It’s true that the Island of Manhattan has boundless restaurants, cafés and eatery options. But any smart New Yorker knows that to get the best ethnic food, you must head to the outer boroughs.
Some venture to Queens for Greek and Indian food or to the Bronx for Italian cuisine on Arthur Avenue, and Brooklyn is fast becoming a borough brimming with boundless culinary options. However, a lesser known food destination is my hometown of Staten Island that I (and many other natives) affectionately refer to as “the rock.” If you want great Italian food and even better pizza, it’s worth taking the Staten Island ferry to arrive at Pier 76.
My own humble restaurant beginnings began by serving up savory pizzas at Joe and Pat’s Pizzeria, one of the best casual-Italian restaurants in the city, in my opinion. I worked all throughout high school and college there, making extra money while earning a deep appreciation for the art of pizza making and the restaurant industry in general.
During my tenure at Joe and Pat’s, I became friends with one of the owners’ son and fellow pizza aficionado, Jeremy Pappalardo. We spent years working together and developed a wonderful friendship. In 2010, Jeremy and his business partner, Joe Guastavino, opened Pier 76 right down by the ferry in the St. George area of Staten Island.
The duo couldn’t have picked a better location for its budding pizza business. Within the last few years, St. George has skyrocketed in popularity. Their restaurant is in walking distance from the Staten Island Yankees stadium (where fans can get a slice or a calzone from Pier 76 while taking in a game) and it’ll soon become the home of the Staten Island Ferris Wheel (similar to the London Eye) and a sensational 500,000-square-foot outlet mall.
While location is arguably everything, what’s really paramount is the food. Pier 76’s pizza is reminiscent of the pizza I grew up with at Joe and Pat’s. Its thin crust is still sturdy and addictive and makes it quite easy to scarf down a few slices without even feeling a trace of fullness. The pizza is a must if you swing by, but there are many other dishes you should stay for like the eggplant fries, the lobster mac n cheese, or Jeremy’s favorite, the fiocchi and pear pasta.
What I also greatly appreciate about the menu at Pier 76 is its gluten-free options. For those who suffer from gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, like I do, you will feel completely at ease and quite happy when dining here. My absolute favorite is the gluten-free vodka pie. I am a big fan of Jeremy’s flavorful vodka sauce, so if you opt for another pizza topping (might I suggest broccoli rabe and sausage) then try it on the gluten-free pasta that they also carry. A close second for me would be the gluten-free pasta with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
Before or after your meal, be sure to grab a drink or two at the bar. It’s very much a local Staten Island crowd that gathers together to watch sports and throw back a few pints after a long day. I recently dropped by Pier 76 after the Five Borough Bike race and found locals mixing with excited tourists. They were able to brave the many physical roadblocks put in place by the city that might have otherwise stopped them from making their way in through the front door.
Regardless–they were there and I was there–all in the name of good pizza and a cold drink, where everyone, not just me, feels like family.