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Artichoke (the pizza place on East 14th Street)


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As best I can tell, about three months into this place's existence, there is no eG Forums topic devoted to it. Maybe it's the theory attributed to Yogi Berra that "It's so popular, no one goes there anymore." Or maybe nobody liked it enough to post about it.

In any event, I finally walked by there at an off hour in inclement weather and was able to score a couple of slices. Not that you need a couple of slices. Even hearty eaters like me can make a meal of just one, and I don't say that about a lot of pizzerias.

For those of you who have not walked on 14th Street between First and Second Avenues in the past three months, let me just catch you up: there is almost always a ridiculously long line out the door of this minuscule, unpresupposing pizzeria. The line, however, is an incredibly powerful advertisement. All anybody on the line talks about is the long line, and if there's a short line all anybody on it talks about is the absence of the long line. Most people seem to be there because they saw the line at some point. I think some people on the line might not even know or care that it's a pizzeria. They just figure, like Russians in the former Soviet Union, that if there's a line they should get on it first and ask questions later. The place is so popular that, were it to implement an online reservation system, it might take some of the load off the Momofuku Ko server.

All day and all night the guys in there sling pizzas as quickly as they can, and every slice is snapped up within moments. You don't so much as choose your slice as get it rationed: when you reach the head of the line, there might be one or two choices of pizza and you take what you can get. I was lucky. I had three choices, which other people on the short line told me was wildly abnormal. I had one regular slice (as in tomato sauce, cheese and basil) and one of the signature artichoke slices (a white pizza topped with mozzarella and a thick spinach-and-artichoke goo, dip, fondue or whatever you want to call it).

The Brobdingnagian pizza, while not representative of any known (to me) category of pizza (it has been called Staten-Island pizza but I've had pizza on Staten Island and it's not like this), is quite tasty. Part of the credit has to go to the high turnover -- whatever you get is quite fresh -- but it's also a nice product. The crust is rigid and crisp: it supports the generous toppings with no trouble at all. The quality of the materials is good -- better than any Manhattan slice shop I can think of at the moment, though I realize that's a low bar to clear, and on par with some of the better whole-pie places thought stylistically not at all the same. I guess it's almost like a hybrid of New York thin-crust and Chicago-style thick-crust pizza: the crust is not as thick as a deep-dish crust but it has some similar properties, and the quantity of toppings is somewhere in between the two styles.

Peter Meehan reviewed the place in the New York Times in the "$25 and Under" column a couple of weeks ago. Worth a read. Though not mentioned in the review, it was Meehan's last (he is now working on the Momofuku book with David Chang).

(Edited to add: Alan Richman's comments here. I see he beat me to the Soviet analogy.)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The place is indeed tiny. More like a handful of people inside means there's a line out the door.

I liked Artichoke but thought there's been a plethora of coverage by Chowhound, SliceNY, the NYT, Gothamist, and a few other daily newspapers in NYC.

The hours are unpredictable. You'd think they'd be open for weekend lunch every Saturday and Sunday. You'd be wrong.

"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure
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I liked Artichoke too, but was surprised to see that they were using large blocks of what looked like poly-o cheese. I realize there's a long tradition of that cheese on New York pizza, though I'd still rather eat actual mozzarella. In any case, it is somewhat remarkable in the context of a culture where people spend a lot of time obsessing about the provenance of various buffaloes that a place serving cheese you can buy in the bodega would do so well and be so respected.

edited to fix a spelling mistake

Edited by WK2 (log)
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I don't know whether or not Artichoke uses Polly-O mozzaralla, but I wouldn't be bothered by it. In the hierarchy of pizza cheeses, Polly-O ranks fairly high. Most pizzerias won't use it because it's too expensive. They use a pasteurized processed cheese food product called "pizza cheese." Polly-O, however, is a reasonably high quality low moisture mozzarella with no artificial additives -- just milk, vinegar, salt and enzymes. In addition, most of the "fresh" mozzarella being sold at gourmet stores and fancy pizzerias is Polly-O/Kraft as well. Those stores don't buy actual milk from farms and convert it into mozzarella. They buy tubs of prefabricated mozzarella cheese curds, heat them up and form the balls of mozzarella on premises. Kraft is the leading mozzarella cheese curd supplier. The product is called Polly-O Gold Curd if you want to get hold of some.

Back to Artichoke, I'm pretty sure it's a blend of cheeses on those pies. I think someone wrote that it's four cheeses. In any event, there are different styles of pizza and the heavy, topping-laden style of Artichoke (or Chicago-style pizza) doesn't even work with high-moisture mozzarella (buffalo or cow). You need a low-moisture mozzarella and, while I prefer a couple of other brands to Polly-O, I think Polly-O is fine.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I just made my third successful visit to Artichoke and I'm starting to appreciate the product a bit more.

The regular (Margherita) and Sicilian pies are really not where the action is. Which is not to say they're bad. They're way better than what you get at the average slice shop or most any Manhattan slice shop nowadays, but they're not special. It's the original-recipe "white" (no tomato sauce) pies with dip-like toppings that are unique and arguably justify the humiliation of the line.

