I first learned of Totonno's while visiting the hobby shop Precision RC in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. A number of regulars were socializing and I told of a recent visit to Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn - see here. They were familiar with the place and queried me about the current pricing of slices. When I reported $5 each, the room was abuzz with incredulousness as one repeated my findings to another. I was advised to visit Totonno in Coney Island where, according to them, I would find better value and pizza. So the name was filed away for a future excursion.
On Sunday, I made the journey out to 1524 Neptune Avenue on Coney Island. Timing, hunger and circumstance found me there early evening between shifts, so my first experience was an unusually quiet one. They are often mobbed with lines. I was privileged to have nearly the entire place alone.
Totonno's began in 1905 when Anthony “Totonno” Pero distinguished himself as one of N.Y.’s first Master Pizziolas. In 1924, he opened his own pizzeria in Coney Island. The establishment is currently run by three individuals who operate it from Wednesday to Sunday. Michael, Maddie and Totonno's niece, Louise Ciminieri. Learn more at their website here.
The service was a bit cool, but I knew that this was likely just a little armor that comes from working for decades in a retail environment in New York City. I surmised a little lubrication would release the humanity.
I began taking photos - it was clear from the walls of articles, awards and photos, that Totonno's was a mecca and photography was standard fare. See my entire photo gallery here. I began to tell the story of my visit to Di Fara, my subsequent visit to the hobby shop and the recommendation I was given to seek out Totonno's. I also told of the crowds and lines at Di Fara and how at $5 per slice, that little old man must have accumulated some serious money by now.
Louise was unimpressed - she quickly retorted that Di Fara insists on doing everything himself, accounting for much of the slowness in service. Apparently a demonstration was needed and Louise cajoled Michael: "come on, walk like Di Fara" Michael obliged, as seen in the photo.
The elixir of humor was flowing now, Michael and Maddie took a seat in a booth next to us. I asked Michael what he did outside of Totonno's, to which he replied he did standup in Rockaway two nights per week. He laughed and I realized I had been taken.
A new customer walked in and ordered a small pie. Louise asked how many were left, to which Michael answered, "two." I asked the meaning of this. Did they make dough DAILY and sold until they ran out? Louise said yes and I asked do others do this?
"No one does what we do." She followed with a discussion of ingredients and the pains they go to get them and maintain the same quality pizza made in 1924. They still use a coal oven pizza with coal deliveries made every two weeks. Louise also told me how Totonno was now a destination and how travelers from around the world visit the Neptune Avenue pizzeria.
I told them of this website and that I would be featuring the pizzeria. I left in a great mood, so fortunate to have a New York City moment in an iconic restaurant. It all served as a good review in basic science, that a little warmth melts any ice and a little oil unhinges any armor. Out comes humanity, and if you're lucky, a little free theater entitled "Walk like Di Fara." :)