NYC Vegan Pizza Tour June 2

Calling all vegans, vegetarians and food explorers:

I’ll be hosting a very special pizza tour on Saturday, June 2 that will visit four pizzerias in Manhattan and Brooklyn for slices of 100% animal-free pizza. Our stops include Neapolitan, Roman and New York style pizzerias. We’ll talk all about pizza history (including how some of the earliest pizzas were actually vegan) as we cruise around in the Big Yellow Pizza Bus. It is going to be insane!!!

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WHEN: Saturday, June 2
WHERE: Starts and ends in Greenwich Village
HOW: $60 tickets available online through Zerve or by phone at 800-979-3370
WHAT: All pizza and animal-free goody bags are included; 4 pizzeria stops by bus
WHY: Because everybody deserves good pizza

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This vegan pizza tour isn’t just about finding places that offer cheese alternatives, it’s about well-made dough topped with deliciousness that doesn’t need cheese to have a good time. I am not personally vegan, so I’m going to take you out for pizza that tastes great without compromising. Some of these pizzas aren’t overtly vegan, they just happen to not have cheese, meat, honey, eggs, etc on the ingredient list. The idea of the tour is for both vegans and non-vegans to share the same pizza because it’s the ultimate communal food!

I started doing it for my vegan brother when he would come for a visit and we found a solid lineup of pizzerias that both of us loved! I run this tour just about every six months, so join us for a special afternoon packed with animal-free flavor.

First Reference to Pizza as a Pie?

Here’s a reallyyyyyyy early reference to pizza in the December 6, 1903 edition of the New York Tribune. It’s part of a larger article about how much Italians love hot foods (there’s a section that defines pepperoni as hot peppers rather than the later Americanized cured meat) and includes some rather controversial remnants from our lost pizza past. The article doesn’t mention a restaurant name, so it’s unclear whether this is a bakery, pizzeria or somebody’s house. What is clear is that the author directly compares Italian pizza to American pie, making it the earliest reference to pizza as a pie that I have ever seen. We use this slang in the Northeast, but people outside the area always ask me why I call pizza a pie. Here’s why!

But there’s a lot more mind-blowing info in this tiny paragraph. The article indicates a method of dough stretching that is more or less outlawed in both Naples and New York City pizzerias today: the rolling pin. In Naples, all pizza dough is extended by hand with special care taken to preserve the gases of fermentation. New York pizza makers tend to use more muscle with their dough stretching because American flour is much stronger than its European counterpart. But nobody currently making New York or Neapolitan style pizza even owns a rolling pin.

The instructions also say to roll out the dough to an inch thick. WOW, that’s not thin crust at all! Could it have been a typo? A misunderstanding? Lost in translation? Just the wrong person to interview for the article? We may never know, but what’s certain is that pizza has never been a food with strict definition — that’s what makes it so wonderful!

Read the Full New York Tribune Article

Pizza Slice Tracking Technology


Here’s a chart of last week’s pizza intake. Looks like I overshot my limit of 15 slices.

Sometime last year I started keeping track of how much pizza I was eating. It’s not part of a crazy cleansing diet or anything but I figured it might make sense to limit my intake so I don’t risk burning out. In 2009 alone I visited about 400 different pizzerias and ate over 1300 slices. Probably not the best idea, so now I try to stick to a maximum of 15 slices per week. I chose 15 because there are 16 slices in 2 whole pies, so 15 is less than 2 whole pies. It’s really just a psychological trick to make me think I’m not eating that much pizza.

Until recently, I’ve just been keeping a running tally in my head. That worked pretty well until my homeslice Nick from PizzaRules.com turned me on to Daytum, a sweet data tracking app/website. I use a free version that lets me plug in any data I want and organize it into neat charts and graphs. The data is all public in the free version but you can make it private by upgrading for a small fee.

The above chart shows a a blue graph, which is an enlarged version of the highlighted section of the smaller gray graph below. I only highlighted the last week because I track my slices on a Monday - Friday schedule. You can see a short list of pizzerias I visited with the number of slices consumed to the left. Looks like I ate at 8 pizzerias, logged in the data from each and gobbled 18 total slices. So much for that limit. Keep in mind that I physically enter 15 - 25 pizzerias per week with my New York Pizza Tours so I have to restrain myself all the time. It’s especially hard when I’m going out for extracurricular (ie non-tour) pizza. (5 slices at Speedy Romeo, 4 at Don Antonio, 4 at Roberta’s…. yikes!)

I’ll try to post a weekly slice graph every Monday!

2012 Pizza Calendar Roundup


Three great calendars from three extremely different pizzerias.

