ilovebaddishes is not a blog or piece of culinary literature crafted by a foodie. It is one big mans love of food and his never ending quest to find the next delicious thing to eat.
Today’s quest leads us to Rizzo’s “Fine Pizza Co. located at 17 Clinton Street in the lower east side of NYC.
Rizzo’s felt like the perfect spot to kick off, “I love bad dishes” for a few reasons, it’s located in the Lower East Side, the Place FRANK151 grew up. Chapter 63 is called “NY Skate of Mind” and what’s more New York then pizza? Rizzo’s is run by a guy named Bugsy and damn good pizza.
For those of you who don’t live in NYC or are recent transplants you missed what many would call the glory days of pizza. The good ol’ days where getting a great slice at 12 p.m. or 4 a.m. was as easy as walking out your front door, sadly it just isn’t like that anymore. Don’t get me wrong our pizza game is still strong but a lot of old school pizza shops have been replaced by these dollar slice spots that are either decent and great for a buck or shouldn’t legally be allowed to be called pizza. If I had to call them something I would call them greasy cheese like triangles.
Today, however were talking about what I’d call the good ol’ pizza days, where the crust had just the right amount of crunch, cheese that drips at the right rate and a sauce that you lick off your shirt instead of wiping it off. Rizzo’s Pizza is the type of pizza I grew up on in Brooklyn and is one of my favorite slices on the island.
NM: Hey, Bugsy. How’re you doing?
Bugsy: How you doing, Bro?
NM: I’m doing well. How you feel?
Bugsy: Like a million dollars, Bro.
NM: A million dollars is a good look.
Bugsy: (Laughs). How you doing?
NM: It’s a good number. I’m good. I’m tired. I don’t know why I’m this exhausted for this early in the year.
Bugsy: The weather, the weather,Bro.
NM: So, yeah. Well, whatever it is, I’m just, I wanna go home and take a nap. But, that ain’t gonna happen.
Bugsy: Nah. You’re all good.
NM: What’s Rizzo’s story?
Bugsy: In 1959 brothers Joseph and Salvatore Rizzo, along with their brother in law Hugo Lupi opened their small pizza shop on Steinway in Astoria, Queens. Being immigrants from Italy they did very, very well with thin crust Sicilian pizza. Back then, it was sold in trays. Back in the day, I don’t know if you remember, like the old school
Bugsy: They used to say “tray”. “Give me a tray of pizza.” They made only one type of pie with no toppings and a thin, crisp, crust with just the right amount of sauce, this is essentially what made us so popular and where we attracted a lot of our attention and our loyal customers.
NM: All right. So what makes Rizzo’s pizza different? Now, I’ve had it and it’s phenomenal.
Bugsy: Rizzo’s is basically the home of the original thin crust Sicilian pizza. What we do is something completely different hence our catchphrase “Try something different.” Usually Sicilian pizza is a thick, doughy, airy slice.
Bugsy: We specialize in a thin crust Sicilian pizza. On top of that, each slice of pizza gets a thin slice of Mozzarella layered on top.
NM: Gotcha. Well, it’s good to know why I eat a lot of it. Uh-
NM: What do you think of the overall state of pizza in New York City today? Cause I have some very definitive opinions.
Bugsy: I’ve got some good stuff for you.
NM: Can’t wait to hear this.
Bugsy: The 99 cent pizza places are killing the pizza culture.
Bugsy: Destroying it. They’re selling cheap ingredients, a lot of times they’re selling fake cheese in order to sell it to you for 99 cents. The kids walking home these days and people that are on a budget, are not eating for taste. They’re eating for sustenance. They’re walking into the 99 cent pizza places and walking out with under $3.00 for two slices and a can of soda. But, you know, they’re eating crap, basically.
Bugsy: And, they’re really killing the pizza culture in New York.
NM: Well, this angry fat man, hopes that changes too because it’s a ridiculous state when you can’t just walk out of your house and find good pizza anymore in New York-
Bugsy: Definitely. Definitely.
NM: And now that’s the case. So, I need to ask again. While we were there, what’s the deal with the older Italian guy in the kitchen who doesn’t speak a lick of English? I have to believe that adds to the flavor.
Bugsy: He’s our new partner. We’re experimenting with it, maybe expanding the menu somewhat.
Bugsy: He’s not doing anything to the pizza. The pizza’s staying exactly the same as it’s been since 1959 but, we are potentially looking into expanding the menu. Because he is the number one gelato maker, awarded number one in Milan, Italy. And, he’s also very, very talented. He’s made pasta by hand his entire life.
NM: Wow. Okay. I understand.
Bugsy: So, we’re looking to expand with that. But the pizza is not being touched whatsoever.
NM: Got it. And lastly, so, I think it’s because of your long history with New York and I know from a personal stand point, that’s made Rizzo’s sort of become like a hub of culture too.
Bugsy: Yeah. Yeah.
NM: How do you encourage it? Because, you know, as being a lil’ someone from the inside and the outside, it’s kind of a phenomenon. From every walk of life, it’s becoming a “hangout” spot, not just a place to eat great pizza. So how did that happen?
Bugsy: Well, my previous career I was involved in nightlife for a very long time. From there, I had tremendous, tremendous Rolodex of contacts with skaters, with music industry people. Various, various walks of life. Once they found out that I was a part of Rizzo’s, that helped propel Rizzo’s LES to the downtown scene – hub for creative types. Downtown celebs, music industry people, etc., etc. On top of that I gave them a little bit of a different avenue to get creative in a different arena. I used people… I invited people like Neil Armstrong, Ricky Powell, and a bunch of other people to create their own pizza pie, and we would have pizza parties around that. It was a great concept that worked out very well. Who doesn’t want to create their own pizza pie? A lot of these people have been asked to create T-shirts, sneakers, etc., etc., but pizza they’ve never created. It turned into a real fun project and we kept on going with that. I believe that that really helped create Rizzo’s LES as a downtown hub, as you said.
NM: I hope soon we’ll put a Frank Pizza back on the menu now that we’re back in play. Now, that there’s a fat guy in charge, you know what’s going to happen.
Bugsy: Let’s do it. Let’s do it. We need a Frank Pizza on the off the menu-menu.
NM: Yeah, that special DL password handshake walk through the kitchen type of thing.
Bugsy: Let’s do it.
Mark: All right.
Bugsy: I’m ready. I’m ready.