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The best pizza in New York, circa 1999


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#31 paulraphael

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 03:01 PM

I found a new contender Roberta's just a ten minute walk from where I live ... amazing since there's little else here besides bodegas that push forties and wonder bread.

Pies are imperfect (erred on the overcooked side, not the more typical undercooked ... so the crust on most of ours was a bit dried out and overwhelmed by char). But no more imperfect than anything else I've had in town. Great toppings, great menu overall, and great prices.

Be warned, Manhattanites, that the East Williamsburg industrial park requires a journey across rivers and comfort zones alike.

#32 docsconz

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 06:28 PM

If you're a pizza-lover, there is no branch of Ray's that's likely to wow you, and frankly it is a style that plenty of places around the country do on a level that is at least roughly comparable.

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Really? I've never had pizza anywhere quite like Ray's on 6th & 11th. One may or may ot like it, but it is or at least was unique. It was NY style steel deck pizza by the slice on cheesified steroids. For this pie, the cheese came first with every thing else support.

One pizza place in Brooklyn that I grew up with and was always excellent was Lenny's on 5th Ave. not far from Greenwood Cemetery. If ever there was an classic NY style, this embodied it. It is not in the greatest neighborhood and to my knowledge has never gotten much press, but it was made with care and good ingredients. I haven't been in a while, so i can't speak to current quality, but I believe that it is still owned by the same family, so I expect the quality to still be excellent. In addition to their pizzas, they had the best calzones.
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#33 slkinsey

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 07:19 PM

If you're a pizza-lover, there is no branch of Ray's that's likely to wow you, and frankly it is a style that plenty of places around the country do on a level that is at least roughly comparable.

Really? I've never had pizza anywhere quite like Ray's on 6th & 11th. One may or may ot like it, but it is or at least was unique. It was NY style steel deck pizza by the slice on cheesified steroids. For this pie, the cheese came first with every thing else support.

Fundamentally I don't think it breaks any stylistic boundaries, no. You go to pretty much any place and tell them to put quadruple extra cheese on the pizza, and you'll get something similar. One can quibble about the spicing of the sauce or whatever, but its nothing genre-defining. All we're talking about is stainless steel deck oven pizza with a sh!tload of extra cheese. No big deal.
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#34 docsconz

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Posted 24 May 2009 - 08:18 PM

If you're a pizza-lover, there is no branch of Ray's that's likely to wow you, and frankly it is a style that plenty of places around the country do on a level that is at least roughly comparable.

Really? I've never had pizza anywhere quite like Ray's on 6th & 11th. One may or may ot like it, but it is or at least was unique. It was NY style steel deck pizza by the slice on cheesified steroids. For this pie, the cheese came first with every thing else support.

Fundamentally I don't think it breaks any stylistic boundaries, no. You go to pretty much any place and tell them to put quadruple extra cheese on the pizza, and you'll get something similar. One can quibble about the spicing of the sauce or whatever, but its nothing genre-defining. All we're talking about is stainless steel deck oven pizza with a sh!tload of extra cheese. No big deal.

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I'm not saying that it was not something that couldn't be duplicated, but it wasn't - at least noty in my experience. It doesn't work to go in and ask for extra cheese on a slice. either it was on from the beginning and served fresh or it didn't work. It may not have been a big deal in terms of its level of simplicity, but I've never seen anyone else pull it off the way they did. Their hay day was before your time in NYC and before Steven's coming of age. By the mid 80's when I was in Med School it wasn't the same anymore.
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#35 weinoo

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 05:17 AM

It may not have been a big deal in terms of its level of simplicity, but I've never seen anyone else pull it off the way they did. Their hay day was before your time in NYC and before Steven's coming of age. By the mid 80's when I was in Med School it wasn't the same anymore.

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The Ray's on 76th and 3rd did the same pie, and pulled it off quite well. Maybe even before 11th & 6th, but certainly during the same time frame. At that time, it was my, as well as many of my fellow cabbies, favorite slice. They went through pies constantly, so you were pretty much assured of getting a fresh slice...a slice that probably weighed close to 1/2 pound.

I can practically taste the pizza you've mentioned at Lenny's. I'm sure it was quite similar to, and as good as, the pizza of my youth, which was Carmella's, in Franklin Square! And Carmella's is still there.
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#36 slkinsey

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 06:32 AM

If you're a pizza-lover, there is no branch of Ray's that's likely to wow you, and frankly it is a style that plenty of places around the country do on a level that is at least roughly comparable.

Really? I've never had pizza anywhere quite like Ray's on 6th & 11th. One may or may ot like it, but it is or at least was unique. It was NY style steel deck pizza by the slice on cheesified steroids. For this pie, the cheese came first with every thing else support.

