Jon Stewart on Pizza

CUNY Pie-ers will go out of their way to watch the middle section of Jon Stewart’s Nov. 13th show in which he settles, once and for all, the virtues of NY pizza vs. Chicago Deep Dish. Don’t be eating pizza when you watch it. You’ll choke.


CUNYPie returned today after a too-long hiatus with its first trip to Staten Island, where we visited Denino’s. This was a two campus affair, as me and my homeboys from Baruch joined our sisters from City Tech for pies and pitchers, which I’ll get to in a moment. The occasion of our trip to Shaolin was the 8th Annual CUNY Coordinated Undergraduate Education Conference, at which we all presented. There’s lots going on with undergraduate education at CUNY these days, only some of which made it onto the docket at the conference. The controversy around Pathways was a subtext in each of the panels I attended, but was curiously absent in the day’s opening remarks. The general feeling I got from folks was one of resignation that Pathways was probably going to happen, we’ll just wait and see, and then we’ll make the most of it.

The keynote was delivered by Mark Taylor, who presents himself as an expert on “Generation NeXt,” and visits schools and other organizations to help them think about improving student engagement. The pedagogy he espouses consists of familiar stuff: flipped classrooms, active/engaged learning, future orientation, embracing technology (though as an information more than a connective tool), etc. The rationale he offers for this pedagogy is grounded in an analysis of generational difference, supported, as far as I can tell, by his synthesis of a range of secondary sources. Not sure if he does original research, as the papers presented on his site refer entirely to the research of others. We heard a good 30-40 minutes of talk about differences between the Baby Boomers and the generation just behind me, drawn significantly from Jean Twenge, whose work I’m not a fan of. Taylor doesn’t come down as hard as Twenge or Mark Bauerlein on “kids these days,” but rather sees in the generation’s broad characteristics learning styles that need to be adjusted to.

Taylor’s rationale was pretty Domino’s, which is to say, weak sauce. There was a lot of charm and playfulness and “I’m a southern yokel and you’re all New Yorkers” before he got to what he was trying to say. But you don’t have to be a professional historian to know that identifying the broad differences between generations is only the very beginning step towards understanding how higher education needs to evolve in the coming years. And you don’t have to be a CUNY lifer to know that our university serves a particular set of populations, only small segments of which look like the learners Taylor theorizes about. At one point Taylor argued that colleges and universities better adapt or they’ll face disruption from some unidentified, external force. I don’t necessarily disagree with this notion or find it problematic (except for when he likened students to customers). But many of us know this already, and are determined to be that disruption ourselves rather than simply to head it off. In that spirit, Mikhail and Tom and I left Taylor’s talk fifteen minutes early to go get set for our panel. In short, the keynote was a significant step down from Pedro Noguera’s rousing talk at this same event last year. Noguera knew well who we were and who we serve, and used that knowledge to speak directly to our challenges.

But all of this was prelude, prelude to pizza. Denino’s makes a damn good pie, thin but not saggy, with a cornicione that was a bit blistered, chewy, and crispy. We had four pies: a sausage (my fave), a margherita (good, not great), a half olive/half mushrooms (heavy on the olives, and quite strong), and an anchovy (to which I can only say this). The restaurant is a sizable, friendly family joint, and we were very lucky to get a table for ten just before the Friday dinner rush. If I lived on Staten Island, I would definitely be a regular. And it only cost us $13 each!

Big ups to Jody Rosen, who grew up on Staten Island, for picking the spot and then bullying me into writing this post. Only you, Jody. Thanks for organizing the outing and giving me that specific kind of CUNY Pie full and happy feeling again.

