In 1917, a man named Ludovico Barbati came to the U.S. from a place called Torella Di Lombardi in Italy. Fast forward some 20 odd years, and he was learning how to make pizza from a baker in a garage on West 8th Street in Brooklyn. Barbati then started selling what he made using a horse and wagon, going around the streets of Gravesend and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. In 1939, he recruited some friends to build him a factory on 86th street where he could make spumoni. This became the first of three buildings, the second being the pizzeria and the third the luncheonette, now the dining room. To this day, the place is still at 86th street and still run by family members.
When you visit L&B, it feels incredibly old school New York. For one, that area of Brooklyn is so different from the more bustling parts of Brooklyn, let alone Manhattan. This area feels slower and quieter, with more of a neighborhood vibe and more families. The restaurant itself is stand-alone rather than the ground floor of a building or sandwiched between other businesses, giving it the kind of “suburb” restaurant-feel that I haven’t really experienced since I moved here.
After a lovely evening checking out the famous Christmas lights in the neighborhood of Dyker Heights, my friend and I thought that we might as well head on over to L&B while we were in this area of Brooklyn. It wasn’t necessarily walking distance but was a close enough subway ride.
When we got there, the place, both the pizzeria and the dining room, was packed with people, and we had to wait about 40 minutes to get seated. I think I’ve become so used to “city” restaurants, that this whole experience felt odd. and by odd I mean…normal? There were so many families enjoying a weekend dinner, people celebrating birthdays, everyone loud and laughing. It’s hard for me to explain really, but it felt like I was back home in the sense that it seemed like a family favorite kind of place where casual, unpretentious people weren’t here for fussy food or “the next big thing.” It just was.
That being said, it’s kind of ironic because I knew about L&B Spumoni Gardens and wanted to go there because it constantly tops “Best Pizza” lists in New York City and for the whole country. Yeah, I was one of those people who came here because I wanted to see what food articles had been raving about. But it was so refreshing to see that everyday folk and families had the place packed. The restaurant is really famous for their thick, Sicilian pizza, labeled “World Famous” on their menu, so we knew we had to get that, and we also ordered rice balls and garlic bread for appetizers. Can you say carb overload?
You won’t have to wait for your food to see that the portions here are huge. I mean there are mirrors on the ceiling perfect for gazing at what’s on everyone else’s tables, and there are waiters bustling around huge plates of food. What kind of food? Well, L&B doesn’t just serve pizza–they have all kinds of pasta and chicken, seafood, and veal entrees.I was shocked by how BIG everything was and became increasingly worried that the half tray of pizza we ordered was going to be way too much. I mean we knew not to get the full tray and it was just $20.00, but judging from the insanity that was everyone else’s dishes we saw around, we would be getting a lot more than we bargained for.
Of course, after eating the rice balls and the garlic bread (which by the way was so delicious all oiled up with crispy pieces of real garlic), we weren’t going to be able to eat that much pizza anyways, but even if not, the half tray was still way too much for two people alone. It came with 12 squares!! I’m a thin-crust girl, but I liked how even though the slices were thick, they weren’t dry and were more doughy and airy. Plus, even though it looks like it’s all sauce, there was still cheesiness from the Parmesan.
We had a few mix-ups with our waiter like him forgetting about our order for a little bit and not refilling our water after accidentally knocking it over, but all was forgiven when at the end of the meal I asked for some spumoni and he gave us some on the house. Spumoni is Italian ice cream made with layers of different colors and flavors. I’m pretty sure two of the flavors here were pistachio and chocolate, but I’m not sure about the third. Amaretto? Hazelnut? No matter what it was, because this was actually my favorite part of the whole meal. The ice cream had a light, slightly icy texture to it compared to normal ice cream, and it was just absolutely wonderful. If L&B was close to my apartment, I would get this every week, summer or winter. If you really want to get crazy with the dessert, you can order their dessert platter which looks like something that should be on a food competition. It’s piled high with things like cheesecake, tiramisu, spumoni, ice cream cones, and whipped cream, and supposedly they make it according to how many people are seated at your table. Basically, it’s the perfect birthday celebration dessert.
It happened to be the day of the infamous SantaCon when I went to L&B, and when I was walking back to my apartment from the subway with my box of leftovers (of course, I had leftovers!), a guy came up to me and said, “What…no SantaCon fun for you today?” and before I could say anything back (completely ignore him), he looked at my pizza box and said, “L&B!! I love that place!! I grew up around there. Did you get the Sicilian and spumoni?” You know it. L&B Spumoni Gardens…bringing people together over good food since the ’30s.
Rice balls, garlic bread, Sicilian pie (half tray), spumoni
2725 86th St
Brooklyn, NY 11223