I was in New York City for two nights this week, and though it may be needless to say, I lived on nothing but pizza the entire time. (Well, OK, I did have a muffin one morning at the hotel's free continental breakfast, and a bag of potato chips. But otherwise, pizza.) I didn't go to any of the city's legendary pizzerias, like Patsy's, Grimaldi's, or DiFara, nor did I hit any of the new wave of artisanal pizzerias, like Co. (which according to its website is pronounced "company" - that's how you know it's cool and hip), Keste, or Motorino. Partly that's because many of them only sell whole pies, and being alone and wanting to try as many places as I could, that just wouldn't work. I can only eat so much pizza in one stretch. Patsy's, which I love, sells slices, but it's way up at 118th St., which is a long way to go for a slice or two. And I just didn't feel like enduring an hour or more wait for a $5 slice at DiFara in Brooklyn.
But I did try to hit some places that I'd read good stuff about. I'm not going to do a full review of every slice I had - there are other good sites out there covering NYC pizza, and I couldn't even scratch the surface of the city's offerings - but I'll give a quick rundown of some of what I had. The order of the photos coincides with that of the written descriptions.
Bleecker Street Pizza, 69 7th Ave. - a wall-full of celebrity photos don't necessarily guarantee good food, but these were very fine slices, crisp and flavorful. And with their browned but not blackened crusts, they showed that even classic NY style pizza doesn't have to be charred to be good.
Saluggi's, 325 Church St. - the best slice I had the whole trip. This is a restaurant, not a slice joint, and my slice took at least 5 minutes, maybe 10, after my order, to come out. I was getting impatient and thinking that if I'd known how long it was going to take, I would've skipped it. But that would've been a big mistake. This was outstanding pizza.
I did get an idea that I might be in for a treat while waiting for my slice, watching fresh pies emerge from the oven, literally steaming. That's thanks to the house-made fresh mozzarella, which was incredibly smooth and creamy.
Saluggi's is not a name I've seen mentioned a lot on pizza websites (though there's a good description here), which maybe speaks to the overall level of quality of NY pizza, but it deserves a spot on your go-to list if you're in the Tribeca neighborhood. The silky cheese was beautifully balanced by the rich tomato sauce and just-heated basil leaves. The underside was charred and crackly. Near perfection. And all I'd asked for was a cheese slice. I'd love to go back, with family or friends, for a full pie or two.
Big Al's Chicago Style Pizza, 9 Thames St. - I had to walk through some construction to get here, but I'd read a positive review here. Despite the name, this place sells a wide variety of NY style, thin crust pizza, although they do offer Chicago style pan pizza slices as well. (I should mention here that although some of the pizzerias I went to had thick-crust, Sicilian pizza available, which is actually pretty common in NYC, I stuck with the thin stuff. I like Sicilian, but on this trip I wanted to stay as much as I could with basic, NY (or neo-Neapolitan, if you prefer) thin-crust pizza. This was OK, but not exceptional. My cheese slice had a visible layer of orange oil on top, which I let drip off as much as I could. The bottom was crisscrossed by scrren marks, but was pretty crisp, although the flakes of burnt cheese and the overly blackened edge detracted from it somewhat.
Hungry for a slice on Wednesday night, I passed up two pizzerias that had no customers, and went into the third, Artichoke, which had a short line. That may or may not be indicative of a place's quality, but this was good pizza, with a slightly thicker crust than many other NYC pizzerias', and that again-heavenly blend of sauce, islands of melted fresh mozzarella, and basil. The underside was dark brown, not quite charred, but crisped from its brief reheating in the oven.
The last photo comes from Joe's, another celebrity-photo place; pics of Conan O'Brien and Val Kilmer with the owner stared down at me as I ate my slice.
Having enjoyed that fresh mozzarella-tomato sauce combination at other places, I opted for that here as well, but that was a mistake, in hindsight. The pie my slice came from was down to its last two or three slices, indicating that it had been sitting there for a while, and I would've been better off getting a regular (processed mozzarella) cheese slice from the pie of that type that had just emerged from the oven. My slice was OK, but a bit too thin for my taste. It also made me realize that fresh mozzarella is best eaten freshly baked - the reheating turned this cheese slightly brown, and it lacked the semiliquid texture that sets fresh mozzarella apart from the processed stuff.
Although I have no photos, I want to mention the last pizza I ate on my trip. As I mentioned, I don't care to pay $5 for a slice at DiFara (although I'd do it if I were in the neighborhood and the line was reasonably short), but I did end up buying a $5 slice - two, in fact. Where? At LaGuardia Airport. Airports are kind of like sports stadiums - you're part of a captive audience, so if you're hungry or thirsty enough, you'll shell out ridiculous amounts of money for your food and drink. My slices were OK, but the crusts were too floppy. After I got them, at a walk-up counter, I spotted a sit-down place called Crust, which is, sort of, associated with bread guru (and Co. owner) Jim Lahey. But I already had two slices, and they only sell whole pies, and I figured they probably weren't world-class anyway, so I skipped it.
It's possible to get mediocre, even bad pizza in New York City. (I spotted several $1-slice places, none of which looked worth stopping at, from what I saw of their pies.) And there are pizzerias in and around Rochester that can hold their own anywhere. But New York is a true mecca for pizza. Maybe it's the pizza culture there, stemming from its history of Italian immigration, and maybe it's partly the sheer amount of pizza competition, but the bar is very high. Again, the places I stopped at would not be on many Top 10 lists of NYC pizzerias, although they did generally come well recommended by somebody. But there wasn't a bad slice in the bunch. It's probably a good thing I don't live there, as I think I would feel overwhelmed by the abundance of pizza riches around me. But it's great living within striking distance of the city, for an occasional foray.