31 May 2013

Lost City Asks, "Who Goes to DeNino's Pizzeria and Tavern?"

New York foodies aren't are adventurous as they think.

They'll go to Flushing to check out a secret Vietnamese hole in the wall, or Red Hook to source a cart serving a particular Ecuadorian treat. But mention Staten Island—an entire borough belonging to the City—and they'll make with the trite "That's not really New York" and "There's nothing good there" remarks. Happens every time on Eater when I venture to Staten Island for my "Who Goes There?" column. So provincial. But I'll keep going, because so far the island to the south has shown me it can give me this and this and this. I'm sure there's more where that came from.

Who Goes There? DeNino's Pizzeria and Tavern
It's called DeNino's Pizzeria and Tavern. And it's just that. You walk into the fairly nondescript, one-story building on Port Richmond Boulevard, past the elaborate mural that tells the history of the 76-year-old Staten Island institution, take a quick left, and you're given a choice. You can veer left and take a seat at the bar, or hang right and snag a wooden table or booth for a repast of pizza pie, with maybe some garlic bread, fried calamari or buffalo wings to start. Though people talk mainly of DeNino's way with a pizza, you get the feeling that both arms of the business are given equal weight by locals. They are certainly given equal real estate. This may have something to do with the fact that the place was a bar long before it was a pizzeria. John DeNino opened the business as a saloon in 1937; pizza was introduced by his son, Carlo, in 1951. A third generation of DeNinos now runs the restaurant.
DeNino's feels like the kind of neighborhood place you might find anywhere in the country, the sort of local institution where families go on a Friday night without even thinking about it. Because, of course you'd go to DeNino's! Where else? The less-than-thrilling slogan, after all, is "Casual Family Dining Since 1937." (How's that to get your pulse racing?)
The dining room is plain, the lighting functional, the ceiling low. If it weren't for the old wooden booths, it could be the basement of a church. It's peopled by locals. This is Staten Island, after all. Although DeNino's enjoys a citywide reputation, most of the patrons come from the borough and have eaten here many, many times, and come for special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, meeting the in-laws, etc. The dinner hour is always busy, but the lunch trade is brisk, too. Pitchers of Bud abound.
I ordered a sausage pie, because the waitress told me that, while all the toppings were good (though the mushrooms are canned), the sausage was "out of this world." It was good sausage, the lump kind—as opposed to sliced—that you rarely see around New York. The crust was not quite as Neapolitan-light as that at Gotham's other vaunted pizzas, such as Totonno's or Patsy's, but not quite as heavy as the doughy stuff you find in a run-of-the-mill slice joint. It was somewhere in the middle. A good, solid, satisfying pizza, overall. The kind of above-average pie that causes a local to love their neighborhood joint, and cry out to anyone who will listen that it has the best pizza around.
Me? Of the Staten Island iconic pizzerias, I like Joe & Pat's product more. In all of NYC, I probably prefer Totonno's of Coney Island. For a single slice, Di Fara's in Midwood. But on a Friday night, with some friends or family members, I don't think I'd rather be at any other pizzeria than DeNino's.
—Brooks of Sheffield 


Ed said...

In defense of the foodies, its really difficult to get to most of Staten Island if you don't have a car (I used to have a part-time job in the borough). Its actually easier to get to many suburbs outside the five boroughs from mid-town Manhattan. I'm amazed you get out there as regularly as you do.

But honestly, a revelation that Staten Island had the best restaurant in the world would for practical purposes be near-useless to me and many other New Yorkers, so the possibility is unfairly dismissed. I'm actually more likely to get to some of the places in Wisconsin you blog about (I may have work-related reasons to visit the state).

Brooks of Sheffield said...

It's an investment of time, no doubt. The four times I've been in the last two years, twice I've gone by car, twice by ferry-subway-bus. I like an adventure.

Ken K. in NJ said...

People from New Jersey go there too, like me (although I'm originally from Brooklyn).

Funny, I've been going there occasionally for over 30 years, and I've always thought of it as "Denino's" rather than "DeNino's". Are you sure that's correct?

Jon Coifman said...

Been there a number of times and yes, it helps a lot to have a car (Zipcar, anyone?). They are much more kid-friendly than a lot of places closer in, so it makes a particularly nice combo with the SI Children's Museum, Snug Harbor and/or the SI Zoo -- all of which are better than you probably expect.

Frosty said...

'm more than happy to go the SI, especially when food is involved, IF it's accessible, since I don't drive. It's easier for someone like me to get to Forno's in Newark than SI, sad to say

Frosty said...

'm more than happy to go the SI, especially when food is involved, IF it's accessible, since I don't drive. It's easier for someone like me to get to Forno's in Newark than SI, sad to say