The story of Brooklyn’s pie society

The story of Brooklyn’s pie society
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Slices are this guy’s life.

Scott Wiener writes about pizza, gives guided pizza tours, and on May 21 he will lecture about the sacred edible form at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Wiener’s talk, titled “Pizza: The Brooklyn Story,” will explain how the cheesy finger-food became a staple of New York fare and how his home borough helped get it there.

“It’s cheap, portable, fast, and tasty,” said Wiener about his mozzarella-topped muse. “It fits in with the pace of New York.”

But pizza was not always so ubiquitous an item. The circular staple was first used by bakeries to cool and clean the ovens, and as a way to get rid of leftover dough.

“Pizza was just a throwaway,” the Bedford-Stuyvesant resident and slice scholar said.

The first pizza parlor in the country was Lombardi’s, which opened in 1905 in Manhattan, but its owner Gennaro Lombardi lived across the East River in Williamsburg and Dyker Heights.

Lombardi’s is still open, but because of a decade-long hiatus and a short move, Wiener says the longest continuously operating pizza joint is Coney Island’s Totonno’s, which opened in 1924 and has been slinging pies ever since.

Brooklyn at the turn of the century was home to loads of bakeries and buildings with coal ovens and they became appetizing real estate for pizzaiolos as the profile of their product rose. Today, many of the coal ovens are gone, but the tradition of dough-twirling is as going strong in Kings County.

Wiener is about to launch a pair of Brooklyn pizza tours, one in Williamsburg and one in Cobble Hill. He currently offers a few Manhattan options, and occasionally runs the pie walks in other boroughs. He also does tours for private groups by request.

The tours include three or four stops and, to simplify sharing, he tries to keep his customers in groups that are multiples of eight.

“It’s all about pie division,” he said, explaining the need to keep butter knives out of the picture. “Whole slices only. It would be too disrespectful to the slice.”

“Pizza: The Brooklyn Story” at Brooklyn Historical Society [128 Pierrepont St. between Clinton Street and Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 222–4111, www.brooklynhistory.org]. May 21 at 7 pm. $8, $5 for members.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.