Monday, March 16, 2009


Fire Shuts Totonno’s, Legendary Coney Island Pizzeria - NY Times, 3/16/2009

I whispered the first "no" quietly, as shock and horror filled my heart (and stomach). My next was a Shatner-esque wail; Totonno's, the best, and longest continually-operating pizzeria in America, had closed.

I lived in Brighton Beach, at the southern tip of Brooklyn, for 10 years; a mere 10 minutes worth of hops, skips and a jumps from historic Coney Island, where Totonno's was located near. Their pizza, a thin crust, coal-fired, brick oven was perfection due to it's lack of perfection. The aged, sooty oven would leave blackened, but not burned, marks across the bottom and circumference of the crust, and the heat variations caused the rim to rise, pucker and brown in different spots, making each pie truly unique. Yet the flavor and texture were perfectly uniform, not too crunchy, not too soggy, just perfectly firm and chewy. Fantastic mouth feel. Their dough contained extra salt, which gave it an extra punch. Their sauce, rich and sweet, was made in a back kitchen that looked like any old kitchen in someone's house, and sat unpretentiously in a large steel bowl on a wooden work table. Their mozz, always fresh.

Also lost will be the atmosphere - the walls were packed with articles and photographs of celebrities and politicians (of an unfortunately and decidedly conservative bent) who had visited the small shop over the decades. The faded seaglass tint of the walls and the rigid, small wood booths - all lost.

Of the inside, she said: “It’s pretty bad. It’s a lot of damage. I have to redo the oven, because the water got into the bricks. We’re going to fix that, rebrick it.”

But, she said, this has been done many times before, to repair cracks. “I promise you, it’ll be the same exact pizza,” she said.

When Mei Lei Wai, the hands down best Chinese roast pork buns in all of the United States, was closed last year by the health department (bastards), I had a similar reaction. There was a great Times blog about it as well. But Mei Lei Wai re-opened, and the quality of their buns survived intact, and in my opinion, they were actually better than ever.

Totonno's plans to rebuild as well, but I'm concerned, because a while back they opened an expansion branch in Manhattan, a big, large modern restaurant in Grammercy, where the pizza, supposedly made the same way, just plain sucks. So when they say they're going to rebuild the oven, I'm concerned that whatever X-factor that made their pizza so wondrous is going to be lost in transition. I'm hoping the rebuild of the oven is minor and that they resist any urge to "improve" or modernize the appliance.

I feel like I'm being punished for liking a new pizzeria, Rizzo's, in my new neighborhood of Astoria. But she was always number two, Totonno's - she means nothing to me! You were always my number one! Always!



Anthony said...

Well, I don't think the Manhattan location uses a coal-fired oven due to NYC air purity laws. Outside of a few zones (like that stretch under the West Side Highway in Harlem) you need to be grandfathered in to operate one.

Shyaporn said...

Their website says they have coal-burning brick ovens.

Anthony said...

According to SliceNY, the oven was not damaged seriously: