This is it. The culmination of countless afternoons spent devouring the best pizza we could find. This is the 5 Borough Pizza Put Down. In our never-ending quest to find the perfect pizza pie parlor, we’ll award points based on 5 categories: food, service, atmosphere, cost and value. In the short term we will be grouping pizza places together: either by geography, shared history or both, and comparing. In the long term, we will use the points system to decide on an overall city-wide winner. (I’ve decided that, in order to simplify any comparisons, I will only order the plain, or margherita pie at each pizzeria.)
Following up on last week’s Brooklyn versus Manhattan theme, we once again have a battle of the boroughs. This week we matched up Patsy’s Pizzeria in Murray Hill with Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano in Coney Island.
The day started with a nice, short train ride from our home sweet home in Bensonhurst to Coney Island. Walking up West 15th Street my girlfriend and I could see that Coney Island is a neighborhood of homes and churches, as well as auto body shops and barking guard dogs. When we made a left onto Neptune and saw the line in front we stopped and stared in disbelief. A line this early on a Saturday? I thought we might have to give our name before waiting (in hindsight, I’ll call this mistake # 1). From the bright sunlight, I walked into the relative darkness of Totonno’s. Before my eyes could fully adjust, a waitress walked up to me with teeth-clenching determination. “I have to bus this table,” she told me with a tone that made it sound just slightly more polite than, “Get the fuck out of my way, moron.”
Humbled and annoyed we walked to the end of the line, behind the other couples, a mixture of locals and tourists. The wait was relatively quick. The interior was old and full of character. White tin ceilings and wall paneling provided the perfect backdrop for framed newspaper clippings heralding the end of WWII or praising Totonno’s pizza. The greeting after being seated was less, “Hi , how are you?” or “Can I get you something to drink?” and more, “Whaddaya want?” I was born and raised in Brooklyn and have never felt like a tourist on my own turf, until now. Reluctantly, I ordered a small pie and two cokes.
I really didn’t want to like this pie. Their hospitality was like an uncomfortable dinner at the in-laws, but I have to say, the pizza brought to our table was perfect in almost every way. The cheese and sauce were top notch and evenly distributed. The crust, crispy on the outside and chewy but not doughy on the inside, was the best I had so far. The only thing lacking was the basil, which was hard to miss with everything else being so damn good. This place must save all their love for the pizza. Honestly, when the end product is this good, you don’t have to worry about making friends.
I gave Totonno’s a 4.9 for Food, 4.0 for Service (surly but competent), 4.8 for (old school) Atmosphere, 4.9 for Affordability and 5.0 for Value. Based on these five criteria Totonno’s received a score of:
After Totonno’s we hopped on a Q Train at Stillwell Avenue and spread out in a luxuriously (I use the word lightly here) empty car, taking the 45 minute ride to 34th Street Herald Square and a nice walk over to 3rd Avenue in stride. Walking into Patsy’s we were greeted by the hostess with what seemed like a novel smile. If Totonno’s is your mean mother in law, Patsy’s is the new aunt who’s just trying so damn hard to fit in. The interior was Manhattan meets North Jersey: clean with a mix of old tin ceilings and spacious suburban modern with a dark wood bar and not many patrons for a Saturday afternoon. Many of the seated customers, other than the obvious tourists, seemed to be long time regulars, ostensibly Korean and South Asian business owners from the neighborhood, sometimes known locally as Curry Hill, at least some of the former, I guessed, had their stores and restaurants in nearby Koreatown.
We were immediately served our drinks, a nice frosty mug of Amstel on tap and a soda. While waiting for our pizza we saw more hungry diners enter as dinner time slowly approached. What a different experience this was from where we had just traveled from. We looked out onto Third Avenue as post graduate trust fund brats passed by with shopping bags in tow. It was a world apart from the auto shops of Neptune Avenue, with the sounds of hydraulic tools filling the air and idling cars blocking the sidewalks of Coney Island.
Our margherita pie arrived at the table and, this time, we really wanted to like it. The staff was courteous, the atmosphere relaxed and we were genuinely enjoying ourselves. Unfortunately, the pizza had a few problems. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good pizza, it’s just that when you’re on a quest to find the best pizzeria in New York, you begin to notice things.
First was the sauce. It didn’t taste fresh; we detected what we thought might have been a bit of freezer burn. I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they made their marinara sauce for the week, and then froze it. There was nothing wrong with the sauce, it just didn’t have that wonderful fresh taste we were becoming accustomed to. The end result left the pizza tasting like the best gourmet frozen pizza we ever had, instead of the fresh pizza parlor pie it should have been.
We also took issue with the crust: parts of it were slightly undercooked. At first we were happy that, unlike with the other pizzas we had encountered, the edges weren’t burnt black. Unfortunately, instead of peeling away the outer crust and finding white, fluffy-spongy bread; we found partially cooked dough in certain spots. I do like a certain amount of doughiness. It’s one of the things I like about Gravesend favorite L & B’s square slices, but this was just a little too much. Chewy certainly, but just too undercooked to be Kosher.
In the end, I gave Patsy’s a 3.9 for Food (the pizza was pretty good, only undercooked in certain spots), 5.0 for Service, 4.4 for Atmosphere (nice but a little too Paramus mall), 4.9 for Affordability and 4.3 for Value. Based on these five criteria, Patsy’s received a score of:
After being routed last week, Brooklyn came back strong. Brooklyn contestant Totonno’s proved they have the meanest pie in town, literally.
Stay tuned. We’ll have yet another battle in the war for city-wide pizzeria supremacy coming your way very soon…