Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, May 29, 2020

Goodfellas’ arrival big – really big – for NY pizza fans

Goodfellas claims to bring a slice of New York City to Chattanooga. Believing the statement to be more marketing bravado than truth, I grabbed my wife – a native New Yorker who loves a good pie – and headed for King Street to see for myself.

It’s been a minute since my last visit to the Big Apple, so my wife spent the drive to newly opened Goodfellas giving me a refresher course on the qualities of a good pizza.

One, the slices have to be big. I wish I had a dollar for every time she’s scowled at the size of a slice of pizza in Chattanooga. Apparently, if a slice isn’t as big as your face, it’s not a slice, it’s a pizza bite.

“A true New York slice is so big, you start to get full by the time you’re done eating it,” she explained.

Two, the crust has to be crisp enough to hold the ingredients without folding. Perhaps the biggest sin in my wife’s pizza bible is a floppy crust. On this count, we agree.

Three, the sauce needs to exist in an elusive Goldilocks zone where it’s not too spicy, not too sweet and there’s not too much of it. In other words, it has to be just right. I doubt any pizza chef outside the Big Apple will ever hit this teeny-tiny bullseye, but it’s a standard from which my wife refuses to budge.

(Come to think of it, I’d rather have a dollar for every time she’s given thumbs-down to pizza sauce.)

Four, the cheese can’t be cheap. I swear, my wife’s refined New York City palate can taste the price tag on a block of mozzarella. If the cheese is cheap, the manager will hear about it.

Bearing these criteria in mind, I was certain my wife would be reading the owner of Goodfellas the riot act before the end of our meal. I’ve witnessed this scene more than once, and on at least one occasion, it seemed to make a difference, as the pizza had improved by our next visit.

Housed in the spacious ground floor of a 109-year-old former warehouse, Goodfellas has claimed a terrific downtown space. Featuring original brick walls, huge windows that let in copious amounts of natural light and enormous booths that could comfortably hold eight patrons, the building makes a good first impression.

So does the smell as you step inside. I was already hungry when we arrived, but the aroma of freshly baked pizza dough kicked my appetite into overdrive.

This made the sight of sliced pizza a welcome one. Literally, the first thing I saw as I stepped inside Goodfellas was pizza under a glass display. Even better, the slices were huge.

After placing a mental check mark in the plus column, I stepped up to the counter and eyed the offerings. In addition to pepperoni pizza and cheese pizza, I spotted a vegetarian pie with ingredients that seemed tailored made for me (namely sliced banana peppers, Vidalia onions and green peppers).

After I ordered a slice, my wife inquired about a different pie, which the girl behind the counter identified as mushroom. (Remember this a few paragraphs from now.)

Pleased with our selections, we paid for our pizza and plopped into one of the booths. We could have sat at one of the dozen or so tables for two, but I wanted to try the cushy seating.

As the booths adjusted to our weight, my wife’s jaw dropped. Placed in the middle of the table were five shakers, each filled with a different ingredient. In addition to salt and pepper, I spotted Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes and garlic salt.

Apparently, my wife had forgotten to pass on one important criteria for pizza places that want to be authentically New York: You have to have garlic salt on the tables. She drove this point home as I watched her blanket her slice with the stuff.

So far, so good. But Goodfellas had to pass several more tests before earning my wife’s stamp of approval, so I waited with bated breath as she lifted her slice to her mouth.

And that’s when things went briefly awry.

“Are those olives?” she asked before taking the bite, her familiar scowl appearing for the first time since entering Goodfellas.

Indeed, they were. The girl at the counter had identified it as mushroom pizza, possible because she couldn’t see the half-cup of sliced green olives that was buried among the other ingredients.

After plucking off the offending fruits, my wife took her first bite and then scowled again. “It’s cold,” she said, looking disappointed as she placed the pizza on her plate.

Mine was, too, and we’d been seated only a couple of minutes. Hoping to replace her scowl with a smile, I bought her a slice of cheese pizza and asked the crew to heat it up in the oven before serving it.

That put our meal back on course. Using both hands, she picked up the slice and bit into it with a satisfying crunch. She then nodded her approval as she chewed and folded the slice in half – another important litmus test for pizza crust.

“This is New York City crust,” she said, making me pause mid-bite. “It’s even better than New York Pizza Department’s crust.”

The comparison to the crust at New York Pizza Department in Hixson – my wife’s favorite local pizzeria – was high praise. Not only has she never mentioned another pizza place in the same breath as NYPD, she rarely favors local crust.

She liked the sauce, too, although there was more of it than she would have preferred. I, however, thought the sauce was perfect.

I liked the cheese, too, but I knew it wouldn’t meet my wife’s standards. “The cheese could be better,” she said, as if she was reading my mind.

As she finished her slice, she took a few moments to comment on the atmosphere. She thought the Prohibition Era barrels in the center of the restaurant and the black and white photos of mafia bosses on the original brick walls were a nice touch, and I liked the Roaring Twenties jazz playing in the background.

Goodfellas also comes complete with a bar and lounge seating on the main floor and a so-called Wiseguys Lounge in the basement. Unfortunately, the latter was not yet open during our visit, so we were not afforded even a peak at the space. But I imagine it only adds to the experience of spending time at a place called “Goodfellas.”

After a bumpy start, Goodfellas did what I thought was impossible: Generally impress my wife. She even said she’d go back, which we rarely do once she tries a place.

Goodfellas isn’t the only pizzeria outside the Big Apple that claims to offer a slice of New York City, but according to my wife, it’s one of the few that actually do. Color me surprised.

Located at 1208 King Street, Goodfellas is currently open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-midnight. Read more at www.goodfellaspizzeria.com.