This past winter, Elana and I accompanied mom on one of her local group trips to Brooklyn. It was a guided tour throughout some of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods, stopping along the way at the area’s most festively decorated residences for the holiday season. It was a very entertaining experience to say the least, with the energy being maintained between stops by our animated and knowledgeable tour guide, Tony Muia. On that trip, Tony had encouraged me to come on one of his his company‘s pizza tours. This last weekend, Elana and I did just that.
The launch location for this trip was from Union Square, where Tony’s Cousin, Paula (who was our tour guide for the day), was enthusiastically welcoming all participants onto the bus. To say Paula is an extrovert would be an understatement; within 10 minutes of the trip, she has already told various jokes, given nicknames to everyone on the bus, and dropped a few hundred “fughediboudits.” “This is going to be fun,” comments sis.
The first out of two pizza stops for the day: Grimaldi’s on 19 Old Fulton St
in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn. But, prior to that, Paula directs the group through a nearby park to view the Brooklyn Bridge (which, by the way, has all of its original cables, Paula adds), as well a detour through the Jacques Torres Chocolate Shop, where Elana and I sample some of their delicious spicy hot chocolate.
The group is more than happy to wander around this beautiful area while peppering Paula with questions. “Did ya know,” Paula adds, and proceeds to tell us that Grimaldi’s coal heated oven is one of the last of its kind within the city, as environmental regulation put a stop to the installation of coal burning ovens in the 1980s. She also advises us not to make eye contact with the long line of people waiting to get into Grimaldi’s. Why? Well, today, we don’t have to wait in the line. A spot on the Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour grants you VIP access into the storied pizza shop. (It doesn’t, however, isolate you from the frustrated mutterings/shouts from those who you cut in line, which you will inevitably receive). I mean, just how does the other half live? Also, is it wrong that I secretly take pleasure in this moment of blatent line cutting? Moving on…
Being one of the first let inside Grimaldi’s allows me to quietly watch the pies get made. There is a system at work here – mountainous piles of sliced fresh mozzarella, jars of ingredients, stacks of wooden crates filled with unpressed dough, and then the oven itself – an almost Medievil looking heat terminal of coal burning excellence. According to Paula, pies endure a stay of around 2 minutes and 43 seconds within the oven. How’s that for specific information?
I had not been back to the original Grimaldi’s in some time. Indeed, I have a local Grimaldi’s in Hoboken that I visit from time to time without having to wait in line, but I was looking forward to retesting the original.
The original is a better tasting pie. Its crust is a bit more charred vs. the Hoboken shop’s, with portions of its underbelly completely scorched by coal. This, in my opinion, lends itself to a unique taste and separates Grimaldi’s from some of the other Napoletana style Pizzerias which use wood, gas, or a combination of the two. The sauce quality is simply excellent here: fresh and flavorful. And, even if the cheese may be a touch bland, Grimaldi’s (the original) does not let me down. I put down 2 and 1/2 slices in about as many bites.
As we pull away from Grimaldi’s en route to our next stop (L & B Spumoni Gardens), Paula cues up appropriate movie clips while we are still in Dumbo – such as the scene from Scent of a Woman (one of my favorites) where Charlie and Colonel Frank Slade (WHOOAA!) take the Ferrari out for a test drive. Our bus is traveling on those identical roads. I elbow Elana with excitement.
The seamless infusion of movie clips throughout the tour is a big theme. While traveling out to L & B’s, Paula continues to add context to our voyage with additional clips, as well landmark descriptions and famous/infamous stories about the immediate surrounding area. We also journey through Dyker Heights and view the million dollar homes along Shore Road in Bay Ridge.
And then, more pizza! Our second and final pizza stop is L & B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst, which we featured on the blog not too long ago. It’s a wonderful pizza to feature, particularly due to its contrast from Grimaldi’s; the two could not be more dissimilar. Grimaldi’s is round; L & B’s is square. Coal oven vs. gas. Neapolitan vs. Sicilian. Is one better than the other? Who cares! They are both amazing.
While they are both “pizzas”, comparing the two is like apples and oranges. And on this day, I just can’t seem to stop putting down these scrumptious squares of sauce splattered satisfaction. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest to effortlessly own a 3rd slice (that’s 5 and 1/2 for those keeping count) since others are full. Especially since Paula had noted earlier that the L & B pizza feels “lighter” due to the dough rising twice.
And I’m not scared of dessert either. Elana and I split some addictive spumoni ice cream, which isn’t quite ice cream at all. It’s ice cream mixed with whipped cream which, yet again, has a “lighter” texture to it than what you would expect. I again say “lighter” because, hey, let’s face it… I’m ingesting pizza and ice cream like Jaws gobbles up chum… I’m probably well beyond the point of characterizing this as a mere snack. Whatever. When in Rome…. er…. Bensonhurst, I guess.
After L & B’s, the tour makes its final stop to Coney Island, where Paula takes us along the boardwalk. She notes the simultaneous (and hilarious) sensations of danger/excitement surrounding the various rides, such as the Parachute Drop and the Cyclone, with toothpick thick 2 x 4’s anchoring its highest peaks.
And even as the tour nears an end, there are additional movie clips to watch or more sites to see, such as the National, an oddly, yet awesomely decorated Russian restaurant/banquet hall; or the picturesque grounds at Poly Prep – there is never a dull moment. So whether you are visiting Brooklyn for the first or you’re a full time BK resident, this tour really has something for everyone. You’d be hard pressed to find more prideful and informative guides than Tony and Paula. And, even for the so called know-it-alls, how else are you cutting the line at Grimaldi’s?
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