The Grand Pizza Tour
Air BnB doesn’t just do accommodations anymore, did you know that? If there’s something in your city you know well, you can also host tours. Not a terrible way to earn some extra cash. I did two of these in New York… first was a Brooklyn bar crawl, where Sara took a big cluster of us through four different Brooklyn bars I’d have never found on my own… which was fun to do but didn’t yield many stories worth telling here, save for the serve-yourself craft beer bar…
…and an awkward multi-national conversation.
Side note: I don’t know what her expenses are, or how she negotiated drink deals with all the bars, but Sara probably pulled in at least $400 that night. Not a bad payday for going to cool bars and talking with people from around the world.
Two days later was “Pizza tour with a real New Yorker,” in which Greg took us on a tour through the New York slice experience. This was not about “Here are the best slices in Manhattan.” This was a progression through the types of slices available within Greenwich Village. Which… it’s most of them. Most types of pizza can be found in the village, even Chicago deep dish, which some New Yorkers might consider an affront.
Which is handy, because it meant all four of our stops, and some post-pizza exploration of the neighbourhood, were within simple walking distance.
Basically, Greg wanted to take use through four stages of New York slice, providing a basic cheese slice from each place.
(Greg only made $100-150 that particular Monday night, minus the cost of the pizza and water bottles, so… wasn’t exactly quitting his day job, but he does it for the love of the slice.)
1. The Utility Slice
There are 99 cent pizza places all over New York. Often open late. Greg called it the “utility slice,” because it’s a quick and easy dinner. Cheap, simple, and surprisingly tasty. The perfect dinner if you’re in a rush to get to work and only have ten minutes to grab a bite, or if, say, you spent more than you meant to on merch at King Kong and your travel money was already running thin so dinner needs to be under $5.
Seriously, a better slice than I expected. Makes the pizza slices at the movie theatres here seem like photocopies of pizza pinned onto cardboard. And that was just step one.
That said… Greg was quick to deliver a warning about these places. “Don’t get toppings here,” he said. “Not worth it.”
2. The Mom and Pop
Next up was the mom and pop pizzeria, the neighbourhood pizza joint. Greg’s claim was that the trick to a New York slice was about knowing where, how, and what to order, and that every neighbourhood pizzeria has their specialty.
At Ben’s, it’s the grandma slice. The grandma slice is made in a square pan with olive oil, like a Sicilian slice, but the dough isn’t allowed to rise, leading to soft but thin crust. It was definitely a tasty slice.
3. New New York
Not quite full-on freakish Brooklyn hipster pizza or anything, but the new-New York pizzerias are where chefs began to get experimental. Our sample was Artichoke, found on a hub called Macdougal Street, covered in all sorts of ethnic cuisines (including what Greg considered one of New York’s few good Vietnamese places… Greg feels that Vietnamese food is the one cuisine New York doesn’t do well) and comedy clubs, including the small club where big names sometimes test material.
Artichoke Pizza does indeed make an artichoke pizza, but our agenda remained cheese slices. After all, everyone who loves pizza can enjoy a cheese slice*, but once you start adding toppings everything becomes complicated. By way of a
So what we got was a vodka slice, named for the vodka sauce used on the pie: a blend of red and white pasta sauces, rather than traditional pizza sauce, and is seeing the word “sauce” that much making anyone else hungry?
Similar to a Sicilian, the cheese is actually placed between the crust and the sauce, with the sauce being the top layer. Different from the Sicilian is the preparation of the crust… the dough is pan-seared prior to baking, giving the slice a thick, soft, chewy, and delicious crust with a crunchy bottom layer.
The vodka slices were delicious. If we’d tapped out there I’d have had no complaints. But there was one left.
*Except vegans, but let’s face it, vegans eat fake pizza. I’m sorry if that’s mean but it’s true**. Fake cheese, fake pizza.
**Okay it was more mean than true. Sorry, vegans. Hug?
***That one is true. Argue if you want, I’ll just sit here being right.
4. The Champeenship
When you picture the prototypical Italian pizza joint, whether you know it or not, you are probably picturing Lombardi’s. And when you picture a New York pizza slice, you are picturing Joe’s Pizza in the Village.
There’s no trick, no specialty topping, no interesting twist to the formula. No history lesson or series of obstacles to clear to find it.
Just a simple, perfect, giant slice of pizza. Cheese and sauce and crust working together for one delicious experience.
How good? It was utterly delicious, utterly unimpeded by having already eaten three other fairly large slices, and that vodka slice was filling.
John’s was an interesting historical note, but man I wish I’d just gone to Joe’s again. Although I was able to sit at John’s…
And so the Great Pizza Quest was completed. My rough ranking?
- Di Fara
- Ben’s Pizzeria
- 99¢ Fresh Pizza
- “New York Style Pizza”
Which represents… roughly… rounding up… zero? Zero percent of New York pizza? Dang. Rounded too much. Erm… 0.0375 percent.
Guess more research might be needed. Who do I see about a grant for that…