Although I was born and raised in the city of New York, I am embarrassed to admit that I had never partaken in the offerings of Lombardi’s — the first pizzeria in the United States — until last year when I returned to New York and that oversight was finally corrected.
Lombardi’s: The First Pizzeria In the United States
To be honest, I am a pizza snob — primarily because I was actually born and raised in Brooklyn. To me, nothing could beat pizza from an authentic Brooklyn pizzeria — certainly not pizza in Manhattan, where I attended both high school and college and where every other pizzeria is some ersatz variation of Original Ray’s Pizza. I have no idea who Ray was — nor do I know which pizzeria is actually the original Ray’s; nor did I care — so I decided not to waste my time on that mess. Was this the best that Manhattan could offer with regard to pizza?!?
Also, I usually do not like cheese; so I am particularly picky about pizza wherever I go — and plenty of good pizzerias have been located in Manhattan. I still long for the Goldilox pizza — yes, lox was one of its toppings — at the now-defunct Goldberg’s Pizza on Second Avenue near East 53 Street, which was only a scant three blocks from high school. I really enjoyed that pizza — but I digress.
Located on the northern fringe of the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan at the corner of Mott Street and Spring Street stands a legendary landmark which has been in business since it was established by Gennaro Lombardi — who is purportedly credited with developing New York style pizza — in 1905…
…Lombardi’s, which proudly proclaims itself as America’s First Pizzeria with several signs — one of which is located near the front entrance with a replica of the hand of the Statue of Liberty holding the torch above the sign and Mona Lisa holding a pizza below the sign. That claim is supposedly disputed; the pizzeria closed for ten years in 1984; and the original location of the pizzeria is 53½ Spring Street, which is not the location of the current iteration of this pizzeria.
The jury is still out on whether this is considered kitschy or gaudy.
The pizzeria is not all that large inside, as it seemed more like a neighborhood pizzeria rather than a pretentious tourist trap — save for all of the reminders of being the first pizzeria in the United States…
…but even though the pizzeria was full of customers dining on — what else? — pizza, the people in my party and I were immediately seated and ready to sample a pie or two.
When the waiter arrived to ask about beverages for the table, I ordered the tap water. I am back in New York, which I still believe to this day has the best tap water on the planet. Don’t even bother with that fancy bottled stuff. Give me that water which few places seem to be able to replicate or duplicate.
Even better was that the water was no extra charge — but this is New York City tap water, which is a must to drink when in New York.
We started off with some bruschetta, which was on toasted bread and generously topped with a mixture of tomatoes, onions, and herbs. Everyone else at the table thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a little disappointed, as I thought it was decent but somewhat bland; and I am not sure why I felt that way, as I usually enjoy a good bruschetta.
Next came the original Margherita pizza for which Lombardi’s is known, which is comprised of fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh crushed tomato sauce; and is topped with Romano cheese and basil. One person at the table liked the globs of mozzarella cheese and the crust but thought that the sauce was too sweet. Another person liked the pizza very much overall. I did not care for the globs of mozzarella — remember, I am not a cheese aficionado — but I truly enjoyed the sauce and the crispy coal-fired oven baked crust.
The person who did not like the sauce on the original Margherita pizza wanted to try the “famous” clam pizza, about which I was quite hesitant because it did not have tomato sauce; and I am not exactly all that thrilled about eating clams. Pizza without tomato sauce? Get outta here. That is like a frankfurter without mustard, in my opinion.
The menu of the pizzeria warns that the availability of its famous clam pizza is limited; and that it may contain shells and sand. It sounded like you can enjoy a day at the beach right in your mouth!
I decided to try it for myself — and it was much better than I had expected. The balance of garlic, oregano, black pepper, Romano cheese, oil, and parsley with the three dozen chopped clams was only further accentuated with squirts of fresh lemon; and the clams were tender and not tough. The crust was equally crispy and flavorful with both pizzas. The person who wanted the clam pizza thought it was stellar, fabulous, and one of the best pizzas ever. One other person would not even touch the clam pizza.
Thankfully, I did not find any sand or shells in my slices of the clam pizza.
Both pies — as well as the New York City tap water — were thoroughly demolished.
Final Boarding Call
Keep in mind that Lombardi’s does not accept credit cards as a form of payment when dining in person — only cash is accepted — so ensure that you bring plenty of cash to cover the cost of dining there.
- Bruschetta cost is unknown until I can find the receipt, for which I had to wait at least 15 minutes after the meal concluded — and they provided me with a photocopy of the receipt, which was bizarre
- Original Margherita pizza costs $22.00
- Famous clam pizza costs $25.00
- Tax and gratuity were added as well
The bruschetta is apparently no longer offered on the menu. My heart is not exactly broken over that.
I recommend Lombardi’s for their pizza at least once — even though the cost is pricey but not to the point of unreasonable for the size of the pies which they offer, which places their pizzas just over the overrated line. They offer a very good pizza that falls just a mere scintilla short of excellent; but their pizza is not the best which I have ever had.
32 Spring Street
New York, New York 10012
Operating hours are between:
- Noon and 11:00 in the evening Sunday through Thursday
- Noon and midnight Friday and Saturday
Parking is only available on the street, which is very limited. In terms of mass transportation, Lombardi’s is located:
- Two blocks from the Spring Street subway station, which serves the 6 train, although the 4 train stops at this station at night
- Two blocks from the Spring Street stop of the M1 bus line
- Three blocks from the Bowery subway station, which serves the J and Z trains
- Three blocks from the Bowery-Kenmare Street stop of the M103 bus line
- Six blocks from the Grand Street subway station, which serves the B and D trains
As an aside, if you want to know how — and, more importantly, how not — to eat an authentic New York pizza, just take a look at this hilarious video from Jon Stewart when he still hosted The Daily Show in 2011 and mentions Lombardi’s:
All photographs ©2022 by Brian Cohen.