Staten Island Pizza

On May 11th, after the CUNY CUE conference (formerly the CUNY Gen Ed conference) ends at 4:30, we’re hoping to have the inaugural Staten Island CUNYPie outing, and I’ve felt the weight of the decision on my shoulders, not knowing other CUNYPie members with Staten Island experience to share in the pizzeria-selection decision. I thought about keeping this message in the discussion board, but then decided that it’s not just a matter of housekeeping–it’s a matter of Staten Island pizza preference, which I take seriously. As someone who grew up on Staten Island, I should be able to say that I’ve tried all the SI pizza all-stars, or at least the ones that were in business when I lived there, or even when returning to visit, but I can’t. I used to go to Goodfella’s on Hylan Boulevard, which was always very tasty, but then they expanded far and wide, and I lost interest. Growing up, when my family wanted good pizza, the kind you go out for, not the kind you pick up and maybe reheat the next day in the toaster oven, we went to John’s Pizzeria in the Village. I don’t think it was until I was in college that my family went to Denino’s, a no-frills top-notch pizzeria on the North Shore in Port Richmond–the best pizza on Staten Island that I knew of. I also remember around the same time going to Jimmy Max in Westerleigh, which also had good pizza, maybe not quite as good, but it was more of a restaurant, which is to say, it had decor and plates that weren’t made of paper.

Now when I visit my parents and we want good pizza, we get pizza from Ciro’s in Hugenot–it’s from the same family as Jimmy Max as I understand it, and it’s really delicious. And I noticed that another Jimmy Max opened in Great Kills or Eltingville. I’m glad to know that the South Shore has some good pizza options! But I digress–neither of these would be good choices for the 5/11 post-CUE-conference CUNYPie outing because they’re too far south, the wrong direction from CSI and the ferry or express bus. Just keep them in mind the next time you’re on Staten Island, especially if you’re looking for pizza near the Staten Island Rapid Transit.

So, should CUNYPie head to Denino’s? Or to Joe and Pat’s, which I’ve never been to but have always meant to try? There are a few others that get mentioned in one place or another, but both of those write-ups  feature Denino’s and Joe and Pat’s prominently, so it seems to come down to these two.

There had once been talk about CUNYPie rotating through the boroughs. There was also an ambitious goal of eating pizza near each CUNY campus to create a guide of sorts to CUNY pizza-eating. I encourage everyone attending the CUE conference, working at CSI on 5/11, or itching to try some Staten Island fare to join us, and to weigh in here on pizzeria selection!

Tiny fish make everything better

Ah, Totonno’s. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that last week was my first time eating at one of my home borough’s most famous pizza places. And it was fitting penance, too, for my major goof earlier this fall: on a trip to the aquarium with my kid, it was only when we sat down and I watched him begin to eat the limp, cafeteria-style pizza while I reluctantly tucked into a sad chicken salad that I realized with a doh! how close we were to Totonno’s AT THAT VERY MOMENT.

I made up for it last week. It was a dark & stormy night (though no tornadoes, like the trip to Di Fara’s I missed in September). But the pizza completely made up for the long, cold commute down to the edge of Brooklyn. By the numbers there were 6 people, 5 pies, 2 glasses of wine, and not sure how many Brooklyn Lagers.

And it was good. Thin crust, just the right combination of chewy and crispy. Excellent sauce to cheese ratio. We went for one each of the plain, pepperoni, white, anchovy, and sausage pies. I have to admit that I hit my limit before the last pizza arrived, and there were a couple of sausage slice leftovers, speedily divvied up in a rock-paper-scissors smackdown.

My favorites were the white pie, with its vampire-busting levels of garlic, and the anchovy pie, solely consumed by Boone, my spouse Jonathan, and me. What’s up with the fish-hating, CUNY Pie-ites? Where’s the anchovy love? Boone’s eyes were as big as saucers when he realized there were others there to help consume one round of salty tasty fishy goodness. Clearly I need to make future CUNY Pie outings more of a priority, lest Boone slowly perish from lack of anchovies.

Totonno’s. Tomorrow. DO NOT MISS THIS.

Reposted from the CUNY Pie group so that non-CUNY members can comment and join us:

cc licensed photo by Adam Kuban

Hi All,

This is a biggie. Tomorrow evening, CUNY Pie will make the trek out to the farthest reaches of Brooklyn to sample what many people believe is the best pizza to be found in the New York region (and, therefore, the world (no “arguably” about it) ).

Here are the kinds of things people tend to say about Totonno’s:

“Only God Makes Better Pizza” — Zagat review

“Legendary” — The New York Times

“My favorite pizzeria” — Boone B. Gorges

“Every self-respecting pizza-loving New Yorker should visit the Coney Island original at least once in his lifetime. Go soon before they run out of dough permanently.” — New York Magazine

So, yes, my friends, you need to join us, as this is sure to be an epic CUNY Pie.

