Sunday, August 7, 2011

Review: L&B Spumoni Gardens, 86th Street, Brooklyn NY

This was my third trip to L&B Spumoni Gardens. In 2008, I did an outer boro pizza tour. We made a stop at Spumoni Gardens for a slice of their square pie and a conventional triangle slice from the round pie.

Sampling the conventional slice
About a year ago, I returned and again sampled both the square pie and a conventional triangle slice. Based on those two experiences, I safely concluded that the round pie was forgettable. The square didn't blow me away on my earlier visits, but based on the reviews of pizza bloggers more expert than I, it was an easy decision on a hot August afternoon to stop in and try again en route from Dyker Heights to JFK.

Here is some background, excerpted from their website:

"Here we are known for our Famous Sicilian Pizza, Home made Spumoni, and outside seating. Ludovico Barbati came into the United States back in 1917, from Torella Di Lombardi, Italy. In 1938 Ludovico learned from a baker how to make Spumoni and Ices, in a little garage on West 8th Street, Brooklyn New York. He sold his products up and down the streets of Gravesend & Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. In 1939, Ludovico, Sr. decided he needed a little, inexpensive place to make the Spumoni and Ices, so he purchased vacant property on 86th street in Brooklyn. In the mid 1950's L & B Spumoni Gardens built the second building, which is now the Pizzeria, selling our famous thick Sicilian pies, as well as our regular round pies. L & B Spumoni Gardens is now in its fourth generation. There will always be a family member to greet you at our doors."

Nice stuff! Let me translate that last sentence: "There will always be a family member to bark at you if you hesitate when you order."  

That is not a complaint! In fact, the brusque attytood of the window staff is part of L&B's charm. The place is huge by pizza joint standards. There is a separate window to order pizza and a window for spumoni and Italian ices.

I ordered two square slices, and I was happy that I did not get a center sans-cornicione piece. I got one standard border slice that had a single crusty edge, and a corner piece with two crispy edges. Upon visual inspection, it is abundantly clear that this is not pizza, deep-dish pizza, or Sicilian pizza. Yes, it has a thick Sicilian-style crust, but the cheese is a mere dusting of some aged finely grated cheese, probably Parmesan. This is much like what we call tomato pie in Conshohocken PA and Philly.

Click on this pic to see this close up!
For a cheeseless pie, the sauce should shine, and it did. This sauce was very bright, but it did not upstage the in-your-face red gravy on the comparable Sicilian slices at NY Pizza Suprema, near Penn Station in Manhattan. 

Those who praise the L&B square pie talk most about the crust. Crisp, airy, crunchy. It was all that. Starting with its perfectly browned bottom, above that is a layer that is puffy like good Italian bread, then above that is a layer that is dense and moist (probably from the sauce). Texture-wise, this is pretty good. I think this crust is close to perfect for a square pie; better than NY Pizza Suprema, rivaled perhaps only by Rize Pizza in Broomall, PA.

I have to conclude about this square pie what I've concluded about tomato pie in general: if you grew up eating it, it must be pretty special. If you discover it as an adult, it's a fine snack but at the end of the day it's a pretty good pizza with the cheese missing.

I'm glad that there are places like this, but I think the whole look and feel -- window ordering, outdoor seating, spumoni for dessert -- makes this place more an experience than an epicurean event (same can be said for Pat's or Geno's Cheesesteaks on Passyunk Avenue in Philly). You go for the ambiance, and the food is a bonus.

I'm happy to report that the spumoni at L&B was wonderful. I loved their take on "Neapolitan" in which they substitute pistachio for strawberry. And they scoop it from three different drums! The vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio products were the perfect soft texture (though they began to melt faster than I could eat & photograph). The small cup of spumoni was the same price as a square slice: $2.25. Nice value.

How does it all stack up?  Based on my two past experiences, I rate the round pie a 6. Not bad, but not distinctive in any way. The square pie rates higher. That crust is a 9.5, and the sauce gets an 8. The spumoni is a 9.5! This is a fine institution and I encourage you to stop by if you are in the area OR if you are a big fan of tomato pie. 

L & B Spumoni Gardens Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 comment:

  1. Found your blog while searching for, what else, anything about pizza. I share your passion for pizza and frequent many of the same places you do. I grew up in Brooklyn and was raised on Totonno's and L&B. I am now in Monmouth County, NJ, but still go back to Brooklyn quite often. While L&B squares are not what they once were, I still have a sentimental attachment to them, as we probably all do to what we grew up on.

    One correction however - there is most definitely a layer of cheese under all that sauce! So it is not cheese-less. The layer of cheese melts into the crust and almost dissapears, but it is an important component of the taste. You can see it being made here:

    I am also an avid home pizza maker, striving to clone my favorite places in my kitchen. I am working my way through your blog from the oldest entries to the current one's, so I look forward to reading my way through and commenting along the way. It's been an enjoyable read so far!