Cranford-born Scott Wiener, far right, leads nibblers on tours of New York City’s famed pizza joints.
Photo courtesy Scott Wiener
December 4, 2008
Scott Wiener found himself eating a lot of pizza when he was looking for a job after graduating Syracuse University. He started a journal of his dining experiences at parlors around the northeast. After realizing how much he knew about the culinary delight, he created Scott’s Pizza Tour (scottspizzatours.com), a nibblers’ New York excursion into the world of things round, saucy, and cheesy.
Wiener, who was born in Cranford and lives in Hoboken, came up with the idea for his business while on a Birthright Israel tour. He was excited not only to be in the Holy Land, but the land “where pizza really began” — alluding, perhaps, to the traditional Middle Eastern pita — and took a great interest in the local variety and its “relatives.”
“The standard is the pizza you grew up with,” he told NJJN. The first time he tasted pizza, he said, it “changed my perspective on food. It had a crisp exterior and a tender interior and the circumference of the crust had a lot of air in it.”
Israeli pizza, on the other hand, is similar to what one would find in the Midwest, he said: a thick, non-crunchy crust with “low quality” cheese. “It was always a letdown.”
Weiner does not embrace the appellation “connoisseur.” “I’m a pizza enthusiast,” he said. “A connoisseur connotes a snobby angle. Pizza was always the food of the people.”
What the pie is cooked in can have as much influence as what’s on it, he said. Brick ovens get much hotter than conventional gas models, and the pizza is in just long enough to give the crust that delicate crunch without overcooking the cheese and toppings. The fuel — gas, wood, or coal — also imbues the dish with certain characteristics.
Wiener leads groups of up to 24 pizzaphiles on a modern yellow school bus as it winds through the city streets on a gustatory adventure. Each tour begins at Lombardi’s in SoHo, which, according to Wiener, was the first licensed pizzeria in the United States, having opened its doors in 1905. From there it’s off to another three (out of a regular stable of about 30) establishments in and around Manhattan.
The four-and-a-half-hour excursion costs $55. There’s also a three-hour walkabout for the guilt-ridden who want to get their exercise in at the same time. “You’re always full, but you never finish the tour feeling too weighed down,” he promised.
Each tour comes with a “survival kit” consisting of a pizza journal, a “gummy pizza,” palate-cleansing candy, and wet-naps.
In recognition of his diligent investigative work and enterprise, the pop culturish Heeb Magazine recently named Wiener, 27, as one of their “HEEB Hundred: Food Category” for 2008.
Wiener wraps up the conversation by answering the question that’s plagued New York pizza lovers for decades: Which is the “Ray’s?”
“I did a lot of research,” he said proudly. “Ray’s at 27 Prince Street opened in 1959. I went to the New York Historical Society and they had old phonebooks and business registries. I looked back to 1900 and the first phone book that mentions a Ray’s pizzeria is 1960.” (And it’s simply “Ray’s,” by the way, not “Famous” or “Original,” which obviously disqualifies the restaurant near the intersection of Pompton and Bloomfield avenues in Verona.)
Wiener doesn’t apologize for all the time he has spent deep in study. “I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.”
Nice work if you can get it.