Friday, April 17, 2015

How Old Is That Pizza?

Monday, April 13, 2015
I took a little walk this lovely afternoon on Division Street, which begins at the Bowery and goes east, partially just to walk and partially to see if I could finally eat at Division 31 Restaurant, 31 Division Street. Since October 17, 2013, days after it opened, I’ve tried to eat lunch there. At first, they insisted that they only served hot pot, although a menu on display featured lunch specials. Then, service seemed to be limited to dinner only. Then, the doors were locked and tables and chairs seemed to come and go each time I peered in the window. Today, the metal screen was down, seeming to cut off Division 31 from the flow of commerce all together. I settled for Jing Star Restaurant, 27-29 Division Street (February 15, 2102, August 1, 2014), bustling with Chinese customers having dim sum. I had shrimp dumplings, shu mai, beef rice noodle and sticky rice for $10, including tax. 

The Times on-line reports today on its initial discovery of pizza (September 20, 1944), found at Luigino’s Pizzeria Alla Napoletana, 147 West 48th Street.

I ate at Luigino’s regularly when I worked at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, on West 44th Street, Saturdays throughout college. It felt very much like the old section of John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street, with high-backed wooden booths, and thinnish-crusted pizza. The problem with the Times article then and now is, I believe, that it was scooped long before by the Daily News (or was it the Daily Mirror?). I remember a clipping on Luigino’s wall of a story, the work of a good publicist, about this strange food, with a photograph of Rockettes from nearby Radio City Music Hall sampling slices. It’s been a long time, but I really believe that this story dated from the 1930s. A search of my brother’s memory, Arthur Dobrin’s memory (they both worked at the Bar Association at some time), and the Internet only yielded the image below. Arthur confirms the newspaper article on the wall, but has no recollection of a photograph in it. My brother simply relishes the memory of good lunches. The E-Bay seller claimed that this menu was from the 1930s, but offered no support for this.
According to a posting on, Luigino Milone, residing at 147 West 48th Street, registered for the draft in WWII. The location was leveled for construction of the Mc-Graw Hill Building in 1969.  Please understand that I don’t profess Luigino’s to be the first pizzeria in New York, or even as "the oldest established pizza house in the city," as Craig Claiborne speculated in the Times, on November 4, 1966. Lombardi’s at 53 ½ Spring Street, a successor now at 32 Spring Street, claims to have been the first in the USA, starting in 1905. John’s of Bleecker Street, 278 Bleecker Street, my favorite, started in 1929, but on Sullivan Street. Whether or not the Times got to Luigino’s first, it was scooped on pizza by the New York Tribune four decades earlier.

My own earliest memories of pizza was the forbidding bar and grill on the corner of Crescent Street and Belmont Avenue, East New York, Brooklyn, two blocks from the real life setting for the opening chapter of Wiseguy, the non-fiction book by Nicholas Pileggi that was the basis for Scorsese’s great movie Goodfellas. I don’t know if the joint had a name, but a red neon sign announced Pizzeria, a word that rhymed with fizz area to me until high school. Needless to say, a nice Jewish boy never entered those premises.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
If you are still hungry, read Pete Wells, the Times’ food critic, on the classic bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a roll.’t-mess-with-my-breakfast-sandwich.html?ref=dining&_r=0.

I have curbed my addiction to these by having a big bowl of fruit and cereal before leaving for work, so that I’m not ready to refuel until lunchtime, when the breakfast grill has been shut down and Chinatown beckons, of course. Eliminating the bacon and even the cheese still leaves you with a great sandwich as long as you keep the roll. I remember stopping at a diner somewhere in the Midwest for breakfast about 50 years ago, in a period of wandering akin to our people in the desert. I asked for two eggs on a roll, freezing the waitress in her tracks. She repeated my order, and paraphrased it in a fashion that I don’t recall. Before my food was delivered, I learned that a roll outside New York is a "sweet roll," properly a Danish. She was puzzled about getting even one egg on a prune Danish. What I wanted would be known out there as a hard roll or a Kaiser roll. Live and learn.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
An interesting article just popped up on on the growth of Chinatown(s) in New York City, with a graphic illustration of the increasing Chinese presence. It will probably appear in print tomorrow. "Chinese immigrants now the second largest foreign-born group in the city and soon to overtake Dominicans for the top spot."

I’ve been to Flushing’s Chinatown a couple of times, but never to the vastly expanding section of southwestern Brooklyn that some consider to house two Chinatowns. Obviously, both areas are out of reach of my lunchtime excursions, and I must confess that the Upper West Side Power Couple usually chooses Indian, Greek or Italian restaurants for dinners out.

