Totonno's in Coney Island has been baking coal oven pies since 1924 and lays claim to being the longest continually operating family-run pizzeria in the US. But in March 2009, a fire originating above the old oven spread to much of the restaurant, and for several months there were doubts about whether the place would reopen. The three owners held a vote and decided to go ahead with repairs that, ultimately, ended up taking much longer than anyone expected. Totonno's finally reopened this month.
Prior to the reopening, I was privileged to visit the restaurant on two separate occasions. The first time I stopped by, they were firing up the old oven for the first time since the fire. It was a particularly emotional moment for Antoinette - the one owner who was present that day. She tearfully explained that the reason she voted in favor of repairing and reopening Totonno's was for her grandfather, (Totonno's founder) Anthony "Totonno" Pero.
Pero had gotten his start as the pizza maker for Gennaro Lombardi - the man widely credited with introducing pizza to the United States. Because Pero was Lombardi's pizzaiolo, the Totonno's family believes that when it comes to proclaiming who made the first pizza in the US, their place merits mention alongside Lombardi's.
However you slice it, a visit to Totonno's is a trip back in time. Only pizza is offered there. And Totonno's pizza is continuously ranked best or second best in the city by nearly every reviewer and blogger reporting on pizza.
More on Totonno's soon....
Map Totonno's (call ahead for days/hours).