Pre-Cruise Day 2: A Brooklyn Pizza Tour

A picture of Paul eating a slice of pizza in New York City

I think I’ve already mentioned we love to eat, right? The name of this website is a bit of a giveaway. Saying it’s our only reason for traveling (or living) might be going a bit far, but not by much. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise you that our main fun for our second day in NYC was a pizza tour of Brooklyn.

We’d initially looked for a company that offers New York pizza tours, but we didn’t see one we liked. So rather than pay $50-$75 per person to get a tour of pizza places we could easily find on our own, Kathleen came up with her own, hand-crafted, personalized pizza tour of a few of Brooklyn’s most famous pizza purveyors.

This wasn’t my first trip out to the wilds of Brooklyn, but it was definitely the furthest out from Manhattan I’ve ever traveled. And it takes a LONG time via subway from Times Square—like over an hour—but the payoff is worth the effort.

Our first pizza stop was the famous L&B Spumoni Gardens. It was nice enough outside for us to take advantage of their outside tables, which I guess is the “gardens,” though it really was more like a bunch of picnic tables next to a semi-busy street.

The pizza at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn, NY
Our first stop on the pizza tour. Also turned out to be our favorite.

“Gardens” or otherwise, this turned out to be our favorite of the pizzas we sampled. We tried a slice of the round, traditional New York style (very good) and a slice of the square, Sicilian style (unbelievable). Next time we visit, when we don’t have multiple pizza places on our agenda, I plan to order two entire pies here and just go to town. It was great.

The pizza counter at Totonno's in Brooklyn, NY
Maybe the most classic of the classics.

Rather than mess with multiple subway lines, we decided to just take a short five minute Uber ride to our next delicious destination. Our next stop on our homemade pizza tour was Totonno’s at Coney Island. This is one of, if not the absolute oldest pizza places in NYC. Luckily, we arrived early enough during the day (around noon) to snag one of their few tables without a wait. We placed our order and sat to wait, enjoying the very intoxicating smell of fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza wafting all around.

The proprietor at Totonno's in Brooklyn, NY
The famous, if cranky, proprietor.

What makes this a slightly more challenging stop for a pizza tour is the fact that they don’t do pizza by the slice here. Kathleen and I weren’t daunted, however, so we ordered a large pie—we could have ordered a small, but the large was only $3 more, so…you do the math. The pizza was delicious, but maybe could have been a little more flavorful. The crust was exceptional, but I like my pizza with a little more cheese. Critiques notwithstanding, we very much enjoyed the pizza and came only a few slices shy of finishing the large pie. But while I would venture out to Brooklyn to visit L&B Spumoni again, I’d probably say Totonno’s, for me, isn’t worth the lengthy travel effort.

The pizza at Totonno's in Brooklyn, NY
We could have just eaten one slice…yeah, right.

A view of Coney Island

We needed some time to digest our Totonno’s before venturing to the last of our pizza stops, so we decided to take a short walk over to the main part of Coney Island for a quick look around. Neither of us had ever visited this classic vacation destination, so we were curious to check it out.

A picture of Nathan's Famous at Coney Island
I need something to cut through all this pizza. I’ve got it!

Even though we needed a break from pizza, we couldn’t help ourselves from trying another New York dining icon, Nathan’s Famous. I wasn’t ready to pull a Kobayashi, but I did have enough room to split one famous hot dog. It was fantastic—probably the best hot dog I’ve ever encountered.

Inside of Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn, NY
Di Fara, thankfully minus the typical huge line.

Having failed at digestion, we decided to get back on the pizza train and hit our last stop of the tour. Our next and final stop was Di Fara, which was thankfully only a few subway stops away. Again, we lucked out and avoided the typical long lines at this very popular pizza spot. And I have to tell you, I’m glad that was the case, because if I waited over an hour to get this pizza, I would have been very displeased.

A slice of pizza from Di Fara in Brooklyn, NY
A lot of people love this pizza and I’m not sure why.

The pizza at Di Fara was flavorful, I’ll give it that, but it just wasn’t well prepared. It was overcooked, for a start, and it just lacked overall quality. I may give it a small pass because the famous pizza maker who opened Di Fara back in the 60s wasn’t there making the pizzas. I would consider trying it again if I could be sure he was the person making the pies, but otherwise I’d give this place a hard pass, especially if there’s a wait.

At last satiated, we got back on the subway for another long journey back to Manhattan. We needed some time to digest (yes, seriously this time) and get showered and changed before our night out at the Phantom of the Opera.

Having gone a little crazy with the pizza earlier, neither of us had an appetite for dinner prior to the show. We did, however, want to have a small bite. We decided to compare whether a Nathan’s Famous hot dog was better than a hot dog from a random cart on the street (it was). Kathleen and I both have fond memories of NYC street hot dogs from when we were kids, but this one was dry and disappointing. Maybe the Nathan’s just spoiled us for all hot dogs forever more.

The chandelier from the Phantom of the Opera in New York City
Lot 666.

We arrived at the Majestic Theater at about 7:00, one hour before show time. They let us in at about 7:15, which was plenty of time to find the restroom and make our way up numerous flights of steps to our seats. Kathleen and I had both seen Phantom when we were kids, and we’d been looking forward to experiencing it again. The show was excellent—there’s a reason it’s been running on Broadway for so long. By all means, go see it the next time you’re in NYC.

We were in the mood for a couple post-show drinks, so we took a short walk over to a restaurant we accidentally discovered on our last trip to New York, Havana Central. We drank a couple of their excellent mojitos, and split a few of their standout empanadas.

A mojito from Havana Central in New York City
Feeling the cruise spirit and we’re not even on the ship yet.

Now, I know you’re going to laugh, but while relaxing at the hotel earlier in the day, we discovered that my favorite pizza place in NYC had a location one block from our hotel. After a day filled with pizza, it seems insane that we’d want even more pizza, but we wanted to see if my favorite place compared favorably to the slices we tried earlier that day in Brooklyn.

I drunkenly discovered Famous Amadeus late one crazy night about ten years ago while waiting for a train at Penn Station. It was simply the best pizza I’d ever had, and I’ve even returned on a number of occasions while sober to confirm my initial drunken impression. Unfortunately, their location on 50th street lacked the quality of the original near Penn Station, so we were a bit underwhelmed by the slice we split. Or it could have just been pizza overload, I’m not entirely certain.

After a long, full day, we went back to the room and hit the bed, ready for an early start for day one of our cruise the following morning!

Up next in cruise day 1: boarding the ship, and one last New York treat.


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