The server’s response to my question about whether spumoni was akin to gelato went something like this…
”I have no idea what gelato is. Spumoni…it’s…it’s like, spumoni”.
He was an extremely nice and attentive server so I tried my best not to razz him about his statement but I must admit it made me giggle.
We were at Spumoni Gardens on a cold weeknight. The restaurant was bustling. There were large tables of families, couples at small two tops and people picking up takeout orders. Everyone was smiling. Everyone seemed happy. This, I thought to myself, must be exactly what Ludovico Barbati wanted.
According to their website, Spumoni Garden’s founder Ludovico came to the United States from Torella Di Lombardi, Italy in 1917. He began like so many immigrants still do to this day by opening his own business and selling what the masses crave…good food. He started out just selling spumoni off a horse drawn cart and eventually the business grew to what it is today, a bustling restaurant known for it’s thick Sicilian style pies and an Italian ice cream known as spumoni.
If you’re making the pizza rounds in NYC you have to make your way to Spumoni Gardens. As a matter of fact whenever I’m at other pizza places with cult followings like Di Fara or Totonno’s I ALWAYS hear people mentioning Spumoni Gardens. It’s just something you do. Eat good pizza and compare it to other good pizza.
Spumoni Gardens is known for a thick Sicilian slice so unlike all of those popular thin, Brooklyn style joints, it’s sort of in a league all it’s own. The pizza is incredibly thick and almost doughy. It has a layer of cheese under the tomato sauce so you almost don’t even realize it’s there until your teeth sink into that soft layer between the sauce and the dough. There’s another thin layer of a grated hard Italian cheese on top of the sauce but it’s not enough to take away from the feeling that you’re eating a thick slice of pizza crust covered in crushed tomatoes and not much else. This is a saucy pie if there ever was one.
I fell in love with it at first bite. The hubby liked it a lot but didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm for the thick dough. We both agreed, however, that it was a special pie (large plain $19).
Having downed more than our share of Sicilian slices and a carafe of red wine we asked for a to go box and asked about taking some spumoni to go as well. This is where the “it’s, it’s like spumoni” conversation happened and I still smile thinking about it. I guess it was a dumb question on my end too. Of course it’s not like gelato. If it were gelato it would be called gelato gardens. And it isn’t anything like gelato. It is, spumoni.
Traditionally spumoni is a three layer ice cream like concoction. Pistachio, cherry and chocolate or vanilla are pretty traditional flavors but at Spumoni Gardens they just offer the pistachio, chocolate and vanilla. Here you can get them separate or all three layered together. They recommend all three and I agree.
It’s hard to explain spumoni. It’s not as creamy as ice cream and so it’s definitely not nearly as creamy as gelato, but then again it’s also not as granulated as Italian ice. It’s a phenomenon all it’s own and I recommend you try it because it’s delicious AND it’s the first thing Ludovico Barbati sold all those years ago. Keep the tradition alive.
There is A LOT on the menu other than just pizza and spumoni. You can get all your favorite Italian American favorites and then some. Get a carafe of house wine because they have it, it’s cheap and it hits the spot. It just feels right to drink a carafe of red in that dining room. There’s quite a bit of seating inside and a bunch of picnic tables outside for when the weather is warm. Although in warm weather this place gets packed so keep that in mind. There’s also take out and you can get pizza by the slice ($2.25) which is a treat at such a popular place. Service is prompt and friendly even when they’re busy which I assume is all the time. Oh, and check out the photo gallery on their website. It really gives you a feel of where they started and what they are today.