We rolled up to Denino’s Pizza Tavern –– an unassuming pizzeria in a working-class neighborhood on Staten Island –– at about two on a bright Wednesday afternoon. A few regulars peppered the granite countertop, and we took seats at a high table overlooking the street. This is a no-delivery, cash-only place with a long and storied history. First opened as a pool hall, it started serving beer in 1933 after the repeal of Prohibition. Within four years, Denino’s was operating as a full-service bar. Pizza was added in 1951 –– much to the delight of locals. Since then, it has won local and national acclaim and has even been Zagat-rated.
We kept our order simple at Denino’s, opting for a large classic margherita, a beer, a glass of Chianti and a couple of sodas. What we got was close to a perfect meal. The Denino family uses the same formula on which the pizza was founded. The crust here is crispy but tender, and the sauce is sweet. There’s not an overabundance of cheese, but rather dollops of fresh mozzarella that melt to perfection.
Aside from their classic margherita, sausage is a favorite. Looking for something gourmet? Denino’s can do that, too, with toppings ranging from broccoli raab to meatballs and fresh peppers.
In 2007, Denino’s won a coveted AOL award for “City’s Best” pizza for all the boroughs, a feat they repeated in 2008.
Last year, Denino’s made a big decision –– to open a new location in Bricktownship, New Jersey. Denino’s South now offers a taste of Staten Island to the Garden State.
Joe & Pat’s
From the outside, Joe & Pat’s Pizzeria is spartan –– the striped awning claims that the restaurant was established in 1960, but there’s little else glaring about this Staten Island mainstay. Yet, this pizzeria is literally a staple in the NYC pizza scene. Sure, there’s pizza by the slice, but the dining room –– dressed in Greecian garb –– appeals to families and groups alike.
It was at another SI pizza establishment that we were told by a bartender to “go to Joe & Pat’s, but don’t tell anybody I said that.” Here, we saw diners looking beyond the pie to enjoy veal Parmesan and grilled snapper, but it was pizza we were after. We asked our server what the restaurant was known for but her response –– “everything!” –– didn’t narrow down our field of choices (and yes, we admit we had to Google scungilli in order to rule it out). We settled on a half-pepperoni, half-spinach and were delighted with the thin, chewy, slightly charred oversized pie we received.
Delivery is available, and we saw several runs going out during the rush hour. The dining room is ample, and there’s a designated waiting area –– less common among the famous NYC pizzerias. And yes, Joe & Pat’s is also Zagat-rated, a feat they proudly display in-house.
Goodfella’s was last on our Staten Island tour of pizzerias, but founder Scot Cosentino welcomed us in with open arms –– and a piping hot order of fried mozzarella, glasses of wine and beer. We left the ordering to this Brooklyn native, who opened his pizzeria in 1992.
What we got was was a half-and-half, a combination of two of the restaurant’s award-winning pizzas. The pizza alla vodka hails back to the restaurant’s opening and features Goodfella’s tomato cream vodka sauce, seasoned fresh mushrooms, peas and prosciutto di Parma. The second half divided nicely by a braid of dough –– was the Smoking Goodfella, which we recognized from its first place honors at the International Pizza Challenge in 2007. It’s not common that a half-and-half comes out of an oven so perfectly. We have to give props to Goodfella’s brick oven, which takes center stage in its dining room.
On a Wednesday night, the place was packed, and we saw a multitude of demographics –– from tiny tots clutching chewy crusts to a group celebrating girls’ night out. It’s good the menu transcends traditional pizza and pasta –– Goodfella’s has a taste for everyone.
Just steps away from the famed Staten Island Ferry is Pier 76, a relatively new foray into the Staten Island pizza scene. Aside from its excellent location on busy Bay Street, Pier 76 boasts a wide delivery area –– a novelty on the NYC pizza circuit.
The bar is hoppin’. It brings in live music on the weekend and hosts nightly drink specials. There’s a separate carryout window for pizza by the slice. Meanwhile, inside the dining room, tables are covered with traditional checkered tablecloths.
The bartender-cum-server took our order promptly –– an order of spicy hot wings and a 16-inch pepperoni pizza. What we got was a set of wings drenched perfectly in buffalo sauce and a geneous side of bleu cheese and Ranch dressings.
The pizza itself was more on the traditional side –– a bit chewier than thin crust. The small pepperoni curled under the heat of the ovens. Still, the menu boased a suprisingly large array of appetizers ranging from Italian antipasto to entrées like the baby lamb chops (really? In a pizzeria?) and veal alla Milanese.
Still, paper plates and napkins and a laid-back atmosphere prove Pier 76 isn’t into fuss.
Lee’s Tavern is known as something of a local hangout (there’s no sign outside), the kind of place where a pint and a pizza seem to go hand-in-hand. The white clam pie is legendary here and “well worth the wait,” according to online reviews.
You won’t be innundated with choices –– Lee’s sticks to tried and true Italian favorites. Pizza is available in a large and a smaller bar size (which is just perfect for one).
Lee’s pizza is chewy, charred and fresh. And although we didn’t try the calamari, it gets rave reviews. We especially like that the prices –– in a city where an entrée can top out at $40 or more –– are affordable at less than $15.
Beyond the bar is a separate dining room that is employed by families and groups alike. Private dining is available –– a novelty for most pizzerias, but especially so in NYC and its boroughs, where space is a premium.
Better tuck away that plastic, too –– this is a cash-only establishment.
While Nunzio’s is a bit off the beaten path, Staten Island residents rank it among the top offerings in the borough. A mainstay since 1943, Nunzio’s features the requisite thin crust pizza, the kind that locals rave about. There’s a McDonald’s across the street, but why choose boring chain food over a true Italian pizzeria? Nunzio’s mixes it up a bit by using cubed mozzarella and a slightly peppery, acidic tomato sauce. It’s a refreshing departure from the sweet sauces used at other establishments.
Like many of its Staten Island counterparts, Nunzio’s is no nonsense, specializing in pizza by the slice and offerings crafted from family recipes. Key ingredients here include San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and a hint of olive oil, all of which add a delicate flavor. And the chewy crust keeps customers coming back year after year.
Slices reign supreme at this fast-casual pizzeria known for its by-the-slice offerings (bring cash –– here’s another spot that doesn’t accept credit cards). Slices aren’t all Brother’s can do, though –– with six well-worn deck ovens, they’re able to push out pan, Sicilian, Grandma (yum!) and thin-crust pies alike. It’s the Sicilian that locals rave about, a departure from the oversized thin-crust slices offered all over the region.
The second generation of the Italian-born Giove family mans the helm at today’s Brother’s, which operates just a block away from its original location. The company celebrated its 35th anniversary last year by hosting three days of opening-day prices. While word-of-mouth advertising is the bread and butter of places like Brother’s. It certainly doesn’t hurt to create newsworthy events that bring in locals and new customers alike!