Visiting the wonderful world of Lendy Electric Equipment & Supply Corp. at 176-184 Grand Street to buy screws, I went into Paris Sandwich Shop, 213 Grand Street (December 8, 2010), for lunch. I ordered a Vietnamese meatball sandwich ($5) and was glad that I did. Of course, I know better than to ask just what meat goes into the meatballs, but the finished product is excellent. The big sandwich, on a warm, crispy baguette, included shredded marinated carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, that slightly sweet sauce that probably kept Ho Chi Minh alive an additional 4 years, and hot peppers (optional). I noticed that a section at the rear served about 8 ice cream flavors from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, but I deferred.

Thursday, April 16, 2015
I skipped the home opening day of the Mets baseball season on Monday, but I went to the grand opening today of Genuine Superette, 191 Grand Street, at the corner of Mulberry Street. No explanation is given for the name; the site was previously a souvenir shop. One thing that attracted me to this prime Little Italy location was this further intrusion on Italian life and cuisine by outside forces; Baz, a bagel joint on Grand Street, around the corner from Mulberry Street, and Beijing Pop Kabob, directly on Mulberry Street, replacing a classic Italian restaurant. This new joint is informal, with a bright interior resulting from large windows on two sides facing the street, white- painted walls and white-painted exposed brick. Seating is mostly on stools at slightly elevated tables. All the woodwork is blonde, also lending a light feel. 

You order at a counter near the entrance, and your food is delivered to you, as identified by one of those foot-high numbered markers. Genuine Superette claims to use "antiobotic/hormone free and humanely raised" meat and a frying method that results in precisely 47.8% fewer calories. I inconclusively tested this by ordering a buttermilk battered chicken sandwich with apple/celeriac slaw and sambal mayo (trimmings that I can’t explain in words of my own) ($10.56) and "crisp and golden classic" fries ($2.53) without adding turkey chili cheese for an extra $2.76. The food was good. I wish the sandwich, on a hamburger bun, were bigger, which would probably warrant a higher price. The only discordant note was $3.25 for a can of Diet Coke. Bring a canteen. They also serves Odd Fellows ice cream, a highly-reputed Brooklyn-based outfit previously unknown to me. Since Moderation is my middle name, I had to pass on this as well, at least for a couple of days.

Friday, April 17, 20105
Jaya Asian Cuisine 888, 90 Baxter Street, was once the site of Jaya Malaysian Restaurant.  After many months out of commission, they just opened (or is it reopened) their doors.  The menu is predominantly Malaysian, but also includes familiar Chinese dishes, such as wonton soup, chow fun and General Tso's chicken.  However, I inevitably order roti canai ($3.75) in a Malaysian restaurant, and often have nasi lemak ($7.75), considered the Malaysian national dish, as well.  Both were very good here, a bit spicier than some joints venture.  The pancake/crêpe with the roti canai was a bit too flaky, making it hard to zzup up all the accompanying curry sauce.  The nasi lemak was quite traditional, rice, cucumber slivers, peanuts, fried anchovies, hard boiled egg, sambal (hot chili sauce) and a couple of pieces each of potato and chicken in curry sauce (the same as the roti canai). 

The new restaurant was busy, more than half of the 19 tables were kept occupied.  A stout, two-foot high golden Buddha looked over us.   The interior has wooden walls and wooden ceiling, evoking a traditional dwelling, not that I know what a traditional Malaysian dwelling looks like.  Four back-lit photographs of fruit and coconuts hung in one nook at the back of the restaurant, and a long photo mural of interesting street scenes in Kuala Lumpur was on another wall. 

25 lunch specials are offered at $6.95, including soup of the day.  Many are the same as found in regular Chinese restaurants, but "Sassy Shrimp" and "Ladies Fingers Malaysian Style" make you pause.


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  2. In 2009, a Flickr user called Spellingwitch posted two photos of a display in Radio City's lobby that shows Rockettes with a pizza in the 1930s and quotes a press release about it:

    "The Pizza
    Rockettes Indulge in Newest Epicurean Craze
    "The Rockettes have fallen for an Italian delicacy known as "pizza" (pronounced peet-zah). This famous dish has long been popular in Italian sectors, but now it has been discovered by society leaders, Park Avenue gourmets and the theatrical profession. The dish has a delicate flavor and is non-fattening. Camille Lambo, Constance Collier, Grace Markham and Florine Meyers, members of the Music Hall Rockettes, bite into the largest pizza ever baked." [Clrarly not true.]

  3. Photo of top half of display:

  4. Photo of bottom half of display:

  5. Luigino's is my great uncle's pizzeria. It was the first pizzeria in midtown