The new Manhattan location of Denino's Pizzeria had high expectations to meet when it opened last week. Its mothership on Staten Island, a beloved fixture of the borough since it started slinging pies in the '50s (it opened as a tavern in the '30s), is routinely cited as one of the best pizzerias in the five boroughs. Waits for a table are expected any day of the week and guaranteed on weekends, when Staten Islanders come out in droves for the crisp, thin crust pies. Would those Staten Islanders approve of this franchised facsimile of their beloved pizzeria? I took one with me to find out.
I've been eating at Denino's in Port Richmond with my boyfriend's family for many years now, so I took the Staten Island native to MacDougal Street this weekend to set about comparing the two. To begin with, the two restaurants depart aesthetically. Denino's on Staten Island is a casual space, with a large bar up front and three large dining areas packed with large groups and families noisily tucking into plates of fried calamari and passing around slices of pizza on paper plates at nondescript tables and booths.
The Manhattan outpost is significantly smaller, with a medium-sized bar in back and two dining areas separated by a few steps and a maze of thigh-high walls and fence-like structures to cordon off certain tables. The effect makes some tables a bit cramped, with narrow areas through which staff must navigate to drop off hot metal platters of pizza.
Staten Islanders may scoff at the "hipster" Edison bulbs illuminating the tables, but at least the bathrooms here are a vast improvement over the ones a borough away.
Unsurprisingly, the price point's a bit higher, but not egregious for Greenwich Village. A pint of Bud Light that costs $4 on SI costs $6, the same as a pint of Brooklyn Lager, though they were out of it during our visit. There are no pitchers, either, which is disappointing, but it's in line with the more sophisticated experience the new owners are clearly trying to cultivate. You get real napkins here instead of paper and proper plates, too, to hold slices of saucy pie. A plain pie'll set you back $19 (up from $13.50 at the original), plus extra for toppings.
Garlic Bread Parmigiana, $5 (Nell Casey/Gothamist)
Which brings us to the food itself. The Garlic Bread Parmigiana ($5), a standard order whenever dining out with the family, passed the stress test with aplomb and plenty of butter. Both of us were impressed with the level of garlic, as well as the distribution of cheese. For anyone wondering why you'd order what boils down to the same ingredients of pizza (bread and cheese) right before eating pizza, well, the fact is Denino's does a damn good garlic bread, and the same is true here.
So what about the pizza? We're happy to report that, all in all, Denino's Greenwich Village does a solid version of the ones being offered on Staten Island. The crust is nearly spot-on, with an excellent crunch and the signature cornmeal dusting across the bottom. The slightly sweet sauce, as it is at the original, pairs well with the liberal dosing of salty mozzarella.
Just like OG Denino's, these pies are best when consumed quickly, before the sauce gets cold and the cheese coagulates. Mouth burns heal quickly anyway.
I don't have a lifelong connection to the restaurant, but I've visited enough times to know what I like, and for me, it boils down to the sausage. Denino's Staten Island serves some of the best pizza sausage I've ever had. Crumbly, salty, fatty and delicious, it's one of the things I like best about the pizza. Sadly, I can't sing the praises of the version served in Manhattan just yet. It still crumbled, but it was drier, more tightly-packed and less aggressively seasoned. Not worth the extra $1.50 for half the pie.
The only other criticism in what was a commendable opening run was a strange, vaguely chemically flavor that popped up every other bite or so. Not completely off-putting, but noticeable enough to warrant comment.
Despite that, we still enjoyed the pizza and would return if a trip to SI were out of the question. Overall, our Staten Island ringer gives it a 90% passing grade. "There was a little something missing to make it not quite perfect, but I'd have to go back," he concludes. "They've only been open a few days." He concedes that there might have been something a bit off with the crust: "I've never had a floppy end of my slice" at the original.