If Staten Island is Gotham’s least heralded pizza borough, Long Island has long gone uncelebrated as the New York pizza trove it truly is. That’s OK. Let hipsters queue in Brooklyn — Long Islanders know those carless city schmucks don’t know how good Nassau and Suffolk pizza country is. Long Islanders even have a pizza style, one that has caught on over the past decade since Erica Marcus publicized it in 2003.
If there’s a Long Island pizza royalty, coronate Umberto’s Pizzeria (not King Umberto’s in Elmont — that’s another story). You can thank Italian-born founder Umberto Corteo (from Monte di Procida near Naples) and his brother Joe, who opened the Original Umberto’s of New Hyde Park in 1965.
Their humble joint turned into a self-described “majestic Tuscan architectural two-story restaurant with a full-service cafe.” Regardless, Umberto’s slings superior pizzas. Most notably, the grandma: a square, 12-slice, 16-by-16-inch thin crust pie topped with mozz and plum tomato marinara. Haven’t experienced this thin, crispy-crust satisfaction? Start here. It’s generally regarded as the originator of the grandma slice.
Why? How did the style spread? According to Pizza: A Slice of Heaven (which any pizza lover refers to as the most important pizza tome ever written), the brothers made the pizza "Mama made" for themselves and friends, but didn’t menu-item it. They opened satellite pizzeria King Umberto with another Corteo brother, Carlo, which upon his retirement was sold to two Umberto’s employees, Rosario and Sal Fuschetto (who, it should be noted, make no mention of the original Umberto’s on their own site). A Slice of Heaven author Ed Levine reports that two pizza makers Rosario and Sal hired who’d gotten their start at the original Umberto’s saw the potential of the grandma pie and put it on the menu.
So maybe you have them to thank for this light, thin, crispy-chewy pie with light crushed tomato sauce and a scattering of mozzarella that every pizza-proud Long Islander knows is better than Sicilian, better than deep-dish, heck, better than many pizzas you’ll find in Manhattan.
Whatever you believe, you’ll want to be sure to make the move of every grandma. Grab at least one corner.
— Arthur Bovino, 101 Best Pizzas in America 2015, 8/6/2015