V&T Pizza Memories
By Thomas Hauser ’67
Thomas Hauser ’67 outside V&T in May.
PHOTO: LAURA BUTCHY ’04
Very few things in life are constant, but V&T pizza is one of
Vincent and Tony Curcurato were born in Manhattan and grew up on 116th
Street off First Avenue. Prior to World War II, they were bakers by
trade. Then they enlisted in the Army. In 1945, they returned from
the war, opened a small pizzeria on Amsterdam Avenue and 122nd Street
and named it after themselves: The V&T Restaurant.
In 1952, V&T relocated to Amsterdam Avenue between 112th and 113th
Streets. In the mid-1960s, it moved again, this time two blocks south
to its present home at 1024 Amsterdam Ave.
My memories of V&T date to September 1963, when I began my freshman
year. A small cheese pizza cost 90 cents, and small was six slices,
more than enough for a meal. The price went up in 10-cent increments
for medium ($1.00) and large ($1.10).
During my Columbia years, I ate at V&T two or three times a week.
Usually, I ordered pizza. Mushrooms and sausage were added when budgetary
considerations allowed. Frank Macchiarola ’65L, ’70 GSAS
(my floor counselor, who would become a lifelong friend and a nationally-respected
educator) shared my love of V&T pizza. “It was comfort food
for a homesick Italian kid from Brooklyn,” Macchiarola recalls.
The restaurant was the site of numerous dates, celebrations and other
gatherings, and remains a touchstone of my college years. Ten years
ago, when I created a family-run Italian restaurant for a novel I was
writing, I modeled it on V&T. Even now, I revisit V&T for pizza
every few months.
There aren’t many restaurants in the Columbia neighborhood that
I recognize. The West End, Hungarian Pastry Shop and Tom’s are
still there. The Gold Rail, Takome, College Inn and New Moon are gone.
As for the V and the T: Vincent and Tony Curcurato sold the restaurant
in 1985 to Alex Gjolaj. Vincent died in the mid-1990s, and Tony died
five years ago. For Columbians of the past two decades, Gjolaj is the
face of V&T. He’s there a minimum of five nights a week.
On weekends, he’s joined by Robert Taylor, a waiter who has been
on staff for 40 years.
The Zagat 2005 New York City Restaurants survey describes V&T
pizza in no uncertain terms: “Scholars swear by the greasy saucy
cheesy pizza … An undergrad dream.”
Gjolaj estimates that half his business comes from Columbia students.
Many of his other patrons are neighborhood residents. Alumni often
return; Art Garfunkel ’65 remains a loyal V&T customer. “We
deliver to him on East 79th Street all the time,” says Gjolaj. “He
gives a nice tip and pays the cab fare.”
But V&T is hardly celebrity-driven. “He’s our only
big celebrity,” Gjolaj acknowledges. “No, wait a minute.
Jack Nicholson was here once about 10 years ago. He was waiting for
someone and the person never came. But he liked the way the pizza looked,
so he went out to his limo and brought his chauffeur in to have a pizza
The current V&T menu is more ambitious than it was years ago.
In addition to old standards, there are new entrees such as chicken
scarpariello, veal française and mussels fra diavolo. Prices
have risen. It now costs $2 to add mushrooms to a small pizza. A large
cheese pie costs $12.75.
As for the decor; the murals from my youth have given way to modern
renditions of New York and Italian landmarks, and the blue Formica
tables are covered by maroon tablecloths. The glass display case that
housed salads, slices of cheesecake and cannoli has been replaced by
a large wooden bar. Hard liquor is available, and the wine list is
more elaborate. In fact, the simple existence of a wine list makes
it more elaborate.
Writing this article was an excuse to return to V&T one more time.
My dinner companion and I ordered a large pizza with mushrooms and
The pizza had a chewy crust. “The dough is handmade,” Gjolaj
told me later. “Not many places do that anymore.”
There were gobs of cheese on top. “Whole milk mozzarella from
Wisconsin is the best,” Gjolaj noted.
And a rich tomato sauce: “Simple but good. We add oregano, basil
and garlic.” The mushrooms and sausage were plentiful.
In truth, the pie was a trifle greasy. “We don’t put
any oil on the pizza,” Gjolag volunteered. “Whatever is
there comes from the cheese. And we add a little love.”
So, V&T pizza still is reliable. And there aren’t many
pleasures one can say that about over the course of 40 years.
Thomas Hauser ’67 is an attorney
and the author of 31 books. Film rights to his most recent novel — Mark
Twain Remembers — have been acquired for DreamWorks by Steven