I’d been to Grimaldi’s Pizzeria in DUMBO before, but never with a native Brooklynite sporting a tattoo of the Verrazano Bridge and “BKNY64” on his forearm. He was Tony Muia, the mastermind behind the “A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour,” and he peppered our little group with Brooklyn trivia, mob lore, clips of famous movie scenes shot in Brooklyn (“Scent of a Woman,” and “Saturday Night Fever”). Our authentically accented guide pointed out the Army yard where Elvis shipped off Europe during World War II and the kiddie golf course where Tiger Woods first took a swing at a golf ball. He was opinionated, railing against the “Manhattanization of Brooklyn” (ugly high-rises) and shaper-of-New York City Robert Moses (“For his role in us losing the Dodgers to L.A. alone, he should burn in hell”).
There was lots of pizza, too. Grimaldi’s, we learned, is home to the only remaining coal burning pizza oven in the city. The San Marzano tomatoes of its Margherita pizza are pureed but not cooked, the crust is thin and chewy and the mozzarella is fresh. The simplicity, economy of ingredients and deliciousness of this pie are hard to beat.
After a drive-by tour of Red Hook, Bay Ridge, and Bath Beach we ended up in Bensonhurst for our second pizza pit stop: L&B Spumoni Gardens. We’d been marinating in so much Brooklyn lore that we felt we were almost a part of the Gambino crime family, and our palates had been opened to the possibility of crust that was not thin.
L&B has been around since 1939, and luckily has not shortened its now unfashionably thick crust Sicilian-style pizza one millimeter. The crust is almost like focaccia, but a version crafted by a Sicilian grandmother with ties to heavenly beings. The tomato sauce was thick and sweet and the way it blanketed the mozzarella underneath made the cheese seem like a sticky and mysterious extension of the crust. After sprinkling it with Pecorino Romano and eating it, I had to wonder if the thin-crust craze was manufactured by a bunch of low-carb zealots who just wanted everyone else to suffer, too.
But wait, what does all this Brooklyn stuff have to do with my main beat, the West Village? Where we lost Hudson Street’s Pizza Lucca, and will soon be getting a pie place called “Slice,” which specializes in “natural and organic” pizza “that won’t drench your stomach or face with grease”? Slice’s menu touts herb crust, part-skim organic mozzarella and vegan and nut-free basil pesto among its pizza offerings (rice mozzarella and “Vegan Mozz” $2 extra per pie).
There are a lot of great things about the West Village, but Brooklyn pizza is not one of them. As far as I know, there haven’t been any gangland killings here, either.