Brooklyn Bridge Park
Was this a pun on margherita pizza’s component ingredient?
As it happens, no. Felix instead is worried about getting stuck on a cramped coach with an over-cheery commentator.
But I’d done my research, totted up the tour’s five-star reviews, and so here we are, among 12 others in a smart black minibus whizzing through the streets of Chinatown towards one of New York’s most colourful suburbs.
Our guide on this Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour is Tony, whose nasal “fuh-getta-boud-it” Brooklyn accent matches a lovely line in quirky stories. Within minutes, Felix has swapped his headphones for appreciative smiles. “You guys,” Tony announces, “are gonna taste the very best pizza outside of Italy.”
Small art galleries stand beside graffiti-splattered Latino cocktail shacks
We haven’t eaten breakfast, so this is welcome news. And I’m enjoying the unfamiliar streets of Brooklyn’s Dumbo area (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) – now a desirable neighbourhood for peace-seeking Manhattanites.
Small art galleries stand beside graffiti-splattered Latino cocktail shacks, and in between are lovely glimpses of the Brooklyn Bridge’s underbelly, where trains rumble above, and golden sunlight dapples the stonework.
This is where Al Pacino, playing a blind man, raced his sports car in Scent Of A Woman – Tony deftly flicking on the TV monitor to show the exact clip as we pass the bridge’s mammoth stone piers.
Brooklyn’s Dumbo area is now a desirable neighbourhood for peace-seeking Manhattanites
Michelle Obama is a big fan of pizzeria Grimaldi’s
Film clips pattern this tour and make for a fun element.
Further into Brooklyn, we watch a young John Travolta strutting his pointy-shoed stuff along the streets of Bensonhurst – the borough’s original Little Italy – noting, as we gaze from the screen to the streets that many of the shops from Saturday Night Fever’s opening still exist.
But first, Grimaldi’s, a pizzeria housed in a pretty 19th century building beneath Brooklyn Bridge. Here, tables covered in red and white checked cloth surround a huge coal-fired brick oven.
The space is tiny and snaking street queues are a regular feature. Luckily we are early, and as we chat with our fellow diners, huge rounds of margherita pizza appear.
With their crisp smoky crusts coated in Sicilian imported tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, Felix and I agree they’re the best we’ve tasted.
So, too, thought Michelle Obama, whose photo taken outside Grimaldi’s hangs on the wall. Newly gentrified Bensonhurst follows, with Tony pointing out the golf course where Tiger Woods hit his first ball.
This was also New York City’s original mobland, home to five of the biggest Mafia families during the 1970s, but today its streets of homely Gothic-style brownstones appear calm.
We stop at Spumoni Gardens restaurant for a traditional thick crust Sicilian “sfincione” pizza. It’s too rich for me and Felix, but Tony reckons it’s the best in town.
Times Square is a short walk from the Circle Line’s pier
“There was a guy fresh out of jail who dashed here before going home to see his mama first,” he laughs. “That’s all you need to know.”
Neighbouring Coney Island is where we brave the biting Atlantic breeze to stroll the boardwalk – America’s longest – enjoying far-reaching views across to Queens and Sandy Hook and working off all those calories at the same time.
Naturally, we also enjoy Manhattan’s top sights and our charming Midtown base, the Hotel Metro, proves a convenient and cosy delight. Rooms feature super-comfy beds and elegant art deco furniture, and there’s free breakfast and wifi included – a rare addition in New York – while up on the roof garden we have a stunning view across to the Empire State Building.
The famous Circle Line boat tour along the Hudson River is one of the best ways to view Manhattan’s exquisite skyline, including the Statue of Liberty.
Times Square is a short walk from the Circle Line’s pier, and we’re in luck, for emerging from Starbucks, is Kelsey Grammer of Frasier fame.
Making a fool of myself, I approach and babble on about being a fan while Felix snaps the two of us. The actor is graciousness personified, rewarding me with a friendly hug.
More sobering is our visit to the 911 Memorial Museum. Ground Zero’s twin sunken fountains are deeply moving, but we are more profoundly affected by the museum’s collection of personal detritus and burnt out fire engines.
Soon, hunger pangs resurface and talk turns to dinner. Felix suggests a pizza supper. Can we seriously better Grimaldi’s?
Kelsey Grammer, star of hit TV show Frasier
Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859/ virginholidays.co.uk) offers three nights at the 3V Hotel Metro from £539 (two sharing) room only.
Price includes return flights from London Heathrow to New York.
A Slice of Brooklyn (asliceofbrooklyn.com) pizza walking tour costs from £60.
For information and for details of money-saving CityPASSes to many of the city’s top attractions, visit NYC & Company (nycgo.com).