Saturday, August 22, 2009

NYC - Grimaldi's Pizza - GUEST BLOGGER

Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights/ Vinegar Hill
19 Old Fulton St
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 858-4300
Nearest Trasit: High St (A, C); Clark St (2, 3); York St (F)

Lauren's mom, Diana, here with a special pizzalicious guest blog.

Last week I took a trip to Brooklyn, which gave me the opportunity to visit Grimaldi's Pizza, under the Brooklyn Bridge with one of NY's oldest coal-fired pizza ovens. Even at 11:30 on a Thursday, there was a line to get in. But I got in quickly to a spot at a long table shared with others. There are pix of celebrities with one wall devoted to Frank Sinatra. Rose says she always seems to get the table by the Law & Order cast photos.

So I guess this place is frequented by stars, tho none were present for me. The real star is the pizza master who controls the oven, an old Italian guy in a white paper soda-jerk cap, who told me "No Pictures!" when I approached the prep & oven area with my camera. I managed to get a couple of shots, tho.

There are two guys making the dough and they toss it over to the cooks who twirl the dough then load it up with sauce and toppings and a sprig of fresh basil. The finished product was delicious! I got a small pie with pepperoni and black olives. The red sauce was perfect, the crust also very fine. The pepperoni was not the best I've had--thick and chewy nickel-sized slices; the black olives salty and pungent. Overall the 6-slice "small" was a lot of pizza which along with a coke and a tip cost me about $25. The place is cash-only, with a bank-robbing ATM outside that my table neighbor told me charged her $4.50 for the transaction. Overall it was a great experience and a great pizza. I took the leftovers home, and after picking off the last bits of pepperoni,
Rose, Dave & I each had a cold slice before dinner. YUM!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

NYC - L& B Spumoni Gardens

L & B Spumoni Gardens
Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Gravesend
2725 86th St

(between 10th St & 11th St)
Brooklyn, NY 11223
(718) 372-8400
Nearest Transit: 86th St (N) 25th Ave (D)

L & B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn was the second pizzalicous stop on our NYC trip. After a day at the Met, an inferior slice at Famous Ray Bono Pizza and a delightful trip to Coney Island, Alex and I follwed my sister Rose, her main squeeze, Dave, and the crew from IFP to L & B Spumoni Gardens on the recommendation of Jonathan. Jonathan is an Italian, Brooklyn native who grew up in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn which is also home to the fabulous L& B Spumoni Gardens.

At Coney Island we met up with Rose and IFPeers at Cha Cha's, a really quirky bar favored by both locals (mostly bikers and weirdos) and tourists with a view of the beach. Cha Cha's decor somewhere between Wonderland in Richmond and some kind of freakshow tiki hut, with skulls and leis all over the joint. It was gray skies and dreary rain outside but inside Cha Cha's it was salsa music and margaritas on the rocks. We bopped around to the music and it was really great to finally meet the IFP crowd since I have been doing some free lance graphic design for them for a while now. Everyone was so friendly.

Alex and I took a brief break from Cha Cha's to check out the real Nathans hot dog stand and home of the famed fourth of July hot dog eating contest. It was here that Alex had his first ever REAL all-American hot dog with grilled onions, sour kraut, mustard and ketchup. I of course documented this momentous occasion in a series of photographs. Nathan's has the best hot dogs; they're Kosher and so delicious! A Nathan's hot dog is the perfect nosh for the beach even if it was rainy outside. Then it was back to Cha Cha's for one more cocktail and lurking on passers by.

After that we headed to this freaky bar and side show. The side show was unfortunately closed so we had a few beers and chatted. We saw some of the side shows and the girls from the burlesque show relaxing and having birthday cake. We also talk about Amy's new documentary about a female prison rodeo getup. Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo debuted at SXSW and was recently picked up by HBO. I can't wait to see it!

On to pizza!
After freaky beers we took the train a few stops into Brooklyn and followed Jonathan over to L and B Spumoni Gardens. The smell of the pie was magical as we approached the neighborhood pizza parlor. On the walk there we passed by a sketchy amusement ride place that repaired and sold small, rickety rides and amusements. Finally we saw the sign for L & B. Cue the choir.

The place is huge and complicated. There were several places to order and eat and sit and only a true local would have really known how or where to order what they wanted. The guys running the joint are not jerks to pizza tourists but you should expect them to chuckle at you trying to navigate the place. From what I gathered there is a place indoors for people to sit and be waited on. There are also a ton of picnic tables outside under a tent for people to sit after ordering at one of several different counters. I think there is one counter for pizza one counter for spumoni and one counter for everything else.

