This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.[Bess Adler]
It's called DeNino's Pizzeria and Tavern. And it's just that. You walk into the fairly nondescript, one-story building on Port Richmond Boulevard, past the elaborate mural that tells the history of the 76-year-old Staten Island institution, take a quick left, and you're given a choice. You can veer left and take a seat at the bar, or hang right and snag a wooden table or booth for a repast of pizza pie, with maybe some garlic bread, fried calamari or buffalo wings to start. Though people talk mainly of DeNino's way with a pizza, you get the feeling that both arms of the business are given equal weight by locals. They are certainly given equal real estate. This may have something to do with the fact that the place was a bar long before it was a pizzeria. John DeNino opened the business as a saloon in 1937; pizza was introduced by his son, Carlo, in 1951. A third generation of DeNinos now runs the restaurant.
DeNino's feels like the kind of neighborhood place you might find anywhere in the country, the sort of local institution where families go on a Friday night without even thinking about it. Because, of course you'd go to DeNino's! Where else? The less-than-thrilling slogan, after all, is "Casual Family Dining Since 1937." (How's that to get your pulse racing?)
The dining room is plain, the lighting functional, the ceiling low. If it weren't for the old wooden booths, it could be the basement of a church. It's peopled by locals. This is Staten Island, after all. Although DeNino's enjoys a citywide reputation, most of the patrons come from the borough and have eaten here many, many times, and come for special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, meeting the in-laws, etc. The dinner hour is always busy, but the lunch trade is brisk, too. Pitchers of Bud abound.
I ordered a sausage pie, because the waitress told me that, while all the toppings were good (though the mushrooms are canned), the sausage was "out of this world." It was good sausage, the lump kind—as opposed to sliced—that you rarely see around New York. The crust was not quite as Neapolitan-light as that at Gotham's other vaunted pizzas, such as Totonno's or Patsy's, but not quite as heavy as the doughy stuff you find in a run-of-the-mill slice joint. It was somewhere in the middle. A good, solid, satisfying pizza, overall. The kind of above-average pie that causes a local to love their neighborhood joint, and cry out to anyone who will listen that it has the best pizza around.
Me? Of the Staten Island iconic pizzerias, I like Joe & Pat's product more. In all of NYC, I probably prefer Totonno's of Coney Island. For a single slice, Di Fara's in Midwood. But on a Friday night, with some friends or family members, I don't think I'd rather be at any other pizzeria than DeNino's.
· —Brooks of Sheffield
· All Editions of Who Goes There? [~ENY~]