NYC Pizza & Golf Weekend

Lombardi's pizza, Brooklyn

Fat Guy Research :  I recently got enamored with the idea of doing a full weekend in New York City doing nothing but tasting some of the country's best pizza (and playing golf, of course).  Thanks to the Travel Channel's Pizza Paradise & Pizza Wars for much of this info.

The History Of Pizza

First, a little history lesson on pizza.  Although some legends vary, it's generally accepted that the first pizza as we know it was made in Naples Italy around 1855, and the first tomato pies in America were served by first generation Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi at his Brooklyn grocery store in 1905.  The pizza remained a largely unheralded snack food served mostly in Italian neighborhoods for the next 40 years until after World War II, when returning G.I.'s hankered for the tasty snack they'd grown accustomed to when stationed in Italy.  Suddenly there were lines out the doors of small pizzerias in Italian neighborhoods all over America, and pizza took off to become the multi-billion dollar food category it is today.

Brooklyn remains the epicenter of pizza in NYC, and the entire country for that matter. Lombardi's ( www.firstpizza.com , 32 Spring St Brooklyn, corner of Spring & Mott, CASH ONLY) is still probably the country's most revered pizza.

They also had a Philly location back in the '90's and early Otts, which is how I came to be familiar with their tasty pies.  I'd still rank them as tied for Fat Guy's Best Pizza On The Planet .  Some swear it's the New York tap water that makes the crust of NYC pizza the best, but Lombardi's maintains that it's the steady high heat of the coal-fired ovens that gives true Gotham pizza it's unique taste.  Environmental regs now prohibit coal ovens in NYC, but some (including Lombardi's) have been grandfathered.

Fresh ingredients, thin crust made crispy by 900 degree ovens, and sliced (rather than shredded) cheese sets Lombardi's pies apart.  Well worth the trip from wherever you are right now.

Lombardi's Begats Tottono's

Not surprisingly, other Brooklyn Italians who learned the pizza craft at Lombardi's began to open their own shops. Anthony Perro was a baker and the original pizza cook at Lombardi's (his descendants maintain that Lombardi's original pizza recipe was Perro's, and Lombardi's merely took all the credit).  After saving his money for 20 years, he eventually opened his own pizza parlor in 1924, Tottono's ( www.totonnos.com , 1524 Neptune Ave Coney Island, no slices).  Anthony had an original marketing idea; he catered to taxi drivers, who would deliver tourists to his doors whenever they were asked for New York's best pizza.  Anthony was also an eccentric personality who became the original "Pizza Nazi", well before Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi."  Every morning Perro would make what he thought was enough dough for the day, and when the dough ran out, he closed the doors, no matter how many people were still on line.  He'd also toss you out for criticizing the pizza, saying the wrong thing, or even appearing to be in any kind of a hurry.  The pies haven't changed but the service is more cordial these days, and they also have 2 Manhattan locations.

Lombardi's Begats Grimaldi's

Another Lombardi disciple was Patsy Grimaldi, who opened Grimaldi's ( www.grimaldispizza.com , 19 Old Fulton St Brooklyn, under the Brooklyn Bridge), where they've been serving pizza for over 100 years.  Grimaldi's has grown organically without becoming a watered-down corporate empire, now with locations in NJ, AZ, FL, NV, and TX.  The non-NYC locations actually have chemists who recreate the mineral content and exact chemical composition of NYC tap water to ensure the original quality of the dough.  No less than the NY Times ranked Grimaldi's as the Best Pizza In The Country.

Lombardi's Begats John's

John Sasso, yet another Lombardi's veteran, opened John's Pizza ( www.johnsbrickovenpizza.com , Bleecker St between 6th & 7th Aves, CASH ONLY, no slices) in 1929.  It still ranks among NYC's best and is listed as one of Travel Channel's faves.

Patsy's- Sinatra's Favorite

Patsy Lancieri (no connection to Patsy Grimaldi) learned and perfected making pizza in Little Italy in the early 1900's, and finally opened Patsy's Pizzeria ( www.patsyspizzeriany.com ) in 1933.  Later, Patsy's got the ultimate in endorsements: Sinatra declared it as his favorite pizza.  As a result, it's still going strong today, with 6 NYC locations.

Ray's Pizza- Which One?

The name Ray's Pizza is something of an inside joke in NYC pizza circles.  In 1959, a guy named Ralph Cuomo opened a pizza joint called Ray's Pizza in Little Italy.  However, he never trademarked the name, so when the pizza he made from his mother's recipe started to get famous, dozens of imitators popped up all over NYC with the same name.  To make things worse, he sold one of his expansion stores to a guy who continued to open other stores under the same name, now called Famous Original Ray's Pizza ( www.raysfamouspizza.com ), which became famous in it's own right, now with 8 NYC locations. But the actual original Ray's Pizza is located at Prince & Mott Streets , so don't be fooled by imitators.

