Pizza Golf Trail
GQ Magazine, 2009
Fat Guy Foreword : Pizza is one of life's greatest pleasures, so when I ran across a GQ article that crowned the best 25 pizzas in the country, I had to pair it up with some great golf for ya. Fat Guy's personal Top 10 Pizza Joints follows GQ 's list below.
In 2009, GQ writer Alan Richman traveled 20,000 miles, sampled the origins of pizza in Naples Italy, broke American pizza down into 7 categories, hit 10 of the U.S.' best pizza cities, and sampled 386 pies at 109 pizzerias. "Italians are wrong," Richman says. "Not about cars or suits. About pizza, and they’re not entirely mistaken about that, only about crusts and buffalo-milk mozzarella. They’ve got the tomato part right. Right now pizza justly belongs to us Americans. We care more about it. We eat more of it, and unlike the Italians, we appreciate it at dinner, at lunch, and at breakfast, when we have it cold, standing up, to make hangovers go away. Italians don’t really understand pizza. They think of it as knife-and-fork food, best after the sun goes down. Pizza isn’t as fundamental to Italy as it is to America."
Here are Richman's 25 best pizzas in America, each coupled with a good nearby pizza-budget golf course:
NEW YORK CITY
25. Una Pizza Napoletana
(NOW CLOSED) This was the most beautiful pizza in America, the outer ring grand and pillowy, the San Marzano tomatoes bright, the buffalo mozzarella dazzlingly melted. Neapolitan pizzas are undeniably gorgeous, and Una Pizza Napoletana replicated their style and attractiveness better than any other pizzeria in this country. This Margherita, an expression of purity and restraint, could be immortalized in a painting entitled Still Life in Pizza. Many admirers considered this the best pizza in America. I don't go that far, but I believe it was more enjoyable than almost any pizza in Naples—maybe in all of Italy.
Play: Sticking with the red sauce theme, head for
Black's underrated (and much cheaper) sister course,
Cheese pizza with feta
I searched for the meaning of Greek pizza, a topic often discussed, undoubtedly because so many Greeks own pizzerias. I never found it, but the quest was worthwhile, because at Niki’s I discovered feta cheese as a topping. Niki’s doesn’t have Greek pizza. It has Detroit pizza, and one optional topping is feta cheese, which adds creaminess and tanginess while brightening up (and somewhat dominating) any pie. The feta here is crumbled, tossed atop the pizza, and baked. It becomes toasty and crispy, giving any pizza from plain to pepperoni a singular zip. 735 Beaubien Street, Detriot, MI; 313-961-4304; www.nikispizza.com
(6,555 yards, par 71, $36-$47, 248-543-4040,
). Play a Detroit area Ross design for under $50. All the Ross trademarks; gentle doglegs, contoured greens tightly guarded by deceptive bunkers.
Talk about old-world. As we walk in, the guy up front yells, “Tony, table for two.” Cases of beer are stacked in the back, next to the jukebox and a bank of gumball machines. All the pies are exactly right, but the one with sausage is better than that. Santarpio’s crusts are hearty, a little roughhouse, very much in the baked-bread family, and the homemade sausage comes crumbled, skillfully integrated into the tomato sauce. I know for certain that the owners are proud of that sauce: On the steps outside, where you might find stone lions guarding the entrance to a library, stand two industrial-size Pastene tomato cans. 111 Chelsea Street, East Boston, MA; 617-567-9871; www.santarpiospizza.com
Play: Continue the old-world theme with one of the cheapest Donald Ross designs in the country, George Wright MGC .
Zucca means “squash.” Yes, I know. Nobody sitting around the house suddenly says to the wife and kids, “Hey, let’s go out for a squash pizza.” I’m telling you, it’s terrific. The crust is thin and crispy, not ordinarily my preference, but the sweetness of this pizza is great when matched with crunchiness and char. Oh, I didn’t say it was sweet, did I? Don’t worry. There’s a little sweetness, not too much. It comes from the golden raisins and the toasted pine nuts, not from the puree or cubes of squash. There’s cheese, too, mozzarella. That helps, right? 640 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA; 215-763-0920; www.osteriaphilly.com [ Fat Guy Note : Osteria's Parma pizza, "mozzarella and fontina cheeses with dream-thin slips of prosciutto laid on top and verdant tangles of impossibly peppery arugula," also won Philadelphia Magazine' s 2011 Best Pizza in Philly.]
