Tosca Café

20060102GMap.jpgFriends of Slice Listmaker and Youthlarge were car-sitting last week. Listmaker wanted to make the most of their automotive-having days, so he suggested a pizza excursion at some point during the holidays.

Wanting to make the most of car access myself, I suggested Tosca Café in the Throgs Neck section of The Bronx, a spot that would normally be a bit difficult to reach via public transport (right).

Listmaker, Youthlarge, and I set off around 7 p.m. on Friday, picked up their friend Dave, and we all made it to Tosca by 8 p.m. or so—after a few wrong turns.

Tosca Café's got a coal oven, and that's a big deal. Coal-burners are a sort of holy grail in this town, as some of the best and oldest pizzerias use them to produce amazing pizzas. Such ovens are capable of reaching the insanely hot temperatures needed to make a pie crisp and give it oven spring while still yielding a satisfying chewiness and pliability in the crust. This trip was a big deal for me, too, because Tosca's long been on the Slice "places to try" list.

I don't know if café is the right word for the place, though. The joint is huge, taking up a large chunk of real estate on the corner of East Tremont and Samson avenues in Throgs Neck (top right). Then again, it somehow managed to feel small and welcoming despite its size and the number of diners in the packed house. It also looked like it had been renovated within the last few years. You'd never know this place housed a coal oven, but, whoomp, there it is. A hand-painted sign on a wall near it reads "Tosca: Since 1922." My guess is that the place just sorta grew around the oven during all those years into what it is today, but without talking to the owner, that's just pure speculation.

We got a table immediately and had placed our orders within a few minutes of sitting down. Not more than ten minutes later, our two pies had arrived—a plain pizza with fresh mozzarella to use as a benchmark pie (regular mozz is also an option) and a pepperoni pie also with fresh mozzarella.

The plain pie (large photo above) was good, with a fresh sauce and a nice sharp taste provided by a generous dusting of Parmesan between the sauce and mozzarella. The exceptionally thin crust on this pie, unfortunately, was lacking. It was notably soggy in the middle, so much so that my first slice fell apart when I tried to pick it up. I had to reach for the knife and fork to bring things back under control. Not only that but it was a little bland and could have been a little saltier. This was especially notable once you got to the naked cornichone, which did not benefit from a dressing of sauce or salty Parm.

The pepperoni pie, however, was noticeably more crisp than the plain pie, which is a bit counterintuitive. The grease released by cooking pep slices usually sogs down a crust. Perhaps it was left in the oven for a bit longer? The evidence on its crust, which exhibited a bit more char, seems to support this theory. There was, however, a bit of tip sag even on this crisper pie, but it was, for better or worse, within what has become standard deviance for even the best coal-oven places.

The crust on our pepperoni pie (left) was a little more charred than that on our plain pie (right). Not surprisingly, its crust was more crisp.

Tosca Café did not leave me disatisfied, even with the soggy plain pie. It's the first time I've tried the place, so let's chalk it up to an off night on the plain pies. Next time Listmaker and Youthlarge have to car-sit, I'll try to get them out there again.


Speaking of adventures with that very car, Listmaker (foreground, right) made a suggestion he thought no one would take him up on: Going to Fort Lee, New Jersey, for a deep-fried hot dog at Callahan's on Palisade Avenue. He should have known better. Dave (background, right) and I urged him and Youthlarge (middle, right), a Fort Lee native, to continue the food cruise, reckoning it'd take only about 20 minutes to get there.

We were right. Within 23 minutes, we had pulled up to a closed-for-the-night Callahan's. The shuttered shack didn't matter much to me and Dave because archrival Hiram's, just across the street, was still open. For Youthlarge, however, the unlit building meant one thing: She'd finally have to set foot in Hiram's. That's something neither she nor her family had ever done. But since Callahan's is closing in March to make way for a bank, Youthlarge figured she'd have to wean herself on Hiram's sooner or later.

Hot dogs aren't my forte, so I'll take Youthlarge's word for it when she says that Callahan's dogs have more zing and bite to them and Listmaker's when he says that Hiram's is "more of a dessert dog" than a dinner dog. I was happy with my deep-fried dog, dessert (as it happened to be in this case) or not.


Phone: 718-239-3300
Location: 4038 East Tremont Ave., The Bronx 10465 (Throgs Neck)
Getting There:Take the No. 6 to Westchester Square/East Tremont Avenue. Take the Bx40 bus from the station to Fort Schuyler. Get off at Harding Ave./East Tremont Ave. Walk north on East Tremont toward Milton Place.
The Skinny: A stand-up coal-oven pizzeria in the far-flung Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. It's making some good pies, even though our plain pie had a lot of center sog.

Location: 1345 Palisades Ave., Fort Lee NJ

The nights' adventures according to Listmaker.