Before reading this post, please note that, in accordance with the FTC guidelines, I must disclose that I was contacted directly by the booking site Vimbly and that the tour was complimentary. However, the opinions expressed in my blog are 100% my own!
Last Sunday, I was invited to a pizza tour in New York City operated by Scott's Pizza Tours. It has been a while since we wanted to try a food tour as we have never done it and as we like food, it is a great opportunity to discover places not only with a fork, but also by learning stories about the visited places.
They proposed that I pick any tour that Scott proposes, bus or walking. I decided to take the bus tour, thinking that, with a bus, we would probably end up in one of the five boroughs. And I was right as you will read later!
The rendez-vous was at 10:45am in front of Lombardi's Pizza, licensed by the City of New York in 1905, hence the oldest pizzeria in the US. Well, is there any better place to start? Scott met with all the participants (some of them coming from Australia), chit-chatting with each of them (where are you from? Oh! From XYZ? Do you know the pizza place called ABC?) and, at that moment, we figured out that it would be fun, Scott having the perfect personality for this type of job!
We entered Lombardi's Pizza from a side door and after some tourists who were not part of the tour and innocently followed us were gently showed the door, the tour started. Or maybe I should call it as Scott did: not a tour, a support group! Because you must love pizza to go to a pizza tour! It started with some facts: 67,000 pizzerias in the US and 2,000 in the five boroughs.
Then, Scott gives us some history about pizza and its origins, insisting on the fact that it was made with scraps from food thrown on a pita bread in Naples way back then, pita was was used in coal ovens to lower their temperature. Then pita became pizza! He also talked about the difference between the pizza in the US and in countries like France and he was on point: in France, a pizza is always a personal pizza (of a good size for sure) and is eaten with a knife and fork. It is often elevated in fact. For instance, I use to eat a smoked salmon pizza: it was a cheese pizza where smoked salmon was added on top, right before serving, and with a nice touch of Crème fraîche and some dill.
After telling us the story about Lombardi's (I am not going to tell you everything Scott said!!!), we headed out to the kitchen where we saw the coal oven. There, they cook the pizza for 3 to 3 and a half minutes.
This is where a food tour is great: not only do you get the story, but on top of that you can access certain areas usually denied to regular customers. But for Scott, it was not a problem! He knew the staff in each of the pizzerias we went to, talking and joking with them.
So, after taking pictures of the oven, we went to the dining room where a pizza tour survival kit composed of a notebook, a pencil and some candies was waiting for us. Pretty useful: as I was taking my photos, Jodi took some notes. We quickly started to see the pizza coming and we each got a slice.
Everybody was looking at the slice to determine the particulars of the crust, the pizza sauce and the cheese, as well as the cheese to tomato ratio or CSR as Scott called it. The pizza was a margherita made with fresh mozarella and San Marzano tomato sauce (raw).
Then we went outside to catch the bus to the second location: Luzzo's. I knew Lombardi's Pizza as I went there months ago, but did not know at all this one! So I was very excited! So the bus pulled out and...it was a school bus!
That is true that we were like pupils going to the pizza school.
So we arrive at Luzzo's and sat in the back, next to the brick oven.
After receiving a bit of information, we went in the tiny kitchen to observe the pizza making process, once the dough was ready. So we saw this guy shape the pizza dough with his hands, but he did not do like a big show where the pizza would go over his head, spinning!
In fact, Scott showed us how it was working, using a dough that he took from the kitchen, the staff of the restaurant wondering what he was doing!!! He then asked us to take the dough on each side, with the top of our hands and pass it from person to person, stretching it naturally and with no effort.
So, back to the guy in the kitchen. First he was shaping the dough to a pizza size:
Then he added some raw tomato sauce.
Then some fantastic mozzarella di buffala, coming from Italy and made from water buffalo.
He then put the pizza in the oven for approximately 1 minute and 45 seconds, rotating the pizza from time to time.
There, the stability of the crust was different: at Lombardi's Pizza, although thin, it was not floppy. At Luzzo's, it was very thin on the center and thicker on the outside, like any Neopolitan pizza should be, with a nice blistering on the outside, caused by the flames. Well, when I say that the outside of the crust was thicker, I should say swollen because when they stretch the dough, they gently push the air and gas to the outside and that gas will puff up during the cooking process. Let me tell you: that crust was fantastic, with this wonderful char!
So the dough was soft, thanks to the flour used (double zero), but also because they do not work the dough too much.
A nice touch at Luzzo's was the olive oil on each table where you could dip your pizza.
So it was then time to ho to our next stop: J&V in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn!
I was very excited because we do not go there that much! I know: we should considering the restaurant scene over there.
So, J&V stands for Johnny and Vinny, the original owners. This place looked more like a pizza parlor than a full restaurant, with stools in the front and tables in the back overlooking a large amount of pizza boxes... They are more like a typical NY pizzeria. Good to know: sodas cost only $1 there that is great considering that a lot of places charge a lot for just a can!
Their oven is a gas oven that has an interesting particularity: it has several rotating panels where they cook the pizza. When they open the door, only one tray is exposed to the outside, limiting the loss of temperature.
The pizza there was the grandma pizza. The way they prepare it is that first they cook the dough for 10 minutes, with just a bit of sauce (so the dough does not dry out), then add the cheese, the tomato sauce, and then re-cook it for 5 minutes. I did not like it: the crust was too hard, overcooked.
After this, we went to another pizzeria in Brooklyn: Sam's. Ok, you would not know it is a pizza place except if you notice "Brick Oven Pizza" on the second floor windows!
Sam's has been serving pizza in Cobble Hill since 1930. When you enter, you cannot miss the basil that they grow and serve on the pizza during the Summer time.
We entered and got greeted by Louis who has a fantastic personality. Seeing him interacting with Scott was like a TV show: fun to watch! There also, we went to the kitchen to observe the cooking of the pizza in their brick oven.
Until Louis served us the pie:
The slice was denser than in any of the pizzeria we went to, with lots of tomato sauce (raw before going to the oven) and lots of cheese. It was good that we finished with this one for two reasons: it was very filling and very good, finishing the tour on a high note!
We went back to the City with our bellies full, still getting some information from Scott about diverse topics related to pizza. For instance, he explained that a good way to heat a pizza is to use a pan. We also learnt that he will release soon a book on pizza boxes!
We had a great time and it was a great food tour. If you ask me why you should go:
- Scott's knowledge about pizza is incredible (I think he has been doing it for more than five years) and he has a true passion for what he is doing.
- You have access to kitchen / oven that you probably would not have access to if you were a regular customer.
- It was instructive and entertaining. On top of that, you never know where you will end up and if you like food and discovering new places, Scott's Pizza Tour is for you.
Now, if you want to know how I rank the pizzerias we went to:
- Lombardi's pizza
- J & V
Enjoy (I did)!
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And Remember: I Just Want To Eat!