Tuesday, February 12, 2019

In NYC, 'America's 1st pizzeria' may be losing its credentials

The early staff at Lombardi's (photo provided)
Q: What is the oldest commercial pizzeria in the United States?

A: Lombardi's, in lower Manhattan.

That has been the correct answer for many years. Now, however, it is being challenged.

The U.S. Pizza Museum in Chicago is alleging that Lombardi’s actually may not be what it claims to be. Statistician Peter Regas, who has been researching the matter for a decade, has concluded that Lombardi’s was not the country’s first place to sell pizza. And, Scott Wiener, widely regarded as New York City’s preeminent pizza historian, agrees.

Wiener says he has found that alleged Lombardi’s founder Gennaro Lombardi actually is not the founder. Rather, he says, Lombardi didn't own the pizzeria until 1908, and that there likely were several other owners before him.

Lombardi's website says: "Lombardi's was founded in 1905, making it the first pizzeria in the United States. Still located in the Little Italy section of Manhattan offering its beautiful, smoky-crusted coal oven baked pizza, topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil, keeping locals and visitors alike coming back."

Essentially, all food historians agree Gennaro Lombardi began as a grocery store owner in 1897, and, says Wikipedia, he "began selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string at lunchtime to workers from the area's factories. In 1905 Lombardi received a business license to operate a pizzeria restaurant ... .

"In 1984, the original Lombardi's closed, but reopened 10 years later a block away at 32 Spring Street, run by Gennaro Lombardi III, Gennaro Lombardi's grandson, and his childhood friend John Brescio. This change in location and this hiatus surrendered the title of America's oldest continuously operating pizzeria to Papa's Tomato Pies in Trenton, NJ, which opened in 1912 and has sold pies without interruption since."

Lombardi's has a sister location at 290 Eight Avenue, the Chelsea Westside neighborhood.

The website Thrillist has a list of the nation's 20 oldest pizzerias. Curiously, and probably because of the 10-year gap for Lombardi's, while it includes eight New York State pizzerias among its top 20, Lombardi's is not one of them. They are:

2. O’Scugnizzo’s Pizzeria (formerly Eugeno Burlino), Utica, 1914
3. Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitana, Brooklyn, 1924
6: Sanatoria's Pizza, Buffalo, 1927
7 (tie): John's of Bleecker Street, New York,1929
7 (tie): Aloy's, Poughkeepsie, 1929
10: Sam's, Brooklyn, 1930
11 (tie): Patsy's, New York, 1933
20 (tie): Tony's Pizzeria, Kingston, established 1936

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