Gerry Pappalardo is passionate about his tomatoes. But rather than going with premium San Marzano Italian tomatoes (or cheaper domestic need-sugar varieties), Gerry discovered tomatoes, canned from California, that he believes are perfectly sweet and ideal for his sauce-forward pies.
His other place, Joe and Pat's, is a highly esteemed and well-known Staten Island pizza restaurant that has been open since 1960. It offers pies that boast an super-super thin Staten Island-style crust, a healthy slather of their addictive vibrant-red tomato sauce, and ample (but not too much) cheese. The pizzas are visually striking because the cheese melts into confined circular areas and the sauce brightens the palette with plenty of solo surface space. The crust, while it may not elicit awards for transcendental air pockets or that oft-desired perfect pillow-to-crunch ratio, is nevertheless addictive in its simplicity: it functions as the perfect support for the simple and refined flavors of the cheese, the sauce, and perhaps some toppings.
Alas, Joe and Pat's is not particularly accessible for people who do not live on Staten Island. Even with a car, one must fork over a pretty penny just to drive over the Verrazano Bridge. I would guess that the vast majority of Joe and Pat's business comes from (Staten) Islanders, and this is okay with the owners - judging from how very busy the place seems to be.
Enter Pier 76. Opened by Gerry Pappalardo, along with his son Jeremy, and his son's friend, Joe Guastavino, Pier 76 offers pizza made the same way as Joe and Pat's, less than five minutes walk from the St. George Terminal on Staten Island.
A free boat ride to great pizza - why not?!!! Aboard the ferry, save your appetite and skip the snack bar (tempting as it is with its vintage 70's formica decor). (You could have a beer.)
Pier 76 has two parts: a slice side, and a separate sit down restaurant, complete with a bar, widescreen televisions, and a full Italian menu.
I haven't had a chance to sample anything beyond pizza and salad - but I can definitely recommend the "Margarita" version of the standard pie. It's the same as regular, but it features fresh mozzarella and basil leaves.
I spoke with Gerry the other day, and he remarked on the sauce and its origins, and on growing up eating homemade pizza for breakfast.
(Click above photo for audio slideshow featuring Gerry Pappalardo + sounds from the Staten Island Ferry.) (You may need to pop up the volume a little until I can figure out how to make it sound better.)
Map Pier 76 (call ahead for days/hours).