L & B serves up Sicilian style square pies on thick soft crusts. Some people in our group referred to this as a grandma slice which is a thick, square slice topped with a little cheese and crushed tomatoes on top of the cheese. The crushed tomatoes cook down in the oven to make a kind of thick sauce on top of the pie.

This was seriously one of the best pies I've had in my whole life. The sauce was nice and sweet and there was cheese but not to much cheese. The crust was soft and thick like a nice piece of focaccia. The novelty of the square slice was not wasted on me or anyone else in the group. We all appreciated it, especially those of us who got a perfect center slice with no "crust." This was more than just a pizza! It was like if a pizza and a pastry had a baby. I wanted to kiss this pizza so it could turn into a prince and ride off into the Coney Island sunset with me (on the Cyclone of course)

The other savory specialty of L & B Spumoni Gardens is the rice ball also known as "arancini." Arancini is a Sicilian dish which is typically made from meat, peas, rice and mozzarella. Meat, peas and Parmesan cheese are made into a loose meatball and then cover with rice and shaped into a ball. That is then deep fried (sometimes baked) and then topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Arancini get their name from the Italian word for orange, arancia. This is because after they come out of the fryer they look vaguely similar to the fruit. Sicily is a large citrus producer in Italy. This is straight up Italian comfort food and paired with the pizza on a rainy day it was just awesome. It totally hit the spot.

Ordering this dish was so was a riot. Enter Tony, running one of many counters at L&B SG who upon my taking his picture asked me if I was from the FBI. I just told him I like to take pictures of handsome men and he told me he liked serving up pizza to pretty ladies. So rad.

Last but certainly not least we had spumoni. Like pizza, spumoni also has an origin in Naples, Italy. Spumoni is a delicious frozen dish similar to ice cream usually matched in a trio of flavors; typically cherry, chocolate and pistachio. Whatever the combination it usually contains chunks of fruit or nuts. It is the mother of the smoother and more modern Neapolitan ice cream. Now it is more of a rare specialty. It differers from ice cream because it is sweeter and has a more slushy texture. Don't mistake it for gellato. While they have similarities, Spumoni definitely holds its own. Alex bought a quart of spumoni (chocolate, almond(?) and pistachio) and we all grabbed a spoon. It was really cold and was so refreshing. It was super sweet and it made everyone smile and so curious about this rare frozen dessert.

A VERY big shout out to Jonathan who lead us to this delicious oasis of pizza and spumoni! I fell in LOVE with this place. Jonathan told me that the only place to get better pizza is at his beautiful mom's house. I hope they keep me in mind when their next pizza party comes around.

Three things I love: Cute Boys, Pizza and Spumoni!

Jonathan gets a slice!

Iyabo dresses up her granny slice.

NYC - Famous Ray Bono Pizza

Famous Ray Bono Pizzeria
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
1215 Lexington Ave
(between 82nd St & 83rd St)
New York, NY 10028
(212) 288-2626
Nearest subway: 86th St (4, 5, 6)

Famous Ray Bono Pizza in the Upper East Side was the first stop for pizza on my recent trip to NYC. After a seven hour bus ride, a 45 minute ride to Brooklyn to drop off our stuff and hug my sister, another 45 minute ride back to Manhattan and a hike to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my friend Alex and I were ready for a freaking slice already!

The Met was awesome. I had forgotten how much I love their collection. We saw part of their impressive collection from ancient Egypt, some great armor, a few pieces from their modern collection, few of their Tiffany windows and whew looking at so much art is really exhausting. It is so much to think about. Technique, preservation, history, value, form, function, purpose... It is enough to make your brain explode. Alex is an excellent museum trip companion because he is super smart and knows a lot about the history of older work. He is also very curious which is key to enjoying a visit any museum.

Unfortunately we weren't able to spend as long as we wanted at the Met because we had to head to Coney Island to meet my lovely sister Rose and some pals/coworkers from IFP. On our way to the subway we stopped in Ray Bono for a slice and a cool drink. We were starving and so thirsty and needed a break.

They had a variety of pies to choose from some really fancy sun dried tomato and goats cheese type stuff. But we were starving and so thirsty. I got a slice of cheese and I couldn't even wait to get to the table before I took a bite. The slice was big and I'm sorry to say, reheated. Usually a reheated slice is pretty disappointing on the scale of pizzaliciousness. However, their oven was hot enough that the reheated slice was still crispy and the cheese was still stringy and because I was starving I enjoyed it more than I would have if i wasn't. There was a good sauce to cheese ratio, and a crispy crust. The cheese was decent but the sauce was a little on the acidic side. It gave me wicked acid reflux later.

