Letters to Totonno's: Pete Wells, Allison Robicelli, Cookie Cimineri, and Others on America's Church of Pizza
On Monday, we reported the much-anticipated news that Totonno's had finally reopened, nearly five months after Sandy sent flood waters surging through their front doors. Faithless contractors and slippery insurance companies lamentably hampered the family's rebuilding efforts; others, like contractor Rocco Ranaudo, threw themselves into the project of restoring the pizzeria, stepping up to the plate to help insure that Pero's legacy would endure.
It was not without purpose that Ed Levine concluded A Slice of Heaven, his commemoration of pizza's centennial in America, with Totonno's. Antonio "Totonno" Pero is widely regarded as one of America's first pizzaioli; in separating the Coney Island icon from the pack of New York pizzerias, Ed reaffirmed that when talking about pizza in America there's Totonno's—and then there's everybody else.
"For better or worse, I am lumped into this new generation of Brooklyn cooking," Allison Robicelli told me. "But I'm one of the few people in it who is from southern Brooklyn, and I really need to honor places like Totonno's that taught us in the beginning what it means to put out a quality product and to be proud of what you do. To show your love."
When I went back to the pizzeria in December to interview Antoinette Balzano, granddaughter of Antonio Pero and co-owner of Totonno's, I couldn't help but think about the first time I ever ate at the pizzeria. It was one of those bleak, grey afternoons when Coney looks eerily beautiful. I went with my father, who grew up in Queens and would come to the neighborhood as a child. We walked into Totonno's, impossibly bright, and ordered two pies. One sausage, one plain. It would be safe to say that I was not entirely aware of what I was getting myself into. Before that day, I had always thought of New Haven pizza—my hometown pie—as the superior variety. It was only after eating at Totonno's that I realized how wrong I was.
In honor of their reopening, we've collected testimonies and love letters to Totonno's from Louise "Cookie" Cimineri, Pete Wells, Dick Zigun, Adam Kuban, and more. To read their words, please proceed to the slideshow.
About the author: Chris Crowley is the author of the Bronx Eats column. Follow him on Twitter, if you'd like. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob, or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piranha trailer.