New York pizza family's legacy alive and well in New Mexico - Albuquerque Journal

New York pizza family’s legacy alive and well in New Mexico

Fueled by oak wood, the oven at Brunos Pizzeria heats to an impressive 900 degrees. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Being married to a New York City guy means we are always on the hunt for the best pizza – the best New York-style pizza. And what an adventure it’s been.

We once took a one-hour train ride from Manhattan to Coney Island so I could be introduced to the best pizza, Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana – home of the oldest, continually run, family-owned pizzeria in America. It was everything I had imagined.

A thin, crispy and chewy crust generously blistered in the coal-fired brick oven, topped with just enough red sauce and homemade mozzarella cheese for a pizza I will never forget. Nor will I forget the two sisters, Cookie and Antoinette, third-generation owners whose cantankerous, but lovable, personalities were worth the trek. The dedication to their craft and their family legacy as pizzaiolos was palpable.

While there are ample pizza restaurants in and around Santa Fe, the New York variety is not the prevailing style. Rather, every pizza joint seems to have its own take on pizza, ranging from thick crusts to flatbread-style to other “pizza” interpretations.

It wasn’t until we stumbled into Bruno’s one day at lunch, hungry for a quick slice of pizza, that I learned we have authentic, third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Italian pizza-makers in northern New Mexico. Though they are multi-generation pizza-makers, this is their first commercial pizza venture.

Nestled off Paseo de Peralta between Guadalupe and Cerrillos behind two big food trucks is a hidden gem for anyone who misses a taste of New York-style pizza. This family-owned and -operated pizzeria, open only during the week for lunch, has a casual outdoor setting that features four well-worn wooden picnic tables with umbrellas where diners congregate to wait for their to-go order or to eat.

What started as a family hobby in 2015 with a food truck continues to evolve. “We launched the food truck as a labor of love to share the food we eat, which is as close to New York as you can get,” says Vincenzo Bruno-Marchi, third-generation patriarch and Bruno’s wood-fired pizza artisan.

He tells the story of how his grandfather, Giordano Bruno, a boxer whose nickname was Punchy, emigrated from Varese, Italy, to New York. Punchy worked at a pizza restaurant on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and this was the beginning of the family’s multi-generational dedication to pizza.

The family then moved to Chicago, where Punchy continued to make pizza, but struggled to find an ingredient that replicated the famous New York City water for the dough. After a lot of trial and error, Punchy added IPA beer and a few other secret ingredients and the dough was as good – if not better – than what he had produced in New York.

During the Prohibition era, the family relocated again to Salida, Colorado, and eventually landed in northern New Mexico, where they have remained. Born in 1946 at St. Vincent’s hospital on Palace and Paseo de Peralta, Vincenzo continues to make pizza the way his grandfather taught him and he is determined to keep the tradition alive.

The family business comprises Vincenzo at the helm; his wife, who handles the business side of things; and their daughter, who is the hostess and hustles to take care of the hungry customers. There are also two sons involved – one who operates Punchy’z food truck at breweries and distilleries in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque at night and on the weekends, and another who helps out during the weekends when needed. “There are times when there are seven or eight of us working during busy weekends at festivals and events,” Vincenzo says proudly.

Even though their New York connections are long gone, they pride themselves on sourcing many of their essential ingredients from The Big Apple. This includes pizza flours, a New York-style cheese blend, ricotta and Chianti-infused sun-dried tomatoes. Everything else, they make from scratch using family recipes.

An 8-inch margherita pizza comes with a drink and a mini-cannoli for $10. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

The “kitchen” is an outdoor tent where the Italian, wood-burning Valoriani pizza oven sits on a trailer so that it’s prepped and ready during the week, and ready to roll at night and on the weekends. Using only oak wood, Vincenzo gets the fire flaming to an impressive 900 degrees, which is how the pizza crust attains the gorgeous blackened edges and cooks in 90 seconds. Quick on his feet, this septuagenarian is constantly on the run as he dashes to and from the kitchen carrying hot slices of pizza on paper plates or whole pies in big pizza boxes to customers.

Over several visits, we tried the lunch specials – a gigantic slice of pizza for $5 and the $7 special that includes a frozen lemon granita. These huge slices come from a pre-made 20-inch cheese pizza with your choice of toppings added before it goes back into the oven to reheat it to a bubbly perfection. We also ordered the $10 lunch special, an 8-inch individual margherita pizza made in the family’s Neopolitan style, which also comes with a frozen lemon granita, as well as a mini-cannoli. Though the pizza size is perfect for one, we found the crust entirely too thick and doughy for our thin-crust, New York pizza taste.

If you want more than a slice, the menu offers plenty of combinations of toppings, as well as vegan and gluten-free crust options. Or, let Vincenzo make you a custom pie just the way you want it. We were so smitten that we returned for a gigantic 20-inch sausage #3 pie ($34.75) that easily feeds a group, with leftovers for breakfast the next day.

With three salads on the menu, my dining companions and I easily committed to Caesar salad. Made with crispy hearts of romaine and topped with shredded Parmesan, croutons and big anchovies, the dressing is served on the side. The large $8 salad was generous enough for three people and good, but dimmed in brilliance when compared to the stellar pizza. For those who want to eat on the go, try the $16 stromboli and calzones, which come with an arugula salad.

If you need something sweet after a savory, cheesy pizza, the cannolis are the real deal. Stuffed with ricotta cheese, sugar and cinnamon, each single-serving mini-cannoli is sprinkled with powdered sugar and is a terrific two-bite treat.

Each day, the family’s goal is to replicate traditional New York-style pizza in Punchy’s honor. Knowing that the upcoming generation, 5-year-old Gianni, is already learning to “throw skins” (that’s Italian for tossing dough in the air), means we can rest easy and trust that the family legacy will continue to feed future generations of New York pizza lovers in northern New Mexico.

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