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Ciao, Mario



I awakened from an afternoon doze to find Mario Batali doing a commercial for OTB. Jolly and florid of face, he slouched on a bar stool waving a slice of pizza and encouraging his admirers to come down to O'Neill's in Maspeth, Queens, where a horse-betting parlor had been installed inside the restaurant. Let's forget for a moment my disappointment at seeing my favorite TV chef turned tout—I'd sooner catch him selling crack. What really floored me was Mario referring to the slice as "some of the best pizza in New York." Irish pizza? But such is my respect for Batali that I soon found myself in a battered Toyota with a couple of Brooklyn pals maneuvering up Flushing Avenue past tortillerias and sugarcane stands, making for the Queens frontier.

O'Neill's is a green-awninged complex that sprawls around a residential corner in one of the city's whitest and most isolated neighborhoods. Entering a smoky bar on a Sunday afternoon, we propelled past dining rooms to a windowless rear sanctuary, where dozens of TVs lined the walls, casting a surreal light over tables where snowy-haired couples sat, their Racing Forms spread before them. Periodically, a hoarse shout went up on the order of "Lulu, get your ass moving, girl." At a window in the corner a pair of men behind computer terminals took bets as horse derriéres flickered across the screens. The pricey menu went from clams casino to $60 steaks for two, but no one was paying attention to the food. Jammed beside the bar was a brick pizza oven.

The service was horrible, but when we finally got the harried waiter to hand over the separate pizza menu, it proved a compact and alluring document. In addition to an octet of prescribed formulations like clam pie and white pizza, there were 14 optional ingredients for constructing your own. Before the waiter could escape, we ordered a large pie, to which we added sweet sausage, extra mozzarella, anchovies, and, as a wild card, something called "ricotta impastata." We asked to have raw garlic strewn over the whole thing.

Our $16.76 pizza was memorably great, the thin crust not bogged down by the lush distribution of premium ingredients. It was better than the sainted artichoke pie at DiFara's in Brooklyn. As the slices vanished, I realized I owed Mario an apology. And how about a $2 ticket on Hunny's Devil to win in the second at Pimlico?


Upper crust: share a piece of the pie at O'Neill's.
photo: Tania Savayan
Upper crust: share a piece of the pie at O'Neill's.

Location Info

Map

O'Neill's

64-21 53rd Drive
Flushing, NY 11378

Category: Restaurant > Fusion

Region: Maspeth

Cantinetta

260 Sixth Ave.
New York, NY 10014

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: West Village

Details

O'Neill's
64-21 53rd Drive, Maspeth, Queens,
718-672-9696.
Pizza available Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday noon to 10 p.m.
Credit cards accepted.
Wheelchair accessible.

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