Fundamentally I don't think it breaks any stylistic boundaries, no. You go to pretty much any place and tell them to put quadruple extra cheese on the pizza, and you'll get something similar. One can quibble about the spicing of the sauce or whatever, but its nothing genre-defining. All we're talking about is stainless steel deck oven pizza with a sh!tload of extra cheese. No big deal.

I'm not saying that it was not something that couldn't be duplicated, but it wasn't - at least noty in my experience. It doesn't work to go in and ask for extra cheese on a slice. either it was on from the beginning and served fresh or it didn't work. It may not have been a big deal in terms of its level of simplicity, but I've never seen anyone else pull it off the way they did. Their hay day was before your time in NYC and before Steven's coming of age. By the mid 80's when I was in Med School it wasn't the same anymore.

All I'm saying is:

(1) It isn't all that interesting to a pizza lover in terms of a "destination pizza" and doesn't represent a category of pizza they are unlikely to have experienced so much as an iteration of a very familiar category. I think that either today or back in 1977, someone would come to NYC and most likely say, "okay... this is just like Luigi's pizza back home, with a ton of cheese on it." Whether it's perceived as good would depend on whether or not they're into that sort of thing.

and

(2) Most anyone can get more or less the same pizza in their home town by going to their favorite pizzeria and ordering a whole pie with quadruple extra cheese.
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#37 Steve R.

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 06:34 AM

If you're a pizza-lover, there is no branch of Ray's that's likely to wow you, and frankly it is a style that plenty of places around the country do on a level that is at least roughly comparable.

Really? I've never had pizza anywhere quite like Ray's on 6th & 11th. One may or may ot like it, but it is or at least was unique. It was NY style steel deck pizza by the slice on cheesified steroids. For this pie, the cheese came first with every thing else support.

Fundamentally I don't think it breaks any stylistic boundaries, no. You go to pretty much any place and tell them to put quadruple extra cheese on the pizza, and you'll get something similar. One can quibble about the spicing of the sauce or whatever, but its nothing genre-defining. All we're talking about is stainless steel deck oven pizza with a sh!tload of extra cheese. No big deal.

View Post


I'm not saying that it was not something that couldn't be duplicated, but it wasn't - at least noty in my experience. It doesn't work to go in and ask for extra cheese on a slice. either it was on from the beginning and served fresh or it didn't work. It may not have been a big deal in terms of its level of simplicity, but I've never seen anyone else pull it off the way they did. Their hay day was before your time in NYC and before Steven's coming of age. By the mid 80's when I was in Med School it wasn't the same anymore.

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I'll go with docsconz on this one.... Ray's on 6th Ave/W.11th was special in the late '60s. As a 56 year old Bklyn raised pizza eater, I can say a couple of things (at length of course): Rays was very good pizza and not just because of the 10 lbs of cheese on each slice, DiFara's (where I grew up & ate since age 14) was mediocre, as Dom (& his brother, who made the pizzas too in the 60s) didnt do anything special till the late '80s, and Queen (on Court St) made one of the best slices anywhere (this, by the way, was where Dom worked before opening DiFara's with his brother and another partner... both others left within years). Queen's pizza, made in the type of steel oven that I do think defines NYC pizza more than anything else, was in a freestanding place 2 doors from the restaurant (old location, a block from the current one) & they had it down just right. And, by the way, it was voted #2 in NYC by whatever mag (NY Mag??) existed that did these polls before Zagat or Time Out. The #1?.... Goldberg's on the upper East Side!! I'm still laughing about that.

But, cut to the present. If you can withstand the lines, the periodic inconsistancy and the indifference, Dom's pizza is the best to ever come out of these type ovens and the by the slice approach is Brooklyn's best, both for "round" and "square". Grimaldi changed hands since its legit. heyday and the folks that own it for the past 10 (15?) or so years (the same family that owns/runs Bamonti's restaurant?? (another shell of it's former self)) have made it a tourist attraction without merit. Yes, if you go when the moon is full and the breeze is blowing just right, you can get a decent pie. But these conditions exist 10% of the time, as opposed to the 80-90% certainty at DiFara's, & coal and wood fired ovens are now plentiful in NYC and the competion at many places, like Lucali (whose owner watched Dom for months to learn how to get going), Fornino's (the original owner of Cucina, a Park Slope legend), and Frannie's beat it by far.

Just my (not so) humble opinions, of course :smile:

#38 NancyH

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 10:26 AM

As this thread demonstrates, New Yorkers are nothing if not passionate about their pizza. My perspective is a little different. I was raised in the suburbs (Long Island), on pizza from local steel deck oven pizzarias - I can't remember any that I didn't like.

