BY ALEX MITCHELL | The Five Borough Pizza Challenge is much more than just a foodie’s quest to slice out some territory in each corner of New York City — as a matter of fact having pizza time is the easiest part of the day.
Its true contest is in traveling throughout the five boroughs without driving a single block, instead having to rely on a hybrid of public transit, walking, and even bicycling for many competitive triatha-eaters that signed up for this amazing race.
Promoting use of the city’s public transit actually why and how the annual challenge, which completed its fourth running on Saturday, Sept. 28, had originally begun.
“A friend of mine and I thought one day, ‘Let’s see if we can hit each borough for a slice’ and we travelled around the city only using busses, ferries, subways, bikes, the works,” said Joe Cutrufo, the challenge’s organizer.
After a few successful runs he decided to open it up to the public, donating its proceeds to Transportation Alternatives to raise awareness of the car-less transit options in NYC.
In the name of good and honest journalism, I joined the 175 esteemed challengers on the prowl for pizza via public transit that weekend, ambitious to put my navigational skills to the test.
The day began in Lower Manhattan at Isamu Noguchi’s iconic ‘Red Cube’ sculpture on Broadway; that’s where the unknown five pizzerias scattered throughout the boroughs were finally disclosed to us racers.
My objective was to scarf down slices at Puglsey Pizza in the Bronx, Paulie’s Pizzeria on Staten Island, Rizzo’s Fine Pizza in Queens, Norm’s Pizza in Brooklyn, and Sofia Pizza Shoppe, in the heart of Manhattan’s Sutton Place, all before a rendezvous at the Financial District’s Clinton Hall to cross the proverbial finish line.
My strategy was to start in the Bronx, span southbound to Staten Island, then over to Brooklyn and Queens, finally returning to Manhattan hopefully by nightfall.
After bouncing from Metro North, to the subway, to the Staten Island Ferry, to the S51 bus, back to the subway, and eventually giving my legs a decent workout, I managed to clock in at all five places by 6 p.m. that fateful evening.
Afterwards, I jumped on a 5 train from 51st Street after taking a leisurely pseudo-victory lap before reaching Wall Street and Clinton Hall, where I spoke with Cutrufo and fellow organizer Shannon Moriarty.
They told me I finished in the top 60 contestants as I stood holding the challenge’s iconic, wooden pizza peel — feeling proud of my achievement as a first timer.
“The top finishers actually bike most of the race,” Cutrufo explained, mentioning that this running was the Five Borough Pizza Challenge’s largest turnout yet.
Even if you were like me and didn’t muster up the courage to bike under the influence of five slices of pizza, public transit did its job for the most part.
“The trains were running on time and it was a beautiful day for biking, everyone that finished said they had a blast,” Moriarty proudly boasted.
All in all, it was an exhilarating challenge and you can guarantee that I’ll be gunning for first place in 2020.
See more about the Five Borough Pizza Challenge on Schneps Media’s television show, The BX Express on BronxNet TV, Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. and streaming online anytime at bronxnet.org.