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Before the Fire at Totonno's

On Friday we decided to continue our pizza quest and headed for Coney Island to go to Totonno’s. And how lucky indeed. As Small Bites fans might already know, we got there just one day before a fire shut the place down. They plan on reopening, but we just don’t know when that’s going to be.

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We took the subway out there.

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It took about 45 minutes.

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The stop is at the end of the line and there’s a terminus station.

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Coney Island and it’s neighbor Brighton Beach are very Russian neighborhoods.

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The hunna stands outside the station.

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Did you know that Coney Island was named by the Dutch because at the time it was overrun with rabbits? The root of the rabbit word is con in many languages: Conejo in Spanish. Coniglio in Italian. Konijn in Dutch.

Nathan’s Famous. The first one. From the turn of the century, when Coney Island was as much a summer destination as the Hamptons or the Jersey shore today.

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Totonno’s is just a couple blocks away from the station.

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I’m posing with Mike, the pizzaolo.

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Inside.

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White walls filled with framed media mentions. Black and white tiled floor.

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We walk in and Louise Ciminieri, the owner (and granddaughter of Totonno’s original owner) is chewing out the plastic wrap guys for delivering the wrong size box. (“What am I supposed to do with this? Can’t you see this won’t fit? I don’t know why I bother getting deliveries when I always have to go down and pick up stuff myself.”)

We ask her if we’re supposed to order there at the counter? She tells us no. Go sit down at the table and she’ll take our order. OK. We go.

The hunna is excited.

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I’m excited too.

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See that black and white photo above me to the left? The one with the two white figures on the right side? That is a photo of Louise’s grandfather, Anthony Pero, outside Lombardi’s on Spring Street in SoHo. Lombardi’s is said to be the first pizza place to open in the US; Pero — whose nickname was Totonno — was the pizzaiolo there starting in 1905. He opened Totonn’s in 1924. According to the website, Totonno’s is the oldest continually operating pizza restaurant owned by the same family.

We go to the counter to watch them making the pizza.

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The prices:

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The menu:

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Jamie spreads the homemade marinara sauce on the dough:

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Notice the three rounds of dough in Mike’s hands? Mike keeps working and worrying those while he’s making other the pies to order. He presses down on them, and then rearranges them, putting the bottom one on the top and pressing down again so the doughs are even.

Thisis just a few minute later. See how much closer they are to being ready for toppings?

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Cheesing it up:

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Putting the pizza in:

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Our za:

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Greg working on one of 16 slices of pizza he ate.

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Thin, bouncy crust. Nice balance of sauce and cheese. Totonno’s is an institution and it’s easy to see why they’ve been open so long. Fabulous.

I went back to watch more of Mike.

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Mike says they took up to 16 shovelfuls of coal a day to keep that fire at 1,000 degrees. They used to light the coals at 9 a.m. and let the oven heat up for 3 hours until it was hot enough to open the restaurant and start cooking pizze at noon. According to Ed Levine on Slice, Totonno’s owner Lawerence Ciminieri said the fire started in the coal storage area. Here’s the quote:

Ciminieri says, “Everything is going to be fine. The fire broke out in the coal storage area when we were closed. It must have been ignited by something backed up in the oven. The back two rooms are gone. The dining room is fine. The oven will have to be re-bricked, but that is something we do every few years anyway. I think we’ll be back open in a month. Tell everybody thanks for me, Ed. Everyone’s been so supportive.”

Some people came in on a pizza tour:

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Empty Totonno’s after they left:

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Some of the clippings and photos:

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Our table in the window:

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Other tables:

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We asked Louise if we could take a photo with her.

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Louise, afteward, on a smoke break.

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May ye open again soon, Totonno’s.

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12:00:00 on 03/13/09 by liz - Category: Restaurants

Comments

Bob wrote:

Looks good. Does it rival Jake's?

04/20/09 09:38:46

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