Before leaving for the Miss New York Pageant weekend this year, I did a little research on good pizza places on Staten Island, because we're often really crunched for time down there, attending two preliminary pageants plus the big show in just two days, and making sure we're there for our titleholders when they need us. Luckily, I found a cool Thrillist article complete with pics running down SI's 11 best pie houses.
Prior to this, our go-to joint has been a slightly cruddy storefront in a strip mall right by Trader Joe's, with only OK slices but terrific, meat and pea-stuffed rice balls. Oh yeah, in Staten Island, all good pizza restaurants also feature arancini, or fried risotto balls, which makes the prospect of pizza all that much more decadent and cheesy. But this article lead us to an even tastier path, specifically Port Richmond Ave., where Denino's and Brothers preside over the pizza works.
Brothers is at the slightly sketchier end of the street, but has the bigger parking lot. If you've never traversed Staten Island in a motor vehicle, please understand that the streets are narrow, lined on both sides with uninterrupted parades of parked cars, and there are fire trucks blocking the remaining space about every fifth street, presumably because people are packed in so tightly on much of the island that they just burst into flames spontaneously. So a parking lot is like sweet, sweet Heaven when you're hungry and your eyes are about to fall out of your head from the sheer stress of battling the complex traffic. To further alleviate your rattled nerves, there are a cadre of cuties behind the counter just inside. Do flirt with them whilst ordering your dinner, if you're of the inclination. They will flirt back, and it will improve your experience immensely.
Not that your experience will be bad, because this pie is good. That's fresh mozzarella you're seeing there, not pre-shredded, part skim nonsense like I use at home. The tomato sauce is very light and fresh tasting, I'm guessing it's encumbered by minimal tomato paste. And the basil is the star - shouting sweetness and light licorice flavor from the rafters. The crust is thin, but chewy, the gluten developed to the perfect state to lend some personality and provide a sturdy base for all that creamy luscious cheese and perky herbaceousness.
Mom and Dad went for the grandma's slices, which seems to translate into Sicilian, or thicker crust pizza. I didn't taste theirs, but it looked savory and quite yummy. There was a tiny bit of fresh garlic piled into each corner of the crust, roasted and sweet, which they raved about. It was like the buried treasure of pizza.
But in my opinion, the rice balls at Brothers trump the pie. These were not simply fried balls of rice with ground beef or a cube of cheese inside, but true arancini - creamy, ooey, savory nuggets of tight, al dente rissotto breaded, lightly fried, and served with that punchy, acidic marinara.
These rice balls are telling a story the frenzy outside is trying its damnedest to keep a neighborhood secret - the brothers at Brothers are Italian ninjas! I'm pretty sure that's not even a thing, but I'm declaring it anyway. Later, a nice girl at Renato's Bakery, just down the block, told us that the potato croquettes are even better than the rice balls. I'm not sure that's possible, but I can tell you I'll be back to find out.
Before I share with you the pizza perfection we experienced at Denino's, up the street, can I just brag on my titleholders, and what utter rock stars they were at Miss New York and Miss New York's Outstanding Teen? Our Olivia sang a version of Roar that should school Katy Perry on why she needs voice lessons for the next 20 years, plus she exuded style, Grace, cooperation, and kindness that was noticed by all.
Joelle, with whom we've had the privilege to work since she was 10, blew us away with her maturity, beauty, infectious laughter, and stunning stage presence. She has worked incredibly hard this year to improve, and our hearts about exploded, we were so proud of her.
Ok, we now return you to our scheduled pizza and Port Richmond Ave. We came back two days after our excellent dinner at Brother's for lunch at Denino's, which we were informed makes parking slightly less impossible. Deninos has a parking lot, too, but with about five spots, it's likely to be full. We parked a few blocks up and made the trek with our entourage of forever Miss Thousand Islands, an attention-attracting sight in this part of town, all decked out for that afternoon' steen pageant.
Denino's reminded me of Kelly's (Endicott) or Art's Jug (Watertown) inside: a familial, slightly outdated, but cozy interior. The brown Naugahyde and metal chairs are ones this NNY girl has been parking her butt in since they were created in the 70s. We quickly ordered two pies: a margharita and a garbage pizza. We had a vegetarian and a picky eater at the table, so we left the plain cheese and basil to them, and I chowed down on the more elaborate pizza, crammed with sausage, pepperoni, onions, meatballs, and mushrooms.
No cute pizza boys will flirt with you at Denino's, but this ultra savory, even thinner pie will make you smile, I guarantee. This richer, saltier dish is crisper of crust, with a more cooked down sauce, and a drier mozzarella. I say the crust was crisp, but that crunch was confined to the well-done, high heat-rendered edges, while the center maintained that gooey softness for which thin crust NY pizza is famous.
It's not as much of a looker as the Brother's slice, but I actually preferred its flavor. Whereas the basil elevated the more delicate Brother's 'za, this "garbage" pie was down, dirty, filling, and packed with flavor. For the visual, here's Denino's margharita:
The natives had taken their slices before I could even snap a pic. Looks like the mozz was fresh on this version, so I'm betting this, too, was more mild than the garbage pizza. In any event, while I liked the pizza at Denino's better, the rice balls at Brother's will bring me back. And next time we're on the Island, I'm chasing down Patrizia's and Pat and Joe's for the next installment of our tour. Think the April timeframe. And if you wanna meet me there for a slice, let me know!
Meantime, I'm headed up to the Northcountry this weekend for yet more pageant hoopla and catching brunch at Skewed Brewing on Sunday. I'm also impatiently anticipating the re-opening of the TI Inn in Clayton later this summer, with new ownership and Gabe Aubertine in the kitchen, and I just heard that Chroma Cafe, in Binghamton, has moved and expanded its space, so I'm eager to check that out. In addition, Big Hungry Melinda and I returned a couple weeks back to Loft at 99 in Binghamton and were very pleased with the appetizers and cocktails there as well as the service, which was excellent. So lots of closer-to-home happenings are cooking up for your gustatory pleasure now that the weather's turned sunny and we can all escape the icy confines of our houses. So get out here and support your local restaurants! My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!