Foodie Friday: Lombardi’s in SOHO — America’s First Pizzeria?

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My BlinkPack trip to the world’s greatest (in my humble estimation) city lasted a grand total of four hours — precisely enough time to ride a couple of subways, breeze through a museum, and huff it eight blocks though the thick of the lunch-break crowd to one of Manhattan’s most famous pizzerias. Perched on the corner of Spring and Mott, this unassuming oak-clad eatery readily announces that it is the first of its kind in the nation.

I ordered a middle size of the Lombardi’s original, known as the Margherita. For decades, cooks have been flinging discs of dough into a coal-burning oven that fires them back out in a matter of minutes, transforming them into a pie that is neither too crunchy nor too chewy, too saucy nor too dry, to seasoned nor too bland, too sweet nor too acidic. The fresco mozzarella slices melted into long, thin strings and the chopped basil added just the right hint of ‘shazam’.  I gobbled away until all that remained was the scuffed silver disc upon which it was served.

A word to describe the original Lombardi’s creation — perfect; far and away the best pizza pie I have ever inhaled.

Why then would I feel a touch disappointed about the experience? Truth be told, I felt nothing short of euphoric from the moment I darkened the door until I hauled my full belly out of there. It was not until later in the evening when I punched ‘Lombardi’s Pizza’ into my iPhone search window that the shadow began to fall.

Yes, it seems Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi opened a grocery store in SOHO around 1879. And served pizza there. And incorporated his business as a pizzeria around 1905. All of which seems to indicate that he was indeed the first to bring this beloved food to what is now the epicenter of good pizza.

But there is a pretty significant problem. Papa’s Tomato Pie, established in Trenton, NJ opened its doors in 1912 and has only ever closed them so their chefs can catch some sleep before the next shift. Lombardi’s, on the other hand, went out of business in 1984. In 1994, a supposed Lombardi family-friend saw an opportunity and reopened the business — under the same name and purportedly dishing up the same recipe. But the new digs were established a block away from the initial location, and the presence of the original coal oven in the new Lombardi’s kitchen is questionable at best.

Crestfallen, I gingerly placed the iPhone back into the front pocket of my jeans as I tried to convince myself that after trekking all this way, I did indeed dine at America’s first pizzeria.

A quick disclaimer: all historical information is sourced from ridiculously unreliable websites. In other words, don’t believe it just because you read it on the BlinkPack blog. Just zip over to Manhattan for a Lombardi’s pizza, dash over to Trenton for a slice at Papa’s Tomato Pie, and decipher the truth for yourself.

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