Depending on how many people are coming and where they are coming from, we will set up a meeting place so that we can all head over together. If we have a large Manhattan contingent, we can meet there as we have in the past, but I think it might make sense to meet in Brooklyn — perhaps somewhere along the F line. And if you’d prefer to meet us at the restaurant, we will be meeting up at Totonno’s at our usual time — 6pm.

If you plan on coming, please respond to this post and let us know where you are coming from.

Hope to see you tomorrow.

In solidarity,


The perils of flouting convention

I felt grouchy the day we went to Co., Jim Sullivan’s renowned pizza restaurant on the West Side of Manhattan. In retrospect, I suppose that I was predisposed to be skeptical about Co. I’d heard raves about the Popeye (spinach and gruyère) and the meatball pies, about the oven and the crusts that were coming out of it. Accolades had reached me through Twitter, where friends had loved the place, and through the traditional media, where Frank Bruni had bestowed a coveted star. These kinds of expectations, coupled with a look at the menu – single-serving pies average $15-ish – had put me on alert long before arriving at 9th and 24th.

We were a big group, so we ordered at least one of every pizza on the menu. I would call several of the pies “good”. The Margherita was nice enough, the Popeye was indeed tasty, the sausage on the Boscaiola was pretty top-notch. The Rosa, more like pa amb tomàquet than pizza, was the best thing I ate at Co. that day. All the other pizzas were pleasant enough. For being heralded as a pizza-crust-lover’s paradise, I found the pies inconsistent in their doneness; a few had a char that bordered on burn, while others were paler than I would have liked. All of the crusts were puffier, breadier than I’d anticipated, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when considered as bread, but always strikes me as odd in pizza.

And really, this strikes at the heart of my feelings as I ate at Co. Set aside the fact that the meal itself was overpriced and overhyped. Considered qua meal, my lunch at Co. was actually pretty enjoyable. But as someone expecting pizza, the experience left me feeling sad.

While it certainly isn’t the worst offender out there, Co. symbolized for me a kind of emotional trick. When you open a restaurant and decide to advertise it as a pizza place (or when you have a very New Yorker “Pies” section on the menu), you bring the entire history and culture of pizza to bear on the dining experience. The diner’s expectations are framed by the pizza terminology, which evokes a family of pizza-related thoughts: red-checkered tablecloths, frozen pizzas, red pepper shakers, Pizza Hut. The baggage of “pizza” is especially impossible to avoid in New York City, where American pizza was born. Like no one else, New Yorkers are deeply connected to their corner slice joints and their favorite holes-in-the-wall. The connotations of “pizza” are surely different for everyone, but there are a few common refrains through those connotations: a certain humility that springs from pizza’s origins as a cheap food for and by immigrants, and is carried on in the $1.75 ($2.00? $2.50?) slices that are the mainstay of many a grad student’s diet.

If “pizza” evokes the quotidian, then to open a pizza restaurant that is highly unquotidian is to make a statement. Such statements can be a beautiful thing; to reject them altogether is mindlessly conservative. Pizza trends can relate to each other like big band jazz to the blues, like bebop to big bands. But if you’re going to evoke the lineage of pizza in order to flout it, let it be a meaningful artistic statement. Flatbread with béchamel and lardons is not the the same thing as *pizza* with béchamel and lardons. $16 flatbread is not the same thing as $16 *pizza*. As you multiply the vectors of contrast against the history of pizza, it gets harder and harder to justify the name; without a thoughtful reason for evoking the emotions attached to pizza, you risk exploiting them.

I feel a bit exploited whenever I visit a place that flouts my culinary expectations in an apparently thoughtless way. I do wonder, though, whether my reaction is a function of the fact that I think too much about pizza. For those of you who are fans of Co. and its ilk: what do you like about it? How do you place it against your pizza heritage?

Fall 2010 Agenda: CUNY Pie Goes Old School

Photo by Roboppy

I recently met with fellow CUNY Pie co-founder Boone Gorges to discuss some Commons-related issues, and, as usual, the subject of pizza came up. We agreed that the group has had a good first year, but we thought about instituting some changes that would up the ante a bit next year.

