The day after dining at Louie & Ernie’s pizza in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx, I saw a man wearing a John’s Pizza t-shirt that proudly and in quotes stated “No Slices.” I’ve been to John’s on Bleecker Street several times. It’s one of just a few remaining of the city’s original Italian-American, coal-fired, brick oven places. And they make a decent pie, though now, with a branch in Times Square, on the Upper East Side, and in Jersey City, they have slipped a bit into tourist trap mode. And, no, they don’t serve slices. You have to wait for a table (and sometimes the waits are interminable) and order a whole pie. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but the proclamation on the t shirt was, after sampling Louie & Ernie’s where they, refreshingly, do serve slices, took, in my opinion, pizza arrogance to a level it should never go to. Maybe John’s really doesn’t mean it, but the “no slices” policy implies that because they don’t serve slices, their pizza is better than those who do. Or maybe I’m just a little oversensitive.
With our group in full attendance for this, Zio’s pick, we immediately found out that there was no such pretension at Louie & Ernie’s. Located below a typical Bronx 1950’s row house, on a stretch of Crosby Avenue renamed Ernie Ottuso Square after one of the original owners, and with the constant roar of arriving planes into LaGuardia above, this was old school New York pizza, slices and all.
The six of us squeezed into one of the small pizzeria’s largest tables and glanced at the menu. There were no surprises; pizza and calzones was all they served. Anchovies, meatballs, sausage, and all the other usual toppings were available. But, according to the accolades on the walls from various publications, it was the white pizza and the calzones, including a broccoli rabe calzone, that were the standouts at Louie & Ernie’s.
We ordered three pizzas: a fresh garlic, sausage and onion, and a white pizza along with a few broccoli rabe calzones; the greens a little something to offset the starch onslaught.
All the pizzas had thin, nicely charred crusts from a conventional pizza oven. The combination of sauce to cheese was balanced properly and both ingredients fresh and flavorful. Oozing with creamy fresh ricotta and mozzarella was the white pie and it was as good as advertised.
The sausage, out of its casing and crumbled in clumps, made in house was tangy with bits of fennel but unfortunately was paired with onion which overwhelmed both the sausage and the sauce. The pie with the addition of fresh garlic was a mistake and unnecessary. Good pizza really should be eaten with as little adornments as possible. Despite these very minor shortcomings, we devoured the pies, and the outstanding calzones, oblivious of the ongoing football game that was broadcast on the television in the front of the restaurant. Even our chatter was kept to a minimum, so intent were we on our mission.
With just a few bites remaining of the multiple pies, Zio turned to me and in a soft tone said, “Did you think the sausage was a bit undercooked?”
I replied that I did not and went back to finishing the pizza but was distracted when I noticed Zio’s finger in his mouth, probing for something.
“I think I chipped a tooth,” he hissed.
On what, we wondered? The creamy mozzarella? The broccoli rabe? He opened his mouth displaying a tiny gap in his front teeth that wasn’t there before. He now bore an eerie resemblance to the British actor from the 1950’s Terry Thomas, but with a Sonny Bono haircut and smile. He had indeed chipped a tooth. But he shrugged it off, not holding it against Louie & Ernie’s, even ordering two broccoli rabe calzones to go.
To add to our starch intake, Theresa’s Bakery next door offered freshly made cannolis. It was a mild night and we ate ours standing outside Louie & Ernie’s while children played, dogs were walked, and the planes above continued to make their descent into LaGuardia.