Field trip to Staten Island, in the dead of winter… for pizza?

I’ve never had a solid reason to visit Staten Island but have been twice. My first visit was a round-trip ferry ride; the second was to the minor league stadium to work on a commercial. I’ve been told frequently that I’d love the Staten Island pizza scene. Getting around the island is tricky without wheels, but after researching, I realized it’s do able. Our visit to 4 pizzerias would ultimately take over 8 hours, 2 ferries, 2 buses and 2 rail rides. Locals drive everywhere and apparently no one walks in Staten Island.

JOE & PATS
1758 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, NY 10314 (718) 981-0887. Call for hours, accepts all major credit cards.

Once on the island, we board the S62 bus, which brings us to our first stop, Joe & Pats. We decided to have slices as they are served here. Since this was the beginning of our pie eating, we didn’t want to fill up. We ordered a cheese and a cheese with sausage. The cheese slice was excellent all around. The crust was thin & crunchy with the perfect snap, just the right amount of fresh mozz and red sauce. We were disappointed the sausage wasn’t cut in chunks, but sliced like pepperoni. Nevertheless, it was still delicious… and cheap – $5.60 for both. Here you can order a half, small, large or a full pie. Prices range from $14 to $30 per pizza. They also have a huge menu with pastas, salads, soups and your usual Italian fare.

We ride the S62 bus back to St. Georges Ferry Terminal to catch the Staten Island Railroad (who knew there was such a thing!) where it would take us 7 stops to Dongan Hills, home of Lee’s Tavern.

LEE’S TAVERN
60 Hancock Street, Staten Island, NY 10305
(718) 667-9749. Open daily, 10:30am-1 am. CASH ONLY

Lee’s is  an unmarked bar at the corner of Hancock & Garretson, steps  from the SIR. We arrive, 45 minutes later. At 3 pm on a Monday, the bar is full of old drunk men, who appear retired and seem to spend a lot of time here  drinking Budweiser and Coors. There are some diners in the bar area and back room.  My hopes were set high for Lee’s based on recommendations; I couldn’t wait to eat!  We decided on 2 personal sized bar pies;  their signature no sauce white clam with cheese and garlic and a sausage and anchovy with red sauce. Bar pies run around $8-10 (depending upon your toppings/combos); regular pies averaging $15. Our server is the bartender, who appears to be the only one working. He highly recommended the chicken and peppers combo.  Ick?!  Our clam pie finally arrives,  about an hour later. It is hard, dry, burnt, tasteless  and plain sad looking… like someone left it on display, just like the mock food you’d see at malls. The pie tasted exactly the way it looked. Such a disappointment. Our sausage and anchovy pie arrived shortly thereafter. It was an improvement over the clam pie and wasn’t as burnt or hard. The red sauce, sausage and anchovy thankfully saved the pie from being dry and flavorless. The crust was a bit doughy, but edible.  I couldn’t wait to leave Lee’s and move on. We ask for our bill, which took another 20 minutes.  Our bartender decided not to give us our change. We’re guessing our generous tip would give us better pizza karma and make up for what the others don’t leave.

SALVATORE OF SOHO
1880 Hylan Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10305
(718) 979-PIZZA. Call for hours; accepts major credit cards.

Our next stop is a brisk 10 minute walk to Salvatore of Soho. The exterior is royal blue and resembles a Greek seafood restaurant. There is a lot of signage, neon and write ups plastered on a window.  Hmm.  Should we worry?  Inside, the atmosphere was completely different. Red & white table cloths, proper silverware and plates, servers, and a real coal fired brick oven. Yay! The menu has Neapolitan pies and chef choices which include Clam, Calamari, Vodka Sauce, Sausage, White and Meat. We opt for the Mixed Wild Mushroom Pie with button, Crimini, Shitake, fresh herbs and a smattering of white truffle oil.  Need I say anymore? The pie arrives piping hot on a proper pizza stand. The crust is bubby, has the right amount of crunch, chewiness and charring. The white truffle oil complimented the flavors of the various mushrooms and herbs. Delicious and outstanding. Right then, I knew this would be our best and favorite pie of the entire excursion and ending our pizza eating now would be the right thing to do. But temptation, convenience and the chance to eat more pie brought us to one last place. I regret we made that decision.

PIER 76
76 Bay Street, Staten Island, NY 10301
(718) 447-7437. Call for hours, accepts major credit cards.

Our 4th and final stop was a restaurant/sports bar called Pier 76. It’s a few blocks away from the ferry, so we figured we’d try it before heading back to the city.  Pier 76 is owned by Jeremy Pappalardo, the son of Gerry Pappalardo of Joe & Pat’s.  The pizza making technique and menu is basically the same as that at Joe & Pat’s.  There’s a separate pizza counter/station for ordering slices, pies or to go, if you don’t want to eat at the actual restaurant. We contemplated ordering slices again, but seeing the slice options cold and stacked up on the counter didn’t seem appealing.  Instead, we ordered a cheese bar pie with bacon. The pizza maker pulls a cheese bar pie out of the oven. We asked about the bacon and he takes the pie back. I see him bring a dish of overcooked bacon to the pizza station and minutes later, our bacon cheese pie appears. It was obvious he put the bacon on the same pie and re-heated the whole package. What was presented, did not look appetizing. There was something odd about the crust after the re-heat. It had curled up and crumbled, causing it to taste like a Jacobs Cream Cracker with overcooked fatty bacon. Double yuck. We each took a couple bites and had the rest of it wrapped. I was bummed Pier 76 ended up being the worst pie of the journey, especially since it was the finale of our pizza excursion.

I’m happy I took in and explored some of the Staten Island pizza scene. We chose carefully and ordered smaller pies, so our grand total ran about $27 each. Not bad for a full day of eating and filling up on pizza.  But for now, until further notice, I am still partial to Brooklyn for my favorite slices and pie.

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