Growing up in the 60s in Northern New Jersey, the corner grocery store was an essential element of everyday life. When you needed some household item in a pinch, you didn’t head for a prefab building erected by some big business chain that also sells you Slurpees, bad pizza and gas. Instead, there was the small storefront family-owned Mom & Pop place where you could quickly get a loaf of bread, can of tomato sauce or bag of sugar.
The local grocer was of course more expensive and didn’t have everything that the supermarket did. It was just meant for when those few items you needed didn’t necessitate a trip to the Shop-Rite or A&P. But, there was also another side to the small neighborhood store. They usually had fabulous specialty foods that were either ethnically unique or just better than what you could get anywhere else. In my neighborhood, Charlie’s on the corner was known for his fresh meat and cold cuts. We also knew the great hometown spots to get authentic Jewish rye bread, Polish pierogis, Italian cookies and other special delicacies.
All this leads up to my trip to Rosario’s, a remarkably simple, but amazing Italian grocery store in the Astoria section of Queens. This gift again came courtesy of Alex Delany’s marvelous You Tube video “23 New York Pizza Slices in 36 Hours.”
Having made my plan, on my way to La Guardia Airport, I detoured and went left on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (“BQE”) to the last exit (31st Street) before the toll at the Triboro (now Robert F. Kennedy) Bridge. Rosario’s is just a short drive from this exit, and I found metered parking for only a buck an hour right across the street. For those of you travelling by train, Rosario’s is also right at the Ditmars Blvd. subway stop where both the N and the W trains run. This section of 31st is bustling with commerce and is nestled below these elevated subway tracks.
Peeking below the tracks, I spotted Rosario’s red sign that told me all I cared to know: “Pizza made with our homemade mozzarella.” I later learned that they also make their own tomato sauce. Wow!
While you could find some basic grocery goods at Rosario’s, they more fit the mold as a specialty Italian grocery store. Cheese, bread, pasta, tomato sauce and olive oil are their staples amongst a wide assortment of imported items that you won’t find at Pathmark. They also made deli sandwiches, but today for me it was of course pizza.
It was close to 2pm when I arrived. Somewhat sheepishly, I eyed the place up spotting the pizza station in the rear. Across from it was an L-shaped seat-less wooden counter where I reckoned that the in-house eating was done. An older gentleman, who I took to be the owner, sat near the pizza oven which was partially shielded from view by a large stack of white pizza boxes.
The sign said slices were $2 a piece plus tax if you bought two or more. However, seeing no slices sitting out, I feared for a moment I may have missed out on pizza for today. However, when I asked the gentlemen at his station, without hesitating, he said it would take just 10 minutes, and he had his lieutenant fire up the oven and start a fresh pie.
I had the joy of watching the pie being made from scratch, and it may have taken 15 minutes for my two plain cheese slices to emerge from this new creation. During my wait, I patiently took delight in seeing many regular customers, who all seemed to know the owner, do their regular business at the store. At the counter, I uncomfortably fidgeted with my phone while waiting for perhaps one of my most unsuspecting pizza purchases ever.
My slices were delivered looking unusually beautiful. The fresh mootz stood prominently atop the tomato sauce in large circular sections, each with a light lush glaze of oil shining back at me. All this gave an overall pinkish glow to this uniquely-designed pizza. They called it a Margherita, and it had that Brooklyn-look that crosses this type of slice into NY-slice territory.
The crust was so rock-solid crisp that I couldn’t fold it all the way through. Eating it however would reveal it to be as crunchy and delightfully delicious as I have ever experienced. It was served quite hot, and I didn’t mind. I won’t even complain about the small glob of fallen cheese that I scooped up and devoured without waste.
The soft, fresh and fluffy mozzarella tasted heavenly as did the tomato sauce. The oil oozing from said cheese was deservingly good and tasty as well. I was totally stoked as to how good Rosario’s pizza was. There was no doubt how this one was gonna score. It was so good that it borders on un-describable. Uniquely crisp, delicious, crunchy and down-right fantastic! Carefully-made light and un-filing, if I had the time I could have easily had two more.
On my way out, I gave them all a thumbs-up “Great pizza” shout. This little treasure in Queens deserves a historical marker. However, they seem to humbly take pride in their pizza and simply serve their neighborhood and occasional invaders like me.
In 2010, proprietor Rosario DiMarco told Slice at Serious Eats “I’ve got a small oven. Maybe someday I’ll get a bigger oven and be able to do take-out, but for now it’s just too hectic in here to do whole pies to go.” I guess those pizza boxes I spotted indicate he later changed his mind?
Being the Pizza Snob sure is a lot of fun, and this trip to Rosario’s ranks up there among my best all-time adventures. My advice to you too to take this journey. It should be a required stop for any trip to La Guardia. Rosario’s make an extraordinary pizza and is certainly the best you’ll ever find in a grocery store.
PIZZA SNOB RATING ***** Sets the Standard
22-55 31st Street
Astoria, NY 11105