Originally published by the Village Voice, January 20, 2016.
If you haven’t hopped on the ferry or trekked across the Verrazano in the past few years, you may not realize the quality (and quantity) of new pizzerias that have popped up on Staten Island. Of course, it wasn’t exactly short on excellent pies — with a strong Italian-American presence, the borough has been a pizza stronghold for decades. We recently paid a visit to a number of pizzerias with storied histories, as well as ones that have only just begun to break in their ovens, and present the best of both worlds below. Mangia!
Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern (524 Port Richmond Avenue, Staten Island; 718-442-9401)
Originally opened in 1923 as a confectionery, Denino’s introduced the pizza we’re still ordering today way back in 1951. And it’s not just us — nearly every night you’ll find the expansive restaurant and tavern bustling with kids coming from soccer games, friends meeting to split a pie (or three), and tourists who made the long journey from midtown. The pie to get is the M.O.R., a wonderful mess of meatballs, onions, and ricotta cheese spread atop a crust that’s halfway between the puffy rendition emblematic of Staten Island and the borough’s equally notable cracker-thin variants.
Joe & Pat’s (1758 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island; 718-981-0887)
This is the epitome of the Staten Island cracker-crust pizza. Opened by the Pappalardo brothers in 1960, the restaurant extends the sense of family throughout, with neighbors greeting one another as they pick up their pies to go. Skip the larger seating area to the side of the pizzeria and eat at the counter instead, where you can watch the well-choreographed staff joke around while they slap dough (a practice that can take a year to master), spread tangy sauce, cubes of mozzarella, and small slices of pepperoni whose edges curl and crisp when cooked, and tend to the pies in the rotating oven.
Lee’s Tavern (60 Hancock Street, Staten Island; 718-667-9749)
There’s no sign, no street number, no internet presence, but everyone in the neighborhood — and those who’ve hopped off the Staten Island Railway stop across the street — knows the spot, which has been serving up thin-crust pizza since 1940. Pull up a stool, chat with a jocular bartender, and order a bar pie, which is just the right size to finish alongside a pint — though the atmosphere will probably invite you to stay for at least one more. Like at many of the borough’s pizzerias, you can order the fried calamari as an appetizer or as a topping on the pizza, but the adventurous shouldn’t miss the clam pie.
Campania (3900 Richmond Avenue, Staten Island; 718-227-3286)
The owners, who have another coal-oven pizzeria of the same name just over the bridge in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, fashioned their former upscale Italian eatery into this more family-friendly space in 2014. The pies get a decent char in the oven, and you won’t go wrong with any that are topped with the perfectly creamy fresh mozzarella, though the Calabrese, which also features spicy soppressata, fresh basil, and big flecks of pecorino, is a standout. While this is a great spot to fill a table with everyone from toddlers to grandmas (who won’t have to worry about parking — they’ve got valets), the lone eater can also grab a pie at the bar along with a Staten Island–brewed Flagship beer, available on tap.
Paulie’s Pizzeria (500 Bay Street, Staten Island; 718-981-5111)
Opened just last year, the newest kid on the block has quickly shown its might, dishing up cracker-crust pies with a sweet tomato sauce that fans of Joe & Pat’s should make room for. Paulie’s is currently focused on takeout and delivery, and you can also eat at a counter at the window, but they expect to have a spacious, adjacent dining room open very soon, where you’ll be able to linger over a pie and a drink. The easiest on this list to reach from the St. George terminal, it’s worth the mile-plus walk (or quick bus ride) to grab a slice, rather than just turning around to take the ferry right back to Manhattan.
Reggiano’s (7339 Amboy Road, Staten Island; 718-966-6610)
Though you can get a good standard pie at this Tottenville pizzeria and restaurant that opened in 2012, the ones from the wood-fired oven are the way to go. The crust is thin but tender and comes topped with some of the most flavorful ingredients to be found on any pizza in the borough, like the one with pancetta that’s complemented by smoked mozzarella, or the pie with sweet Italian sausage (sourced from a local Staten Island pork store) and fiery hot peppers. If you stay to eat dinner in the bustling neighborhood favorite, you’ll also enjoy those peppers, mixed with small bits of soppressata, with the healthy dish of olive oil served alongside the bread set out for your table.