The Original Umberto's Pizzeria
New Hyde Park, Long Island
There's an old saying that goes: everyone has two places of worship - the one you go to, and the one you don't go to.
When it comes to pizza in this town, Umberto's Pizzeria is the one we go to, and why talk about any place else? Their pizza has regularly been voted Best Pizza on Long Island in polls conducted by Newsday and the Long Island Press - in fact, they've won that honor for the past four years consecutively, and there is significantly tough competition around here.
Umberto's is our favorite neighborhood pizzeria and has been for almost thirty years. It's one of the best things about living in New Hyde Park (Cary: It is THE best thing about it!) and living this close to some of the best Sicilian pizza on the planet and the home of Grandma's pizza, it's a wonder we're not eating Umberto's pizza even more often than we do.
Umberto Corteo and his brother Joe opened Umberto's Pizzeria in 1965. At some point, Joe moved to Florida and opened an Umberto's there, and brother Carlo joined Umberto in New Hyde Park. The pizzeria has become a large restaurant featuring an excellent variety of Italian dishes, but however much they have expanded, the Corteo family (several offspring are involved in the business too) manage to keep the focus on superb pizza.
What about the pizza?
Umberto's Pizzeria makes several kinds of pizza. While their 'regular' pizza is very good because their crust is so good, they tend (like most New York pizzerias) to use way too much mozzarella.
Most outstanding are their Sicilian pizza and their Grandma's pizza.
Both Sicilian and Grandma's pizzas are square and baked in an oiled pan, both have cheese and sauce, but the similarity ends there. Sicilian pizza (some New Yorkers just call it 'square', as in "gimme one regular slice and one square"), has a thick crust, often an inch high, is made with a cooked tomato sauce and mozzarella (Umberto's makes their own). Grated cheese is sometimes involved.
The Sicilian pizza at Umberto's is the best you can get anywhere. There is no place better.
Cary: Growing up in Brooklyn, I always thought that, except for L & B Spumoni Gardens, I didn't like Sicilian pizza. L & B Spumoni Gardens doesn't taste like any other Sicilian pizza (the review is soon to come in the Brooklyn Pizzerias section), so I just thought Sicilian wasn't my cup of tea (or slice of pizza). Then Lillian took me to Umberto's; I was delighted, and remain that way.
The crust on the bottom is brushed with olive oil before baking, which makes it crispy and adds a subtle taste. The cheese is made onsite, and the sauce is balanced and delicious. There's grated cheese. While there is a bunch of mozzarella, the thick crust balances it perfectly.
We love Umberto's Sicilian pizza, or did you figure that out?
So What's a Grandma's Pizza?
Well, if it weren't for Umberto's, there wouldn't be Grandma's pizza. Umberto's was the first pizzeria to bake it (although not the first to sell it. More about that in our Types of Pizza section).
Grandma's pizza is dangerous. The balance of flavor shifts to the tomatoes; rather than a sauce, canned tomatoes are used, and the tomatoes are sweet and sharp. If they're not San Marzano, we want to know what they are! The crust is thinner and seems so light - so much so, you just keep eating the slices one after another until you begin to regret it, and then you want just one more.
The Grandma pizza was first made at Umberto's, but only for family, friends and staff. It was Umberto's mother's recipe, "but we didn't have cheese on it when she made it in Italy," says Carlo Corteo, Umberto's brother. "We couldn't afford it." Grandma's pizza is homefood - pan pizzas can be baked in a home oven because they don't require the intense heat of a pizza oven.
Lillian: When I first tried their Grandma's, it brought back memories! While the toppings are somewhat different, the thickness and flavor of the dough and olive oil-in-the-pan bottom was the closest thing I've had to my Grandma Antoinette's homemade pizza. Delicious!
Now just about every pizzeria on Long Island makes some variation of the Grandma's Pizza - some wonderful, some so-so, but the Grandma's at Umberto's Pizzeria is exquisite!
Umberto's Original Pizzeria, 633 Jericho Turnpike, New Hyde Park, NY 11040, 516-437-7698
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