I’m on the Orange Line. Where I get out at Park and Market in the East Village, a whole gang of kids is sitting on the railings goofing off, hanging out, clacking skateboards. And behind them, this new storefront. No signs up. Just a menu stuck in the window. And it says: “$3.99 menu. $3.99 each.”
565 Park Boulevard, East Village
Four bucks for anything? It lists about 20 items. Meat or veggie lasagna, spaghetti, fettuccine, linguini, capellini, calzone, ten-inch pizza, and a bunch of six-inch torpedo sandwiches.
Pizza, $3.99? Calzone? Lasagna? I can’t believe it. Got to see if this is real. Then I notice a second menu stuck on the window. It says “Florencia’s Pizza. Grand Opening.”
I head in. Ten tables, white walls, black acoustic-tile ceiling, a few Scotch-taped pictures of places like that famous dome in Florence, and a small counter with kitchen sounds coming from behind.
I talk to a customer, Kendra, and her four kids, while I’m waiting. They’re sitting at one table, sharing two pizzas. “I save up to come here every two weeks,” she says. “This cost me around $17.”
I see their pizzas are way bigger than ten inches.
So I stand at the counter, waiting. Nothing happens.
“Hello!” That’s me.
“He’s a one-man band,” says Lewis, a guy eating a pizza slice at a wall table. “He makes the dough, adds everything, puts it in the oven. He’s it. So, at least you know everything’s fresh-made.”
Finally the guy comes out. Flour on his apron.
“Pizza?” I say.
“What on it?”
“Uh, what’ve you got?”
He slides me an overstuffed menu like you’d see in the slickest Italian restaurant. It has a 29-strong selection of pizza and calzone with everything from anchovies (a good sign...so many places avoid anchovies) to ham-and-pineapple.
It also has more regular prices, like a dinner of, say, baked cannelloni or eggplant parmigiana for $10.49. Or, for $10, half-and-half dinners with, like, spaghetti and lasagna or veggie lasagna and ravioli. And any pasta, plus sauces such as sautéed mushroom, for $11.49.
I screed through lists of ravioli, appetizers, salads, and 12-inch sandwiches for nine, ten bucks. No sign of the window deals.
“Actually, I was talking about those dishes going at $3.99.”
“On the window,” he says.
“Right,” I say. I head out to check it again and come back. “I’ll have the $3.99 meat lasagna, a calzone, and a ten-inch pizza,” I say.
I know. Twelve bucks already. But I’ve gotta see if he’s for real, and what you get for that.
“On the pizza, calzone?”
“Uhh... Pepperoni on the pizza? Sausage in the calzone? And a drink.”
“Only cans. Fountain’s out. Coke?”
“Fine,” I say. It’s $1. I pay for everything — cash only tonight. Card connection’s down — and go wait.
And, whoa, when...let’s call him Florencio (never learned his real name) — when Florencio starts bringing stuff out, I realize how much I’ve over-ordered. The pizza may only be ten-inch, but that turns out to be a lot anyway. If the bubbling lasagna wasn’t in a take-out aluminum dish, you’d happily pay $15 for it down in the Gaslamp, seven blocks away. And the calzone looks straight out of rustic Italy. Florencio made it. Looks like a giant shark’s egg case, with the dough hand-crimped around the edges. Some call it a rollover or a folded pizza, but to me it tastes different. For starters, the thing that tickles the inside of your maw is the taste of fennel, with zippy little tangs from a pepper in there. Must be the bits of Italian sausage.
“Three cheeses in there, too,” says Florencio.
Next, I hit the lasagna. Oh, boy. Lush, cheesy, layered with pasta, tomatoey, and hot, like lava.
Pizza’s, well, springy and pepperoni-tasty.
“This is the regular crust,” says Florencio. “But back in Florence, they make their pizzas with crusts so thin, you can hardly see it.”
Oh, and he’s brought a heavily buttered garlic bread as well. Whole lot of bread going on, so I ask for a dinner salad with red onions.
Costs all of $2.49.
Except, this is all way too much food for me. I ask Lewis if he wants to help out. He had a slice and doesn’t look done. I also rip off half my calzone for him. And the pair at the next table, Kenosha and Squeaky, have gobbled their slices of pepperoni pizza, too. “It was $5 for the two of us, Kenosha says. “Two slices of pizza and two Cokes. That is a good deal.”
“Feel like some more?” I ask. Squeaky says he’s full. Kenosha takes a slice of pizza. Me, I’m plowing into the lasagna with the garlic bread while it’s hot.
“Definitely coming back,” says Kenosha.
Me, too. While I’m thinking about it, I go order a $3.99 sausage pizza for the beautiful Carla.
“Where are you?” she asks when I call.
“At the best deal on the Orange Line,” I say.
Lewis leaves. Paid $1.75. Kenosha and Squeaky take off, five bucks poorer. My bill’s a little higher, but with what I’m packing to go, Carla and I could hole up for a week.
“We’ve got a new menu coming soon,” says Florencio. “We’ve only been open two months and food prices are already rising.”
“And the $3.99 specials?”
“Maybe up a buck.”
“I think so.”
Sigh. So what does that make this? The good ol’ days already?
565 Park Boulevard, East Village
Prices (may be rising soon): $3.99 menu items include dishes of lasagna (meat or veggie), spaghetti, fettuccine, pani, linguini, capellini, rigatoni with meat sauce or marina; also calzone, ten-inch pizza (toppings include anchovy, ham and pineapple, “Meat Feast” of sausage, bacon, meatballs); six-inch torpedo sandwiches include ham and cheese, turkey, roast beef, pastrami, sausage, meatball; pizza by the slice, $1.75; pizza slice with soda, $2.50; 14-inch pizza with one topping, $5.99; dinners, including baked cannelloni, eggplant parmigiana, $10.49; half-and-half dinners (e.g., spaghetti and lasagna), $10; pasta, sautéed mushroom sauce, $11.49
Buses: 3, 5, 901, 929
Nearest Bus Stops: Market Street near Park Boulevard (3, 5); 11th Avenue and Market (901, 929)
Trolleys: Blue Line and Orange Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Park and Market