The coconut flan was every bit as good as Monserrate said it was.
Everyone knows Hiram Monserrate, the politician — the disgraced legislator from Queens convicted of brutalizing his girlfriend, and now under investigation for financial improprieties during his preceding City Council stint. But what about Hiram Monserrate, the pizzaiolo?
The snack shop sits in a mainly residential neighborhood in Corona.
Yesterday the New York Post reported incredulously that the handsome, always impeccably dressed politician was working in a Corona pizza parlor called Papaya Pizza. My first thought was, What would the pies be like? But before I had a chance to get there, the Post dispatched “Crazy Legs” Conti, the notorious competitive eater, to sample the pizza and render an opinion.
Somewhat predictably, he totally trashed the place, while holding up the remains of a box of perfectly good-looking pizza, cheesy and nicely browned along the “bone,” or circumferential edge. Who’d trust someone who eats dozens of hot dogs at one time to tell you if something is really good or not? What’s more, Conti looked so disreputable in the accompanying photograph that the first commenter was move to refer to him as “Mr. Gross.”
When I got to the tiny corner storefront, just across the street from P.S. 19 and located in his old campaign office, there was no Hiram to be found. Instead, a guy in a neat striped uniform was rearranging the plastic-wrapped breakfast pastries on top of the counter, while a woman — who later introduced herself as Monserrate’s mom — bustled around in a side room, unpacking boxes and seeing to the trash. The pizzeria has been open for two months, and pennants still flap outside. Seating is limited to a single stainless-steel counter that looks out on a row of neat frame houses.
The menu of the place is almost comically short, as befits a café attuned to the culinary needs of the students and faculty of an elementary school. There are eight kinds of pizzas, available by slice ($1.25 and up) or by pie, hot dogs wrapped in pastry, and hero sandwiches in a half-dozen permutations, all made with Boar’s Head cold cuts. A sign outside also offers paninis.
The hot dog pastry had been brushed with an egg wash prior to baking.
I decided to order an entire pie, and eat at least part of it on the premises. With a nod to the neighborhood, which is mainly Dominican, Colombian, Venezuelan, and Mexican, I ordered the Latin fave, Hawaiian pie, which comes topped with ham and pineapple. But the counter guy stopped me dead in my tracks with the news: “I’m sorry, the pizza maker quit his job this morning. We’re expecting another to arrive in an hour or so.”
Naturally, one wonders if Conti’s unkind words were the cause.
Undaunted, I ordered the hot dog and the flan that Monserrate had recommended during his brief Post interview.
The frank was wrapped in flaky pastry, which had been brushed on top with an egg wash that led to a nice brown color. I didn’t think Papaya Pizza made the pastry, but I think they assembled the package, which was better than a hot dog from a cart, but not as good as, say, a Bark dog.
The coconut flan, however, was magnificent. The texture was creamy with a little grit from tiny slivers of coconut, and there was a thick lake of burnt-sugar syrup in the bottom of the aluminum container.
So, if you had a choice of two opinions — Conti’s or Monserrate’s — to govern your dining decisions, I’d pick the disgraced senator’s anytime.
40-53 99th Street
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 12, 2011