The New York Slice
by Harrison Peck and Jonathan Zeller, 09/08/2010
- pizza in nyc/
- more in dining/
A greasy slice eaten while standing; an artisanal pie paired with red wine; a pile of vegetables heaped on a gluten-free cornmeal crust. New York City pizza takes many forms. So when we spoke with three of New York City's foremost pizza experts—Tony Muia of A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour, Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours and Adam Kuban of the Slice pizza blog—they stressed New York's pizza diversity.
"It's kind of an impossible task [to describe typical New York pizza]," explains Wiener, "but the most commonly thought of 'typical' New York pizza is the street slice." He goes on to describe a large pie with cooked tomato sauce and shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese. Kuban says: "It's crisp, but you can fold it." The consensus is that a newbie seeking the traditional street slice should head for Famous Joe's Pizza in Greenwich Village, although all New Yorkers have neighborhood favorites—like Muia's local spot, J&V in Bensonhurst.
But what about the other permutations of NYC pizza greatness—including the gourmet, supercheap, vegan and even (we're not making this up) deep-fried? Our pizza panel weighed in on them all. As Wiener says, "Variety is what keeps pizza relevant. That's why pizza has never lost popularity—it's only gained popularity since its conception, because it's adaptable."
To learn which NYC pizzas Twitter users voted as their favorites in the hashtag #nycgopizza, check out our borough-by-borough rundown of winning pizzerias. —Jonathan Zeller
The Old-School Slice
Pizza enthusiasts in the market for a traditional New York pie will find no shortage of classic joints all over the City. In 1905, Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi began baking America's first pizzas in a coal oven in his Little Italy grocery store; more than a century later, Lombardi's Pizza remains one of the most popular pizzerias in town. John's Pizzeria of Bleecker Street—famous for its crispy crust, sweet sauce and unwavering pizza-by-the-pie (never by the slice) policy—has served traditional brick-oven pizzas in the same homey space since 1929. For those looking for a quick slice or two on the go, though, Famous Joe's Pizza is a mouthwatering bet (one that's considered a religious experience by some). For a modern take on the classic New York pizzeria, head across town to Artichoke, where the house specialty—a cult favorite—is topped with a dip-like (you guessed it) artichoke and cheese mixture so tasty and filling that it draws crowds.
In Brooklyn, devotees swear by the gooey Sicilian slices at L&B Spumoni Gardens, whose large outdoor space makes it an ideal summertime destination. Meanwhile, even Michelle Obama would attest that the notoriously long line at Grimaldi's is a small price to pay for its transcendent pies. There's also Di Fara, where seasoned pizza guru Domenico DeMarco carefully pieces together each bubbling gem with generous streams of imported olive oil, fresh-cut basil (grown in the windowsill) and an extra dose of TLC. —Harrison Peck
The Gourmet Slice
In recent years, a flood of Neapolitan-style restaurants has dominated the New York pizza scene. These fancier spots use only the highest-quality ingredients and tend to complement innovative pies with wine lists that would please even the pickiest oenophiles. Some even go so far as to import their ovens from the motherland itself—Naples. According to Kuban, though, the top-notch chefs in the kitchen are what truly make these pies worth the few extra dollars. "You can have a Ferrari, but if you can't drive it, it doesn't make a lick of difference," he says.
Motorino, with branches in Williamsburg and the East Village, dishes out some of the City's favorite Neapolitan pies. Just ask Rachael Ray and New York Times food critic Sam Sifton—both have bestowed Motorino with the best-pizza-in-town honor. At Mario Batali's surprisingly affordable hotspot Otto, creative pizzas are complemented by an encyclopedic wine list and indulgent desserts. Newcomer Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria, a recent addition to the Bowery's flourishing restaurant scene, is Keith McNally's (Pastis, Balthazar) ode to high-end pizza. Over in the West Village, slice connoisseurs shouldn't miss the toppings like truffle spread, eggplant and butternut squash at Keste. And in Brooklyn, Franny's purchases its ingredients from local or organic sources, taking an environmentally friendly approach to the inventive pie. —HP
The Special-Diet Slice
Keeping kosher, being vegetarian or vegan, avoiding wheat or adhering to any other restrictive diet once severely limited the breadth and depth of one's pizza experience. In New York City, however, those days are long gone. Slice, in the West Village and on the Upper East Side, is one particularly popular specialty pizzeria. Muia calls its flavor combinations—which include, for example, hummus, olives and bruschetta—"mind-blowing." The menu features vegan and vegetarian options alongside meatier, cheesier choices.
