Brooklyn's prince of pizza dishes on glorious food, bad medicine
Tony Muia, owner of "A Slice of Brooklyn" tours and pizza connoisseur, debuts his "Slice of Brooklyn" TV show 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 7 on The Travel Channel. Muia, 48, an ardent booster of all things Brooklyn, lives with his wife, Ronni, and a bump due to become a baby March 20, in Bensonhurst.
Q: What would you most like to see changed or accomplished in NYC?
A: We really need socialized medicine. I was a respiratory technician for 20 years and saw how hospitals got destroyed as the care providers became profit makers. These CEOs really raped and pillaged medicine. When I started my own business, I couldn't afford health care at all. I took a gamble, but not having coverage for everyone really stifles entrepreneurship and economic growth. My parents are Italian - and they go back to Italy (which has a socialized system) to get what they need. How can we bail out banks and not bail out honest working people who need health care? This is the United States of America! Health care issues make me very discouraged, but I got a kid on the way: I can't give up!
Q: You won't tell me the best pizza in NYC, so how about calling out some of Brooklyn's best, but under appreciated pizza joints?
A: J & V Pizza in Bensonhurst - I've been going there since I was a little kid and it's a hidden gem most people don't know about. It's got the best classic slice - a classic crust, a great sauce in just the right amount with the perfect ratio of cheese. Paulie Gee's in Green Point does a classic Neopolitan-style with a brick oven and genius combinations of flavors. And L & B Spumoni Gardens - I love their Sicilian. Then there's Grimaldi's. Everyone stands in line there, but if you're on my tour, you don't stand in line because we have an arrangement.
Q: What's your favorite block in Brooklyn? Or anywhere in NYC?
A: The block I grew up on! 61st St. in Bensonhurst, between 20th and 21st Ave. It was such a magical place to live: Such a vibrant social life took place on the stoops. There was a hierarchy to the stoops: If it was your stoop, you could sit on the top step. We went out at 9 a.m. in the summers and played stoop ball, punch ball and stick ball. You knew it was 5 p.m. when the adults started to come home from the N Train stop and you could smell all the dinners - the chicken cutlets, garlic and sauce. After dinner the ice cream truck came - Walter was our Good Humor guy. We had vegetable gardens and fig trees in the back yards. The neighborhood is more Asian now, but it's still a neighborhood of hard-working middle class Americans that came here for a better life.
Q: Where would you take a tourist to be wowed by an undiscovered part of NYC?
A: To Jane's Carousel at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The carousel is in this beautiful glass atrium and is from the 1920s from the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Anything Manhattan has, we have in Brooklyn. I haven't seen the Central Park carousel, but this is better.
Q: What characteristics make a true Brooklynite?
A: Brooklyn has always been a melting pot. We're just a group of incredibly hard working people who have a joy of life. We're about friends and family, and working and playing hard. We have a lot of pride, too. We're proud of being from Brooklyn! And we like our food.
Q: You and the food! So where do you get your groceries?
A: It depends on what I'm getting, but I love the little places, the salumerias - D. Coluccio & Sons on 60th St., Faicco's on 12th Ave. And I like Villabate Alba and Sal & Jerry's Bakery.
Q: Being a New Yorker means ...
A: Living in one of the best places in the world!