Monday, September 22, 2008

Coney Island Tradition, its going going going, its gone.

Growing up in NYC, I have become very much accustomed to change. Neighborhoods grow, hot spots come and go, and landmarks that once stood tall, crumble and fade into the infinitely transforming landscape. In fact the changing scenery is so constant, that much of the time it goes unnoticed until one day, you walk by an Emigrant Savings bank without giving a thought to the fact that it was once the Fillmore East. Or, you stroll through the Disneydom of Times Square unable to recall the location of your favorite arcade as a child or the Hojo’s that stood faithful to its clientele for 46 years.

These are things you learn to take in stride, meaning, you stop expecting them to stay the same, you stop taking it personally when your favorite bar closes down or your most-loved building gets condemned, and you try as hard as you can to take part in the parts of the city that you love while they are still around to be enjoyed. That is why, when Ben and I found out that this last Sunday was to be last day of Astroland Amusement Park, we jumped in the car and headed for Coney Island. To be honest, the park was not nearly as crowded as we thought it would be, and though there were no overt signs of mournfulness, there was a faint whisper of melancholy accompanying the shrieks of every exhilarated ride-goer. Ben and I played a few games, to no avail. I was looking forward to finally going up in the Astrotower to see the coastal view from way up above, but was disappointed to find that it was not running. For the Water Flume, a ride in which you sit in a fake water log that is propelled down a twenty-foot water slide, we stood behind a couple who had already been on six times that day; they were trying to get in as many trips on their favorite ride before it closed forever.

After an hour or so, our stomachs were growling, and, not being the types to sit and watch the Titanic go under, it seemed like just the right time to participate in yet another Coney Island Tradition, Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano.
This New York City eatery claims to be ‘the oldest continuously operating pizzeria in the US’ and is heralded as one of the very best by pizza lovers from all over the world.
There are of course vehement debates regarding the latter statement, and it seemed only right that Ben and I took a taste in order to enter the dispute. As we drove down Neptune Avenue, I was suddenly struck with a wave of panic, what if Totonno’s isn’t there anymore? It was a silly and unfounded apprehension, yet understandable in the shadow of the closing of Astroland . Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if the same suspicions clouded Ben’s thoughts as we searched adamantly for the pizzeria.
My fears were put to rest as we drove by the pizzeria to find it opened, and with only a few people waiting outside. Parking, on the other hand, was not so easy. It took twenty minutes of driving around and still we could not find a spot. After ten minutes the line had grown to about ten people so Ben let me out to wait in line while he continued the search for parking. By the time we were both in line, we were ferociously hungry and the smell of perfectly burnt dough that wafted out of the door every time it swung opened was like some form of sadistic culinary foreplay. Another twenty minutes and we were being led to our table. After two moments at the table the waitress was standing over us asking in a rather brusk tone, 'you know what you want?' It sounded more like a command than a question. Sure the service was a little coarse, but it kinda added to the old NY charm. We ordered a pie with half pepperoni and garlic, and half mushrooms and anchovies.
The anchovies were a little too pungent for my taste, but the peperoni and garlic was fantastic. Without a doubt it is the crust that makes the pizza at Totonno's; thin, crispy, but not at all soggy, and just the right amount of brick oven burntness.
This is the type of pizza that does not weigh you down, even after half a pie! I must say that I prefer the sauce and the cheese from Di Fara's, but to compare the two any more than that, would be like comparing apples and oranges.
As we stumbled back out onto the street, our bellies full, my mind wondered back to Astroland, for any moment, the amusment park would close for good and Coney Island would be changed forever. Maybe I should have ridden the Water Flume just one more time.

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