For all intents and purposes, my pizza journey is over. Of course I couldn’t make it to every single pizzeria in the city and spots continue to open up every week. But I made my peace (piece?) with the pizza search and even wrote up a conclusion.

Well, thanks to Jason Feirman and his Pizza Club, I continue adding to my list. And more than any other pizzeria he has gathered us to so far, Totonno’s was the most exciting.

This was the big glaring omission from my pizza search. Totonno’s is a huge part of New York pizza history. Anthony “Totonno” Pero was one of Genaro Lombardi’s employees and often considered his right hand man. Some legends say he was actually the master pizzaiolo who first cooked pizza in this country. Totonno did all the cooking, Lombardi got all the credit.

Well, in 1924, Totonno took his recipes and opened up his own shop in Coney Island – far enough from the crowds of Soho. And the pizzeria has been there ever since, passed down from generation to generation. They even expanded to another location in Upper Manhattan, but pizza fanatics would always tell you the place to go was the original out on Coney Island.

Problem for me and my pizza journey was not the distance from the city, but rather the fact that Totonno’s had a fire in May of 2009 that forced them to close temporarily. When I did travel down there in January, in the hopes that they were re-opened, I was faced with nothing but a boarded up storefront and an old sad-looking sign.

Well, when they finally did re-open a year later, I had already started stuffing my face with deli sandwiches. My focus had been taken away from pizza. And it’s hard enough for me to stay focused on anything for too long.

But Jason came to the rescue when he announced this month’s Pizza Club meeting would be at the original spot. It turns out he too (another pizza fanatic) had never been to the famous Totonno’s. So it was with a void on our blogs and a yearning in our bellies, that we made our way on the Q train (achingly past DiFara) to the last stop.

A short wait, reminiscent of the lines at Grimaldi’s (with no official waiting list), proved to be painless and the group of us were squeezed into a table on the side. I couldn’t help but notice the clientele around us. Some families, sure, but mostly men in uniforms – cops, firemen, EMT’s. This is a very good sign.

The service was a bit surly, but the older lady who helped us seemed to have a soft spot somewhere in there. We got our three pies and the cameras came out and the critiques began.

The first pie was a plain cheese. I thought it was quite good. The crust was great. It had a really nice char on the bottom with a great warm crunch and  a slightly salty, moist cornicione. The tomato sauce had just a touch of sweetness which balanced the rich, chewy mozzarella. I thought it was a nice example of NY-style coal oven pies.

Unfortunately, things started to go downhill from there. The second pie was for all the vegetarians at our table (but there were enough slices to go around). I’m not sure if it was the weight of the toppings (mushrooms and onions), but this pie was a bit wet and the toppings and cheese all fell off when I picked it up. Not much flavor and the pizza wouldn’t even stay together.

We ended the meal with the sausage pie. This was closer to the success of the first one, but I couldn’t get over the cheapness and blahness of the sausage. It looked more like brown pepperoni than what I expect of sausage (this was sliced not crumbly). And the meat had no flavor. Why bother adding it to the pizza when it really only took away from the tomato, cheese, and bread?

Overall, I was disappointed with Totonno’s. I wonder if the quality has changed at all since they re-opened after the fire. Or maybe we just came on an incosistent night. Judging from that first pie, they know what they’re doing. I wonder what went wrong when some toppings were added.

But the night wasn’t a total disappointment. We went over to the boardwalk and explored the new Luna Park, where some of us road the Cyclone, others played Skee-ball, and even others ate more pizza. And once you get a taste of the generic pizza closer to the beach on Coney Island, you realize how lucky the Coney Island area is to have Totonno’s. But for those of us who rarely make it this far out, it’s not worth the journey.

Is Totonno’s the best pizza in NY? Now they’re a 6 out of 10, but I wonder what they were like pre-fire. They make good sauce and have a good crust, but add some toppings and things take a turn for the worse.

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Category: Pizza

About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

2 Responses to A SECOND CHANCE (Totonno’s)

  1. Forchetta says:

    Sadly, I think that the uniqueness of this restaurant died with the last generation. I remember running off the beach to get to Totonno’s before they ran out of dough, driving as fast as possible home with my prize and diving in. I also remember how disappointed I was the last time I was there and felt like Don McLean singing (albeit changina a word – the day, the pizza died ….

  2. Brian Hoffman says:

    That makes me terribly sad.

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