Denino’s Pizzeria Adds Manahawkin to Its Staten Island Tradition

Dec 05, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Denino’s Pizzeria has brought to Manahawkin the pizza and Italian specialties that made the restaurant a landmark in Staten Island for generations. The busy McKinley Avenue location also joins others in Brick, Aberdeen and Greenwich Village.

Award-winning New York-style thin crust pizza is based on an Old-World Neapolitan original recipe.

Carlo Denino began the pizza tradition in 1951, adding it to the tavern that his father, John, operated on Richmond Avenue, Staten Island, and that still thrives today. John Denino arrived in New York City from Corleone, Sicily in 1887 and in 1923 he opened his business first as a confectionary store. The full tavern started in 1937.

Current family members are fourth-generation pizza makers. Today, family recipes are also used for Chicken Parmagiana, meatballs and sausage, and over the years they have added their own version of tavern favorites like wings, scungilli and hero sandwiches. Type in deninoslbi on the Internet search line and see photos of delectable homemade appetizers, sides, platters, entrees and more.

Fresh is the word that comes up again and again as owner-operator Michael Burke describes the ingredients that go into recipes continued from his stepfather, Carlo.

“Everything is always made from scratch, never frozen, and cooked to order,” the owners said.

“Every day we make it fresh. I bring the meat in fresh every day; the meatballs are made every day,” Burke began listing. “We get the sausage ground fresh every day.”

Business is brisk at the 166-seat McKinley Avenue site that the owners totally refurbished after purchase. They opened the first week of November. They started getting requests for party bookings in the banquet room two months before the doors even opened.

“The people have been very nice, and the kids are great,” said Burke, of the community’s reaction to the new restaurant in town. He is a former New York City firefighter, retired with service of onsite response to the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.

“There are a lot of guys I worked with who have houses down here – retired firemen and cops; a lot of Staten Islanders down here. They’ve been spreading the word.”

Since 2015 Denino’s has been offering franchises, but the Manahawkin restaurant is not a franchise; it is owned by Burke along with partner Ray Polidori, who also partners in the Brick pizzeria.

Manahawkin came to be added to the list of Denino’s Pizzeria locations as an offshoot of the Brick location on Mantoloking Road, named Denino’s South. The Manahawkin spot employs 60 people.

Burke elaborated, “In 2010 when I retired from the fire department in New York City, a friend of mine had a building in Brick on Mantoloking Road and he said, ‘Would you ever open another place?’

“So we opened that place in 2010 and it was a success. About six years ago, customers from Waretown and down here actually brought in some locations. I had started franchising about 3½ years ago and a friend opened up in the city, and another friend had wanted to do Manahawkin, but he wound up getting another job. A cousin was going to open in Manahawkin and it took three years and he got tired of waiting, so my partner from Brick said, ‘Why don’t we just do something down there.’”

Two customers showed him a listing for the same location, the former Villagio. Burke looked at it and saw it as a good fit. The funny thing is, they took some of their own customers from the Brick location, those who were in the middle of the two spots.

“So, they come here now. I see a lot of familiar faces.”

Of the pizza choices, what people in Manahawkin ask for most is the Margherita version and, surprising Burke a little, the buffalo chicken pizza. That’s besides the traditional favorites of sausage and pepperoni.

Expect thin crust, crispy, cheesy pizza piping hot right out of the oven. The signature crust is crispier than a few new customers counted on, but “98 percent of them love it,” Burke said when asked how the local diners have commented.

“We cook our pie; it’s got a nice crispness to it; it stands up,” Carlo’s stepson explained. So, the few who thought it was over-baked got a new pie and the advice that “next time you come in, just tell them you want it light-cooked; you don’t want it cooked all the way. They were happy.”

The BYOB Manahawkin spot does not have a liquor license; neither does the one in Brick.

“It’s too much money; $650,000, I believe, is what it was in Brick,” Burke said. “But some people like BYOB. When we came down here we thought it was a little strange, but it actually works out better. You go to the liquor store and get a $20 bottle of wine that if you go to a restaurant, it’s $60. Bringing your own cuts down the check a little bit for them when they go out to eat.”

Decor is contemporary-styled tables and chairs with rustic touches hearkening to Italy. “Then we try to keep the shore vibe,” Burke pointed to nautical art on the wall. Also on the wall is photographic history of how the business started in New York (women won’t miss the stunningly handsome Carlo Denino) and history of Manahawkin to tie it all together.

For more details or franchise information, see the website and watch the Facebook page. The phone number is 609-622-2255.

Denino’s has been touted in publications such as Zagat, Time Out, The Staten Island Advance, The New York Times, Daily News and in British newspapers. In 2007, the 70th year of the business, Denino’s won AOL’s “City’s Best” (all boroughs) for the best pizza in New York City, and that award was repeated in 2008.

Mayors, politicians and actors have visited, but, the owners add, “most importantly” Denino’s is visited by “the many families that come back again and again.” That sentiment holds true in Manahawkin, too.

— Maria Scandale

(Photo by: Ryan Morrill)
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