Play: Philly muni Walnut Lane is kind of a dog track, but if you can look past the questionable conditions and the leave-the-driver-in-the-trunk length, some serious golf architecture enthusiasts raise eyebrows at it's clever classic hole designs over hilly, wooded terrain. Plus, a half-block from the parking lot is one of Philly's best cheesesteak joints, Dellasandro's .
FARMINGTON HILLS, MICH
21. Tomatoes Apizza
Here you’ll find a coal-fired oven big enough to barbecue a cow, and here I found the purest expression of pepperoni pizza as I love it. Forgive me if you prefer your pepperoni thick (I don’t) or soft (I don’t) or covered by cheese and sauce—as is traditional in Detroit, but thankfully not at Tomatoes Apizza. The non-Sicilian crust was soft, slightly charred, and entirely appealing, the tomato sauce and cheese more than satisfactory. All was swell, but the precise pepperoni preparation was most appealing. There was lots of it, sliced thin, sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and allowed to curl and crisp up in the oven. 29275 14 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI; 248-855-3555; www.tomatoesapizza.com
Play: Play: Farmington Hills MGC is a steal at $34 with cart. Expanded to 18 holes and revamped in 1999, with shockingly good food and a seriously classy room for a muni grill.
NEW YORK CITY
20. Famous Joe's
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. 7 Carmine Street, New York, NY; 212-1182; www.famousjoespizza.com
19. Galleria Umberto
Galleria Umberto is as big as a cafeteria, rarely crowded but always with a line. The slices are Sicilian, which means squares, thick ones, airier and lighter than most, with a subtle crunch, a splash of tomato sauce, a scattering of cheese. It represents what Boston’s North End once was: bedrock Italian, absolutely old-world. When you get close, you’re sure it’s almost your turn, but an old lady who looks like she’s off the boat from Bari steps in front of you, and you let her, because she was here first and sat down to rest her feet. Strange thoughts come to those in line. Is it possible this place has only one pan? 289 Hanover Street, Boston, MA; 617-227-5709
18. Al Forno
Grilled pizza with roasted eggplant
Al Forno’s grilled pizzas are more than legends; they’re beauties. Our roasted-eggplant pie consisted of creatively arranged toppings on a flat and irregularly shaped crust, perhaps unintentionally resembling an artist’s palette. The pie was assembled with two cheeses, mild and creamy Bel Paese plus sharp and salty Pecorino Romano; dabs of impossibly delicious tomato sauce intensely flavored with eggplant; flecks of parsley for color; and shreds of mild, bright scallions that added a feathery texture. 577 South Main Street, Providence, RI; 401-273-9760; www.alforno.com
Play: Old Ross designs with value greens fees seem to pair well with pizza. Play Providence's Ross,
), designed in 1932, that follows the natural contours of rolling elevation changes, with $58 weekend ride greens fees.
The crust is Neapolitan-style, well prepared, which means soft, soothing, and a little spongy, with pleasing burned spots. The sauce contains anchovies, which I absolutely can’t abide whole, although I appreciate them as well as the next open-minded fellow when they’re chopped up as a flavor element. That’s what’s done here, as it is so often in Southern Italy. I had another fright: Plopped on top of the pie were whole olives, but in this case French Niçoise olives, which are not aggressive enough to scare me away. In Naples such a pie is known as pizza romana, whereas in Rome it’s a pizza napoletana. Before I’d tried A16’s spicy, bold, exuberant version, I would have guessed that each city wanted to blame this pie on somebody else. 2355 Chestnut Street, San Francisco, Marina, CA; 415-771-2216; www.a16sf.com
Play: Tee it up at
; $49-$72). Nestled into the hills overlooking Berkeley, this 70-year-old, 6,294-yard, par-70 Billy Bell Sr. design opens with the No. 1-handicap hole, an uphill, 411-yard par-4. Only two par-5s grace the course, and they're both short, but three brutish par-3s in the 200-235 range keep the big bashers honest. Seniors (65 and over) can play for $29-$39 Monday through Friday. If you're just looking to hit balls, a three-tiered range awaits.
