Ludivico Barbati, who had emigrated from Italy in 1917, learned from a local baker how to make spumoni and Italian ices in a garage in 1938. At first, he sold his products in a horse-driven wagon up and down the streets of the neighborhood, but by 1939 he had purchased a building to house the growing operation, which he called L&B Spumoni Gardens.
In the 1950s, Barbati commissioned a second building, which became the pizzeria, where Sicilian and round pies were peddled to great success—eventually requiring a third building—thanks to a unique recipe.
Today, L&B Spumoni Gardens has two locations in Brooklyn, one on 86th Street and one on Old Fulton Street. PMQ inducted the pizzeria into the Pizza Hall of Fame in November 2012.
“Now, our establishment [on 86th Street] is a block long,” Toni Corey, Barbati’s granddaughter and one of the current owners in the still-family-run business, told PMQ in 2012. “As far as Sicilian goes, our pizza is different than anything you’ve had before, with a crunchy bottom, a chewy, airy center, and sweet sauce. You can’t have just one slice!”
The rectangular pizza, sliced into squares, is often described as “upside down Sicilian style,” with the sauce placed on top of the cheese. As Eater New York has explained, “The crust on this slice is thick, and the cheese is layered underneath the tomato sauce, which glints dark red and slightly sweet. Putting the cheese underneath the tomato sauce…is intended to keep the crust from getting soggy. This desire is somewhat ironic, since another feature of these pies is that they’re purposefully under-baked, leaving the middle a bit doughy.”
Throughout the years, L&B has grown to epic proportions without advertisement—except the free kind. The pizzeria has been featured in countless articles and on the TV show Man v. Food, while the Internet spreads word of the delectable square slices worldwide (the pizzeria frequently fields emails from customers as far away as London and Japan). Of course, the family had to struggle through 9/11, the Great Recession, the pandemic and a changing neighborhood, but the company has persevered thanks to a rabid fan base. “A lot of places had a hard time, but we made it through,” Corey recounted. “Luckily, pizza is still affordable, and we held our own. If you grew up in this area, you always come back to L&B.”
Corey’s father, the second generation of the business, passed away thirteen years ago, but she remembers that he was exceedingly proud of how far the business had come. Additionally, Louis Barbati, who ran L&B for years, was killed outside his home in June 2016 in an apparent robbery attempt.
Family tragedies aside, L&B Spumoni Gardens continues to thrive. Eater New York hailed it as “one of Brooklyn’s most famous culinary destinations, filled with munching tourists as well as aging locals hosting their kids and grandkids.”
“We stand out because we’re different, and people keep coming back,” Corey said. “Our pizza hasn’t changed since the 1950s; we give customers what they want. It’s something to be very proud of. Just give us another 80 years!”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor. This story has been edited and updated from the original version appearing in the November 2012 issue of PMQ.