Unraveling the Garlic Knot

Most readers of this magazine will have eaten their first garlic knot on Long Island. This makes sense since the majority of our readers live on Long Island. But we at Pulse believe there’s a case to be made that the first official garlic knots ever were twisted up right here.

There are always discrepancies surrounding the origins of foods tied to specific regions. Just in New York State there are many food genesis debates: Potato chips were supposedly first fried at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs (almost certainly untrue); New York-style cheesecake was maybe, possibly created at the Turf Restaurant on 49th and Broadway and the first Bloody Marys were (debatably) mixed at the St. Regis Hotel.

Even Manhattan-style clam chowder, which would seem to have a pretty clear lineage, is the subject of argument. Most food historians believe the dish was introduced by Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island and dubbed “Manhattan-style” by New Englanders eager to diss New York’s city slickers.

Although the idea of tossing dough with garlic, herbs and oil is so elementary it probably occurred to many people, the first print reference we can find to the deliberate sale of “garlic knots” is a 1988 Newsday story by Marie Bianco. She described the knots from Prudente’s in Island Park, Pizza Delight in Plainview, Franina’s in Syosset and Victor’s Pizza Delight in South Huntington. The knots in the story were either given away or sold for 10 or 15 cents each.

The second printed mention of garlic knots we found was made by Joanne Starkey in the New York Times in 1989. “Garlic knots, addictive, tempting morsels, have been drawing raves recently in casual Italian dining spots all across the Island,” wrote Starkey, who became so tied up in knots that she penned a follow up in 1996, Garlic Knots Excel in Now-Plush Décor.

Our own critic Richard Jay Scholem also appears on the timeline. His Times story, Unexpected Quality at the Buffet Table, from 1991, mentions “baskets of hearty, warm bread and garlicky pizza knots” at the Ristorante Venere in Westbury. (All of the above articles are excerpt- ed on the etymological website barrypopik.com.)

“I first ate garlic knots in the mid-fifties at little family-owned Italian establishments in Brooklyn and Queens,” Scholem told us. “I had previously lived in Wyoming, Ohio, Texas and Louisiana without ever encountering any pizza knots.”

According to Wikipedia—which we admit is a sentence no journalist should type—garlic knots “were developed in 1973, in Ozone Park Queens, as a way of making use of pizza dough scraps.” Queens and Brooklyn, of course, are geographically on Long Island, even though the boroughs’ residents admit the relationship as readily as sulky teens whose uncool parents are dropping them off at the mall.

A claim that Brooklyn, specifically, is the birthplace of garlic knots has been made by Anthony Sette, owner of Anthony’s Place on Avenue X in Sheepshead Bay. Sette said his establishment has been selling “garlic rolls” since 1947. He told Pulse the storefront he now owns was an Italian ice parlor in the 1940s that was converted into the Pizza Bowl restaurant in 1947 and began selling garlic knots the same year. “The owner, Dominick’s mother, Tessie, made garlic rolls with poppy seeds, fresh garlic and olive oil,” said Sette, who began working at the pizza shop in 1973 before becoming the owner. “We still make them the same way.”

“Without an organization that certifies such things we will never know,” Scholem said of the precise origin of garlic knots, but while that aspect of the debate may be hopelessly tangled, it’s hard to imagine anyone denying that Long Island makes the best garlic knots. Patchogue’s Delfiore Pizza & Food Co., makes such great knots they made our list of “18 Things To Eat Right Now.” . Innovations are also sold at Five Brother’s Pizza on Coney Island Avenue (ham and cheese knots) and La Nonna’s in Huntington (eggplant and chicken parm knots).

Although the garlic knot may never come to rival Buffalo wings or Irish stew as a dish with geographic bloodlines, we believe this Long Island creation should be treasured. Witness as evidence of the garlic knot’s importance in the actions of 48-year-old Robert Wheeler of Vero Beach Florida. The 350-pound Wheeler was detained by police recently after he allegedly assaulted Jonathon Feigen, a 19-year-old delivery worker. Feigen’s offense? He forgot to deliver the big fella’s garlic knots.

Do you have proof that you invented the garlic knot? Do you know someone who claims to have invented it? Do you have a knot recipe you’re dying to share? Hit us up at words@nulllipulse.com.