MARINA DEL REY, CA
16. Antica Pizzeria
Pizza del cafone
Antica is one of those pizzerias that endeavor to create a classic Neapolitan experience, not easy when you’re located on the second floor of a Los Angeles mall. Pizza labeled del cafone—fool’s or peasant’s pizza—isn’t uncommon, and it doesn’t always have precisely the same ingredients, but the combination here was brilliant. Uniting crumbled sausage, broccoli rabe, and smoked mozzarella seems mighty sophisticated to me. 13455 Maxella Avenue, second floor of Marina Villa Marketplace, Marina Del Rey, CA; 310-577-8182; www.anticapizzeria.net
Play: Malibu CC . Golf.com says, "This course is set back in Malibu Canyon giving the fairways a rolling topography. Elevation changes will test even the most skilled players' accuracy, and water hazards come into play on three holes. Hole #6, a dogleg right par 5 with a blind tee shot, has a creek running along the right side cart path, and a lake borders the left side from about 175 yards out up to the elevated green. Hole #7, a 205-yard, par 3, has a lake sitting between the tee box and the kidney-shaped green, and #9, a 370-yard, par 4, requires an approach shot over another lake."
Buddy’s pizza crust is one of the best in America, although it’s unlikely you knew it was in the running for the championship. That’s because Buddy’s, as much a bar and sandwich shop as it is a pizzeria, specializes in Detroit-style square pizza, almost unknown outside the city. The interior slices on a Buddy’s pizza are light, slightly crunchy, and extremely satisfying, but the goal in any Detroit experience is those slices at the four corners of the pan, where maximum blackening occurs. If you love the burnt ends on pork ribs, Buddy’s isn’t to be missed. 17125 Conant, Detroit, MI; 313-892-9001; www.buddyspizza.com
My friend said the wild nettles reminded her of newly mown artichokes, a lovely if implausible image. I found them a little like broccoli, but fear not: They’re better than that. These were bright forest green as well as earthy, and they came with a spectacular supporting cast of pancetta (unsmoked bacon), sliced portobello mushrooms, and provolone cheese. The pie, prepared without tomatoes or mozzarella in a standard commercial pizza oven, nevertheless lacked for nothing. The crust, cooked longer than most, was bubbly, luscious, and buttery, a little like warm Italian bread. 2842 Diamond Street, San Francisco, CA; 415-239-8500;
HARRISON TOWNSHIP, MICH
13. Luigi's "the Original"
Gourmet veggie pizza
My nearly endless and seemingly futile quest to find a wonderful vegetable—not merely vegetarian—pizza somehow led me to Luigi’s, which looks like a roadhouse but is apparently a greenhouse. Topping a pie with broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and onions, as is done here, seems to promise a chaotic chorus of sad, shriveled, sacrificial plant life, and that isn’t the end of the potential problems. The crust contained sesame seeds, and the grated cheese was Asiago. The combination succeeded magnificently. The seeds contributed nuttiness and the cheese pungency to an array of vegetables that tasted remarkably fresh, to say nothing of cooked to order. The secret, according to the waitress: Toss everything on the pie, cook. That’s it. 36691 Jefferson, Harrison Township, MI; 586-468-7711; www.luigisoriginal.com
Play: Harrison Township is outside Detroit. To stay close, smack it around at
Selfridge AFB GC
NEW HAVEN, CONN
12. Frank Pepe
The Original Tomato Pie
I love the crust here—rather thick, quite soft, with nooks, crannies, colors, and char. I felt the same about the tomato sauce, not exactly what you would expect on pizza, a little more like a mild, chunky cooked pasta sauce. As I chewed and ate, ate and chewed, going through seven pies, trying one topping after another, it came to me: Keep it simple. The small, plain tomato pie without mozzarella and stunningly priced at $6.10 is pretty perfect when topped with plenty of silky, salty Pecorino Romano from the shaker on your table. The cheese is freshly grated each day. The single flaw in this pie? After adding so much cheese to so much sauce, you might have to use a knife and fork. 157 Wooster Street, New Haven, CT; 203-865-5762; www.pepespizzeria.com
Alling Memorial GC
. A playable 6248 from the tips, rolling elevations, holes surrounded by waving fields of fescue, $60 greens fees, and $3 drafts at the grill. Perfect.
