecticut's Pepe's in New Haven and Glennville Pizza in Grenville, as well as Papa's Tomato Pies in Robbinsville  New Jersey all have stellar pizza, not to mention dozens of awesome shops in Brooklyn, like Roberta's Pizza. Outside of the tri-state area, Betty's Pizza Shack in Lenox, MA and a little shop in Catskill, NY, Village Pizza II are also off the hook. 

When it comes to the truly best pizza in NYC, all the real-real pizza aficionados head to Little Italy. While researching my last book, The Ganja Godfather, I met with some folks who you could say spend a lot of time in Little Italy. For the best slices, almost all of them point to Sal's on Broome St. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a Sunday in the heart of Little Italy- Lombardi's Pizza on Spring St. Not only is Lombardi's one of the first pizza shops in the United States that began selling pies in 1898, in the last 25 years, they have elevated the NYC pizza experience to a whole other level. Dare I say on the record- Lombardi's has the best pizza anywhere in North America. Period. 

Recently, new evidence paints a clearer picture of the history of Lombardi's. At uspzzahistory.com they write:

Until now, Lombardi’s origin story has commonly been understood to be that Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi, opened a grocery store at 53 1/2 Spring Street around 1897 that eventually became America’s first licensed pizzeria in 1905. While proof of that license has never materialized, Peter Regas has tracked down Gennaro Lombardi’s birth record, naturalization papers, and other supporting documents that tell a different story. Gennaro Lombardi first came to America in November of 1904 at age 17, classified as a “laborer."  If he became involved with the pizzeria at 53 1/2 Spring Street in 1905, it was as an employee not as an owner. By that time, it had already been established as a pizzeria probably by Milone in 1898 but certainly by another proprietor named Giovanni Santillo who followed Filippo Milone in 1901.  

At  53½ Spring Street in 1898 Filippo Milone's grocery started selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string to local workers.  In 1905, Giovanni Santillo converted the whole market to America's first pizzeria. It was renamed Antica Pizzeria Napoletana. Gennaro who worked there, eventually acquired the shop and changed the name of the shop to match his lasting decades, Lombardi's son, George, later inherited his father's business, which closed down in 1984.

Ten years later. Gennaro Lombardi III and his partner John Brescio reopened Lombardi's down the street at 32 Spring St. With them, they brought as much of the old coal oven parts and original tiles from 53 1/2 as they could. They stuck to the original 1905 concept- no slices, a rarity in NYC. Yet Lombardi's has done very well ever since.

We were met at Lombardi's by Israel Perez and Louis Gomez- two of the most courteous wait staff I have ever dealt with as a journalist. They showed us the legendary coal oven itself and how it works. We made four pies in total- all Lombardi's classics: the rustic Double Pepperoni, Buddy's "Cake Boss", a Margarita and Lombardi's Specialty: The Famous Clam Pie.

Each were brought out steaming from the oven on silver trays. With Pavarotti and Sinatra playing softly back to back and a few bottles of Acqua Panna, sampling these four pies was like opening the gates to pizza heaven.

The pepperoni on the double pep was hands down the best pepperoni I have ever tasted on a pizza in my life. The powdery pepper/garlic crust was perfectly crunchy and in this reporters opinion, as an authentic a NYC pizza experience as anyone could ever have. The Cake Boss was also out of sight, covered in prosciutto and arugula along with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, romano cheese and fresh basil. 

The Clam Pie is one pizza that will forever be imprinted in my mind and palate. The balance between the fresh garlic, oil, herbs, basil, oregano, black pepper, romano cheese, topped with dozens of fresh whole baby clams- served with a lemon could not have been executed any better. I can taste why this pizza stands out among the best pies you can get in NYC. The Original Margarita we made was visibly the best looking pizza I have ever seen with its contrasting colors. It too, tasted incredible and we had no extra toppings. 

So, if you love pizza, I mean really love pizza and either live in NYC area or will be visiting for the holidays, do your self a favor and book a reservation at Lombardi's.

*Special thanks to Mike Giammarino, Isreal Perez and Louis Gomez for an extraordinary culinary experience.  

ONE MORE THING:

I also want to take this moment to defend all vintage cuisine restaurants and bars nationwide and call out New York Times food critic Pete Wells. You relish looking down from that glass NYT skyscraper in your cashmere sweater and trash restaurants like Peter Luger's Steakhouse and others. I CHALLENGE YOU TO A DEBATE- anywhere anytime, podcast, radio show, whatever to discuss the virtues of vintage cuisine and it's place in the culinary arts world. Your review of PLS was particularly regal and snobbish, and mostly, missed the whole point of the old steakhouse in the first place- STEAK! What's your next piece gonna be? That McSorley's Ale House is a dump because they only serve beer and a bartender gave you an inappropriate gleam? Pete. Get a grip on reality. Do your job. It should be an honor to be a food critic at the Times, so be grateful and stop using your Marie Antoinette like perch to exact revenge and harm people. Your lousy, out- of-touch-White man writing is harming people who make a lot less money than you do. Disagree? Lets debate. If not, your silence just makes my case. 

Bullies are usually cowards. They only pick on those who can not fight back, like the waitstaff you enjoy tearing down in your little, silly screeds. And cowards are usually morons, who would never dare debate a fellow food critic who can hit back. Like most older white males that dominate journalism, I will just assume you are both a coward and a moron. Consider your refusal to debate an official loss of all journalistic credibility in the restaurants and kitchens of New Yok City along with everyone else who frequents them.  

Also Check Out...

HISTORIC HEALTH EVENT AT THE
PHARAOH SANDERS: 50 YEARS OF KARMA
THE MECCA OF PIZZA: LOMBARDI'
THE HU: BAND OF THE DECADE
The United Nations Prioritizes
People Of Color Rocked Tanglewood