It's not always easy searching for pizza. I had just eaten a fine pie in the outdoor café at Tosca in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. It was really hot and muggy, and I was on foot, looking for PJ Brady's, which a couple of locals had insisted was just a few blocks away. I headed east on East Tremont Avenue. I crossed Interstate 295 on a bridge and walked two hundred yards. I reached Philip Avenue and made a right. The first house number I saw was 2800, and the numbers were going up, a good sign considering PJ Brady's is at 3201 Philip Avenue.
The houses I was passing were more like bungalows, and many had boats in the driveway. The boats made sense, considering that Throgs Neck is surrounded by water. A few of them were guarded by Doberman pinschers that looked ready to defend their masters' possessions with all their fury. When I reached 3100 Philip Avenue, my shirt was soaked through with sweat, and my heart sank. I was staring at yet another highway, and this time there was no pedestrian bridge to cross. I despaired of ever reaching PJ Brady's, where the legendary pie man Louis Palladino was plying his trade two days a week in semiretirement (see Alan Feuer's profile in the New York Times).
I spotted a pedestrian bridge a few blocks away, crossed it and, ten steamy minutes later, walked into the unprepossessing PJ Brady's. (In keeping with the neighborhood, it's in a one-story stucco building.) It was 3:15 p.m. and I had been told by two different people that Louis starts making pies at 3 p.m. on Fridays. I ordered a pizza and asked if Louis was in the house. My extremely solicitous waitress informed me that Louis had been delayed, and that he would be in at 4. I decided to wait, as I didn't know if I would ever be able to find PJ Brady's again.
At ten minutes to four a man with a full head of gray hair came bounding through the dining room wearing Bermuda shorts and smoking a cigar. A few minutes later he came bounding out of the kitchen. "The dough machine was broken, so I don't know if this pie I'm making for you is going to be any good. It might have too many holes. We'll see. If you don't like it, just come back any other Friday or Sunday, and I'll make you another one."
And with that he went back into the kitchen. He was warm and friendly and obviously trying to please, so I didn't have the heart to tell him it was unlikely I would be back before he'd be in full retirement (Louis is, after all, 77).
Louis came out a few minutes later, carrying my pizza in a box. As he put it down, he opened the lid, looked at the pizza and pronounced it fit to eat. He implored me to eat a slice. I was hoping and praying it was good because, if it wasn't, my Throgs Neck trek would have been in vain.
Fortunately, it was an excellent crisp pie, as good as a pizza can get when made with solid (not great) commercial ingredients, in a conventional gas oven.
It had been a long time coming, but it was a fine pizza, made with a lot of heart, skill, and soul.
Address: 3201 Philip Avenue, Bronx NY, (at the corner of Vincent Ave.; map)
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