PORT CHESTER, NY
11. Tarry Lodge
The clam pie, legendary in New Haven, is an oddity that seldom succeeds, since clams taken out of their shells and cooked atop a pizza invariably turn into rubbery bits. At Tarry Lodge, an Italian restaurant run by Mario Batali, something profoundly simple and fundamentally correct is done: The clams remain in their shells. On my visit they were Manila clams, delicate and sweet, briny and fresh, tiny beauties accented by the garlic, oregano, red pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano atop a thin, nicely charred crust. You have to work to remove the clams from their shells, but compared with everything else required to access great pizza these days, that isn’t much effort. 18 Mill Street, Port Chester, NY; 914-939-3111; www.tarrylodge.com
Play: Port Chester is practically Driver-Wedge from famed NYC-area private haven West Chester CC, which in turn is only Driver-Wedge from Winged Foot. So you know you're in a private club haven with limited available open space and hoighty-toighty residents. Pizza-loving Regular Joes will be more more at home at West Chester muni
Margherita with pepperoni
The fire reportedly started from coals that had been removed from the pizza oven and stored overnight in a firebox. Damage was extensive. If this turns out to be an epitaph for the great Totonno’s in Coney Island, in business for eighty-five years until that fire closed it this past March, I hope it’s a worthy one. The pies come in gorgeous hues, an artist’s palette of reds, blacks, and golds. The crusts are supple but crunchy. A friend who ate there with me a month before the fire said, “I know very good crust from the sound of it. As the roller cut through it, I heard the crispness.” The pies tend to be mild and understated, so the best option here is pepperoni, which adds heat and spiciness, and a good dose of dried oregano from one of the shakers scattered about the room. If you love old-style pepperoni pizza as much as I do, you’ll be looking forward to the day when Totonno’s returns. (under renovation) 1524 Neptune Ave., Brooklyn, NY; 718-372-8606 (number currently out of order); www.totonnos.com
Play: Dyker Beach Golf Course Brooklyn, 6,538 yards, par 71 $37.50-$69.75, 718-836-9722, www.dykerbeach.americangolf.com
I suggest ordering too much, because every pizza here is wonderful, the crust from the huge, oil-burning oven an example of how tremendously satisfying an amalgam of thin, chewy, and crunchy can be. I loved the white pie, so much better than the sum of its packaged parts: ordinary part-skim mozzarella, granulated garlic, salt and pepper. In essence, it’s the ultimate expression of cheese on bread. A note on decor: The hydrangeas, roses, and African violets in the window are artificial. Of course. 2604 East Somerset Street, Philadelphia, PA; 215-425-4983; www.tacconellispizzeria.com
NEW YORK CITY
The Margherita here has buffalo-milk mozzarella, but the cheese is applied so expertly and melts so perfectly that the center of the pie doesn’t become a watery mess. All of us in New York who thought owner Jim Lahey knew only about bread now know otherwise. His Margherita, modest in size at a mere eleven inches in diameter, is so delicate that you will be inclined to finish the whole thing and immediately ask for another. I asked the waiter why the leafy basil had been blasted into a shriveled green blob, rather than being tossed on fresh immediately before serving, and was told that Lahey preferred cooked basil. In fact, customers can have it either way, so I recommend eating one of each. 230 Ninth Avenue, New York, NY; 212-243-1105; www.co-pane.com
7. Tomato Pie
The pizza is old New York. The mood is old L.A. On this day, a friend and I were seated indoors, in a tiny room entirely devoid of comforts, admiring crusts that I thought were the best in the city. Then I bit into a slice of the Grandma—a traditional and gorgeously assembled pizza with crushed tomatoes, fresh garlic, and a scattering of mozzarella, basil, oregano, and Pecorino Romano—I’m a sucker for Romano cheese. My friend and I simultaneously looked up and said, “This is great.” Indeed it was, the ingredients fresher than most, the crust unusually soft and tender, with a crisp bottom and a fluffy, nutty center. We shared a slice with a young mom named Katie, who insisted the pizza was better a few blocks away. Note to Katie: Your favorite pizza is no good. 2457 Hyperion Avenue, Los Angeles; 323-661-6474; www.tomatopiepizzajoint.com
Play: Los Feliz GC . This 9 hole ranch has only one claim to fame: It's the golf course from Swingers .
