Of course no one can really know where the best slice in New York is.
I mean first you have to deal with the fact that taste is wholly subjective, if the ongoing and bizarrely fierce debate over pineapple on pizza teaches us anything.
(I’m personally against it, but instead of railing against the very concept, I just don’t order it, and then I don’t have to eat it. It’s 100% effective. Also works on other horrible toppings such as olives (gross), broccoli (vile weed), and that hollow shade of a pretender “Canadian bacon.”)
Second… there must be hundreds upon hundreds of pizza places in New York. Possibly thousands. What does Google say… 32,000. Merciful Zeus.It would take a lifetime to taste each and every one of them, test them against each other, develop a conclusive ranking.
Not, like, a long lifetime. But certainly the sort of lifetime one gets when one lives off pizza and only pizza.
Still… here I was. Back in NYC. And I certainly needed to eat while there. Matt might not have been with me this time (newborn children have a tendency to rule out spontaneous food odysseys), but I would finish what we started.
I would find the (probably) Best Slice in New York.
Sure, I’d been alone in New York… past trips had times when I was on my own for a while, but there were always people to link back up with later. Not so this time. Just me.
Every time I go somewhere, I’m choosing between going somewhere I’ve never been, and revisiting someplace I know I love. Each have their appeals… much as I might like to see Morocco or Miami or… Macedonia… alliteration is a terribly tempting trap… there are places I want to revisit. As an example, I never want to think that I’ve left London for the last time until the day I fly there to die. Or, for preference, until I watch the sun swallow the Earth from my immortal android body. Its luxurious, lifelike hair flowing in the artifical breeze.
Returning to places can have advantages, especially if I’m going with people. Much as I’d enjoyed all my past London trips, showing it off to Ian was nice. Being in New York with friends was an incredibly fun experience, something hanging out with them at home couldn’t replicate.
But the flip side is that once I’ve been somewhere with friends, new or old, when I go back the city can become haunted by their absence. I don’t want to go full “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” or anything, but when you come back to a place you’d been to with family or friends, it’s hard not to miss them a little.
This became clear in LA. Venice Beach was just a lot of sand, bars, and stores selling mid-level raunchy t-shirts and underpants without Diane, Peri, Allison, and all my other fellow FOLCs. Disneyland was a lesser experience after Dara and my parents had gone back north. All of this came into relief as I arrived in New York for my fourth visit.
Of course, there’s no guessing who you might miss when you arrive at a place.
My first two trips to New York, and my longest before this one, were with my parents. And both of those trips were great… there are always nightcaps at the hotel at the end of the day, and that’s always nice. But somehow, despite walking past both hotels we’d stayed in at various points, the people I missed the most were Matt and Kate. Maybe because we had unfinished business.
Back When: Pizza and Beer in the Big Apple
In 2016, I flew to New York for a Brooklyn pizza tour. It failed.
Three couples I knew… Chelsea & Tommy, Erin & Ted, and Matt & Kate… flew down to New York for a week and change. My thoughts were, at first, “Well, neat for them,” and nothing further, because when you’re my age and single, your couple friends do stuff without inviting you and that’s just how it is. But Matt kept talking about one thing he wanted to do that really resonated with me.
A Brooklyn pizza tasting tour.
But not just by reading food blogs or “Ten best slices” lists, which it turns out can actually damage the restaurants they name. Specifically, he wanted to find two guys lifting weights on a stoop, ask them what’s the best slice in the neighbourhood, and write down everything they said while they argued.
While that sounded less like a plan and more like a cutaway joke on Family Guy, the idea of seeking out the best slice in Brooklyn did sound like my exact idea of a good time, and the exact thing I would have done on my second NYC trip had I not bought into the myth of there being one, true Original Ray’s.
Spoilers for an upcoming post: I had one pizza in eight days that did not massively outshine my slice from Original Ray’s. By the end of the next post, see if you can name it.
I mentioned this offhandedly to my parents, who decided they had some spare Aeroplan points and I had a birthday coming up, and soon I had a long weekend in the Big Apple planned, and Matt had a partner in pizza crime.
It then turned out the rest of the collective also wanted in, which… well… it helped until it didn’t.
The first issue we hit is that the two places we’d initially identified didn’t do “by the slice.” Grimaldi’s, for example, which certainly belongs in any conversation about Brooklyn’s best pizza, and often ends up in them, judging by the lines to get in. So having seven people did make it easier to split up the pizzas… but evidently not enough, because when we arrived at our second stop, Dellarocco’s (more classic Neapolitan style, from which New York style evolved, better toppings than Grimaldi’s but overall the silver medalist), a third of our group decided they were full and that they wanted to explore Brooklyn instead of eating more pizza.
And with that, the tasting tour began to implode. One pizza from Dellarocco’s later, and the group position was to bail on the quest and head to Coney Island… despite the fact that the sun was setting and we were past prime beach time.
But hey, the rides were open, so… off we went. Matt and I opted against the rides, and, still a little annoyed to have had our pizza quest cut short, sought out beers.
Which led to my favourite moment of the weekend, a story I’ve told again and again.
Two years and two months earlier, my parents and I had visited Coney Island, and after a few hours of beach, aquarium, and one roller coaster, we wanted lunch somewhere indoors with drink service, which meant leaving the boardwalk and arriving at a certain mid-level restaurant chain nigh-synonymous with “Whatever, this will do, I guess.”
Flash forward to 2016, and Matt and I find ourselves on the same block, just behind the rides, looking for a bar. He sees a familiar sign.
“I suppose if all else fails,” Matt says, “Applebees serves beer.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time I went to that Applebees for lack of better options,” I replied.
