After the transcendence of Di Fara’s, we knew our search would have some kind of lull. After that fateful Sunday our quest changed directions, conceptually and literally. We called up our friend Paul who grew up on Staten Island, the place nobody from Manhattan goes--maybe for the free ferry ride by the Statue of Liberty, then right back again to Manhattan.
Like any local New Yorker, Paul has opinions when it comes to a slice. When we asked for his advice about where to go on Staten, he had an immediate answer.
On a blistery, winter, half-asleep morning, we took the Lexington Avenue line all the way to the pier, bought a coffee, and jumped the big, empty ferry. As Paul regaled us with the horror story three years ago involving a drunk captain ramming the ferry into the dock and decapitating passengers, the Statue of Liberty sailed by the window, the coffee perked us up, the Island loomed closer.
Staten itself is both beautiful and oddly manufactured. We took a short walk to Paul’s neighborhood past big, old beautiful Victorian homes, next to cookie-cutter townhome developments. Paul’s father drove us to Denino’s with a short tour of the neighborhood along the way. We slipped in the back entrance and grabbed a table.
It’s a family joint. Post-game little leaguers are yakking about the game over tiny plastic glasses of Coke, and the waitress treats you like a friend. Paul eyed various clientele who he saw in tables on the outskirts, remembering them from high school.
Denino’s puts the cheese down first, which bakes itself into the crust; the sauce goes on splotches on top of that. It makes for a very different experience as you mouthful your way through the slice.
Denino’s is proper sit-down, and you can’t get a slice. While we were tempted by the catch-all “garbage pie” (and Paul made sure that we understood how good it was), a simple half-pepperoni was the choice. We began with some fried Calamari--in part homage to Jeffery Steingarten’s C.I. (Calamari Index) which he claims is an accurate measure of how progressive Americans are eating these days. If you can get them to eat a slimy cuttlefish (albeit fried with marinara sauce, like a mozzarella stick), you’re doing okay. In no time the pie was there and we started leaning in and back, snapping pictures (can picture-taking on a digital camera really be called “snapping”?). Meanwhile, Paul got impatient and began putting a slice in his mouth. We stashed the camera away and followed suit.
The crust is perfect. Oh. God. the. crust. This is the crust we’ve been looking for. Sharp, simple, thin. Economical, the opposite of fluffy and bread-like. Flat, magically crispy and yet not hard. Denino’s puts the cheese down first, which bakes itself into the crust; the sauce goes on splotches on top of that. It makes for a very different experience as you mouthful your way through the slice.
Some people say the crust is what matters. “Sauce is essentially sauce, and cheese is cheese,” they say. In one way, and especially in this moment, they’re right. This took pizza in a whole different direction. Denino's convinced us that if one part of the pizza is absolutely stellar, the whole pie is good. This is absolutely a destination pizza place. Skip the corner Manhattan joint and seek some adventure.
524 Port Richmond Ave, Staten Island, NYPizza, Pizza Week, Restaurants, Statan Island
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