Tag Archives: pizza

A New York City farewell eating tour

Posting this mostly for my own records.

Next week, I’m moving away from New York. Starting with a pizza tour a few weeks ago, I’m trying to cram in some quality NYC meals in my last stretch as a New Yorker. Some of these are classic places, some are on the list for sentimental reasons. Here’s a summary of where I’ve been in the past few weeks, along with a few places slotted for my remaining 10 days:

First, the pizza joints:


  • Bagels: have been hitting my local, but would like to get a last trip to The Bagel Hole
  • Court Pastry Shop, for the spumoni and maybe a lobster tail
  • White sauce hot sauce – probably won’t make it to my favorite Halal cart (near Queens College), but trying to patronize all my neighborhood stands
  • Some quality pastrami – probably Pastrami Queen, which is near my place and is ridiculous
  • A last slice of the weirdly delicious cheesecake at my favorite diner

Where is the artisan bagel movement in NYC?

Moving to New York, I was excited about two things: pizza and bagels.

Pizza did not disappoint. NYC’s pizza landscape is rich, and has become richer over the last decade. There are overlapping ecosystems for dollar slice joints, traditional slice joints, and hybrid slice/Italian food joints. There’s a stratum of old school NY pizza restaurants: Totonno’s, Arturo’s, Sam’s, etc, as well as the newer places that aspire to a similar aesthetic. And there’s whole class of artisinal, neo-Neopolitan places, where foodies shell out big bucks for bufala. You could eat pizza every day and never hit every place.

The bagel landscape is perhaps equally complex. But it’s bottom-heavy in comparison to pizza. You’ve got the guys in the silver street carts who sell bagels pre-filled with a slice of cream cheese wrapped in wax paper. There’s the bullshit bakery chains, the Panara-Dunkin-ecticut-n-crustys where bagels are an afterthought to other baked goods. And then there are the mainstays, the neighborhood bagel shops. Like neighborhood slice joints, the quality of this category varies widely, from shoulda-had-a-Lenders to the Bagel Hole (the only really outstanding bagel I’ve ever had, in NY or elsewhere).

But where are the artisan bagels? Dom Demarco has people lining up for $5 slices at Di Fara. There’s gotta be a similar market for someone to sell outstanding bagels – small, properly boiled, without preservatives – even if they charge a premium for them. I get that it’s not glamorous: stirring a pot full of boiling bageloids in a dingy kitchen doesn’t have the sex appeal of wielding a peel in candlelit Lucali. And I get that bagel-place-as-destination is hard to fit into the geography and the late-night culture of New York. At the same time, a great bagel can be just as fantastic as a great slice, and IMHO is just as important a part of NY food culture. Where are the hipsters lining up to continue this particular foodways tradition?

Maybe I’m way off here, and there is actually a bagel subculture in NYC that I’ve never stumbled on. I hope someone’ll clue me in.

Grilling pizza for fun and leftover disposal

This summer, my family and I rented a lake house for a few weeks. We were excited to have a grill, and at first, we took serious advantage: burgers, chicken, kebobs, barbecue, etc. But we soon ran up against two problems: meat fatigue and a fridge full of leftovers. Between the two of us, my wife and I have a number of standby techniques for disposing of miscellaneous leftovers, but most (like frittatas and stir fry) require making the house even hotter with a hot stove.

Pizza to the rescue! We got the idea early in our trip to try making pizza on the grill. It turned out so well that we ended up doing it a number of times. Not only was it a good way to get rid of just about any grilled leftovers, but it was legitimately good pizza in its own right – even when some of the ingredients we used were kinda cheap.

Arriving at the best technique was the biggest challenge. I’ve described the process below. We had a propane grill, which was helpful for heat control, but you could do it with charcoal and it’d probably taste better.

Get a dough – We got our doughs from the local pizza joint. You could make it yourself, but it’s a pain to make pizza dough, and so cheap to buy it. I’ve bought doughs from at least a half dozen pizzerias, and I’ve never paid more than $4 for a large one. As long as it’s a non-chain joint that does reasonable business, you know the dough will be fresh, and prepared with more expertise than if you’d done it yourself. (Some grocery stores sell pizza doughs. I’ve never bought one, so I can’t vouch – but I have noticed that they’re generally pretty small. Also, you can buy premade crusts, but is lame, as it takes away the biggest advantage of the grill, namely that it gets hot enough to cook a crust properly.)


Get a large dough from a local pizzeria. Price: $2-4.