The artichoke pie is, well, think of the hot artichoke dip served at many a 1970s social gathering, as well as at retro parties held nowadays. It's one of those gross foods that you nonetheless keep going back for more of. Now imagine applying a very thick layer of that dip to a very substantial pizza crust and just baking the heck out of it. The dip oozes around the bumpy surface of the crust. It's runny, frightening and strangely delicious.

There's also a new pie that uses what is basically 1970s -- or maybe more like 1980s -- crab dip as the basis of the topping. The application is a little less obscene than in the artichoke scenario, and they pull the crust a little thinner, but it's the same idea as the artichoke pie just with crab.

It's also possible to avoid the wait entirely by ordering a whole pie by phone about half an hour in advance. Indeed, the whole-pie orders are part of the reason it takes so long to get a slice (that and the profound inefficiency of the staff, the physical plant and the ordering-and-payment system).

A nice testimonial: Ami, the manager at Momofuku Noodle Bar, told me that his staff orders a couple of pies from Artichoke several times a week.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 2 weeks later...

artichoke is the ultimate sellout. Whatever originally made this place unique and likeable has almost completely vanished.

GONE: the friendly feel of a neighborhood place. no longer will you get friendly banter and the chance to munch on fresh bread, artichoke fritters or macaroni and beans while waiting late at night. instead, expect to wait in line and be largely ignored while you see fresh pies coming out of the oven and sitting on the counter. the reason these snacks aren't there isn't because the staff is too busy (often you will see two of the three staffers standing around doing nothing), but simply because the place has adopted some sort of superior attitude.

GONE: any semblance of service. i'm sorry, but this place has been open almost three months now and my conclusion is that the people that run/staff it are either profoundly stupid (they have no grasp of serving pizza even semi-efficiently) or they are very cleverly gaming the system to create a long wait (more than 10 minutes -- much less 20 or 40 minutes -- for a slice of pizza is something i have never heard of, anywhere) and create buzz -- something like a pizza version of the shake shack. such a calculated move reeks of dishonestly and disrespect for the neighborhood and patrons in general. if somebody wants to debate this point, i can offer up numerous examples of this behavior that have nothing to do with "lots of orders for pies" or "no cash registers".

GONE: a unique regular pie. whereas in the first few months regular pies had four cheeses (two types of mozz, pecorino, parmesan) and a healthy dose of olive oil and basil a la di fara, now they just appear to be covered in basil leaves. that leaves two unique things: a thick and crispy crust and the artichoke slice. neither are worth the line -- i can make a comparable artichoke dip and cook it in my oven on some crispy bread.

GONE: any sort of value. the place recently raised its prices to $3.50 for a regular slice and $4 for either specialty slice. YES, i understand that costs for pizzerias were increasing exponentially a few months ago (though they have moderated since then), but $3.50 for a regular-sized slice is far more expensive than anything i have heard of anywhere else in new york. such aggressive price gouging is someting akin to a restaurant getting a good review and then DOUBLING their prices, which is egregious, unecessary, and offensive. the pies are also about 2/3 the size they were during the first month, meaning smaller slices.

sorry for the rant, but somebody needs to call BS on these guys. the place has used every piece of neighborhood goodwill, buzz, and positive news coverage to take advantage of its customers, and that is exactly the sort of restaurant i despise. i hope they either get their act together or people start coming to their senses and stop going. supporting businesses like this only means more "buzz" restaurants with wildly overpriced, sometimes good food with incredibly long lines (and fewer genuine neighborhood places). new york needs less of that, not more of it.

Edited by jkaw (log)
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not a fan I take it?

They were obviously selling those slices at a loss. That said, I think their crust sucks. I'd rather enjoy that quantity of oil and carbs as beniets or even a freakin' funnel cake is better. Top is yummy tho. Haven't been in a while

But, witness the iphone 2.0 lineblogging - our young generation is definitely doomed. Their myspace-wired useless brains only comprehend internet buzz, not the taste buds they possess. Hence a pizzeria that actually doesn't suck in the EV is like the next coming of christ

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not a fan I take it?

They were obviously selling those slices at a loss.

maybe, but i can still think of no other place selling regular slices made with commodity ingredients (the owners have admitted they are not importing cheeses like Dom at difara) for $3.50. if they are just eking out a tiny margin at $3.50 a slice, that must mean every pizza place in new york is far, far underwater. the cost of slices went from $2 (first few weeks) to $2.50 (first month) to $2.75/$3 (post-nymag/other reviews) to now $3.50. obviously some other calculus went on there that had nothing to do with costs and everything with milking customers.

Hence a pizzeria that actually doesn't suck in the EV is like the next coming of christ

pizza that doesn't suck in the EV? the place is around the corner from vinny vincenz and luzzo's! and you get a FREE pizza with a beer at crocodile lounge across the street. give me a break.

i can also think of one other place with nearly identical (actually, probably better) regular slices in the WV that is cheaper (though it has a famous pedigree) and almost never has lines.

let's be fair: artichoke always had lines/waits. since gaining notoriety, the place has adopted an attitude, style of service and pricing scheme that strictly takes advantage of customers, rather than accomodating them. that is what i take offense to.

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