>> Wednesday, April 1, 2009

96-01 69th Avenue
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 520-8749

Probably Forest Hills' best kept secret (at least for pizza) is Lillian. All tucked away on 69th between the Gardens and Yellowstone, its resides just a few steps away from Forest Hills' other best kept secret (at least for vino), the Wine Room. Lillian is a somewhat small, traditional pizza place, with it's 1980s chairs and long-faded press clippings, catering primarily to Arbor Close, the west Gardens, and the school kids from across the street. Oh, and apparently to Ray Romano.

It's great pizza. I mean, really great pizza. See, I'm usually content with whatever red sauce slice is nearby when I'm hungry, but there are times when I just want a Lillian Slice. The sauce is sweet, the cheese is perfect, and oil the temperature of molten lava doesn't pour down the back of my hand when I do that quintessential New York pizza thing, the fold-and-walk. You can't really describe great pizza to a New Yorker. We've had too much of it and the pies out there are so very similar that words are just meaningless vibrations. We need to experience that little pause, that simple raised eyebrow after you bite in where, for a split second, you realize that this is just better than the other guys.

Besides pizza, Lillian has other menu options. Garlic knots, broccoli pinwheels coated in huge chunks of garlic, eggplant rolls, and chicken rolls. Most recently, I stopped in and grabbed a Chicken Roll and a Broccoli Pinwheel. Both were excellent. A little crust, but not too much, soft cheese, sauce on the inside, the chicken not drowned out by the dough. I also tried the Lasagna, which was decent. I wasn't expecting much, and was pleasantly surprised. Way too much sauce though. It was practically swimming in it.

Lillian has its downsides, and I'm not about the avoid pointing them out just because I love their end product. First, convenience. It's not near anything. As with the Wine Room, you make the active choice to go there because it's just that good. Second, if Lillian's physical space is small, then their selection is smaller still. While Ariana and Mike's might have a dozen or so varieties of pie, Lillian has maybe three, varying by the day. Plain cheese, random 1, and random 2. On my most recent trip, random 1 was broccoli and random 2 was tomato and garlic. Large cuts of tomato, big huge chunks of garlic. But that was it. Very limited options.

The employees, I'm willing to put money on, are the same ones from when Lillian opened in 1971, from the three guys who work the front and cook the pizza (They might want to hire and apprentice soon), to the temperamental woman who runs the place. Although there's one guy who basically grunts when you order a pie like he's doing you a favor, she's the one to worry about. One minute, sweet as pie. The next... let's say that at least twice, she's barked at me for sitting at a table that she had just cleaned.

Still, is it fair to say that little Lillian, known by almost no one, is one of the best pizza places in New York City? Yes. It's very fair to say such a thing.


Anonymous,  May 13, 2009 at 8:40 PM  

You do know that you can request toppings like pepperoni and sausage? They add it on to the plain cheese pizza slices before heating them up. They haven't jacked up their prices by much, if at all in the last few years, unlike every other shop.

They're all bark and no bite. It's what happens when they're situated across the street from an elementary school full of kids.

Jeff August 4, 2009 at 9:49 PM  

Anyone know if Lillian is reopening? I walked by there in May and it was totally burned out. One of the guys was cleaning it out. Said there had been an electrical fire. Sign says they're renovating but I haven't seen any sign of life since then.

Jon Parker August 5, 2009 at 11:23 AM  

I didn't know there was a fire. I certainly hope that they open again.

Jeff August 13, 2009 at 10:13 PM  

Sign now says opening in Sept., and there's a dumpster outside. Nice to see signs of life...

Anonymous,  May 30, 2010 at 8:44 AM  

I have tried Lillian's twice in May 2010 and I do NOT see what the fuss is about. Typical greasy, undistinguished, neighborhood pizza. The only thing this place has going for it is that it is clean and the Ray Romano pictures remind customers that this place must have somehow appealed to the tastebuds of an unknowing teenager. Skip it and go to the much-improved Prima Donna on QB for your fix of local pizza.

Jon Parker May 30, 2010 at 11:02 AM  

Since I've never had pizza there that was anything less than great (and not greasy), I can't agree at all. But since you want me to review Prima Donna so bad, I'll add them to the list and let my tongue be the judge.

Anonymous,  June 15, 2010 at 11:18 AM  

Perhaps Jon it is because I did not buy a whole, fresh pie? My good friend always wanted to try Lillian's, so we walked over there last week and bought a few slices. She agreed with me that the slices were very greasy - so much so that she had to blot them with a napkin. I WANT to like the place and it does get very good reviews here but I must be NOT doing something right. Should I order a whole, fresh pie next time and keep my fingers crossed?

I don't want to oversell Prima Donna's but relative to other local places I have tried it is the best of the lot. Far better crust than Lillian's and decent sauce and the ubiquitous commercial cheese. If you want OUTSTANDING pizza, go to Modern Pizza in New Haven. "Only" 96 miles from FH and in my opinion, a notch above Frank Peppe's.

Pizza is indeed very subjective and we should probably discuss something far less controversial, like the war in Afghanistan :)

Jon Parker June 15, 2010 at 12:29 PM  

Whatevs. You like 'em or you don't. Maybe you went on an off day. My personal fave for New Haven is Bar. I make a point of getting a pie and a pitcher whenever I'm at Yale.

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