Many Long Islanders are descendants of Brooklynites. Growing up, I heard stories from my grandpa who grew up in Brooklyn, met my grandma in Brooklyn and was even shipped off to war out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But I, having grown up just an hour and a half train ride away, hadn’t been. Couple my lack of Brooklyn knowledge with my love of pizza, and A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours was the perfect tour.
The tour starts in Union Square, so it’s even easier to get to than Brooklyn at just about an hour and 15 minutes via train. (Pro tip: when you get off at Penn Station, grab a slice at Rose’s to pre-game the day). A total of four and a half hours, the tour takes guests from north Brooklyn to south by bus, with a few quick walking trips to break it up.
After a drive over the Manhattan Bridge to view the Brooklyn Bridge in its entirety, we stopped off at the Brooklyn Bridge Park to take in the sights of the Brooklyn Bridge with other views of the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower.
After breathtaking views, we traveled less than a block to Grimaldi’s, the first pizzalooza on the tour. While a lengthy line stood outside the door, we were able to go around it, take our seats, pick from a variety of sodas and then chow down on one of New York’s most popular pizzas. Each table got its own pie—two slices per person—of the thin-crusted, coal-fired margherita pizza. While it may seem pretty plain, our tour guide Paula (the quick-witted cousin to the tour’s owner), said it’s better to keep things simple—and she was right. Each slice had a crisp crunch and was topped with sauce that tasted like fresh tomatoes, large chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese and basil.
After the sit-down meal, we boarded the bus to head over to Bay Ridge, where we took in the sights of million- dollar mansions, including the highest-priced house on the Brooklyn market at $15.5 million.
While driving through, Paula was constantly giving Brooklyn factoids, teaching guests about Brooklyn-born celebrities, Robert Moses, how the Brooklyn Bridge was built, the Mafia and more. She even showed movie clips of scenes filmed in Brooklyn, including the scene where Joe Pesci gets whacked in GoodFellas as we passed by the exact home the scene was shot at.
The second pizza spot, L&B Spumoni Gardens, changed my outlook on Sicilian slices. While having a moral dilemma about the cheese going on before the sauce, I took my first bite and realized, maybe L&B was right. Like Paula said, instead of the sauce sinking into the thick crust and making it soggy, the cheese acted as a barrier, keeping that sweet tomato sauce and Pecorino cheese at bay. Also a plus at this spot, wine and beer can be purchased and you can just pay a few extra dollars for spumoni after the meal (I definitely recommend the rainbow: vanilla, chocolate and pistachio).
While grabbing last licks of the spumoni, the bus heads over to Coney Island for a brief 10-minute walking tour of the boardwalk and beach.
The Back Story
Founder and CEO of A Slice of Brooklyn Tours, Tony Muia, was born and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and considers himself a proud Brooklynite. He’s a true Brooklyn Dodgers fan and remembers watching Saturday Night Fever and being so proud of his borough.
From the late ’80s to early 2000s, Muia was an avid traveler and, throughout his adventures, found people from all over the world were fascinated with Brooklyn. Soon, Muia was giving personal tours to those he met along his travels who vacationed in New York.
After years of working in healthcare, Muia turned these tours he would give to friends he met abroad and their families into a business for all to enjoy.
“I wanted to introduce people to all different kinds of pizza,” said Muia. “There’s two different styles of pizza, so we’re not overwhelming visitors with a ton of pizza.”
L&B Spumoni Gardens is the pizza Muia grew up with; he would ride there on his bike for a slice and an ice cream and year later, it became the date spot to go to.
“You can go anywhere and get the true Neapolitan pizza, but there was a time when Grimaldi’s was the only game in town,” said Muia, explaining why Grimaldi’s was chosen. “Both places are busy with lines to get in. Arrangements are made so people can feel like VIPs. One of the best things I heard people say is that they didn’t feel like they were on a tour. They were with a friend or family member taking them around.”
While the pizza is a big slice of the pie, Muia said, “We’re not just feeding stomachs, we’re feeding souls and minds.”
Because he didn’t want the tour to just be about one aspect of Brooklyn, he incorporated a little bit of everything he could: history, architecture, film, celebrities and iconic spots.
But Muia didn’t stop there. He continued getting creative with new Brooklyn tours, so visitors could experience more. A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours also offers a chocolate tour, which includes visiting four of the finest chocolatiers in Brooklyn (Jacques Torres Chocolates, The Chocolate Room, Raaka Chocolate and LI-Lac Chocolates); a Best of Brooklyn tour that allows visitors to grab lunch at Junior’s, check out famous Brooklyn spots and more; and the Christmas lights tour in December.
For more information about A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours or to purchase a ticket, visit www.asliceofbrooklyn.com.