Here's the thing about eateries, pizzerias in particular, that claim to be authentically New York: They raise the kitschiness to a level that would never be seen anywhere in the city's actual five boroughs. And by so doing, they draw attention away from what should be in focus — the pizza — and put it on areas that are trying too hard to be cute and clever (and rarely are). Sometimes, the stereotyping employed is the best that the business can do because the food is nowhere near authentic. But in the case of Tomasino's New York Pizzeria it does disservice to what is a pretty good representation of typical NYC pizza.
I've been past Tomasino's many times, including when it was branded as Lil Anthony's (and still has that pizzerias same ownership, apparently). But I resisted going inside — I've been disappointed too many times with pizzas that weren't worth the money let alone the calories.
But I found myself out running some last minute errands before I needed to head to the airport for an international flight. I didn't have time for a a full-service restaurant, and I wasn't yet hungry enough to stoop to fast food level. As I walked past Tomasino's on my way back to my car, I popped inside for a slice. After all, pizza is the best on-the-go food there is.
I immediately liked the look and feel of the interior. More Brooklyn than Manhattan, it was narrow, cramped and dark, even in the middle of the afternoon. And I liked my slice, which I selected from the glass case just inside the front door and which the friendly young man tending the ovens tossed into one to put some heat on it. My slice had multiple meats, including sausage, pepperoni and ham. The crust was to the standards of New York regulations — not cracker thin, not doughy thick, able to fold into a manageable, bitable shape — and the sauce and cheese were applied in just-right portions.
So with all that authenticity in the food and atmosphere, why does Tomasino's feel the need to sink into mafia drivel? Servers wear fedoras and t-shirts with godfather style tuxedo prints. The menu has winks to gangster terminology — Nikky Numbers, the Bookie's Pick — with the gimmick culminating in the Don Tomasino ("Pizza you can't refuse"). There's also a come-on to eat a way-too-big pizza in one sitting within a certain amount of time. Those who do are photographed in front of a height marker a la a police lineup and labeled Made Men. (Women, it is assumed, are too smart for such food abuse.)
Tomasino's also pushes its franchise-worthiness a bit too much. Most people who stop in for a pie or plate of pasta aren't thinking about opening their own restaurant. That doesn't need to be blared across the menu and the website.
I'm not sure what the relationship to Lil Anthony's is — a man who answered the phone at the Colonia Plaza shop didn't know and suggested I call back another day when a manager would be present. (There would be no manager at the restaurant that day?) I did see that the Don Tomasino unrefuseable pizza is also on the Lil Anthony menu. My guess: Lil Anthony's was a name that could not be franchised.
Whatever. Tomasino's would do much better by simply emphasizing its good pizzas and leaving the schtick to lesser pie joints.
Tomasino's New York Pizzeria is at 2612 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando and 5229 Red Bug Lake Road in Winter Springs. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone numbers are 407-898-7400 in Orlando and 407-869-7499 in Winter Springs.