I became interested in everything Staten Island after the 5-Boro Pizza Tour. Lots more expeditions to come, guaranteed. Other than pizza, I found quaint neighborhoods, Nesquik ads, great bicycle riding and lots of inspiration. I encourage everyone to spend a day, a night, a year, a lifetime there.
Through my research, I stumbled on Larry Ambrosino who runs the Staten Island Pizza Tour, a division of SINY which encourages people to visit the island borough. I took interest in his story and asked him some questions:
JO: Where do you live in SI and why did you choose to live there? Were you born there?
Larry Ambrosino: I was born on Staten Island in 1948. My family dates back to before 1900 on Staten Island. I currently live on the South Shore (Annadale, but lived on the North Shore for the first 33 years of my life. I love Staten Island, both before and after the bridge. I was a school principal (Wu Tang were some of my students) for 18 years before becoming a superintendent in Shrewsbury, New Jersey for 10 years before retiring from education (40 years). I am currently the executive director of SINY, a not-for-profit that was established in 2008 to promote the image of Staten Island.
JO: What are some of your favorite neighborhood spots?
LA: Staten Island is about 50% Italian so there are a lot of restaurants that are family style as well as some very elegant ones (Angelina’s is my favorite). We have great parks–we have more parks than any of the other four boroughs. We have great restaurants as well. We also have a great minor league baseball stadium. The Staten Island Yankees are an A league team.
JO: What are most people surprised to hear about Staten Island?
LA: Generally, the people from off Staten Island are very pleasantly surprised when they see the overall beauty of the borough.
JO: Where do you go on the SINY pizza tour? How much is it? Do I need to buy tickets beforehand?
LA: Our pizza tour costs $40.00. We pick the guests up either at the Hilton Garden Inn of the Staten Island Ferry. We visit four pizzerias–Denino’s, Jimmy Max, Joe & Pat’s and Lee’s. You get a slice and a soda (usually more at each place). We also visit Alphonso’s Bakery for a cannoli and Ralph”s Ices for an ice. You also get a t-shirt and a tour of the island.
*JO Note: It turns out Larry’s preference of a tour is very similar to my own; these are 4 of the pizzerias we went on for the 5-Boro Pizza Tour (the fifth being Salvatore of Soho). I wouldn’t have matched his list if I realized it. BUT, it does verify that these choices are approved by foodies and locals – which is a rare combination.
JO: How many people generally come on each tour? How do we get to the tour and how long does it take?
LA: We generally have a minimum of four but also have group tours of up to 14. People send us a check two weeks in advance of the tour so that we can insure enough people to cover the costs (shirts, the van, etc).
You can take the Staten Island Ferry to be picked up, or drive to the Hilton to get on the van that we take you around in. How long it takes you depends on where you come from. Since our tours are usually on Saturday, the traffic is a bit less.
*JO Note: From my own experience, the ferry takes a bit less than half an hour, leaving every half hour. See website for more details. And coming over the Verrazano Bridge is surprisingly quick from Brooklyn (though the toll gets you).
JO: What types of people generally go on your tours? Are they locals or tourists?
LA: Our clientele is about 60/40 with more than half of the people coming from other places (as far away as Seattle).
JO: How is Staten Island changing?
LA: Staten Island has changed quite a bit during my lifetime (when I was a kid we had 100,000 residents –today-500,000). It has become much more commercial with many more stores and strip malls and obviously has become much more crowded. We have great schools and recreation programs for both kids and adults (South Shore Little League made it to the Little League World Series this past summer). Really is a great place to live, work or visit.
Check back soon for Part 2 of the interview with Larry Ambrosino!