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That’s Amore!

Long Island’s

love affair with pizza

Dare I risk writing about pizza? Will I annoy you because I included a place not on your list of favorites? Will you hate me because I left off your favorite?

So let me state that this article is about five pizza places. This is not about the BEST pizza on Long Island because we all have our ideas about where to find the very best pizza. And Long Island has some of the best pizza in the country. Just five places chosen arbitrarily.

Passions about pizza run deep, like Chicago-style, aka deep dish, and pizza has been around for a long time. When they excavated Pompeii, covered over for nearly 2000 years with the ash from Vesuvius, they found pizza, or rather flat flour cakes and shops with marble slabs that resemble the pizzerias of today. It wasn’t until the mid-1700s that tomatoes, which had been brought to Europe from the New World, united with the bread. Mozzarella joined the triumvirate in 1889 when the queen of Italy, Margherita di Svoia, was served a special pizza of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil created by pizza-master Raffaele Esposito in Naples.

How to narrow down the dozens (hundreds?) of pizza places in the Anton communities in Nassau country to write about just five? First I picked my hometown pizza place — Alfredo’s in Westbury — because that’s where I’ve been going since I moved to Westbury decades ago. Then there is Grimaldi’s in Garden City because my friend Mindy had a lunch for women there and they treated us very nicely. I chose Gino’s in Manhasset because it’s next to my dentist’s office and I go there for solace. La Piazza in Plainview made the list because I had lunch there recently and the pizza looked beautiful. Finally Salvatore’s in Port Washington made the cut because in the book Everybody Loves Pizza, authors Penny Pollack and Jeff Ruby put it in their list of 546 Great American Pizzerias.

Alfredo’s in Westbury is my hometown favorite. Every Tuesday at my house was pizza night and we would pack up the kids and head to the Alfredo’s, which back then was called Frank’s, on Post Avenue. These days I bring my grandchildren there for a slice or two. Alfredo’s makes their own sauce and dough and there are generous quantities of gooey cheese on the pie. The restaurant is run by Angela Aurora whose father and grandfather took over the restaurant in 1976, renaming it Alfredo’s after their place in Staten Island.

Two related, sort of, pizza places are Salvatore’s in Port Washington, and Grimaldi’s in Garden City. If you want pizza by the slice at Salvatore’s, fuggedaboutit. And you better bring cash. “We like the old way of doing it,” says Mike Zeppetella who is partners with Salvatore’s owner Fred Lacagnina in the Bay Shore branch of the restaurant. The old way goes back to Fred’s uncle Pasquale Lanciere of famed Patsy’s Pizzeria, which opened in East Harlem in 1933, creating Neapolitan pizza in coal-fired ovens. Salvatore’s thin crust pizza is made with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil and cooks in four minutes. “Nobody makes it like us,” says Mike.

Another nephew in the Patsy Lanciere clan is Patsy Grimaldi, who has spawned an empire of pizzerias. Ten-year-old Patsy learned to make pizza at his uncle’s place and opened his first pizzeria in Brooklyn. The story is complicated (family feuds and such) but eventually Grimaldi’s opened in Hoboken, Garden City and Douglaston. There are three Grimaldi’s in Arizona and they are now located in Las Vegas and Dallas. The Grimaldi pie is thin crusted. The sauce is made in-house and they use fresh low-moisture mozzarella. They too use coal-fired ovens. The pies cook in just a few minutes and the coal fire gives it a smoky crispness.

Is everyone related to everyone in the pizza world? Somehow the folks at Gino’s in Manhasset and La Piazza in Plainview are all related to the original Gino’s in Brooklyn.

Gino’s has been in Manhasset for 27 years. The Great Neck Gino’s is about 35 years old and there’s another in Port Washington and a brother in the family has the Gino’s in Little Neck. (See what I mean?) Louie LaRocca, the manager of Gino’s in Manhasset, says that the regular, Margeritta and grandma pizzas are the favorites. The pies are baked in a gas oven on a flat stone that evenly distributes even heat to the pizza absorbing moisture and resulting in a crispy crust.

Gino’s has a loyal following; one customer who lives in Staten Island comes to the restaurant — from Staten Island! — twice a week.

Louis Branchinelli, the general manager and partner of La Piazza in Plainview, is the son of one of the original owner of Gino’s in Brooklyn. La Piazza has restaurants in Merrick and Melville and is also connect to Mama Teresa’s. There are two ovens at work at La Piazza. The stone hearth gas oven produces the large 18-inch pies. Ten-inch, artisinal pies come out of the wood burning brick oven. Popular small pies are chicken Marsala; broccoli rabe and sausage; simple classic marinara with plum tomatoes and garlic; and BBQ pie with barbecued chicken, caramelized onions, provolone and BBQ sauce. For all their pies, La Piazza uses imported San Marzano organic tomatoes and imported Italian olive oil.

So there you have it — pizza, the food of the people — readily available all over Long Island.