In order to add a bit of regularity to our meetings so that members could plan ahead, we’d like to set up a regular meeting schedule. And we thought that it might be good to embrace a semester-long theme. We left my first suggestion — that Fall 2010 be devoted to the borough of Queens, in part because we didn’t make it there in year one — for a later date and decided instead to go old school for the fall, visiting long-established institutions as a grounding point. This continues the work we began last year, when we visited a few of the legendary New York pizzerias (Lombardi’s, Patsy’s, Totonno’s). It seemed only right to finish the job.

Finally, we’re asking that one attendee of each event, to be determined at the table, write up a quick (emphasis on quick) recap for the CUNY Pie blog. Posts should include photos and should be published within two or three days of the visit. We need to make sure that we document our work and that we do so in a timely fashion.

So, here is our proposed schedule for the Fall. We will meet on the first Thursday of every month at 6pm, unless otherwise noted.

August 19th: Grimaldi’s (time is of the essence)
September 2 16: DiFara’s
October 714: L&B Spumoni Gardens
November 4: Totonno’s (Coney Island)
December 2: John’s Pizza (Bleeker)

Notice that the November 4th location is TBA; we’d like your help in figuring that one out. Please nominate an old-school NYC pizza joint in the comments. And if you have suggestions for future themes, please let us know.

Here’s to more good eating in the next academic year!

2009-2010 CUNY Pie Wrap-up

Now that we’ve completed our first year of CUNY Pie, I thought I’d put together a bit of a retrospective of the year that was in CUNY pizza. Here we go:


Plain pie at Lombardi's. Photo by Matt Gold

“Beyond sharing our individual histories with pizza, we talked about parenthood, family, and future locations for our meetups. Tontonno’s in Coney Island? Yes. A spot to be named in Jersey? Perhaps. Neopolitan in New Haven? Not me. (Let the Yalies eat it, I say). Mostly, though, we talked about CUNY, the edtech universe, and our various projects. We criticized, confessed, and we praised. We stayed long after I finished that last slice (which happened to be the smallest of the plain pie… thanks, guys!), and the thought of ordering another pie to scarf down before departing probably crossed each of our minds. Perhaps we should have.”
— Luke Waltzer, “Two Larges at Lombardi’s


Anselmo char

A Platonist at heart, Boone Gorges ruminated upon the ideal crust and proclaimed it to be deeply charred.

“I am not a particularly sentimental man, but something about a chewy, crispy, charred crust brings the romance out of me. Indulge me: What could be more beautiful than the relationship between a hungry mouth and a hyperglutenous ring of dough? Like all great romances, this one is not without its tensions. Any decent cornicione puts up too much of a fight to simply be bitten off. You have to clench, you have to tear. The best ovens impart the flavor of their many years into those Maillard marks, bits of black that can taste bitter at first. Children might prefer an undercooked doughiness to a deep char, in the same way that they can’t appreciate the many layers of a great love story. Yet, for the initiated, the tensions of the fight make the end result that much more satisfying.”
— Boone Gorges, “Tragedy of the Cornicione


YouTube Preview Image

To celebrate WordCampNYC, we held CUNY Pie events on consecutive nights, visiting Sam’s in Brooklyn one night and Luzzo’s in Manhattan the next. I used footage from these outings to create the CUNY Pie Anthem


Photo by Adam Kuban

Boone Gorges considered the role of toppings on pizza and declared that he would like to live in a house built out of Totonno’s pepperoni.


Totonno's pepperoni

Boone Gorges visited Totonno’s on the eve of its reopening after a fire. And it was good

Jody Rosen urged us to try Giovannas.

A few members of the CUNY Pie crew sampled pizza in Fairfax, Virginia.


“The CUNY Pie team arrived at Lucali in mid-April, just after dusk, with a cool breeze in the air and an eight-month old baby (!) in tow. We stood outside, shivering a little as we waited for a table. And then, the fateful call came, and we were invited in to a rustic, candlelit dining room with rough-edged, wooden slab tables and the cherried glow of a pizza oven warming the the room. We ordered a few pies and also a calzone, which @boonebgorges let us know was a speciality of the house. The pizzas arrived piping hot, with steam lifting off of the cheese and the light, hand-shaped crust charred to perfection. The tomato sauce was bright and the pies were adorned with fresh basil and long, thin shavings of aged parmigiano reggiano.”
– Matthew Gold, A Post as Aged as the Parmigiano Reggiano

CURRENTLY UNDOCUMENTED (posts coming soon, we hope)
A trip to Patsy’s in East Harlem
A trip to Totonno’s in Coney Island
A trip to Co. in Manhattan

All in all, it was a very good first year, though we have miles to go — and many pizzas to eat — before we sleep. More about that in the next post.