NEW HAVEN, CONN
6. Sally's Apizza
White pie with potato
Sally’s is ancient, in an old Appalachian way. I can’t believe the men’s bathroom has been cleaned since 1938, when the pizzeria opened for business. Service was equally dismal. The customers weren’t impressive, either, especially the lady in the booth across from mine, fast asleep. Out of this agonizing ambience appeared a pie of incredible finesse, a tour de force, a white (no tomato sauce) pizza prepared with thinly sliced potatoes cooked to an artful golden brown, a scattering of equally faultless onions, and a masterful touch of rosemary, all perfectly complemented by Sally’s crust, a bit denser, chewier, and thinner than the one up the block at the equally fabled Pepe’s. By the way, I bet Sinatra got great service when he ate here. 237 Wooster Street, New Haven, CT; 203-624-5271; www.sallysapizza.net
5. Bob & Timmy's
The menu is vast, but I stuck to simple variations, and every one was expertly prepared. The pies came in standard grilled-pizza format, irregularly round but cut into squares. The crust appeared too skinny to be interesting, but it seemed about the best flatbread I’d ever eaten. The vegetable toppings were remarkably fresh, and it occurred to me that freshness is something we rarely think about when contemplating what pizza we admire. The pie I loved most had three cheeses, the dominant one being feta, which adds tang and saltiness. Now I understand what every Greek must already know: Feta, spinach, and mushrooms are an astonishingly compatible combination. 32 Spruce Street, Providence, RI; 401-453-2221; www.bobandtimmys.com
4. Pizzeria Bianco
Margherita with prosciutto
…Waiting outside is like a big communal party, and had I not become chummy with one regular, I would never have ordered a Margherita pie topped with prosciutto. This fellow had three of them on his table, and he said it was all he ate. Chris Bianco’s fabled Margherita has a smoky and slightly scorched crust, too delicate to handle most toppings, but the uncommonly subtle, tender, and porky Italian prosciutto was a superlative option. Prosciutto is usually not one of my preferred toppings, because it’s often tough, but here it was icing on the crust. 623 East Adams Street, Phoenix, AZ; 602-258-8300; www.pizzeriabianco.com
Play: The golf mags all tout the value at We-Ko-Pa , indeed seconded by my buddy Kevin who just returned from a Phoenix golf getaway. For something a little more off the beaten path, Golf Magazine's Travelin' Joe likes the value at Mountain Shadows , a lush, tight, par-56 executive track with in-your-face views of Camelback Mountain that's under $30 to ride most afternoons, and good spot for a post-boozy-lunch round of team matches and crazy wagers .