Alex had a sausage roll which was also reheated and a little soggy if you ask me. He had to season it himself and when I asked him how it was he said "I was hungry it was food." but then later said he liked it.

Costco Pizza Field Trip

The other day my friend James took me on a pizza field trip to Costco. I have heard from several people that they have surprisingly good pizza, super cheap slices and HUGE, cheap take and bake pies.

After many scheduling conflicts and missed pizza opportunities I finally cleared my schedule and adjourned to the far west end of Richmond for a slice. I have to say, the rumors are true. Costco's pizza is indeed, surprisingly not as bad as I thought it would be. My Costco experience was one I will never forget.

First of all, I was shocked to see that Costco has actual traffic. Bad traffic. The parking lot is a cluster fuck of SUVs, minivans, pickup trucks and children running amuck while their exhausted mothers haul huge carts piled high with bulk items to their respective vehicles. Crossing through the parking lot at Costco was not unlike crossing the street in Times Square.

Next I have to say that just entering though the giant garage doors of Costco is a overwhelming. The place is absolutely gigantic. A concrete cube of pipes and scaffolding and lights and products. I once read somewhere that in the future archaeologist will dig up suburban remains and conclude that we worshiped capitalism and consumerism based on their findings of giant discount shopping centers and big box stores. Standing in the entrance of Costco on a hot day with the air conditioning blowing past me out the door and the signs for cheap gas and food court specials glowing over me, illuminated like stained glass windows, I didn't disagree.

We ventured ALL the way to the back of the store to find a case of San Pellegrino. On our way to the back I noticed that there seems to be only a very loose organization of products. Tires and auto parts are shelved with end caps that display orchids, first-aid supplies and frozen jumbo shrimp. Of course everything is super cheap and in very large quantities. You can't buy one of anything because everything is packed as an extra family-sized duo or jumbo-, or colossal-, or giganto- pack. It was total sensory overload and the urge to purchase was overwhelming. I had to pray on the teaching s of Reverend Billy just to make it out of there with out a 40-pack of toilet paper, 10 t-bone steaks and an orchid.

I remember going to Costco as a kid with my friend Erika and her dad and that they had free samples of lots of their products. They still have that only now the employees at the sample stands have been instructed to give a monologue about the products they are preparing for samples. However, this monologue doesn't seem to begin on any sort of cue. You walk up to the sample stand and they are already in the middle of a sentence "...can freeze the juice in an ice cube tray to make fun popsicles or smoothies just add a banana and fresh berries from the produce department and you will have a healthy sna..." Like robots these women just deliver this monologue on repeat. So 1984. So Gattaca. So 5th Element.

Anyways, we made our way to the check out line and then to the "food court" where we discovered a slew of similarly dressed, khaki and polo clad, young suburban professionals who had apparently been released from their cubical farm for a lunch hour. Many of them had caught up with their waiting, young, Stepford wives and pudgy children. And some representative of the company was buying hot dogs (in bulk) from the food court clerk and passing them out among the y(s)uppies and their families.

On to pizza! Costco has only three kinds of pizza: cheese, pepperoni and combo (supreme). You can purchase pizza by the slice or as a hot pie or as a take and bake pie. The whole pies are gigantic -- at least two feet in diameter. So, as you can imagine each slice (1/6 of the pie)  is also gigantic. I ordered a slice of plain cheese (the litmus test of pizza). The crust on my slice was about 12" long and there was probably about 7oz of cheese on each slice. I was actually surprised by the weight of the slice when the clerk handed me the paper plate. I also got a churro and a Coke. The total of my purchase was like $4. Nuts! James also got a slice of cheese and we ate at a little plastic picnic table next to the garage door entrance watching patrons have their receipts and carts checked by greeters and housewives wrangle their children out the door.

The pizza was surprising. The crust was really soft and the sauce was sweet. Even the excess of cheese was kind of yummy-- perhaps because excess is what I was craving after having walked through that place. It wasn't over or under seasoned, perfect for that bland suburban, white-bread palate. It was good in the way that even bad pizza is still pretty good, but it was on the high side of bad pizza.

Thank you James Menefee for this truly unique pizza experience! James and I have been pals for a long time, since I used to see his band Fun Size play when I was in high school. Since then James has gone on to play in River City High and is working on a new project called The Long Arms along with Alex Smith, Pedro Aida (Roslyn), and Greg Butler. Definitely check it out