A Post as Aged as the Parmigiano Reggiano

A few months ago, a small group of CUNY Pie devotees ventured forth from various corners of the tri-state area (New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn) to visit Lucali. It was a trip I had anticipated for a long time, not only because the reviews of Lucali were good from the start, but also because I had tried, without success, to visit twice before: on my first attempt, I arrived to find a full restaurant with a one-hour wait; on my second visit, the place was closed.

Thankfully, we got in this time. The CUNY Pie team arrived at Lucali in mid-April, just after dusk, with a cool breeze in the air and an eight-month old baby (!) in tow. We stood outside, shivering a little as we waited for a table. And then, the fateful call came, and we were invited in to a rustic, candlelit dining room with rough-edged, wooden slab tables and the cherried glow of a pizza oven warming the the room. We ordered a few pies and also a calzone, which @boonebgorges let us know was a speciality of the house. The pizzas arrived piping hot, with steam lifting off of the cheese and the light, hand-shaped crust charred to perfection. The tomato sauce was bright and the pies were adorned with fresh basil and long, thin shavings of aged parmigiano reggiano.

A fresh Lucali pie

The eight-month old slept in his stroller under the table while the rest of us feasted. We left nothing behind but crumbs. It was a good night, and the pies — perhaps like this post? — were well worth the wait.

CUNY Pie and the Future of Academia: Mangia

The THATCamp CUNY Pie Gang

academicdave is surprised; boonebgorges is partially obscured; mattthomas is debonair; clioweb is excited; mkgold is upskirting; samplereality is the unseen photographer. Thanks samplereality for the photo

CUNY Pie is mired in rhetoric. Understood as a purely gastronomic endeavor, the language of CUNY Pie gravitates toward quasi-Italian phraseology and Brooklyn neighborhood names. As understood by those who tout the project as an extended experiment in academic social spaces, CUNY Pie bears a weight far greater than even the low-grade mozzarella heaped lovelessly on a Sbarro slice. Is pizza and beer the lubricant for an academic conversation of more significance? Are instructional technology and postulation on the future of university just excuses to go to Patsy’s? Or does the situation of CUNY Pie within the CUNY Academic Commons or even CUNY as a whole challenge the presumption that there is a justifiable distinction between social and academic behavior? In what can only be described as an instance of academia’s tragic instinct to overtheorize the beautiful, pie theory threatens to outshadow pie eating.

For this reason, it was a relief to actually eat some fricking pizza last weekend at THATCamp. While other attendees went to Hooters or something, an intrepid group of campers, led by our gracious host, took a trip to Tony’s NY Pizza. Jeremy was anxious for a verdict on what he called the best pizza around. And my verdict is: It was pretty good. The pizza was slicejointesque: big pies, sweet sauce, generous amounts of dried cheese. The vegetable pie was surprisingly good, notwithstanding the odd distribution of black olives. The sausage pie offered thick, cross-cut slices of a fennely sweet sausage, which I enjoyed more than the pleasantly fatty but sort of bland meatballs. The crust had the familiar rolling docker pock-marks on the bottom, and was, like many whole pies bought from slice joints apparently used to reheating slices, pulled from the oven about 90 seconds before it should have been. The dough could have used more salt, but the cornicione, especially on the more done sides of the pizzas, had a pleasant chewiness. In sum: an above average street slice type of pie, and really quite good for NY street pie outside of NYC.

There was a bit of Twitter chatter about whether a CUNY Pie event in Fairfax, with just two out of six attendees formally connected to CUNY, really counts. For one thing, a few of the attendees have already been assimilated. Second, if you really believe the ballyhoo about CUNY Pie as a harbinger of the university to come, surely you can’t in good faith fall back on the artifical institutional boundaries that dominate traditional academia. CUNY Pie is more than a bunch of people eating pizza. It’s a movement, an ethos, which could be summed up thus: Stop yammering and eat your damn pizza.