“Only God Makes Better Pizza”
The quote in the title comes from an old Zagat’s review, and we’d find it difficult to argue the point – still, we’re hoping that we have to wait a good long time to taste God’s pizza. In fact, we’ve waited a good long time to write this piece – having visited Totonno’s Pizzeria in Coney Island several times. Maybe we’ve just been awestruck by how much we love the pizza this place has been turning out since 1924.
If you skipped the link above (to our NY Pizza History page), we’ll recap here: Antonio (Totonno) Pero worked for Gennaro Lombardi at America’s first pizzeria. He left to open Totonno’s in 1924, right where it stands today on Neptune Avenue in Coney Island. His son, Jerry ran the place from the early 1950’s until 1991. His pizza was great, his personality was… eccentric. You can read a lot of Totonno’s history in Ed Levine’s classicPizza: A Slice of Heaven: The Ultimate Pizza Guide and Companion.
After Jerry, Louise “Cookie” Ciminieri and her husband Joel took over the place. Today, Louise and son Lawrence run Totonno’s.
Louise has been there every time we have, greeting and serving the customers and guarding the secrets with a smile and an iron first. Louise (we still have not yet called her “Cookie”) wouldn’t even tell us that it was Romano cheese sprinkled on post-bake, although that’s hardly a secret once you smell and taste their paradisical pizza.
In March of 2009, Totonno’s Pizzeria suffered a devastating fire that kept them closed for almost a year – to tell the truth it felt like two years. When they reopened, everything looked (and tasted) the same as it always had. New paint job. Again, in 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated Coney Island and nearly destroyed Totonno’s Pizzeria, but the family just doesn’t quit and we are grateful.
Totonno’s had a couple of locations in Manhattan, but they have since closed. And though we know that Manhattanites don’t like going to Brooklyn, some of them would surely make the trip for this.
Like many of the early New York pizzerias, Totonno’s only sells pies. The aforementioned Jerry Pero would throw people out of the place for even asking about slices, but the current staff is much kinder. And there’s a sign.
The atmosphere is white walls, a beautiful old tin ceiling, and the sound of pure Brooklyn. We don’t recall hearing any music playing – just the music of Brooklynites talking at each other. “getoutaheah”, “fuggedaboudit” “whaddayou, serious?” We love it. It goes with pizza better than doo-wop.
We like to sit in the back, near that big hot old coal-fired oven and watch the pizzaiolo do his work. We”ve never had a pie made by Lawrence – when we’ve been there, it’s always been Mike working the stick, his porkpie hat squarely atop his head, his mastery of the oven belying his remark that he’s “just part of the foiniture.”
Lillian and Cary both have a thing for coal-fired pizza in general, and for us Totonno’s is the favorite. As always, the dough’s the thing, and we wish we knew what their secret is, but Louise won’t tell, and when we asked Mike what flour they use, he just shook his head and pointed at Louise.
We are swept away by the balance of the flavors – the char and perfect texture of the crust, the creaminess of handmade fresh mozzarella (not chewy!), bright, flavorful but not acidic tomatoes – and the sharpness of that sprinkle of romano – okay, it’s more than a sprinkle but it’s just right.
Oh my – we just realized why it’s taken us so long to write this page. We usually have to head for Coney Island by the time we start looking at the pictures!
And until we do taste God’s pizza, Totonno’s will do just fine.
Totonno’s Pizzeria – 1524 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11224 – 718-372-8606