So many thoughts come to mind in regard to Totonno's pizza. Among them are "magic" and "synergy" and, umm, "sturdy?"
Rewind to the summer of 2008. It was the last season for both Shea Stadium and Yankee stadium. My daughter, not really a baseball fan, agreed to journey with me to the outer boros to see the old parks before they met the wrecking ball (full disclosure: I am a Phillies fan who is neutral about the Yankees and suppressing contempt/pity for the Mets. Nonetheless, we both appreciate ballparks). Earlier that summer our roundabout trek to Yankee Stadium took us to Patsy's in East Harlem (wondrous) and to Zero Otto Nove in Bronx's Little Italy (very fine pie, in the puffy Motorino/Osteria style). On our way to Flushing, we came through Staten Island toward Coney Island in Brooklyn. On our radar: slices at Totonno's, L&B Spumoni Gardens, then on to Midwood for DiFara.
I forget what sequence we attempted on our Brooklyn pizza itinerary. We got a good but not great slice at Spumoni Gardens. I've since been back and confirmed the experience and cannot grasp why anyone thinks it is great pizza. We attempted Totonno's, but were dismayed to learn that it was "whole pies" only. We had too many gastronomic adventures planned, including a visit to Flushing's "Golden Mall" of underground Chinese noodle shops where no one speaks any English. Hence, an entire pizza was just too much, so we passed.
Recently, I am in Brooklyn on a regular basis. Not that long ago, I tried again to get a pie at Totonno's. Alas, I failed to do my homework and found they had been shuttered due to a fire! Happily, they did rebuild and re-open in the same location. Yesterday, June 4, I finally got there. I called at 3:45pm and a friendly fellow took more order. Knowing that I would pick it up at 4 but not eat it until 7, I asked them to leave it unsliced.
Fighting Coney Island traffic on a warm summer day, I arrive at 4:10. I was greeted warmly and my pie was ready. $19.95 for a large, plus $2.50 for the sausage topping, plus tax, almost $24 for the pie. Approaching DiFara territory!
That evening, I put the whole pie on the oven rack and heated it for about 10 minutes at 385 degrees. I slid it back into its box and sliced it. Eagerly anticipating the first bite, I recalled some critical reviews I had read online, calling it "a little red sauce on a tortilla." Indeed, the crust is thin, but not insubstantial. In fact, I broke the pizza wheel slicing it.
The first slice was very very good. I noted the good flavor of each element -- crust, sauce, cheese -- and also noted the crust was dry and hard at the edge. Now, I always eat the pizza "bones" and those who don't are just casual pizza eaters. Recently, I noted that there are two broad categories for elite pizza crusts -- the puffier Neapolitan style found at Motorino, Osteria, and Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix) and the Trenton tomato pie style at DeLorenzo's (Hudson St, Trenton) and DiFara. This is definitely the tomato pie style crust. I love both but I'm leaning towards preferring this Trenton style.
Then the magic started. By the second slice, I realized that the wonderful crust was not quite as good as DeLorenzo's (Trenton). The sauce was superb, but I've had better. The cheese, well, maybe none better. But the key was the synergy! I've never eaten a pizza where the ingredients harmonized so perfectly, not only in flavor but in texture. The sauce and cheese clung tenaciously to that chewy crust. And by the end of the second slice, I began to appreciate the flavor of the crust alone as I reached the edge, even if it was hard and dry. (Important to note, this was reheated pizza which can dry out a thin crust). This crust is indeed sturdy, venerable like a tree trunk.
I will have to think a few days about where to rank this pizza, but I found it wonderful. I finished the last two slices (re-reheated) as I began writing this. My conclusion is that if you enjoy Totonno's pizza, you know something about bread and about pizza. Unlike the pizza (so far) in West Chester PA, Totonno's is surely "worth the trip."
I'm gonna give it a 9.5 out of 10. Not quite DiFara or DeLorenzo's, not pretty, but old-school magic we all should cherish.