This was my third trip to L&B Spumoni Gardens. In 2008, FEEP (fellow enthusiast for eating pizza) Jr. and 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.
|EPBAC samples the conventional slice before removing cheese to put onto my slice|
About a year ago, I returned with EPBAC (eats pizza but avoids cheese) 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 either, 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, folks, is what we call tomato pie in Conshohocken PA (and at Wegman's market).
|Click on this pic to see this close up!|
For a cheeseless pie, the sauce should shine. This sauce was nice, but it gets smoked by the sauce at Marzano's in Exton PA, where the sauces sits atop the cheese in the uniquely Pennsylvanian "upside down pizza" style. In fact, this sauce was no better than the thick rich red gravy that sits on the five buck tomato pie from Wegman's.
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. Better than the light airy crust at Marzano's, and with a tad more flavor than the Wegman's tomato pie.
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, not so much for the food.
I love ice cream, I like spumoni but there are a lot of places selling some crappy stuff they call gelati or spumoni but which aren't as good as supermarket ice cream. 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 5. Not bad, but not distinctive in any way. The square pie rates higher. I think I can go up to 7. The spumoni is a 9.5! Loved it. 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. But for me, it's not destination pizza.