A year ago Ed Levine wrote one of those stories that pizza aficionados devour and then turn to again and again as a trusted reference, the kind of story that proud parlor proprietors frame and hang on their walls. Running under the headline Pizza 2002: State of the Slice, the 1,800-word piece tallies Levine's top six slice joints. Emphasis on slice; for this report Levine avoids New York pizzerias that sell pies only.
His seminal slice slingers include DiFara Pizza, in Midwood, Brooklyn; Joe & Pat's, on Staten Island; Joe's Pizza, in the Village; Louie & Ernie's, in the Bronx; Patsy's, in East Harlem; and, the subject of this review, Nunzio's, also on Staten Island.
At the risk of undermining our credibility, we have to admit that, until last weekend, we'd only sampled half the fare on this list (DiFara, Patsy's, and Joe's), missing Staten Island's offerings completely. Somehow our attempts to venture to Shaolin were always foiled, despite our curiousity.
With an Indian summer Sunday promising a beautiful ferry ride and giving little excuse to stay home, two Slice editors, Hatchback (this reporter) and E-Rock, made the crossing to Saint George Terminal and, from there, the train ride to Grant City, where Nunzio's Pizza is located, at 2155 Hylan Boulevard.
Getting to Nunzio's without a car is possible, if not exactly quick. We took the Staten Island Ferry (departs every half hour; crossing time about 20 minutes) instead of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Though we caught the 3 p.m. ferry, we didn't make it to the restaurant till 4:30 p.m., owing to infrequent departures of the Sunday-service Staten Island Railway. (Check the SIR map and timetable here, and plan accordingly.)
|We veered a little off this course, making a right on Clawson and then a left on Greeley, which took us past the White Castle at 2221 Hylan Blvd.|
Take the train to the Grant City stop. From there, you'll have to walk about four blocks east to Hylan Boulevard. The most direct route is shown above, but we didn't know what we were doing and went a bit out of our way, a little too far south. No matter. We ended up discovering a White Castle we otherwise wouldn't have seen. And though this reporter's favorite food is pizza, tiny hamburgers run a close second. Making a note to save room for at least one slyder, we walked on by the Castle and on to Nunzio's.
ABOVE: As pictured in Levine's New York Times story, the old Nunzio's sign hangs in front of a shacklike edifice. RIGHT: Adam ("Hatchback") stands in front of the remodeled Nunzio's.
Now, if you take the approach we did and take the east entrance, you'll find yourself in the take-out section of the operation. You can order slices and whole pies to go here (slice, plain: $1.60; whole pie, plain: $11 take-out/dine-in; $11.50 delivery), which we did. The nice woman at the counter must have seen us looking around perplexedly for a place to sit and so informed us that we could have a seat in the dining room and she'd bring us our slices. The dining room entrance is on the Midland Avenue side, toward the back of the building. Enter there for sit-down service.
Greeted in the vestibule with the smell of fresh paint and wallboard spackle indicative of recent construction, the dining room itself was clean but generically plainnot much character to be found there, certainly not the dilapidated charm we were expecting from one of Staten Island's old-school pizzerias. Withholding judgment (we'll forgive aesthetic shortcomings in light of delicious pie) we waited for our slices to come to the dining room.
We had ordered one plain regular and one plain Sicilian each. Why we ordered Sicilian is beyond me. Actually, I was starving by the time we arrived, and the thick, square slice was especially appealing. E-Rock merely followed my lead. At table, the slices looked great. Islands of mozzarella floating on a bed of sauce promised the proper balance of a slice's, or a pie's, essential trio of ingredients: dough, sauce, cheese. As Levine writes, "A slice from Nunzio's is a pristine exercise in elegant pizza minimalism. Everything about it is right: the ratio of sauce to cheese, the crisp yet pliant crust and the tangy sauce enlivened by fresh basil."
Levine is dead-on about Nunzio's except for the sauce-cheese ratio. Despite the telltale interstices of bright-red sauce visible beneath and between the cheese, the balance tipped too far in the mozzarella's favor. My first bite yielded an almost grilled cheeselike taste: a mouthful of cheese with a hint of overdoneness. This is unfortunate because the sauce is quite tasty. Bright and fresh, it is made with San Marzano tomatoes, the Italian imports favored for sauces because of their meatiness and less-acidic taste. If only the cheese didn't mask it.
The crust, too, was above average. It was crisp yet still held up well even when folded in half, as New Yorkers are wont to do when in a hurry to scarf down a slice. Not quite cracker thin, as Patsy's in East Harlem, but not quite as thick as the usual slab-slice joints that are the norm. E-Rock, however, rated the crust as merely average.
With all the raves Nunzio's has been getting latelythe Levine write-up, a mention in the Village Voice's back-to-school guide, a thumbs-up from a Staten Island native tending bar in the Financial Districtwe expected more. Perhaps we went on a bad night. We'll have to try Nunzio's again, perhaps ordering a whole pie made-to-order. Until then, we give Nunzio's a Four-Slice rating out of a possible eight.