Viva Herbal Pizzeria, too, is creative and accommodating. Viva's conventional slices use vegetarian, kosher cheese. The eatery also offers cornmeal, wheat-free and yeast-free crusts (just ask) and pies with vegan cheese or no cheese at all—but you won't miss dairy when you taste the options. These include the spicy Siciliana marinara pie, which resembles an L&B square with a little kick; the hearty Zen, topped with a mountain of vegetables and tofu; and the picante, which is piled with tasty mock meat. Russell Simmons himself has raved about the place. For straight-up kosher pizza, Pizza Time in Midwood—co-owned by an American Jew and an Italian pizza maker—is many diners' favorite.
Vegetarians and vegans can also eat alongside their omnivorous friends at most classic Italian-style pizzerias. As Wiener says, "Any solid pizzeria has a pizza that has no cheese on it—a marinara pizza." Vegans can happily chow down on this cheeseless pie at Olio Pizza e Più, Keste, Fornino and countless other classy pizza places. Need to forgo gluten but still want old–country–style pizza? Keste offers gluten-free pies on Mondays and Tuesdays. —JZ
The Cheap Slice
"To be a great city," opines Wiener, "you must have a dollar slice available on the street." New York rises to this challenge many times over. Mini-chain 2 Bros. Pizza boasts a brand-defining commitment to the $1 slice. 99¢ Fresh Pizza undercuts them, charging 1% less. The cheap-slice titans have plenty of competition, too, including Z Deli and Alberto's Pizza and Cheesesteak.
But are they any good? Muia is unimpressed and says he'd "rather spend two and change on a slice that's going to blow [him] away." Kuban and Wiener are more forgiving. Kuban shares his fondness for 2 Bros., calling its slices "doughy and filling," while Wiener remembers his old habit of eating slices from the 99¢ Fresh Pizza near Port Authority, plumbing the emotional depths of pizza attachment in saying he'd "grab a slice to keep [himself] company" while waiting for the bus.
Whether they’re delicious or merely edible, the existence of $1 pizza slices certainly reflects something positive about the five boroughs’ pizza economy: with so many competing pizzerias, market pressure has pushed the cheapest slices to price levels that scarcely seem believable. But that's the beauty of NYC pizza. Says Wiener: "You may not be able to afford rent in a neighborhood, but you can afford a slice of pizza no matter where you are." —JZ
The Weird Slice
New York has the best of many things, and also the most peculiar. Pizza is no exception, so step right up and consider some of the strangest NYC has to offer. For example, deep-fried pizza, as tasted by Kuban himself. Shocked that this bright-yellow battered delicacy is actually on the menu at Chip Shop? You're not alone. The menu actually implores you to "Believe It!"
The City also boasts pizza in a cone. It's strange, but it's real—you can find it at Rio Bonito Supermercado, K! Pizzacone and even (while the season is in session) at select concession stands at the Brooklyn Cyclones' MCU Park. Interestingly, this particular pizza innovation has more roots in pizzular history than you might think. Says Wiener: "That method of eating pizza—holding something in your hand and ripping bits off—it's very similar to the way you would have eaten pizza in early-16th-century Naples," when "none of the places had seats." Having said that, he allows that the quality of the modern pizza cone is likely quite different.
Less odd, but still something that wouldn't be taken for granted outside of NYC, is the fact that New York is home to an array of pizza trucks serving different styles. Two highlights include bar-style pizza (with cheese that goes out to the end of the crust) from Eddie's Pizza Truck and grandma slices from the Maffei Pizza truck. —JZ