He stopped, turned, stared at me, and with a voice filled with incredulity, said “You’ve been to that Applebees?”
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s the Applebees of Last Resort.”
And so have I thought of the Coney Island Applebee’s ever since.
(It didn’t come to that. We found a bar mere seconds later.)
The Pub Crawl
We had a good time, Matt and I, wandering from bar to bar… sadly not the one that was no doubt the inspiration for Harley Quinn’s Brooklyn pad in her solo comic…
…and perhaps that was an inspiration for the next day. While the rest of the collective did… whatever it is they were doing, I don’t know… I headed north from my Brooklyn hotel to meet Matt and Kate at their home base brewpub, Beer Authority.
Well, okay, I grabbed lunch at Raclette, a cheese-based restaurant after my heart. Both in terms of food and cholesterol-murder.
Which, okay… Kate was pretty miffed at me for going there without her, but A) I needed to go to this place in the worst way, and after the previous day I was not willing to trust the collective with fitting it into their agenda; B) I would have gone back. I would have gone back that afternoon. I didn’t even care how full I was (very), I’d have gotten hungry again.
From there, we set off on a new mission… the Hell’s Kitchen Craft Pub Crawl. Which involved a faster and less stoop-intensive research method than the planned pizza quest… we googled “Hell’s Kitchen craft beer pubs,” found a list of the best ones online, and started wandering.
Because as I’ve said in nearly every Marvel Netflix review I’ve written, you can walk through basically all of Hell’s Kitchen in one afternoon.
We didn’t make it to all ten. More like three, because after opening drinks at Beer Authority (home of more draft beers than I could drink in a week) we were already a hint tipsy. Also one was closed, and only Kate wanted to hit Flaming Saddles.
“It’s a wild west themed gay bar with country music and dancing barkeeps!” she explained.
“No…” I replied. “…But I just want to be clear that it’s the country music I’m objecting to.”
I think deep down she knew that pitch was a lost cause.
And so it was that we discovered BarBacon. Craft beers and a bacon-based menu of delicious food. Even their kale salad had bacon.
(“You came here, and you’re getting a salad?” Matt and Kate asked me. “Lunch was a pound of cheese melted on potatoes,” I replied, “I need to eat a green plant today.”)
And of course, the best item on the menu, the bacon tasting flight. Four beers, four bacons. Perfect end to a fun afternoon/evening.
Except for not bothering to use the washroom before hopping in the Uber back to Times Square.
Not my best idea.
It’s a long subway ride back to Brooklyn. A long and less than comfortable ride that night.
These two days of food and drink-based fun in the Big Apple gave me a few spots to revisit… and a quest to complete.
Next time, an aborted Best Pizza Quest is resumed, two years later.
Hark now to the tale of my two trips to the 1920s, to unravel a mystery with a seductive PI in the making.
We’re spending more time on this than, say, The Lifespan of a Fact because in that case all I can do is give a synopsis and maybe try to recall the better lines, and that’s less satisfying.
Minky Woodcock, on the other hand, was an experience.
Minky Woodcock. Would-be private eye. Sharp mind, crafty in a fight, able to talk her way almost anywhere, and with a body that gets her anywhere else. Stuck in a time period that doesn’t appreciate her.
And the main character of the graphic novel-turned theatrical experience that lured me to New York eight days after getting back from LA.
Although Minky had some help getting my attention.
For the uninitiated, this is Robyn Adele Anderson.
The original singer for Postmodern Jukebox, way back when they turned contemporary hits into vintage ditties in a small apartment.
She has her own channel now, since Postmodern Jukebox now juggles many, many singers and possibly is based in LA now, not New York where they started.
I suppose my lo– chaste and respectful admiration for Ms. Anderson began the first time I saw Postmodern Jukebox live, June of 2015. All five vocalists brought the house down that night, but I became fond of Ms. Anderson in particular.
I was already quite fond of Ariana Savalas and this performance only solidified that so my above statement remains true.
A year later, I’m following the Twitters and Instagrams of both Ms. Anderson and Gracie Terzian, a jazz singer with a harp ukulele and a voice so beautiful it defies description, and she has nothing to do with this story, really, but here’s a video anyway.
Back on track… Both Robyn and Gracie seemed to be doing zero-cover gigs at jazz clubs across Manhattan, while I was stuck on the far side of the continent like a chump. That’s what got me thinking about a third New York trip back then… go to NYC, meet up with Maria, one of my Peru travelmates, then find some rooftop jazz bar and hear Robyn or Gracie sing live. Of course when I actually went to New York in the fall of 2016, for an ill-fated Brooklyn pizza adventure we’ll discuss another time, both were on tour and nowhere near the city and Maria was in Russia. So it goes.
Two years pass. As I mentioned earlier, Ms. Anderson plugs a show she’s doing with a group called Speakeasy Dollhouse. Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini. The title has my attention, so I check out their page.
An interactive theatrical experience… based on a, let’s be honest, pretty sexy-looking graphic novel… about Harry Houdini… that uses true facts about his death to construct a conspiracy involving spiritualists and the creator of Sherlock Holmes… featuring one of my favourite singers as Bess Houdini.
Other than the “audience participation” of it all, this was ticking a lot of boxes for me. It seemed like, were it playing remotely near me, it was exactly the sort of show I’d want to see. The Kickstarter was a fair distance from its goal, so I thought, what could slipping them $100 hurt? Other than $100 plus exchange rate. That’s two or three nights at home instead of a pub. Maybe they wouldn’t make their goal and I wouldn’t even be on the hook.
Anyway a week or so later I get an email saying they’re funded and asking when I want to see the show.