Hopes were not high as Jeff and I approached the pizzeria. Jeff is a food lover, food blogger, food hunter and recently converted tour guide (check him out at his awesome food website). He created the Real Pizza of New York mobile app, which helps users find the standout pizzerias on NYC. It’s legit. As we are cut from the same cloth, Jeff and I sometimes check out pizzerias together. Last month, Jeff and I met on Arthur Ave in the Bronx to check out a recently-converted coal-fired bakery to see how the pizza-o-meter registered. After our main course, Jeff mentioned another place in the neighborhood that might be worth a visit. The name Pugsley’s didn’t ring a bell, but somebody had apparently told me about it because it was right there on my hit list. It was right there at the bottom — lowest priority possible.
When we turned onto 191st Street there was not a single business in site. I started to doubt Jeff’s sense of direction (even though it’s thousands of times better than mine) when we stumbled upon a sign from the heavens. Well, it was technically on the ground but it most certainly was a sign. The image of a slice within a circle was carved into the sidewalk cement. Either this was the place or someone was dealing illegal slices nearby.
The building is set back several meters and looks nothing like any pizzeria in the city; it felt like the Fratelli’s restaurant from the Goonies. We crept up the stairs, afraid of an imagined alarm system set to warn Bronxonians when a couple of pizza junkies were snooping about. But no alarm went off by the time we opened the front door. Instead, we were welcomed by the most beautiful site I’ve ever seen in a pizzeria.
The interior was like nothing I had ever seen. There weren’t any checkered tablecloths. No statuettes of mustachioed Italian men. No typical signage or menus. I don’t even remember seeing an oven in there. It’s more like an interactive piece of folk art than an eatery, but several indicators revealed that there was indeed some food to be had. Handmade signage adorns all walls, surfaces, empty spaces, crowded spaces, etc. But instead of offering combos and food deals, the signage merely uses food as a subplot to the main concern of this pizzeria: happiness.