Of all the trends hitting the pizza scene lately, the buzz word of 2012 thus far seems to be calendar. Three of the city’s most varied pizzerias each decided to welcome the new year with their very own custom-made wall calendars. And these aren’t lame calendars either, they’re extremely well designed with as much personality as the pizzerias themselves. Here’s a look at what’s to come in 2012 through the eyes of John’s of Bleecker Street, L’asso and Two Boots.

Each month features a still from a famous New York City movie with one major modification: main characters faces have been replaced with those of the pizzeria staff! There’s even a caption with ever page that ties John’s Pizzeria into the film’s plot. It’s pretty goofy but hilarious, especially if you go there often enough to recognize the staff. A company called Three Room Press has made the calendars for John’s Pizzeria since 2011 and it looks like it’s becoming a tradition.

This caption says: “If only The Warriors had made it back to Coney Island without stopping to eat some John’s of Bleecker Street, they might have had a chance. But on the other hand, what a way to go!” 

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The Happiest Pizzeria On Earth

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.

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Vegan Pizza Tour - Saturday, December 10

That’s right kiddies, I’m doing another vegan pizza tour on December 10 starting at 11:45am on the Bowery in NYC. We’ll be hitting three pizzerias around the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village, each of which features a different animal-free pizza style. We’ll make our way to each stop on foot and everybody gets a slice per stop PLUS a sweet vegan-friendly goody bag, all included with your $35 ticket.

Tickets must be purchased in advance through our online ticketing agent, so please sign up if you’d like to join us. I’m keeping the group pretty small, so grab your ticket fast!

Fast Details:
Saturday, December 10
11:45am - approximately 2:30pm
$35 ticket fee (includes pizza and Pizza Tour Survival Kit)

NYC Vegan Pizza Tour - Buy Your Ticket Here

Ray’s: The Most (in)Famous and (un)Original Name in Pizza


Most of my Ray’s menu collection.

At the end of the day today, a pizzeria will close in New York City. This kind of thing happens all the time, but today’s closing is a bit more significant than most others. It isn’t one of the ancient brick oven joints or a stand-on-line-for-six-hours kind of place, but a slice shop with a very familiar name. To anyone who has lived in New York or expressed any curiosity in the pizza landscape of this fine city, today’s closing will elicit both sadness and confusion. For today marks the closing of New York’s oldest Ray’s Pizzeria.

I knew I would get questions about Ray’s from day one of running tours of significant New York pizzerias, so I made it my mission to learn as much as possible about the history of Ray. Plenty has already been written about the confusing ownership of the various Ray’s locations, so I’m going to give as quick a summary as possible by tracing the lineage through a collection of business licenses and phone books I have collected over the years.


First Ray’s in 1960 Manhattan phone book.

Ralph Cuomo and his partners opened Ray’s Pizzeria on Prince Street in 1959. Not only does the restaurant’s awning say so, but so do the phone book and original business license. At this time, there was no other pizzeria in Manhattan with the name Ray. When asked why not call his restaurant Ralph’s, he is said to have replied that the name Ralph was too feminine. (Yeah, I don’t exactly get it either.) Considering a future where Ray would appear on pizzeria awnings all over the city, it’s truly ironic that Cuomo may have avoided using his own name because there was already a place in Manhattan called Ralph’s Pizzeria Restaurant (862 9th Ave). And so, the restaurant at 27 Prince Street was simply called Ray’s.

After just five years, Ralph Cuomo and his partners opened a second Ray’s Pizza location at 1073 First Ave, which they quickly sold to Frances Giaimo. Cuomo continued to run the Prince Street location, cutting any connection to the First Ave store, which Giaimo sold to Rosolino Mangano in 1968. With the entrance of Rosolino Mangano, Ray’s jumps into the forefront with an explosion of pizzerias across town. He gave ambitious family members and immigrants the opportunity to run his stores, resulting in the creation of a mini-chain.


Ralph Cuomo’s original business license for Ray’s Pizza at 27 Prince Street, dated June 24, 1959.

Name recognition grew for Ray’s, which some former employees used to their advantage. Mario and Lamberto Di Rienzo formed a partnership in 1973 to open a pizzeria called The Famous Ray’s Pizza at the corner of 6th Ave and 11th Street. In response, Mangano changed the name on his restaurants to Original Ray’s Pizza in 1976 (this may have happened sooner, but the earliest “Original” business license I have is from 1976). Meanwhile, the pizzeria at 27 Prince Street was still just called Ray’s.

