I didn’t think there could be anyone more enthusiastic about pizza than me. That is until I met Scott Wiener. First I ran into him with a busload of tourists at Williamsburg’s Fornino. Then on a private walking tour at John’s of Bleecker. Then first in line at the first Food Network Wine & Food Festival Pieman’s Craft event at Una Pizza Napoletana. Too proud to actually take one of his tours myself (I thought it would be the equivalent of riding a double-decker around Times Square gawking at the Empire State Building), I was secretly thrilled when my wife bought me a ticket for my anniversary present. But was there anything that Scott could actually teach me about pizza that I didn’t already know?
The tour met up at Lombardi’s. Though I’d been there dozens of times, Scott’s enthusiasm coupled with the look of awe on the Midwesterners’ faces was contagious. Getting VIP seating BEFORE Lombardi’s opened and an up close personalized tour where I could stick my head into the famous 1905 oven didn’t hurt either.
As we boarded the pizza bus, Scott lectured on the regional differences of pizza, the history of pizza, even the molecular science behind pizza. Most of it I’d come across, but this guy eats and breathes pizza 24/7. I was thrilled as we avoided traffic and arrived at the original Totonno’s in Coney Island which I admit I hadn’t been to since a fire shuttered them for almost a year. Though we ate al fresco, again we got VIP (Very Important Pizza) treatment and took turns going in to get up close and personal with the owners and the oven, the different types and fuel sources of which Scott sneaked into his lecture while happily doling out steaming hot slices to the crowd.
Back on the bus, Scott wouldn’t tell me our next destination but took special joy when he confirmed I’d never been to Famous J&V Pizza of Bensonhurst, which has been serving up slices since 1950, Scott threw us a curveball after the historically-linked Lombardi’s and Totonno’s. He constantly changes the pizza destinations and even the boroughs he takes you too so you can take the tour multiple times. We had wonderful square tomato and Parmesan dusted Grandma slices. While Scott discussed his international pizza box collection obsession, I sneaked a traditional Sicilian slice and a wedge of a Jo Jo sandwich, J&V’s signature chicken parm on garlic pesto brushed ciabbata.
Wanting to show my appreciation and share my own passion with the group, I ran across the street to the Bari Pork Store and bought packages of proscuitto di Parma for the bus. Scott said to hold it until our final stop where it might come in handy. And it did. Damn if this guy didn’t surprise me again when he pulled up in Park Slope at La Villa, a new gorgeous Neopolitan style pizzeria I’d never even heard of where the owner showed us unopened bags of fresh mozzarella di bufala imported weekly from Italy.
Scott ran around flashing photos of water buffalo after clearing with the owner that he didn’t mind if we enhanced his already quality pizza with some randomly strewn proscuitto. On the bus ride back Scott played some more silly pizza songs over the bus PA system while quizzing us on the origins of pizza. His thoughtful goody bag included not only mints, a notepad to record our pizza observations and a wet napkin, but even gummi pizza for dessert.
Forget about the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Whether you’re a tourist from the pizza-deprived Midwest or a pizza diehard living in New York City like me, you gotta hop on the Pizza Bus.