Totonno’s, the legendary pizza place on Coney Island, closed Saturday after a fire. According to the New York Times, the fire started at 8:44 a.m. and burned for two hours. The place is closed indefinitely. But — good news — Ed Levine reports on Slice that the restaurant will be rebuilt — and might be open as soon as a month from now.
I am telling you this because on Friday, the day before the fire, I happened to be at Totonno’s, savoring two pies — plain (with a little basil added) and sausage. I was learning the tricks of the trade from the pizzaiolo, Mike. And I listened as Louise Ciminieri, the owner (and granddaughter of Totonno’s original owner) chewed out the plastic wrap guys for delivering the wrong size box. (“What am I supposed to do with this? Can’t you see this won’t fit? I don’t know why I bother getting deliveries when I always have to go down and pick up stuff myself.”)
I don’t know what made me go there on Friday. I had the day off, and I had been to Di Fara the weekend before, so I guess it was the next stop on my pizza pilgrimage. It was an unforgetttable experience, and I’m so happy I got to go before the fire.
After the jump, a photo essay on my trip.
I took the subway to Coney Island… from Union Square it was about a 45 minute trip out to the far reaches of Brooklyn. Here I am arriving. As I’m about to walk in, I meet Mike and Jamie, who would be making our pizza.
Mike asks to be in the picture. Sure, why not!
Here’s the joint when we walk in. All gleaming white, with black and white tile. Every inch of wall space is dedicated to press clippings lauding the amazing thin-crust, Neapolitan style ‘za.
A few people were in for lunch.
We walked to the counter and asked Louise if we were supposed to order there? Or would she take our order? She told us to sit down and she’d come over. When Louise tells you to do something, you listen.
See that black and white photo above me to the left? The one with the two white figures on the right side? That is a photo of Louise’s grandfather, Anthony Pero, outside Lombardi’s on Spring Street in SoHo. Lombardi’s is said to be the first pizza place to open in the US; Pero — whose nickname was Totonno — was the pizzaiolo there starting in 1905. He opened Totonn’s in 1924. According to the website, Totonno’s is the oldest continually operating pizza restaurant owned by the same family.
The menu is simple:
Price list again:
I like to keep my pizzas simple, too. So we got one regular with basil (not on the menu, I know) and one sausage. While we were waiting, I mosied up to talk to Mike.
Here he is making the basil pie.
A few steps of basil pie making. The ingredients. Homemade tomato sauce. Homemade mozzarella.
That’s Jamie putting the sliced mozzarella and basil on the pie:
Mike adds basil:
Notice the three rounds of dough in his hands? Mike keeps working and worrying those while he’s making other the pies to order. He presses down on them, and then rearranges them, putting the bottom one on the top and pressing down again so the doughs are even.
Thisis just a few minute later. See how much closer they are to being ready for toppings?
Mike told me he does this so he can get pizzas to the table faster. Thanks, Mike.
Here’s Mike putting a pizza in the oven (not my pizza, though):
See the coals?
Mike says they took up to 16 shovelfuls of coal a day to keep that fire at 1,000 degrees. They used to light the coals at 9 a.m. and let the oven heat up for 3 hours until it was hot enough to open the restaurant and start cooking pizze at noon. According to Ed Levine on Slice, Totonno’s owner Lawerence Ciminieri said the fire started in the coal storage area. Here’s the quote:
Ciminieri says, “Everything is going to be fine. The fire broke out in the coal storage area when we were closed. It must have been ignited by something backed up in the oven. The back two rooms are gone. The dining room is fine. The oven will have to be re-bricked, but that is something we do every few years anyway. I think we’ll be back open in a month. Tell everybody thanks for me, Ed. Everyone’s been so supportive.”
Here are my pizze cooking:
They took less than 10 minutes. Maybe 7 or 8?
What can I say? Thin, bouncy crust. Nice balance of sauce and cheese. Totonno’s is an institution and it’s easy to see why they’ve been open so long. Fabulous.
While we were eating, a bus dropped a bunch of people off who were doing a pizza tour.
They pre ordered four pies:
Then they got back on their bus for the next stop.
We stayed behind and thanked Mike and Jamie and Louise for our delicious lunch. Yes, my husband and I are dorks. I didn’t think I was going to be blogging this for LoHud……
Another look around:
Louise on a smoke break:
Bye Totonno’s. Reopen soon!
And please, share your Totonno’s memories below. And who’s been to the Yonkers branch? I’d say a trip is in order, huh?