3. Pizzeria Delfina
Delfina has easily the best crust in San Francisco, an unusually successful fusion of Neapolitan and American styles. The pie placed before me looked slightly pale, but it had a yeasty aroma and a lovely sweetness. It was unlike any other I found, prepared with tomato sauce, heavy cream, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and olive oil—and priced at a remarkable $10. Indeed, heavy cream does seem peculiar, but if you think about the Italian evolution of cheese for pizza—mozzarella becoming fresh mozzarella and then becoming fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella, each one richer and milkier than the one before—heavy cream is the natural expression of where Italians intend to go. The final addition, shavings of tangy, salty Parmigiano-Reggiano, is a brilliant step in the creation of an extraordinarily well-balanced pie. 3611 18th Street, San Francisco, CA; 415-437-6800; www.pizzeriadelfina.com
Lucali, around since 2006, is an old candy store done up to look like an old pizzeria, and there’s an eerie glow about it. I’m not getting spiritual. There really is. Owner and pizzamaker Mark Iacono stands behind a candlelit counter, wearing a white T-shirt, looking mysterious and troubled, our first poster-boy pizzaiolo. I picked the simplest of his creations, in essence a Margherita, although there’s no menu and none of the pies have names. When I asked what to call it, I was told “plain pie.” It has tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella, and a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, enormously satisfying for a pie so simple. The crust stands firm. The mozzarella melts exquisitely. The basil is wildly fresh. Should you need additional toppings, go for thinly shaved porcini mushrooms, so good I was tempted to put a second Lucali pie on my list. 575 Henry Street, Brooklyn, NY; 718-858-4086
1. Great Lake
Nick Lessins's cheese pie, prepared with fresh mozzarella made in-house, grated Wisconsin sheep’s-and-cow’s-milk cheese, and aromatic fresh marjoram instead of basil, was slightly shy of unbelievable. The next day I returned to try the same pie topped with fresh garlic and mortadella, the dirigible-sized Italian sausage that looks like bologna, tastes like salami, and is usually cut into chunks. He sliced the meat very thin and laid slices of it over the pie the moment it came out of the oven. The mortadella, with its combination of burliness and creaminess, was a meaty addition to the earthy, bready crust. This pie—creative, original, and somewhat local—represents everything irresistible about the new American style of pizza-making.1477 West Balmoral Avenue, Chicago, IL; 773-334-9270
Play: Sydney R. Marovitz GC might be a 9-hole dogtrack muni with an unfortunate name, but how often can you play a lakeside hole on Lake Michigan for $26?
Fat Guy's Top 10 Pizza Joints
While most pizza aficionados would list the top U.S. cities for pizza to be some varied order of New York, Chicago, New Haven CT, Providence RI, Phoenix, and maybe Detroit, I think the GQ article above covered those pretty thoroughly. I'll take you to some pizza joints a little further off the beaten path, with a bit of a natural geographic bias towards PA (Fat Guy's home state) and Jersey.
10. The Black Pelican , Kitty Hawk, NC
The Outer Banks is not among the first spots in the country where you'd expect to find great pizza, and the Pelican is first and foremost a seafood joint. But the combination of their Black Pelican wood oven pizza topped with shrimp and andouie sausage, beachfront views, cold beer, Wright Brothers history (the Pelican was once a telegraph station where the Wright Brothers sent the telegram confirming their first flight), and tasteful posters of nude female forms hanging in the men's room, combine to make this a great pizza and a better experience. The caveat: When I asked for hot sauce ("You know, Frank's? Louisiana hot sauce? Texas Pete even?") for my pizza, these mellow coastal Southerners had genuinely never heard of such a thing.
Play: The greens fees are a bit outside of pizza-budget, but Nags Head GL is a great windy bayside links with 3 or 4 waterside holes, the same natural dunes the Wright Brothers used, and memorable holes that are worth the freight at the afternoon greens fees.
9. Lorenzo's , Philadelphia, PA
Any pizza joint that gets a plug in a Will Smith song has to be good. This South Street institution has been serving daytime tourists and late night over-served bar-goers for years. The huge, floppy slices require two paper plates to hold. One slice is a meal, and two is a certain food coma that will inevitably end with you passed out in the backseat of a cab. A certain wrist-y fold-artistry is required to eat the first few bites without wearing the slice.
Play: FDR Park , Philly.
8. Dolce Carini , Philadelphia PA
This Center City Philly spot is a classic big-city pizza joint: Long and narrow, with tables shoe-horned into tight spaces. Figure out where the line starts towards the back of the place, work your way up to order at the counter, pay in cash, grab your own soda from the fountain, then try to stay out of the way until your slices come out of the oven.