Get the rest of your ingredients – You’ll need:

  • Sauce – We used cheap jarred sauce. Plain crushed tomatoes would probably be even better. Once we made a pie with leftover pulled pork, and I used a thin layer of barbecue sauce instead.
  • Cheese – We had our best results with Polly-O mozzarella, either grated large or cut into very thin strips/slices. The pre-shredded stuff is a big question mark – could be fine, but could be pretty dry (that is, too dry – good pizza cheese should be a bit dried). You can use another cheese as an accent, like a bit of goat cheese.
  • Toppings – Whatever you have laying around. Once we made something pretty fancy (some chi-chi salami), but usually it was whatever meat and veggies we’d grilled the day before. If it’s a bit limp after sitting in the fridge, give it a quick sauté before using. Fresh herbs are nice too.
  • Oil – We used olive oil at a couple different points in the process, as described below.

Get your mise en place together – I’m typically cavalier about getting stuff in place before cooking, but with grilled pizza it’s crucial. The steps below can be fast and furious, and you won’t have time to stumble drunkenly to the fridge to get ingredients.

Mise en place

Get it together. High Life optional but recommended

Preheat, clean, and oil the grill – Turn it up as high as it goes. The reason why you’re able to make decent pizza on the grill, but not in your oven, is because the grill gets a few hundred degrees hotter. Give it at least 15 minutes to get blazing hot (or more, depending on how your grill works). Make sure it’s clean and well-oiled, or your crust will stick and break.

Stretch the dough – There are lots of ways to turn a ball of dough into something resembling a pizza. My preferred technique is to stretch it to a disc, then hold it vertically by the edge, letting the dough fall downward while stretching the cornicione a little bit. Keep turning and stretching, allowing gravity do most of the work but helping to keep a pretty uniform thickness. Basically, make the crust as big and thin as you can without breaking and without being too big for your grill.

Almost ready to flip

Almost ready to flip

First grilling – It’s time to give a quick sear to what will end up being the top of the pizza. Lay the stretched dough on the grill. (It’s flexible, so now’s the time to make that circularish dough into a rectangularish shape, if that’s how your grill is shaped.) Brush the exposed side of the dough with olive oil. Then close the lid. Let it cook for maybe a minute, then check the upskirt. Once it’s charred to your liking, turn the burners all the way down – this’ll be important in a second. Use a big long spatula to make sure the whole crust is loose from the grill, and then use that same spatula (along with some tongs, or your hands) to flip the crust over.


Upskirt (that’s a technical term)



Top the pizza – You’ve turned the burners way down, but the grates are still very hot. You’ll want to top the pizza as quickly as possible, so you can get the lid closed and the cheese melted before the bottom has a chance to burn. Brush the pie with oil. Then sauce and cheese – if you put the cheese down first, it melts a little better, but it’s harder to then spread the sauce, so experiment to your liking. Then the toppings. It’s helpful to have two people working here, one doing the oil, the other following right behind with sauce, and so on.


Topped and ready for the second cooking

Let it cook – Close the lid and crank the heat up all the way again. Because the grill cooled a lot while you had it open to flip and top (when the heat was turned down), this second cooking will take a bit longer than the first. Check the pizza after two or three minutes. You’re looking for two things: the cheese should be adequately melted, and the bottom of the crust should look adequately done. If it seems like the crust is cooking too fast, turn down the heat.



Remove and dress – Get a platter, and use your big spatula to get the pizza off of the grill. Depending on size and thickness of crust, it should be pretty firm and easy to handle. This is when I like to dress with basil and a drizzling of oil. Some Parmasean or Romano cheese would also be good.

Here are a few of the pies we made over the course of our stay:

Unless you’ve got a special oven made for cooking pizza in your kitchen, the technique described above is likely to get you the best home-cooked pizza you can make. It’s a cheap and delicious way to put leftovers to good use. Hop to it, before grilling season is over!

Looking back at 2010

2010 was a wild year for me, one that I’ll look back on as a turning point in my professional and personal life. For that reason I thought I might take stock of the past year. (Here’s 2009’s post.) If you are one of those snobs who think that year-end retrospectives are schlocky, feel free to get the hell out of my blog.

As 2010 opened, I was working full-time as the educational technologist by Queens College. I believed strongly (and continue to believe) in the importance of the work I was doing there, but I already knew a year ago that I wouldn’t be able to stay at the job for much longer. I identified as an ed tech, and part of the (really great) ed tech community, but it was a label that never really felt right. When people asked what I did for a living, I hesitated. I left the job near the end of May.

Since then, I have been supporting myself doing custom web development, almost exclusively using BuddyPress. In the last six months, I’ve transitioned from an uneasy edtech to a confident (though still n00bish in many ways) developer. It’s a classification that feels better in many ways. Moving into development has allowed me to be personally productive in ways that the structures of my old career simply couldn’t support. I produce a lot of software that is used by a lot of people; moreover, I am moving toward a position where I get to select only those projects that are of independent interest to me. Measured like this, 2010 was the most productive year of my life, made possible by the career move (and the new self-identification that came with it).

