Monday, February 6, 2017

A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza, Comedy on the Side

The classic Neapolitan pie at Grimaldi's
As a Brooklynite for most of my life, I know a fair amount about my native borough, (yes, I was born here - and have lived my entire adult life here, too) yet I had never been to two renowned Brooklyn pizza restaurants, Grimaldi's and L &;B Spumoni Gardens.

This all changed last week, when I was a guest of A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours, a four hour eating and entertainment extravaganza. The tour, led by the hilarious and energetic Marc, also a Brooklynite started in Manhattan and took us all around Brooklyn, with stops at these iconic pizza places.

Rolling - or not - on the bus

The interior of Grimaldi's
We didn't get off to an auspicious start. The brand new bus broke down and Marc shepherded our group of 20 or so through the streets (the tour meets outside and it was quite cold) so we could sit in the heat while a replacement bus was sent. By the time we got to the bus, it was running and we were off. [Despite the short break down, the bus was quite comfortable, with USB charging ports at every seat, a clean bathroom and a good sound system]
Where the magic happens: the coal ovens at Grimaldi's

Best pizza in Brooklyn?

There are other famous pizza parlors in Brooklyn and I've been to most of those, but these legendary establishments have been stuffing pie holes (mouths) for generations and offer competing variations on pizza. And they both usually have long lines; with the pizza tour, you waltz right in and get seated right away.

Vegetarian friendly

To taste the pure essence of pizza, the slices you get on the tour have no extra toppings, so vegetarians are at ease. If you are gluten free or vegan, well, this tour is not for you.

Starting out in DUMBO

Great views in DUMBO
Grimaldi's coal-fired Neopolitan pizza has a thin crust, fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and a bit of fresh basil. This is the classic margarita pie, and we had two fresh-out-of-the-oven slices. Marc claimed the pizza had some health benefits, since bits of ash are on the crust, and charco caps settle the stomach. I doubt that anyone has eaten pizza to cure a stomach ache, but the delicious pizza had the perfect crust to cheese to tomato ratio and I showed my out-of-town tablemates how to properly fold and eat a slice.

Unusual Brooklyn house in Bay Ridge
As we drove from DUMBO to Bensonhurst, March regaled us with stories about Brooklyn and pointed out interesting houses movie locations. Even better, screens in the bus played a movie scene  - and then we would see the exact location. I've seen dozens, maybe even hundreds, of movies, TVs shows and ads filmed around the city, but I've never seen so many exact spots that made it onto film.

Movies filmed in Brooklyn

My favorite clip had to be form Annie Hall, my top movie of all time; as we drove by the Verrazano Bridge, March played the scene where Diane Keaton drives Woody Allen on the same road, in her tiny VW Beetle.

We took a circuitous route from DUMBO to Bensonhurst, wending our way through Red Hook, Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights so could see more movie locations. Here was where John Travolta ('before he was creepy,' March said) strutting under the elevated tracks in Saturday Night Fever, there was the housing project where someone was shot in the French Connection.

 Inside L & B Spumoni Gardens

On to Sicilian pizza

After about an hour, we arrived at L & B Spumoni Gardens. This is a combination sit down restaurant and ice ream (spumoni) parlor, and those who had room after two slices of Sicilian pizza could buy an ice cream (beer and wine were also extra; we got soda or water included with our pizzas).

Sicilian pizza is like deep dish; a thick crust, square slices and a cooked tomato sauce. At Spumoni, the sauce is ladled on after the cheese, to keep the cheese in place. This is knife and fork pizza, and totally different from what we had at Grimaldi's. It is also quite tasty.

Sicilian pizza at L & B; cheese under the sauce 

Brooklyn history lesson

I learned that Bay Ridge was formerly known as Yellow Hook, until a yellow fever epidemic made the name unpalatable, blue street signs means the street was renamed for someone famous, and that Marc considered Coney Island the alcoholic grandfather of Disney World. Although my grandfather was a teetotaler, I can never go to Coney Island again without thinking of this.

Closed for winter in Coney Island - but there's plenty of parking!
Most of Coney Island's rides and attractions are closed in winter (though there is another well-know pizza place here, too) but Marc led the group for a brisk 15 minute walk along the boardwalk. At this point, stuffed with sauce, cheese and bread, I waddled to the subway for a quick ride home. 

Would I eat at these places again? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Note: I received a free and a fully belly tour for the purposes of this review. I was not otherwise compensated.

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