Slice of Queens: La Villa Pizzeria

By Rob Intelisano

Tucked away at the end of the Lindenwood Village Shopping Center, La Villa Pizzeria is a hidden gem that you would probably drive right past unless you knew it was there. The pizzeria and restaurant sits next to the Dunkin Donuts on the corner of 82nd street and 153rd avenue.

Lindenwood is a sub-section of Howard Beach, which was established in 1897 by William J. Howard, a Brooklyn glove manufacturer. Mr. Howard accumulated land in the area, dredged and filled the land until he reached 500 acres by 1914.

The Long Island Railroad established a station called “Ramblersville” in 1905 and a Post Office by that same name opened soon thereafter. A casino, fishing pier and beach were added in 1915 and the name of the neighborhood was changed to “Howard Beach” on April 6th, 1916.

In the early 1950’s more land was developed called “Rockwood Park” to the north and “Spring Park” to the south together comprising what later would be known as “New Howard Beach,” while the area on the east of Cross Bay Boulevard became known as “Old Howard Beach.” Many red-bricked two-story garden-style cooperative apartments were built along with some six-story co-ops and condo apartment buildings thus “Lindenwood” was born.

“During the time Lindenwood was being built in 1955, my Uncle Gino Branchinelli opened the family’s first Pizzeria on 5th avenue in Bay Ridge. He, along with my other uncle Antonio opened more locations around Brooklyn, and in 1960 opened Gino’s Italian Ices on 39th street. In the late 1962, my father Benito joined my uncle and opened Gino’s in Long Beach,” La Villa Co-Owner Alfredo “Alfred” Di Scipio said, detailing the backstory of the family-owned restaurant.

“In the spring of 1982, along with other family members, my father Benito opened La Villa in the Lindenwood section of Howard beach. I had spent most of my summers and weekends there and in Long Beach, and soon pizza was my ONLY interest! Every day with their teachings and ‘tough love,’ their passions began to pass on to me. In 1986 I decided to leave the NYU Stern Business School during my senior year to take La Villa over from my father with the help of my Sister Irene D’Ambrosio and my mother, Maurina, who tastes the sauce every morning.”

La Villa, a favored spot for my family, had been on my radar for this column. It moved to the forefront after I spotted the review from my friend, business owner and fellow foodie, Scott Ruscillo.

Ruscillo is the owner of Scott’s Computer Repair located in Rockaway Beach. His firm specializes in IT (information technology) and repairing computers. Scott also resides in my hometown Rockaway Beach as does La Villa Co-Owner Irene D’Ambrosio.

Rob Intelisano, center, with Scott Ruscillo

Since reading Scott’s review, I was looking forward to this month’s column and meeting up with Scott and Irene. I first reached out for my brother Ross’s opinion, and he said, “A good Sicilian slice, we order it on the way home from JFK every time after a long trip. The boys order the regular pie with pepperoni.”

I met Scott there on Thursday afternoon, June 9th at 3 p.m. Parking was easy as there is a big parking lot along with neighborhood street parking around the perimeter as backup. Weather permitting, they have a nice spacious outdoor eating area on the left side of the restaurant. The plan was to get there between lunch and dinnertime so it wouldn’t be crowded, and we could take our time.

This event morphed into a five-hour experience, and it exceeded my already high expectations. We each ordered a carafe of Pinot Grigio, they offer four red and four white wine options, as our waiter Michael first brought out a piece of their “Romana” stuffed pizza for us to share.

It had an interesting consistency, a mix between a flatter calzone and panini stuffed with oven roasted potatoes, sliced sweet fennel sausage, layered pepperoni, and whole milk mozzarella. This dish was influenced by their family in Abruzzo, Italy.

Traffic was brutal that day and as fate had it, instead of his sister Irene, Alfred came that afternoon from their Park Slope location. They also have locations in Mill Basin, and they recently opened in Dyker Heights. This worked out perfectly for us as Scott had never met Alfred and it turned out, Alfred and I had mutual friends.

Alfred arrived as we asked Michael to bring out a variety of their slices and, as you can see, cut them in half. One thing I like about La Villa is that they offer their slices either in traditional wood-fired or deep-dish style. Since I prefer the thin crust style, it was good that they also brought deep-dish, as I probably would not have ordered it.

My father, known as Padrini, had mentioned to me that his favorite was the circular deep-dish style zucchini slice, so we tried that one first. When tasting pizza’s, I always try the white before the red as the aftertaste from red sauce can affect your palate, so better to start with the white. The La Villa white zucchini slice consists of layers of sliced fried zucchini, homemade mozzarella, pecorino romano, fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil served deep dish style. This heavenly slice was also my favorite and melted in my mouth. Padrini knows his food!

Scott’s favorite was their “Grandma” slice, (Nonna in Italian) which is what they are most known for. Their menu is unique, and they change the specials regularly. They also offer healthy alternatives like their popular salads while keeping to their Italian roots. A restaurant is only as good as their ingredients. Their tomatoes are imported from Italy, and they let their blend of flour dough ferment for 24-48 hours. Their family owns 30 restaurants between them, and they go through 1,000 liters of “Extra Virgin Suicide olive oil” per week.

Much of the oil sold as Italian olive oil does NOT come from Italy but from countries like Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. Olives are pickled, taken to a mill, pressed and the oil is shipped to Italy. International labeling laws permit this. Meanwhile, shipments of other cheap oils are smuggled into the same port where the Spanish, Moroccan and Tunisian oil is blended with the cheap oils and bottled as “Extra Virgin” and “Produced in Italy.” This doctoring is why you can find so many inexpensive “Extra Virgin” olive oils on supermarket shelves!

Scott, my family, and I all agree that you can taste the difference in quality ingredients every time at La Villa! Feel free to email me at [email protected] and tell me your favorite pizzeria and slice. Enjoy!

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