I lived in NYC for several years in the 1980s - Rays (11th & 6th) was not only my go-to slice joint, but every pizzaria in the neighborhood benchmarked its slice price by what Ray's was charging - Ray's was always able to get away with a little bit more per slice - and the day it went over $1.00 per slice, it was a big deal.

As a poor student, I ate a lot of pizza - but mostly by the slice, which is why I didn't get the whole John's thing (even though I lived in the Village). Ben's on McDougal was a favorite, more for their cheesy Sicillian style than the round.

I then spent six years in Montclair NJ, again eating lots of local steel deck oven pizza by the slice - all similar to the stuff from Long Island and some of the Manhattan places.

Then, I moved to Cleveland. I've lived in Cleveland 14 years now, and whenever I visit home, the first thing I gotta have is pizza. Pizza from Chef's in East Northport, or wherever else my mom decides to get it from.

My point is -you "fussy eaters" :laugh: don't realize how amazing all NY area pizza is until you leave it behind! The stuff that passes for pizza here, for the most part, is pathetic, and I expect that's true in a lot of the country (and explains why pizza chains have thrived; I can't touch the stuff).

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, go easy on the "average" NY pizzaria - what you get there is still miles ahead of what's available in the rest of the country. I'm a born and bred New Yorker and I still love Famous Ray's - but that doesn't make it "better" or "worse" than other local pizza, though of course there are standouts that folks are talking about here. Its just so funny to read people trashing the "average" of what is available there, without realizing how awesome and special it all is once you can't get it anymore.
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#39 docsconz

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 11:30 AM

If you're a pizza-lover, there is no branch of Ray's that's likely to wow you, and frankly it is a style that plenty of places around the country do on a level that is at least roughly comparable.

Really? I've never had pizza anywhere quite like Ray's on 6th & 11th. One may or may ot like it, but it is or at least was unique. It was NY style steel deck pizza by the slice on cheesified steroids. For this pie, the cheese came first with every thing else support.

Fundamentally I don't think it breaks any stylistic boundaries, no. You go to pretty much any place and tell them to put quadruple extra cheese on the pizza, and you'll get something similar. One can quibble about the spicing of the sauce or whatever, but its nothing genre-defining. All we're talking about is stainless steel deck oven pizza with a sh!tload of extra cheese. No big deal.

I'm not saying that it was not something that couldn't be duplicated, but it wasn't - at least noty in my experience. It doesn't work to go in and ask for extra cheese on a slice. either it was on from the beginning and served fresh or it didn't work. It may not have been a big deal in terms of its level of simplicity, but I've never seen anyone else pull it off the way they did. Their hay day was before your time in NYC and before Steven's coming of age. By the mid 80's when I was in Med School it wasn't the same anymore.

All I'm saying is:

(1) It isn't all that interesting to a pizza lover in terms of a "destination pizza" and doesn't represent a category of pizza they are unlikely to have experienced so much as an iteration of a very familiar category. I think that either today or back in 1977, someone would come to NYC and most likely say, "okay... this is just like Luigi's pizza back home, with a ton of cheese on it." Whether it's perceived as good would depend on whether or not they're into that sort of thing.

and

(2) Most anyone can get more or less the same pizza in their home town by going to their favorite pizzeria and ordering a whole pie with quadruple extra cheese.

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To address the comment I highlighted in bold, I would say that there are many different types of pizza that people love, this being one of them. To say that it is not a destination misses the point that it probably was "the" pizza destination in the entire US during the 1970's. The long, continuously fast moving lines were evidence of that. It was also the place I and many others always took visiting from out of town friends to. I don't think anybody ever compared it to any other pizza - at least not back then. Even now, it is not quite as simple as ordering quadruple cheese on a regular pie. The quality of the cheese available in most pizza places nowadays is vastly inferior to what used to be used. I believe economics changed that.

Sam, I know that you are very knowledgeable and sophisticated when it comes to pizza (and just about everything else), but you do not and can not have the experience on this to be a judge, because you never experienced Rays at its peak (and I don't believe Steven did either). I'm not saying that it was better than the best pizzas of today's pizza renaissance, it was different and it was wonderful in its own right.
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#40 slkinsey

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 11:51 AM

Well, I should stipulate that I am not primarily concerned about the Ray's of 1973 eaten in the context of 1970s-era NYC pizza and now viewed through the sentimental lens of time. I'm talking about the Ray's of now and the last 15 years or so, compared to what is available now. It doesn't seem reasonable to hold up a pizzeria making a style of pizza that may not have exited beyond a relatively short period of time 35 years ago as an exemplar of a style of NYC pizza. Ray's may have been a kind of "Di Fara of its day" (which is to say, a pinnacle of the NYC steel deck oven category) but it certainly isn't now, nor has it been for a long time. The fact is that today, anyone can go into a reasonably good local pizzeria and ask for a pizza with quadruple extra cheese and get a pizza that will be as good, if not better than what any branch of Ray's is turning out today.