My move into development is not without misgivings. As an educational technologist, working in the confines of a traditional university, there were always connections (sometimes tenuous, but always discernable) between my day job and my identity as a graduate student. Granted, in the time I was at Queens – first as a graduate fellow and then as a full-timer – I made next to no progress on my dissertation. But the fact that I was in a university, and enabling teaching and learning in a hands-on way, kept me in constant communication with my inner philosopher: drawing on my teaching experience, speaking in academic tones with faculty members, engaging in debates on the goals and methods of educational technology in ways that never strayed far from the kinds of discourse I learned in the seminar room. My work as a developer, in contrast, is much less explicitly academic; while some of my projects (notably, the CUNY Academic Commons) have sustained my contact with the university, mostly I am paid to think about software and websites rather than anything else. In the short term, this will undoubtedly be a good thing – I attribute the progress I’ve made on my thesis in the semester since I left Queens College to the fact that my day job provides me with some much-needed release from the mental anguish of the university life. But the more I make a name for myself as a developer, where ‘developer’ is unqualified by ‘academic’ or any similar modifier, the more I have to make conscious decisions about how (and whether) I want my paying gigs to connect with my academic interests. It’s an issue I’ll continue to wrestle with in 2011.

Paralleling my move into a development career has been an increased participation in the WordPress world. In July I was made a moderator on the buddypress.org support forums. In October, I was brought on as a committing developer for the BuddyPress project. I spoke dozens of times through 2010 on WordPress and BuddyPress, at WordCamps, meetups, conferences, THATCamps, and various other fancy places. At the beginning of 2010 I felt like I’d staked out a position on the outskirts of the WordPress community; at the end of 2010, I feel like I’m much closer to its center. And while I could live without the occasional drama, tunnel-vision, and personality cultishness of some WordPressophiles, for the most part it has been a real treat getting to know, and getting to work with, so many of the best WP developers. It’s broken me out of that other echo chamber I come from (academia), made me a much better coder, and introduced me to some really fabulous folks.

In 2010, I also got more and more tangled up with the digital humanities community. In July, I spent a week at the Center for History and New Media for the One Week | One Tool project, where I was on a team that built Anthologize. I attended a number of THATCamps and was witness to a number of Twitter arugments of truly epic proportions. And while I could live without the occasional drama, tunnel-vision, and personality cultishness of some DigitalHumanitiesophiles, for the most part it has been a real treat getting to know, and getting to work with, so many of the best digital humanists. (Is there an echo in here?) My intellectual connection with DH is such that it is hard for me not to put scare quotes around ‘digital humanities’ every time I write it: I am an academic, and I do extensive work with digital technology, but the connection between the two is not manifest in my own work. Still, DH in 2010 has been an exciting place to locate oneself, with cool projects, smart people, and the occasional Big Idea rising to the top over the course of the year.

I continued being a dork in 2010. I came in 66th at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (breaking 50 in 2011! You read it here first!). I switched from QWERTY to Dvorak. I visited the Googleplex. I wrote a lot about pizza and barbecue. I made the decision to stop buying Apple products. I completed Angry Birds. I wrote 45 blog posts on Teleogistic, with a smattering of posts elsewhere. Teleogistic got 960 comments. I wrote many tens of thousands of lines of code, much of which was terrible, and much of which is sadly hidden forever on client servers, but some of which is free and helpful to many.

On June 5, 2010, I got married. I mention this last not because it is the least important event of the year but because it is the most. The process of preparing for a wedding, with the help and support of so many friends and loved ones, was something I will never forget. The wedding day was the most perfect day I can remember. And the girl I married – well, duh, she is the best part of 2010, or of any year.

The changes of 2010 were more significant for me than any year since I was in college. Nearly all of those changes have been for the better. I have some exciting plans for 2011, but for now I am happy to reflect on the year that was. For me, it was a good one.

Totonno’s burns, Boone mourns

I just read some terrible news: My favorite pizzeria, Totonno’s in Coney Island, has suffered major damage from a fire this morning. I’ve had a lot of great pizza in New York, but Totonno’s was, at its best, the best in the city, and it’s also the most consistent of the great joints. I might go so far as to say that Totonno’s is my favorite restaurant, period. Needless to say, I feel awful about the whole thing.

Here are some links to articles about the fire. Each has a little different take on how bad the damage is, but they all agree that the place won’t be up and running anytime soon.

Here’s a picture from my birthday, when I ended up eating a whole pie. Whoops.

Get well soon, Totonno's

Get well soon, Totonno's

Come back soon, Totonno’s!