Growing up, I never realized how close the beach and boardwalk of Coney Island were to my boyhood home of Bayonne, NJ. Choosing the Jersey Shore instead, my family never took the short trip from our hometown peninsula to this one on the Atlantic Ocean edge of Brooklyn.
Having never tasted an original Nathan’s Famous hot dog, I finally made it to Coney Island one summer a few years ago to see the Brooklyn Cyclones (named for the famous roller coaster) play minor league baseball. On a more recent visit home, I returned on behalf of my true food calling to visit the legendary Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana.
I first heard of Totonno’s after it got smacked by Hurricane Sandy. In fact, their history includes two other previous closures from fires. A true survivor, Totonno’s has now been in business since 1924 and claims to be the longest-standing pizza joint in the world run by one family. Said family’s pizza apprenticeship even traces back to Little Italy’s Lomardi’s Pizza, America’s first pizza place.
The folklore on Totonno’s is that they close when they run out of dough. (It is made fresh daily and not frozen.) So not taking chances, my brother and I headed out for an early lunch one rainy Saturday morning. Crossing the bridges Bayonne and Verrazano, we made our way to Coney Island.
In many ways, Coney Island would just be another typical New York neighborhood if it weren’t for the beach and amusement area. Totonno’s however is a few blocks away from all this activity and sits in the middle of a city block in a relatively quiet old commercial district.
I was immediately struck by charm of its traditional store front and casual interior. Inside, the white-tiled walls were completely covered with news clippings, photos and awards. We sat near the front window at one of several red tables of mismatched chairs. In the rear was an open view of the entire pizza-making operation. The oven was a big sucker, and although it had a very tiny door, it was perhaps one of the deepest I have ever seen.
There are a few warning signs as you enter: “Please No Beverages” (they sell them including beer and wine) and “Cash Only.” But the most revealing sign of all was the menu posted above the oven. Totonno’s serves pizza only, and the choices are few. The small is $16.50, the large is $19.50, and your only other decision is whether to add one of eight available topping at $2.50 each.
We ordered a large cheese (eight slices) which remarkably didn’t even take five minutes to be delivered hot and fresh to our table.
If I could only use one word to describe Totonno’s pizza, it would be chewy. Though the bottom crust was charred, it wasn’t crisp or crunchy. It was however the calling card to this magnificently delicious pizza. Believe me—it’s what will bring you back.
Nevertheless, the beautifully blended cheese and tomato sauce on top tasted as good as they were pretty. Together (despite no basil leaves on top) this all contributed to a perfect Brooklyn specimen of a pizza.
With Totonno’s pie serving up nice and light on the appetite, my brother and I took no prisoners, and there were no leftovers to bring home. We also left with no question that this work of art would be getting the Snob’s highest grade.
Afterwards, we visited the sports apparel store next store and heard tales from the store keep ( a Totonno’s cousin) about the pizza-seeking celebrity action he sees outside his window—notably New York Knicks basketball players and the caravans of black SUVs toting a recent New York City pizza-loving mayor!
Be sure to add a visit to Totonno’s to your pizza bucket list. But, be mindful of the time since they are closed Monday through Wednesday and open only from Noon to 8pm, or as they say “as long as there’s dough!”
PIZZA SNOB RATING ***** Sets the Standard
Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana
1524 Neptune Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11224