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April 20, 2009

TONY’S BITE ON A SLICE OF BROOKLYN

david ellis
CUSTOMERS can queue for an hour or more outside Brooklyn's famous Grimaldi's Pizzeria

WHEN some mates lamented that they couldn't get a decent pizza in Manhattan, Tony Muia took them across the Brooklyn Bridge to his part of New York City to show them the great family pizzerias that existed there – and tossed in a look at a few of local attractions as well.

It was only natural that his mates were impressed with their Brooklyn pizzeria discoveries and what else Tony had to show them: after all, Bensonhurst where he hails from is The Little Italy of Brooklyn.

But not in his wildest dreams did he image what that trip across the Brooklyn Bridge would lead to, because a week or so later one of those mates asked if Tony would do the trip again for he and some other friends.

Tony agreed, and was surprised to find ten people waiting for him – and soon after a total stranger rang and said they'd heard of Tony's "tour," and would he do it for them too.

Again he agreed, and was staggered to be told there were twenty Manhatteners waiting to come across to Brooklyn to eat pizza and be shown the sights. So he hired a bus.

That was fourteen years ago, and after taking the gamble and chucking-in his job as a healthcare worker, Tony now runs eye-opening 4.5-hour bus tours that combine eating pizza at two of Brooklyn's most famous pizzerias, watching on-board video clips of movies that have been made in Brooklyn as you pass through actual filming sites, and being shown Brooklyn's better- and lesser-known landmarks.

He calls it A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour, and he does it Fridays to Mondays – and is planning 7-days later this year. But it's no longer just for those from across New York's East River: today his 36 guests on each tour come from across the USA, England, Ireland and Scotland, France, Germany, Austria, Canada – and in growing numbers from Australia too.

And yes, from Italy as well – Italians coming to eat what are considered America's best Neapolitan- and Sicilian-style pizzas.
TONY Muia – almost Heaven-sent
from Central Casting

With his Italian-heritage good-looks, fast-patter Brooklyn 'fuhgedaboudit' accent and references to his family and life – "I'm Tony and I got two brudders, Vinny and Joey, you can't make this stuff up" – he's almost Heaven-sent from Central Casting.

His tours swing by Coney Island amusement park and boardwalk, through brownstone neighbourhoods, into Trump Village where Donald's dad, Fred made his real estate fortune, and Keyspan Park that's home to baseball's Cyclones.

Tony's enormously proud of his Bensonhurst roots: as the bus rolls down 86th Street he shows clips of John Travolta strutting his stuff right here in the opening scenes from Saturday Night Fever. "An' see that road – that's where they did the chase in The French Connection," he says. "An' hey, remember this place in Scent of a Woman?" And a little later: "An' what about this in Annie Hall…"

The patter's thick and fast, the timing with what's on the video screen, perfect.

But its also pizza people have come for, and again they're not disappointed.

Early in the tour there's a stop at world-famous Grimaldi's where customers queue outside for an hour or more in rain, hail or shine for a table. Not Tony's guests though, they're ushered straight through to their's for slices of Neapolitan-style pizzas, including the legendary Margherita created at Pizzeria Brandi in Naples when Italy's Queen Margherita of Savoy visited in 1889.

Comprising a thin base topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella and fresh basil, the Margherita's creator Raffaele Esposito chose the ingredients as they evoked the colours of the Italian flag.

And to finish the tour is a call at L&B Spumoni Gardens for slices of Sicilian-style pizzas, thicker bases with Parmesan-over-sauce-over- Mozzarella; this mouth-watering pizzeria evolved from a tiny Brooklyn luncheonette owned by Ludovico Barbati who started making pizzas with his son after the Second War the way his Sicilian grandfather had shown him as a boy.

Tony Muia has certainly come a long way from when his mates lamented over the lack of a good pizzeria in Manhattan.

His tours cost AU$110pp and due to their popularity should be booked through Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59 before leaving Australia.
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