Photo: Flickr – ZagatBuzz
When a pizza parlor has been around for decades, you know it’s got to be good.New York City is a tough market for restaurants — there’s an 80% fail rate — so even more props to these guys.
It’s nearly impossible to duplicate the old-school pizzerias nowadays, since brick coal-ovens can only be rebuilt or replaced.
We found a guide to the oldest pizza places in New York City from Serious Eats, and did some additional research to find out exactly how these places have managed to stay around for so long.
American pizza in general, and New York in particular, owes a lot to Lombardi's Pizza, first opened in 1905 in Little Italy, Manhattan. Gennaro Lombardi was granted the first mercantile licence to sell pizza in New York. Lombardi's is credited with the revolutionary use of the coal oven, and set the standard for selling pizza by the pie rather than the slice.
Lombardi's, however, is not the longest continuously operating pizzeria: in 1984, Lombardi's closed for a decade, reopening under the management of Lombardi's grandson and his friend, John Brescio. Brescio said the original closed after not being able to survive economic downturns and a crumbling oven. Nowadays, Lombardi's doesn't have to advertise. In Brescio's words: 'So, it's like if you come into New York, you gotta go to the Statue of Liberty, and Lombardi's.'
We're going to give Eddie's a break for not technically being in New York City for two reasons: it's really good, and they have broken into NYC proper with the much-lauded Eddie's Pizza Truck, which travels all around the city. The original location in New Hyde Park, Long Island, opened in 1931 and cultivated a new type of pizza experience. Still thin crust, the personal 10' inch pizzas that Eddie pioneered became known as the bar pie: after eating one, you still had enough room for a beer.
Eddie's has survived on word of mouth alone, but its expansion into the food truck business has been a great success. The truck is now joined by two smaller carts, all serving the original bar pie, with the same ingredients they use at the flagship store in Long Island. Forward thinking like this should help the bar pie live on for future generations to enjoy.
Spanish Harlem -- El Barrio -- became home to one of the oldest pizza places in New York City (at one point it was the oldest running pizzeria) in 1933. Patsy Lancieri learned his 'paper-thin crust' craft in Little Italy -- another disciple of Lombardi's -- before opening his own uptown joint. Unlike other pizza godfathers, Patsy sold his pizza by the slice. Patsy's became Frank Sinatra's pizza of choice: the singer had pies flown out to him in L.A.
Patsy's was bolstered in later years by legendary pieman José Jiminez, a maestro with the coal oven until his death in 2009. Some say that quality has since slipped. In the 1990s, the original Patsy died and the name was sold to Albanian Frank Brija, who has since opened multiple Patsy locations and gotten himself embroiled in a lawsuit. It's said that true Patsy taste can still be found at the popular Grimaldi's in Brooklyn.
Cross the Verrazano Bridge or take the ferry to reach the borough outpost that is Staten Island -- it'll be worth it for Denino's alone. Opened first as a tavern in 1937, Carlo Denino introduced pizza to the family-owned restaurant after World War II. Like other pizzerias of the time, Denino's pizza used a brick coal oven, producing New York-style thin crust. The sausage pizza in particular became a hit.
Despite being out of the way for many mainland New Yorkers, Denino's made a trip across the river not only acceptable, but necessary. According to Denino's website, they have been visited over the years by actors, mayors, borough presidents, and New York families again and again. They took home AOL's 'City's Best' in 2007 and 2008. At the end of the day, their quality product is what sustains them.
Arturo's was started on $3,000 of borrowed money by Arthur 'Arturo' Giunta and his fiancée, Betty Keefe in 1957. The Village locals pieced their restaurant together over the next few years, following in the tradition of the great pizza places of their time by using a brick coal oven and only selling by the pie. Arturo's 900-degree oven put out crisp crusts that drew the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Julie Roberts to its plush booths.
Giunta passed in 2006, but his underdog pizzeria -- which doesn't get as much press as the older coal oven spots -- lives on. The jazzy interior and charred pies keep people coming back: 'The music is excellent, and the food is even better.'
We covered the story of Ray's Pizza and the countless knockoffs a few weeks ago, and here's what we discovered: the original Ray's was opened in 1959 by Sicilian Ralph Cuomo. Just a block away from Lombardi's, Ray's carved out its own legacy as a quality pizza.
Today, there's an official brand name and recipe for the 'original' Ray's pizza, which will hopefully provide the multitude of 'Ray' slices being cooked city-wide with some consistency. The key to Ray's success has been its name-recognition, and its numerous locations: you can barely walk down a street in Manhattan without bumping into one.
Avenue J in Brooklyn is one of the less conspicuous places to visit if you're looking for a good slice -- and yet, Dom De Marco has been hand-crafting his beloved slices in Midwood since 1964. Di Fara's is consistently near the top of NYC's pizza rankings. Dom, who until recently was the only person to touch the pies, uses fresh-grown basil, sweet sauce and drizzles of olive oil to perfection. He even does it all without the use of a coal-oven, a rarity and an accomplishment in itself.
Like many of the places on this list, the secret to Di Fara's success and longevity lies in the good pizza. Nothing helps business like a good product -- and business has stayed strong even after the $5 slice hike. However, Di Fara's will also be branching out, with a new location set in Las Vegas, Nevada set to open this year. While we lament that Di Fara's may be watering itself down by moving cross country, we remember the words of another NYC heavyweight: 'Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way.'
Despite it's location outside of NYC, we would be remiss if we didn't include Papa's Tomato Pies in this list. This Trenton shop opened a couple of years after Joe's Tomato Pies, which is now defunct. In fact, it has been operating non-stop since 1912. A tomato slice differs from typical NYC pizza: the cheese is placed first on the pie, followed by a heavy dose of sauce.
Papa's has been owned by the same family, in the same location, since its inception. As a stalwart of the Trenton pizza scene -- which itself is famous for the tomato pie style -- plus the added press of its battle to be named the oldest pizza, Papa's will remain a vibrant part of New York-area pizza history for years to come.
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