Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pizza with a Side Order of Staten Island

Staten Island is rarely thought of as a culinary destination, but this attitude only betrays the ignorance of people who have never been to Denino's Pizzeria Tavern. Denino's, which has been around since 1937, serves an excellent thin-crust pie--and the bus trip there from the Saint George Ferry Terminal presents a fascinating slice of a changing Staten Island.

On my recent trip to Denino's, at 524 Port Richmond Ave., my college buddy and I ordered a ricotta pie--tomato sauce, mozzarella, and ricotta cheese--with beer and salad on the side.

Denino's motto is "in crust we trust." The crust on our pie was good but not quite excellent: wonderfully crisp around the edges, but just a touch moist underneath the middle of the pie.

The cheeses and sauce, however, were superb. The tomato sauce was light, with just enough strength to complement the cheeses. And the mozzarella and ricotta were delicate, flavorful and fresh. The result was a pizza with a good mix of flavors and textures that was not at all heavy. And the beer and salad were just fine.

After Denino's we walked across Port Richmond Avenue to number 501 and Ralph's Famous Italian Ices. The ices there, which come in many flavors, are a great dessert after a meal at Denino's.

My friend and I got to Denino's, which is in northern Staten Island, by taking a ferry to Staten Island and then the S44 Bus from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in Saint George. The bus ride took about 50 minutes; we got off the bus at Hooker Place, a short walk from the tavern.

The bus was slow, but it gave us a great chance to see landmarks of the old Staten Island--nineteenth century housing and an old synagogue--along with the many stores and restaurants that signal the arrival of Mexican immigrants in northern Staten Island.

On the way back, we hailed a cab that took us back to the ferry along the Kill Van Kull, one of the last stretches of working waterfront in New York City. As we reached Saint George, we got out of our cab near the Staten Island Yankees stadium and walked down to the boardwalk that links the stadium and the ferry terminal.

The boardwalk offers great views of the harbor, and it leads right past the Staten Island 9/11 memorial. The memorial takes the shape of two great postcards, which look like wings, engraved with the names and profiles of those lost from Staten Island. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful of its kind in the metropolitan area.

There's more to Staten Island than pizza, but Denino's alone is well worth the trip. It can, however, get crowded on weekend evenings. Denino's Pizzeria Tavern is open from noon to 11:45 pm, seven days a week. You can call them at (718) 442-9401.

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