Play: Glen Mills GC , Glen Mills PA.
7. Coco's , Downingtown PA
It doesn't look like much in a small, out of the way mini-strip mall between a sign company and a pasta supplier, with a small spartan dining area, but the sauce and crust are consistently great.
Play: Downingtown Country Club .
6. Nino's , May's Landing, NJ
A stereotypical strip mall pizza joint across the street from the Hamilton Mall, this was my wife's favorite pizza growing up. Her aunt lived nearby, so Nino's was a regular treat for her and her sister during their formative years. With my experienced pizza palate, I expected to have to exaggerate my reaction to a typical ho-hum slice glorified by childhood memories, but my first bite confirmed her pizza palate isn't bad either... Nino's is shockingly good.
Play: May's Landing GC is quintessential South Jersey pine barrens value golf.
T-4. Mack's / Sam's , Wildwood, NJ
In my experience, great boardwalk pizza is more of an elusive fantasy than a common reality. Mack's in Wildwood is the exception, and likely the best boardwalk pizza in America. We ate Mack's 4 times over a 4-day weekend--it's that good. There's also another boardwalk pizza institution in Wildwood, though... Sam's (though we didn't eat there). My buddy Bob, a Wildwood lifer, prefers Sam's over Mack's. Both have been there since the 1950's, and the rivalry between the two has raged on ever since. They're plenty good enough to try both and judge for yourself.
Play: Cape May National is a marshy links with good value twilight rates, but the prime time greens fees might be worth the extra cash to avoid the late PM onslaught of mosquitos.
3. RENZI'S 2728 Orthodox St Philadelphia, .
OK, so it's in a Polish working class neighborhood. OK, so it's owned by a guy named Wojtkowski. OK, so they put the sauce on top (a semi-popular pizza derivation in Philly). But the sauce... my God, the sauce... tastes like it's straight outta Grandma Leoni's kitchen in Naples circa 1955, perfectly seasoned with a blend of spices that Ramsey Wojtkowski won't even tell his wife! And the pepperoni... my God, the pepperoni... the best marriage of meat and spices that's ever graced the top side of sliced mozzarella and Northern California tomatoes. A Must Eat.
Play: Scotland Run , Williamstown NJ. The most grin-inducing 18 holes in Philly, routed through the New Jersey pine barrens and a former sand quarry. Architect Stephen Kay likes to give nods to quirky Old Tom Morris designs, and there are cape holes over former quarry pits, and cart paths spill randomly into massive waste bunkers. This is more X-Box golf than traditional links.
2. Lombardi's , NYC
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 door of small pizzerias in Italian neighborhoods all over America, and pizza took off to become the multi-billion dollar food category it is today. 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 late '90's and early Otts (now closed), which is how I came to be familiar with their tasty pies. Located just 3 blocks from my office, I had no idea of the Lombardi legacy until after they closed... I only knew they made great coal oven pizza with fresh ingredients and a crust unlike anything I'd ever had, and only accepted cash.
Play: Dyker Beach , Brooklyn. Much improved after a recent renovation.
1. Capri Pizza , Johnstown, PA
Everybody's got their own favorite pizza they grew up on... the pie that defined pizza for you before you were even old enough to mow the grass. Capri's is mine. But believe me, I've had plenty of buddies and girlfriends back home for a sample, and they all agree it would stand up to any pie on either of these lists. I used to deliver for Capri back in college, and I swear I'm not playing a homer when I tell you that to this day their thin-crusted, saucy, mozzarella-covered pie is the best I've ever had. In Johnstown PA (who knew?). The sauce sets these pies apart, a perfect blend of tomato, garlic, and just a whisper of sugar.
Play: I grew up on
North Fork G&TC
. The bottom nine follows meandering Stony Creek, while the top nine is built on the side of a mountain. Big elevation changes, tree-lined fairways, spotty conditions, and fun, memorable hole designs.