A charming tour of Brooklyn, any way you slice it

|

Tony Muia knows where to find the best cannoli in Brooklyn. And the second-best cannoli. If pressed, he'll offer an opinion on where to find the traditional, ricotta cheese-stuffed pastry in Manhattan. He can even talk about cannolis in Reggio, Italy.

But Muia's real food expertise lies in the realm of Brooklyn pizza.

As the founder, proprietor, operator and sole tour guide on the Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour, he can, and does, wax lyrical about the perfect Sicilian slice, which can be found at L&B Spumoni Gardens in the Bensonhurst neighborhood, which is the second stop on Muia's Slice of Brooklyn tour.

A niche grows in Brooklyn

Brooklyn, the most populated and, arguably, the second-most-famous borough of New York, has been coming into its own lately as a tourist stop. Gray Line, which runs the red double-decker tourist buses in Manhattan, has a route into Brooklyn. Cruise ships now pick up passengers there.

But Muia's tour is unusual in several ways. It's intimate, as the tour bus seats 21 people. It delves into neighborhoods not usually visited by tourists or even some Brooklynites, such as Bath Beach, Coney Island and Brighton Beach. And it's run by Muia, a chatty, tattooed Brooklyn native in his early 40s who is as passionate about pizza as he as about showing visitors around the borough.

"New York, fugettaboudit," he said to one couple, as the group got ready to depart the tour rendezvous spot near Manhattan's Union Square. "Anything about Brooklyn, I'm your man."

So 19 of us got on a bus, said "fugettaboudit" to Manhattan and crossed the East River into Brooklyn.

It was an amazing spring day. As it turned out, "amazing" was a word often employed by Muia. TW.com photo by Rebecca TobinThe pizza we were going to eat, for example, was "amazing, amazing pizza."

We stopped for (seriously) amazing views of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge at Brooklyn Bridge Park, before heading to Grimaldi's, one of the most famous brick-oven, coal-fired pizzerias in all the five boroughs.

There's usually a line outside the door of people waiting to eat, but Muia had three tables on reserve. We were ushered inside and within 10 minutes were feasting on thin Margherita pizza, that is, pie topped with tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella (pronounced "mutz" in Brooklynese).

After leaving Grimaldi's, we were driven to the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, with Muia cheerfully pointing out sights on the gritty waterfront along the way.

Throughout the tour, the views outside were complemented on the bus' video monitor by clips from movies filmed in Brooklyn. Scenes from "The French Connection," "Goodfellas" and "Annie Hall" were all timed to coincide with the views passing by. 

Literature, such as the novel "Last Exit to Brooklyn," also played a role, as did Brooklyn-themed music, like Frank Sinatra's "Brooklyn Bridge."

We were distracted from pockets of traffic and less-interesting scenery by the video clips and Muia's energetic, entertaining talk about Brooklyn history, pop culture influences and, of course, food.

Native son

Muia was born and raised in Bensonhurst, known as Brooklyn's Little Italy. "I basically say, if you've seen 'Saturday Night Fever,' you know where I grew up," he said. "I've got two younger brothers, Vinnie and Joey. You can't make this stuff up."

In addition to the pizza tour, which operates Mondays and Fridays, Muia has started doing private group tours, sans pizza, and was exploring other expansion options.

For more information, visit www.sliceofbrooklyn.com. For tickets, call (212) 209-3370. For information about group tours, contact Muia at (917) 678-9733.

To contact Rebecca Tobin, managing editor of the print edition of Travel Weekly, send e-mail to [email protected].

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI