Updated: Apr 9, 2020
Sampling Bronx pizza with Scott Wiener and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz
Photos by Amanda Celestino
Ask anyone what we’re known for by way of good eats in New York City and one thing is bound to come to mind instantly: pizza. The crust is thin and full of yeasty flavor; many pizza eaters swear it’s the crust that makes the pies here stand out—it must be something in the water. Scott Wiener, the owner of Scott’s Pizza Tours, debunked the water myth straightaway but agreed on the sentiment that our pizza is remarkably good. There’s nothing like a New York City slice.
While each borough has standout pizzerias and slice shops, the Bronx is home to some of the best, often not getting the recognition they deserve.
4033 E Tremont Ave, Bronx, NY
The first stop on the pizza tour was an Uptown Epicure pick, Tommy’s Pizza in Throggs Neck—a small hole-in-the-wall family-run pizzeria serving up a limited menu since 1977.
Everything about Tommy’s is a textbook no-frills pizza joint, from the classic red tables in the back to the glorious pies sitting on the counter waiting to be tossed into the 500+ degree oven. What makes them stand out is how good the pizza is. Starting the day off right, Scott suggests getting a standard slice, reheated. The pizza has the perfect ratio of sauce to cheese, on top of a thin crispy crust. What makes the crust so good? It has a light dusting of semolina on the bottom, which gets really crusty in the oven without charring.
When the slices emerge from the oven, bubbling hot, Wiener says “I bet we’re going to get a nice crack down the center when we fold it over.” He’s right. “One thing that I use to judge a good pizza is the droopy tip: The pizza shouldn’t flap over too much at the tip.” No droopy tip here. After devouring the slices, we all seem to agree: This pizza is the quintessential New York slice.
2823 Middletown Rd, Bronx, NY
The next stop is the borough president’s pick, Frank’s Pizza, which sits on the border of Pelham Bay and Schuylerville a stone’s throw from the elevated 6 train.
Frank’s Pizza is a Diaz family favorite. “In January, my wife and I decided to stop eating bread, but we agreed pizza didn’t count.” The Diaz bunch eats at Frank’s a few times per month, each having their favorite slice.
While this pizzeria is larger with plenty of tables seating families or larger groups, the pizza is all frills (and flavor) here. This go around we opted to get a few special slices like the beloved Grandma Slice (a thin square topped with mozzarella, pesto, and chunky tomato sauce); another thin square topped with sautéed garlicky spinach); the Sophia Loren a round focaccia-style pie served at room temperature with fresh mozzarella and fresh thinly sliced tomatoes; and, of course, a classic cheese slice. All slices were top-notch. Diaz proclaims he prefers a slightly thicker crust, which Frank delivers, in a crispy exterior with a slight fluffy chew.
590 E 191st St, Bronx, NY
The last stop of the day is an obvious choice for Wiener, as he regularly brings his pizza tours here—partly for the great pie, but even more so because of the charismatic owner, Sal. “I’m more than a pizza man,” Sal exclaims, breaking out his saxophone greeting us at the door with a quick jazzy rendition of God Bless America. “I’m a philosopher, a poet, a romantic, a musician, an athlete, and a pizza man.”
This pizzeria is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Once a horse stable, the restaurant is decked out with murals, weathered booths, hanging knick-knacks, the entire scene is a feast for the eyes. Located on East 191st Street directly across from the Fordham University dorms, the pizzeria is open late (3 a.m. during the week and 5 a.m. on weekends) to accommodate student demands.
Sal takes Diaz behind the counter and shows him how to make a pie—the one we’ll all be tasting in a matter of minutes. Once the pie goes into the oven, Diaz is given the honor of pounding the gong, a longstanding tradition at Pugsley’s.
Once the pie is ready, it gets a light dusting of garlic powder, parmesan and we suspect a few mystery ingredients. This takes their pizza to the next level—that and the housemade garlic chili oil served on the side to glob on if you choose to do so. We did.
What makes the Bronx so special, is that each pizzeria visited on the pizza tour had a distinct flavor and style, with the common thread of Bronx pride running through each slice. At the end of the day, Diaz declares Wiener as an honorary Bronxite and invites New Yorkers from all boroughs to come and enjoy a slice of the Bronx.
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