Tensions escalated as more pizzerias started calling themselves Ray’s. It’s a common name, easy to fit on signage, and cheap to write in neon. In fact, Ralph Cuomo was getting so miffed by the hullabaloo over his name that he added a comment on a 1982 business certificate that states, “Ray is my nickname.” By this point, every Ray’s pizzeria was either “famous,” “original,” “real” or “world famous,” so Rosolino Mangano upped the ante when he combined the most popular adjectives and renamed his location at 204 Ninth Ave "Famous Original Ray’s". He registered for a trademarked two years later and started bringing on the lawsuits. To this day, more unaffiliated Ray’s pizzerias open every year in New York, Arizona, California, London, Australia and beyond. The grand sum of these pizzerias does not constitute a single chain or franchise. It’s a real mess for pizza lovers and lawyers alike.

It’s very likely that other pizzerias used the name Ray before Ralph Cuomo (I found evidence of at least two), but none lasted long enough to be affiliated with the current situation. The pizzeria at 27 Prince Street truly is Patient Zero for the Ray’s epidemic. After Cuomo passed away in 2008, the business fell into disarray. The family’s internal battle over the building’s ownership led to last week’s announcement to either close or relocate the pizzeria.

My friends and family know how interested I am in the whole Ray’s story, so I got quite a few calls and emails when the news hit last week. It seemed like everybody had heard about it, even if they didn’t know what it meant. But one person hadn’t heard the news until I told him a few days ago. Frank Spatola made pizza at Ray’s on Prince Street for 32 years before exiting three months ago. Perhaps he just needed a change of scenery, or maybe he saw the writing on the wall. But fear not, Spatola hasn’t retired. You can find him slinging pies above the West 4th Street subway station at Cafe Amore’s Pizza (6th Ave and West 3rd Street). The pizza may not be identical to that of Ray’s on Prince Street, but at least you know there’s a qualified pair of hands behind the counter.


Frank Spatola at his new digs.

Like Ray’s, Amore’s is a slice shop. In fact, Amore’s was once a Ray’s! Slice shops entered the scene as a way for young entrepreneurs to enter the food business without spending much on rent, equipment or personnel. In the late 1950’s, one could purchase all the necessary equipment for a few thousand dollars. A small place like Ray’s could serve just as many take-out customers as any dine-in restaurant with a fraction of the space. Few slice shops of that age remain, leaving just a handful to carry the torch.

It will be a real shame if the legacy of Ray’s on Prince Street is in name alone. The Ray’s name is so garbled at this point that most people will likely think of the controversy before considering the food. I had a pretty killer square there last month and I hope folks get a chance to stop by before the final slice is served. This pizzeria floats alone in a sea of confusion, as it isn’t part of a chain or franchise. It stood before all the others and will remain independent until the final day. The awning doesn’t need to make bold claims; this place has true fame and originality in a way few eateries will ever attain.

***RAY’S UPDATE***

Just after the 27 Prince St announcement came, The Famous Ray’s Pizza on the corner of Sixth Ave and 11th Street mysteriously shuttered. The windows are covered up, a FOR RENT sign hangs on the door and every instance of the letters R, A and Y are missing from the store’s signage. I personally didn’t like their pizza very much over the past few years, but this Ray’s is said to have been the shining beacon among NYC pizzerias. It was sort of a landmark, even if it clearly wasn’t the first of the bunch.

** A version of this piece originally appeared on the pizza blog Slice.

October Specialty Pizza Safaris

In honor of National Pizza Month, I’ll be running some totally insanely amazing specialty bus tours on three Saturdays. Unlike our standard tours, these will concentrate on specific themes within the vast pizza landscape of New York City. All tours will be approximately 4.5 hours long so we can visit 4 different pizzerias via big yellow school bus. Everyone gets a slice at each stop and a Pizza Tour Survival Kit. Tours start and end in Greenwich Village. You can purchase tickets directly through the Scott’s Pizza Tours Internet Ticketing HQ.

 
Gluten free and vegan pizza from some of our stops.

Here’s the schedule:

October 1 - Learning to Love Your Vegan
This tour will visit four pizzerias that feature vegan options. Every slice has been selected to appeal to both vegans and omnivores alike, so don’t be afraid to bring your non-vegan buddy. Buy Tickets

October 15 - Gluten Free NYC
Anyone with a wheat issue knows that good gluten free pizza is hard to find. This tour will visit four pizzerias with dedicated GF facilities. Buy Tickets
 
October 29 - Meat Lovers’ Guide to NYC Pizza
Visit four incredible pizzerias that feature unique meat toppings. We’ll try some reliable standards as well as some delicious surprises. Buy Tickets

**In honor of both National Pizza Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, $1 will be donated to the Karen Mullen Breast Cancer Foundation for every person who takes a pizza tour during the month of October.