There was quite a crowd of customers when I visited the newly reopened Bambino’s Pizza, tucked inside the Nifty Fiftys Bar & Grill at 7710 Buffalo Ave.
So I went around and asked.
“Oven fresh, New York style pizza pie,” said one customer.
“Mouth-watering jumbo chicken wings,” said another.
“Delicious subs,” said another.
Someone settled for lasagna and was too busy eating to talk about it.
The venue, with its’ 50’s ambiance and food selection, is suitable for most occasions.
A full bar, large screen TVs, tasteful 50’s décor, with old pictures of 50’s stars and Dean Martin singing on the jukebox, you could easily imagine a time long gone by.
The 50’s began 65 years ago.
People may come for the ambience, to capture a time – even if they are not old enough to remember - but they come back for the food, especially that pizza.
I witnessed people buying half trays with pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage and onions; a delicious Old Fashioned with a shaker of Romano cheese, and dessert pies in apple or cherry.
Seemingly most popular was a half tray cheese pizza going for $12.75.
And people were bellying up to the bar too.
The drinks are strong and the dog days of summer were upon us and Pina coladas, daiquiris and Margaritas were being consumed alongside lasagna and pizza and ice cold beer, on tap and by the bottle.
I had a Pepsi.
There’s entertainment at Nifty Fifty almost every night with open mic, karaoke and, on the weekends, live bands.
I came when the jukebox was playing.
The original Bambinos Restaurant and Pizzeria, after which this Bambino’s is named, an Italian restaurant, opened in 1985, at 22nd and Old Falls street, and was owned by Frank and Shirley Gualano.
The restaurant was successful in its day and those who recall it will recall it was very busy. It closed in 2007.
The present proprietor of the present Bambinos - Bobby Gualano – he worked for his parents’ Bambino’s restaurant during the entire time it was open.
Four years ago, in 2011, Bobby’s mother, Shirley – with the prescience of a last wish – said to her youngest son, - from her deathbed - “Bobby, you’re the baby of the family. I want you to take Bambino’s name and bring it back. Open it again. You’re the one who can make it successful. Do this for mommy.”
Now Bobby and his wife, Rachel have reopened Bambino’s, and it will not surprise any of the old customers – who remember Frank and Shirley - that Shirley would not have been willing to have gone to her final reward until she had exhorted her son - saying something like this – and many of the old customers - former Bambino’s customers - are coming back to the new Bambino’s, which is really the old Bambino’s, relocated inside the Nifty Fifty on Buffalo Avenue and 77nd St.
Always dedicated to tradition, Bobby Gaulano not only followed his mother’s last wishes but still uses the same sauce recipes used at the original Bambinos.
It was in use long before then even.
Not to tell all the family secrets but the sauces - the recipes - are 140 years old, homemade, family style sauces.
The recipes, handed down from his great-great grandmother from Italy to his great grandmother to his grandmother then his mother and to Bobby himself – the master chef himself - this original recipes have been used – for almost a century and a half - with its rare and perfect blend of herbs and spices, subtly added to the sauce - garlic, parsley, onion, oregano, basil and of course the exact, time-honored balance of vine ripened tomatoes – made into a paste, combined with a hint of red peppers, onions, bay leaves, basil, oregano, a pinch of honey, and olive oil and salt and then cooked slowly – very slowly - in a special stockpot sealed to capture in its essence, its nourishing qualities – and – for the meat sauce - mixed with the perfect proportion of pork or beef meat – – the sauce is pressed through a fine sieve.
The old handwritten, Italian sauce recipes still exist on aging, handwritten parchment and is one of the secrets why Bambino’s pizza seems like an addiction to some folks around here.
It dates back to days of King Umberto and Queen Margherita di Savoia when pizza first became famous to the world –both as a nourishing, economical food and as a food for gathering, for socializing.
No one likes to eat a pizza alone.
The old timers – they understood the art of cooking – the secret of making food not only delicious but nourishing and satisfying as well.
Using the choicest products available to the natives of Italy of the day.
Mushrooms from the forest; anchovies from the sea. Tomatoes from the garden.
This is authentic pizza pie – this is a meal in itself.
The new Bambino’s – with the old recipes – and the new ones too - opened on July 19, 2015 and its hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Bambino’s will soon be open Sundays for football, sporting two large-screen HDTVs, from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.
And Bambinos will have an official Grand Opening on Aug. 20.
Specials include a half tray, cheese pizza for $9.
If there exists another secret as to why Bambino’s has the best pizza anywhere – it is in the dough- itself.
Some other day, when we have more time, we will hint at the secret of the dough – and how Bobby Gualano – the master dough maker - kneads it – and tosses it in the air.
This isn’t for show – but to retain moisture.
Some second raters use a press or dough sheeter to flatten out and spread their dough out, but not Gualano:
He does not like dry, crunchy crust.
Spinning flattened circles in the air –– not just tossing them – but rotating them -- ensures the right amount of moisture – so important to a baker who wants a perfect crispy crust.
“Airflow,” Gaulano says, giving away one of his secrets and demonstrates with a toss of a pie with a spin. He anchors the dough with one hand and lays his other hand flat underneath the pizza disk. Then up in the air - it spins.
Bambino’s also features a desert pizza— Apple with a special crumb topping, homemade vanilla ice cream filled pizelle, a homemade pizelle cookie, topped off with a caramel topping or a chocolate fudge topping.
I wanted the old recipe.
After he added the sauce and put his hand tossed pie in his baker’s oven, it came out – the crust faintly sweet and finished with fresh mozzarella, hot peppers and a sauce sparingly applied as to enhance, to not overwhelm, the balance between toppings and crust.
The crust was chewy and, in spots, perfectly charred.
A nuanced sauce, neither too sweet nor salty; well-distributed cheese; quality and well-paired toppings; a flavorful, savory crust; a perfect ratio of sauce, cheese, toppings, and crust.
This is what I found at the Nifty Fifty and Bobby Gualano’s newly reopened Bambino’s.