A slice of New York

Celestino’s: When old school makes you drool, that’s amore

PIZZA IN FLIGHT <br>Jacob Quiles spins the dough that will soon become one of Celestino’s New York-style pizzas.

Jacob Quiles spins the dough that will soon become one of Celestino’s New York-style pizzas.

Photo By Mark Lore

Two places for pie:
Celestino’s Live From New York: 101 Salem St. # 1, (530) 896-1234 Celestino’s Pasta & Pizza: 1354 East Ave., (530) 345-7700

Pizza is actually a Greek invention, according to historians. The Greeks baked large, round flat breads and covered them with olive oil and spices.

Tomatoes actually weren’t part of the Greek pizza, since they had yet to be found. The pizza became decidedly Italian in 1889 when Queen Margherita (of Italy) gave her chef, Rafaelle Esposito, a crack at the Greek-style round-flat breads. Esposito added cheese, tomatoes and basil to the mix. Years later, American soldiers returning from World War II craved the Italian pizza, and New York became the birthplace and home of the American pizza.

Celestino’s has restored the art of old-school New York-style pizza, erasing my assumption that its popularity is due only to the great location across the street from 16,000 ravenous college students (Celestino’s also has opened a second shop on East Avenue). The digs are even a bit New York: tiled counter and walls, black-and-white art photography, and wood chairs with synthetic ostrich skin covers.

So there I was, face to face with slice selection. A continuous stream of hot pizzas came out to fill up the fast-emptying trays. The choices included cheese, mushroom, pepperoni, vegetarian, Tom Jones (Canadian bacon, pepperoni, sausage and mozzarella), and The Godfather (fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto, ricotta and sundried tomatoes). Slices range from $2.25 to $3.75. I went with the mushroom slice and a root beer.

At first glance, the thin, large slices seemed ordinary—pleasant, but ordinary. Celestino’s pizza is kind of like a good rock album—it takes some time to warm up to it.

My mushroom slice had just the right amount of sauce, with a traditional fresh tomato flavor. The sauce they serve is not some try-hard fusion wannabe. Same with the cheese: good quality and just enough. And the mushrooms weren’t trying to hide any inadequacy in the pizza. Because as far as New York, done-right, old-school pizza goes, there’s nothing to hide.

We sat right across from the counter, facing the pizza-making crew. About halfway through our meal, I heard, “Hey what are you doing, you opening up a pizza place or something?” A smiling, proud pizza maker was bearing down on me. Kevin Schwendimann works the register as well as spins pizza. With a “well, it’s about time” look on his face, he said he was pleased to hear that we were doing a review on Celestino’s.

He also seemed to genuinely like working there.

“Celestino [the owner] really takes care of us,” Schwendimann said. “We’re like family, you know?”

The craze is slices, but Celestino’s serves up whole pizzas, too, including some gangster pies like the “Goodfellas,” which comes with broccoli, fresh tomatoes, garlic, ricotta and mozzarella cheese (medium: $14.50, and a large for $16.95). Another good one is the “Vito Corliyon,” with fresh tomatoes, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, romano, mozzarella cheeses and fresh basil (for a buck more than the aforementioned Goodfellas).

Celestino also prepares salads, pastas and calzones. The prices are fair; $7.95 for the eggplant parmigiana, with pasta, and Celstino’s specialty salad (roasted peppers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives and mozzarella cheese) goes for a modest $5.95.