As to the old days, I think that Alan Richman put it best in his recent essay on pizza across America when he wrote, ". . . a beloved pizzeria is almost always about memories." But, to the extent that it may one day be possible to travel through time to 1973 and have a slice of Ray's pizza, on day it may be a "destination worthy" style to consider. Absent that possibility, I don't think it's worth a special trip for someone with an interest in pizza for all the reasons I outlined above.

Edited by slkinsey, 25 May 2009 - 11:57 AM.

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#41 docsconz

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 01:52 PM

Well, I should stipulate that I am not primarily concerned about the Ray's of 1973 eaten in the context of 1970s-era NYC pizza and now viewed through the sentimental lens of time.  I'm talking about the Ray's of now and the last 15 years or so, compared to what is available now.  It doesn't seem reasonable to hold up a pizzeria making a style of pizza that may not have exited beyond a relatively short period of time 35 years ago as an exemplar of a style of NYC pizza.  Ray's may have been a kind of "Di Fara of its day" (which is to say, a pinnacle of the NYC steel deck oven category) but it certainly isn't now, nor has it been for a long time.  The fact is that today, anyone can go into a reasonably good local pizzeria and ask for a pizza with quadruple extra cheese and get a pizza that will be as good, if not better than what any branch of Ray's is turning out today.

As to the old days, I think that Alan Richman put it best in his recent essay on pizza across America when he wrote, ". . . a beloved pizzeria is almost always about memories."  But, to the extent that it may one day be possible to travel through time to 1973 and have a slice of Ray's pizza, on day it may be a "destination worthy" style to consider.  Absent that possibility, I don't think it's worth a special trip for someone with an interest in pizza for all the reasons I outlined above.

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This topic isn't about the pizza of today, though. is it? :wink:
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#42 Fat Guy

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 02:41 PM

When I was younger and cheesier my default order at any standard-issue pizzeria was extra cheese on a whole pie, and it didn't seem to me to come out like the Ray's slices. For lack of a more precise term, the Ray's cheese layer seems creamier to me than that of a generic pie with extra cheese, or a deep-dish pie. I don't know if it's a blend of cheeses or a specific product or something in the craftsmanship (which seems less likely) but a Ray's slice doesn't seem to me like just a generic slice with extra cheese.

Edited by Fat Guy, 25 May 2009 - 03:05 PM.

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#43 slkinsey

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 03:13 PM

Well, I should stipulate that I am not primarily concerned about the Ray's of 1973 eaten in the context of 1970s-era NYC pizza and now viewed through the sentimental lens of time. . . .

This topic isn't about the pizza of today, though. is it? :wink:

This fork of the discussion grew out of a post upthread asking whether there were "something like Ray's where I'd go to get something like a definitive 'New York style' pizza" today.

. . .  the Ray's cheese layer seems creamier to me than that of a generic pie with extra cheese, or a deep-dish pie. I don't know if it's a blend of cheeses or a specific product or something in the craftsmanship (which seems less likely) but a Ray's slice doesn't seem to me like just a generic slice with extra cheese.

Probably the blend of cheeses and oven temperature (which is likely fairly low), as well as the sheer volume of cheese. From the way people are describing Ray's, I don't gather that a simple "extra cheese" would suffice.

Edited by slkinsey, 25 May 2009 - 03:14 PM.

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#44 davythefatboy

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 06:07 PM

I thought that Ray's on 6th & 11th distinguishing feature was the onions in (or amongst) the sauce on the square slices.

#45 NancyH

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 06:09 PM

I loved the round so much I don't think I ever tried the square. My loss.
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#46 docsconz

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Posted 25 May 2009 - 07:41 PM

I loved the round so much I don't think I ever tried the square. My loss.

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They had Sicilian? :laugh:
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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#47 Steve R.

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 12:24 PM

I loved the round so much I don't think I ever tried the square. My loss.

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They had Sicilian? :laugh:

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I never had any square either. :blink:

#48 Fat Guy

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Posted 28 May 2009 - 06:07 AM

It turns out that Adam Kuban of SliceNY and Serious Eats, who gave me the initial push to republish the old pizza guide, has in his possession an actual hard-copy printout from 8 years ago. He has posted about it on the SliceNY blog.

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#49 ChefSlade

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Posted 28 May 2009 - 07:52 AM

I am confused as to why there is so much dissing of Totonno. It was my favorite pie 8 years ago and is my favorite pie now.

Fg, have you been there recently?