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Denino’s Kills It in Greenwich Village With the City’s Best Clam Pizza

Eater's senior critic tries the pies at the Manhattan offshoot of a venerable Staten Island favorite

Staten Island is pizza paradise. In addition to a broad range of pizza styles that originated elsewhere, the city’s southernmost island offers two varieties spawned on home turf. One is soupy and deep-dish, either round or square — like the creamy artichoke pie at Artichoke Basille (whose owners are from Staten Island). The other is almost the opposite — exceedingly thin pies, offering a crust with a pronounced crackle and a deep brownness. The toppings on this second type are fairly predictable, including pepperoni, mushrooms, meatballs, black olives, and Italian sausage.

This style is typical of such Staten Island establishments as Lee’s Tavern: pizzerias that evolved from working-class pubs. If we may be permitted to theorize for a moment, perhaps these bar pies are stiff because they’re made to be eaten with one hand, as the other grasps a mug of beer. No knife and fork necessary, no fumbling with a floppy slice. The most respected advocate of the thin, crisp bar style — indeed, the most famous pizzeria in Staten Island — is Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern, founded in 1937 as a mariners’ bar in Port Richmond. Walk downhill from Denino’s and find yourself at the tugboat docks.

Denino’s has a dark, hardscrabble bar in front, but a welcoming dining room in the back that’s popular with families. Surprisingly, a branch of Denino’s has recently appeared in Manhattan on MacDougal Street, just south of the N.Y.U. campus. Usually, when historic pizzerias clone themselves, the result is disaster. That was what happened when John’s of Bleecker Street and Patsy’s of East Harlem spun off other locations. Lacking a coal oven and the practiced crew of the original, these branches were simply not as good. Would Denino’s be able to avoid the sophomore slump? Could the pies in Greenwich Village possibly be as good as the ones in Port Richmond?

A close-up shot of a cheese pie topped with clams. Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

The clam pie

The short answer is yes. The new premises, however, are miles different. There are tables out front on the sidewalk, a seating arrangement not found at the windowless original. The new place possesses a big, squarish dining room decorated with old photos, with a gleaming white marble bar in the rear and two slightly elevated seating areas up front. The tables are corralled within black, wrought-iron fences. Maybe the idea is to prevent you from falling off the platform as you’re catapulted into ecstasy by the pies, or maybe the fence is intended to keep drunks from tumbling over. The place seems like a restaurant in a Jersey strip mall.

Generously furnished with bivalves, it’s easily the best clam pie in New York City.

The most exciting pie at the original Denino’s is the clam. I’m delighted to report the Village version ($29) is every bit as good, a molten mass of briny minced clams and mozzarella on a crisp, nicely tanned crust. Generously furnished with bivalves, it’s easily the best clam pie in New York City. In fact, I’d put it up against that of Pepe’s in New Haven — a city widely regarded as the clam pie capital of the Eastern seaboard.

In two visits, a bunch of friends and I tried a couple of other signature pies and found them both excellent. We went for the lusher pizzas, including one called the garbage pie, topped with Italian sausage, meatballs, pepperoni, mushrooms, and onions, reflecting the meat and flavoring proclivities of southern Italians who emigrated to America in the first half of the 20th century. (The preference for onions over garlic is specifically Apulian.) On another occasion, we tried the M.O.R. (meatballs, onions, and ricotta). Both cost $25 for a large pie that’s enough to feed three. Other pizza choices include broccoli rabe, white, the newfangled Buffalo wing, and sausage and mushroom.

[Top: artichokes and the eggplant tower. Bottom: calamari.]

Among pizza parlors across the five boroughs, Denino’s is notable for having more interesting appetizers than most. Many of these are Sicilian in origin. There are baked stuffed clams, of course, and a pale but perfect take on fried calamari featuring a squid with rings of large circumference, served with a mild tomato dipping sauce. More interesting, perhaps, is a scungilli salad ($13.95, large size), featuring chewy tidbits of conch and crunchy celery in olive oil and garlic.

The menu contains some inventions of its own, such as a so-called eggplant tower, which stacks up fried eggplant, fresh mozzarella, and the eggplant relish called caponata. Altogether delicious! It also offers a small collection of Southern Italian pastas for those who aren’t fond of pizza. The orecchiette with broccoli rabe is quite good, but who in their right mind would order pasta instead of pizza at such a great pizzeria? And for Pete’s sake, don’t miss the clam pie! How amazing that the owners of the new Greenwich Village Denino’s set out to perfectly reproduce the food of the Staten Island original…and largely succeeded. 93 Macdougal St, (646) 838-6987.

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