A Hamburger Today
Staten Island: Pier 76 a Kissing Cousin of Joe & Pat's
76 Bay Street, Staten Island NY (near Slosson Terr.; map); 718-447-7437; pier76si.com
Getting there: I assume most Staten Islanders have cars and can drive. If you're coming from the other boroughs, it's a short walk from the St. George Ferry Terminal—just make sure to exit near where the buses land and not on western exit. Walk toward SI Borough Hall and then turn left (east) and walk along Bay Street
Pizza style: Crunchy thin-crust bar-style
Oven type: Gas-fueled Fish rotating-tray brick oven
The skinny: Opened by Joe Guastavino and Jeremy Pappalardo in early November 2009. If you like Joe & Pat's, you'll like Pier 76; Jeremy Pappalardo is the son of Gerry Pappalardo of Joe & Pat's fame, and he mixes the old with the new
Price: 16-inch plain, $13.75; 14-inch, $11.75; toppings each $3 extra for full pie, $2 for whole
I don't know if Jeremy Pappalardo wants to read this, because the comparison is going to be inevitable and he's probably already tired of dealing with it, but the pizza at his recently opened Pier 76 Italian Restaurant, in St. George, near the ferry terminal, might as well be a clone of Joe & Pat's farther down the island in Castleton Corners—right down to its characteristic thinness, crunchiness, and careful balance of ingredients.
Jeremy Pappalardo is the son of Gerry Pappalardo of Joe & Pat's, and Jeremy and his business parter, Joe Guastavino, have opened a fun and inviting place in St. George that builds on the strengths of its 50-year-old progenitor and then adds its own touches.
Pappalardo, for instance, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and that training is borne out in the details. Items on the menu such as the specialty arugula pie sport terms like "balsamic reduction," and in talking with Pappalardo, you'll hear about the top-quality Grandé mozzarella he uses or how they slice the pepperoni thisthin so it curls and crisps up just right on a pie.
Keep talking with him, and you'll hear about the months of renovation he and Guastavino did when they took over the space from a dive bar called The Real McCoy. About the only thing they kept was the original 30-foot bar and a stained-glass light fixture above the bar's register. The rest of the place was gutted and now looks worlds away from what was there before.
Like Lee's Tavern in Staten Island's Dongan Hills, the place is somehow comfortable enough to handle bar patrons and families at the same time. When I visited on Thursday afternoon, patrons sat on barstools watching TV on a slow snowy day while a family with a toddler ordered pizza and discussed the contents of the girl's sippy cup.
The pie I sampled that day, a half sausage–half plain, was crunchy crusted and thin as all get out. If you prize chewiness and the ability to fold a slice in half, this place ain't for you. Try to fold a slice here and it will shatter. No biggie. This is classic bar pizza — something I'd never realized about Joe & Pat's since it lacks the bar component, but it's true.
It's the perfect pizza to eat while you're downing some brews and shooting the breeze with friends — or, as I was last night, watching the U.S. lose to Canada on the final night of the 2010 Winter Games. That sucked, but the fun crowd and the pizza — an almost platonic ideal of a pepperoni pie — balanced things out.
I asked Jeremy Pappalardo about the differences between Pier 76 and Joe & Pat's. He didn't seem like he had much to prove or that he was trying to step too far out of the J&P shadow. He started working at Joe & Pat's when he was 8 years old, and he liked that people recognized the pizza style but was also happy that the patrons on the North Shore were willing to try different pizzas — like the vodka pie (above), which is one of his favorites (and now mine). It's got a savory sauce that's made with vodka and Parmesan (the alcohol is supposed to bring out different flavors in the tomatoes) and infused with pancetta. Though I know some folks bristle at the word umami, this sauce did seem to bring that almost undefinable quality to the pie. After ordering an individual-size vodka pie following Pappalardo's raves about it, I pretty much ignored the pepperoni pie I had orginally called for.
The pizzas are cooked in a behemoth of an oven — a Fish brand four-deck revolving gas-fueled oven. It crisps the crust to crunchiness without putting too much of a burn on it — you're not going to get the "char" that some of us go gaga for, but that doesn't seem to be the point here.
Though it's only been open during the winter, it sounds like it'll be a fun place once the weather gets warm. There's supposedly space out back that Pappalardo and Guastavino plan on filling with garden seating in spring.
If you're not a Staten Islander and your exposure to the borough comes mostly through ferry rides with out-of-town guests, you owe it to yourself to make the short walk to Pier 76 instead of turning right back around on a Manhattan-bound boat. It's a an easy and tasty way to get a slice of what the island's about.