Eat at Joe's

A long line of celebs swear Famous Joe's ( , 7 Carmine St) is the best pizza on the planet. GQ says, "Once, this slice defined New York City. That was before pizza slices were supersized, became entire meals laden with wacky toppings and extra cheese. Joe’s crust, thin and flexible but not too soft, is perfect for street pizza. Atop it is not much cheese and not much sauce, merely enough, in ideal symmetry. You can ask for a topping, but then everybody in the tiny, cramped shop will know you’re from out of town. The crust has a few lovely burned spots, but the New York slice isn’t about the search for the perfect crust or the perfect sauce. It’s the perfect New York experience."

Playboy Pizza

Playboy digs Di Fara (1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn) as one of the Top 10 Pizzeria's in America.  "With more than 3,000 pizzerias in the five boroughs alone, New York's options are endless—but if you want consistency, Di Fara is the place. Septuagenarian Domenico DeMarco makes every pizza himself, and he’d rather close up shop than trust another set of hands. Just as he’s done for the past 45 years in his cramped Midwood pizzeria, DeMarco stretches each mound of dough into an imperfect round, slathers on a simple sauce of crushed canned tomatoes from Salerno, Italy, adds hunks of fresh mozzarella imported from his hometown in the Campania region, shavings of Grana Padano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. After about five minutes in his trusty old gas-fired pizza oven, the pie is pulled out and topped with more Grana Padano and fresh basil that DeMarco snips over each pizza before it’s served. It’s a show, and it’s delicious."

Here's a link to the only Brooklyn pizza map I could find on the net:

Pizza Tours

There are two guided NYC pizza tours if you'd rather have someone else do the planning and logistics. Scott's NYC Pizza Tour ( www.scottspizzatour.com , $55 by bus, $33 by foot) and A Slice Of Brooklyn ( ).

Where To Play: You gotta build up a hunger somehow, so let's hit the links.  You don't want to travel too far in NYC traffic either, so let's stick to...

Dyker Beach Golf Course Brooklyn, 6,538 yards, par 71 $37.50-$69.75, 718-836-9722, www.dykerbeach.americangolf.com

Per GolfChannel.com:  "A recent $1.5 million makeover in 2007 added 12 new bunkers, moved a few others and transformed every tee box. The fairways were lush, the sand white and the greens looked like they belonged at a private course. They rolled very true, which is remarkable considering the amount of traffic at the course. According to an August-September cover story in The Met Golfer magazine, Dyker was the most-trafficked golf course in the world in the 1950s and '60s, averaging more than 100,000 rounds annually. Today, they handle about 70,000 rounds per year and as many as 350 per day on peak summer weekends.

While set in the heart of Brooklyn, underneath the shadows of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Dyker feels like it's hundreds of miles away from the city. On the second hole, I'm reminded of the last time I was in these parts, as I can spot one of the giants spans from the bridge off to the left of the fairway. Every November, the Verrazano is the scene of one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports – the start of the ING New York City Marathon. The race is still fresh in my mind because last November I rumbled off that bridge along with 38,000 other runners – talk about your foot traffic! – headed for the great unknown. The feeling you have coming off that bridge to the welcoming applause and encouragement of the Brooklyn residents is like no other. And while it was very quiet on this Saturday, I was flooded with memories of the race throughout my round because the bridge is nearly visible from every hole.

One of the more scenic holes on the front nine is the short, par-4 fifth hole, which plays only 358 yards from the back tees. The Verrazano rises above the corner of this dogleg left, with the clock tower from Poly Prep Country Day School also visible from the tee. The bridge also appears to be right on top of you as you walk toward the corner of the dogleg right on the par-5 sixth hole. The next hole plays very uphill and much longer than the 412 yards listed on the scorecard. I found it to be the most difficult hole on the front side – by far. It's not until you get to the ninth hole (par 5, 488 yards) that you feel like you're playing golf in the city, as 7th Ave. runs parallel left to the fairway. Cars are stacked up along the fence and occasionally crash through the fence, as I was told by a playing partner. So, in addition to errant tee shots, you must be wary of cars careening out of control.

The signature hole on Dyker Beach is the uphill par-3 11th (150 yards from the white tees). From the green, you almost feel as if you can drive your golf cart onto the entrance ramp of the Verrazano. The back nine plays significantly tighter than the front, as trees seemingly obstruct any ball that misses the fairway. There is only one par-5 on the inward nine, the 450-yard 15th hole, although it plays considerably longer on this day as a spring rain starts to steadily fall. The weather cooperates for the most part, however, and we surprisingly got around in just under 4-1/2 hours. This is the equivalent of running the NYC Marathon in 2 1/2 hours, because just a week earlier one of my playing partners needed almost 6 1/2 hours to complete the same 18 holes. If you can play a round of golf in under five hours in New York City, you feel like you just punched a lottery ticket."