Wednesday, August 8, 2018

I Love New York

"I don't wanna talk. I've said everything already. It's already out there. I'm not gonna say it anymore."

Well, that's not the response I normally hear when offering to give someone free publicity. If you've ever been to the historic Totonno's Pizza Napolitano on Coney Island, and tried to talk on the record to Cookie, that's pretty much the response you're going to get. 

Cookie prefers to be left alone in a quiet corner of a little pizzeria located on an island in this city filled with millions. She leaves it to Mike to sling pies behind the counter while she barks orders at him.

Cookie is tough. She won't B.S. you. She's got a story, but she ain't gonna wrap it up in a bow and give it to you as a gift. You gotta put your shoes on, do some legwork and find it yourself. And this, in a nutshell, is also a microcosm of New York City. The same reasons I love Cookie are the same reasons I love New York. 

Writer Tom Wolfe once said of the Big Apple, "One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years." How true that is. From the moment I first set foot in New York City years ago, I immediately knew it was the beginning of what would become a life-long love affair. 

What's not to love about New York? It's gritty. It's alive. It's loud, obnoxious, it's weird, it's in-your-face. It's millions and millions of teeming people with millions and millions of stories waiting to be explored, told, retold, or sometimes buried and hidden away forever. The Big Apple isn't good at keeping secrets, but she still holds quite a few close to the vest.

New York is electric. It makes sleep irrelevant, and teases you with endless possibility. One wants to forego slumber, and spend all their free time exploring each nook and cranny; exposing every buried treasure waiting to be discovered. 

The Big Apple is the city that gave the world hip-hop, punk rock, crystalized the folk music movement, influenced the beat generation, was ground zero for the advent of television, and yes....started America's love affair with pizza. For decades, it served as the bellwether for the American cultural zeitgeist."What happens everywhere, happens first in New York," they used to say. 

The two oldest continuously operating pizzerias, Totonno's on Coney Island and John's of Bleecker Street, both have their roots in Lombardi's, which was once a little grocery store on Spring Street notable for one fact: in 1905, Gennaro Lombardi applied to the city for the first license to sell pizza in the United States. Here, American pizza was born. And thanks to being brought back from the ashes of near-extinction by John Brescio in 1994, Lombardi's still sells pizzas today - delicious as ever.

It's true that there is a philosophical divide between what is viewed as pizza by Italian purists and what Americans devour by the truckload. I don't personally think there's anything wrong with that. America rarely invents anything of cultural significance whole-cloth, preferring instead to take something else, re-invent it here, and make it uniquely its own. That's what New York represents for many an entrepreneur, foodie-turned-chef, and starving artist. An opportunity for re-invention.

New York is that shining city on a hill. The crossroads of the universe where one can go to re-invent oneself. And honestly, you don't really have a choice. New York transforms on a fundamental level, everyone and everything that lives there. As well it should....otherwise, what's the point of even going?
In the August 2018 issue of PMQ, we celebrate the legacy of New York style pizza with a story focus, a dough recipe, and a special pie provided to us by New York's own Tom DeGrezia. Be sure to check it out at