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NYC Pizza Survey


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Here is a quick clickable index of Pizza Survey outings and discussion:

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With all the recent traffic on real NY-style pizza and various pizzerie, it looks like it's time to get a group together to visit the well-known New York places and see what we think. I wouldn't say we're looking for the "best pizza in New York" because there are too many differences to make such a judgment. Rather, I think it would be fun to see what's out there and discuss how we react to it. Since there are a relatively limited number of "best of class" NY places, it might also be interesting to revisit some places to see what we think after hopefully gaining some expertise.

What I propose is that use this thread to come up with a list of places, coordinate trips and report back our impressions. Possible related events might include arranging a kitchen visit in some of the famous places to learn about how it's all done, and gathering at pizzeria slkinsey for some of the Roman style pizza for which I am famous (justly? you decide!).

So... who's interested?

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I think this is a critical thing to do, since much of our current pizza data is seriously outdated. A survey of all the major pizzerias and their pizza would be a huge service to New Yorkers.

Do we have any idea as to a methodology of evaluation?

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Totally needs to be photographed. And at least one of the test specimens needs to be a plain cheese/tomato sauce pizza.

My thought is that, rather than giving a composite rating or anything like that, we would just give our own brief tasting notes. Kind of like they do in the NY Times when the food critics get together and taste 10 kinds of silver tequilla, only about pizza instead... as in: "I thought the pizza was nicely charred on the bottom, while JJ thought it was too carbonized and interfered with the taste of the blah blah blah..."

What about places to visit? Would we want to do "NY pizza places" or places in NY that serve pizza. Tha argument could be made that there are notable pizzerie in NYC that do not make NY-style pizza.

An initial list:

DiFara

Patsy's in East Harlem

Totonno

John's?

Otto?

V&T?

You tell me...

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You PM'd me as I started this response.

I am very interested in joining in.

I am planning a DiFara's Trip soon. I think that this Saturday is out for me, but Thursday or Sunday would be great.

Places that I think that we should include are:

Patsy's (116th Street)

Lombardi's

John's (even though I am not a fan)

Totonno's (Coney Island)

Grimaldi's

Jasper's (Riverdale - their white pie is great)

Nick's (UES is good - how's the Queen's original)

Gonzo (haven't been yet)

Spumoni Gardens (it's been years)

DeNinos (sp) (Staten Island - been years)

T&R - Great slices

Two Boots (both the Resturant and the Slice Shop on Ave A)

Little Frankies (East Village)

Arturo's

Rosario's (best weird slice - the cheese burger slice)

Moustache

Stromboli's

Three of Cups

Four Roses

Sal And Carmines

V&T (across from St John the Divine).

I also propose that we suggest certain times and places to meet - but if someone wants to go on their own to the "current" shop, that this is encouraged. Some times people's schedules will not allow them to join the group. Also many people have different preferences in toppings and some places make fantastic "speciality pies " (eg the Bayou Beast at Two Boots or the Clam Pie at Lombardi's). I think that enjoyment of food is the key here. If people want to argue the merits of different pies and slices, great, but let's have fun with it!

My nominees for first pizzas to be "served up" here are Patsy's 116th and DiFara's. Let's save Totonno's for the Spring (Coney Island is cooold right now).

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Sounds like a plan.

I support limiting the pizza variables on which we will comment. I think these should suffice: 1.) dough/crust; 2.) sauce; 3.) cheese; 4.) topping, if any. Overall general impressions would be a good idea as well, which can incorporate things that can affect one's pizza eating experience. For example, to some a pizza will taste better because the place is warm and cozy -- it's just one of those things.

I agree that a planned meeting date is a good idea. Those who cannot make it, or want to visit on their own, can post their impressions as they like.

I also like the idea of interviewing shop owners about their product. I think we should try to do it in conjunction with each visit. We can take turns calling ahead, introducing the eG Pizza Survey, and asking a few questions about the pizza, and the pizza making process.

Oh, and I support pizza at Sam's. I'll bring the beer.

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In terms of the places to visit, I would vote for these places for the 1st four visits:

Di Fara

Patsy's (E. 117th)

Lombardi's

Grimaldi

BTW, I may be willing to drive (I have room for 5 passengers) to the outlier places.

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In terms of the places to visit, I would vote for these places for the 1st four visits:

Di Fara

Patsy's (E. 117th)

Lombardi's

Grimaldi

I agree. I'd add Totonno to that list, as it is also one of the famous traditional places.

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In terms of the places to visit, I would vote for these places for the 1st four visits:

Di Fara

Patsy's (E. 117th)

Lombardi's

Grimaldi

I agree. I'd add Totonno to that list, as it is also one of the famous traditional places.

OK, we'll call it the "BIG FIVE."

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the "BIG FIVE":

Di Fara

Patsy's (East Harlem)

Lombardi

Totonno (Coney Island)

Grimaldi

These are places that I think might bear multiple visits. For example, it would be interesting to go back to Di Fara after hitting the other B5 places and see how our impressions have changed.

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found this on the Voice's Web site. It might help with brainstorming...

And here's a bit about Joe and Pat's. And the Voice's take.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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what about that staten island place: joe & pat's? (sorry if i've massacred the real name.)

I always heard Denino’s was the awesome Staten Island pizza place, though I think most Islanders are pretty loyal about their local places. There's also Nunzio's and Pal Joey's though a friend tells me that some place called Lee's is the best.

Since I'm from Staten Island I'll weigh in with what I know even though I haven't been to any of these places in quite some time.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that both Denino's and Nunzio's offer some of the best pizza in Staten Island, if not the entire city and I would concur (although I've never had any of the "standard bearers" like DiFara's to be able to compare them to.) Nunzio's, which used to be a takeout and slices shack with a ratty yet atmospheric dining space in the back has recently been renovated from a tumbledown shack to a more substantial joint so I don't know if the quality of the pizza has survived the change. And of course Denino's is best in the spring or summer when you can go across the street to Ralph's Famous Italian Ices for dessert.

I've never eaten at Joe and Pat's but it seems to have an exellent reputation also.

From the Village Voice:

Long isolated from the other boroughs, Staten Island has developed its own distinctive style of pizza, halfway between thin-crust and thick. Meriting the encomium "low dive," Denino's has been slinging Staten Island pizza and incredible scungilli salad for over 50 years, and is also a great place to sit and drink beer. Another sterling producer of this style is Nunzio's, located a stone's throw from the beach in a frame structure that seems like it might blow away at any moment.

From Ed Levine in the NY Times in November, 2002:

Here are six places that make Neapolitan-style slices worth going out of your way for. .....

NUNZIO'S A slice from Nunzio's is a pristine exercise in elegant pizza minimalism. Everything about it is right: the ratio of sauce to cheese, the crisp yet pliant crust and the tangy sauce enlivened by fresh basil. Nunzio's even looks the way a pizzeria should: it is a white stucco shack with a tiny dining room brightened by black and white photos of the original Nunzio's in South Beach, Staten Island. 2155 Hylan Boulevard (Midland Avenue), Grant City, Staten Island; (718) 667-9647.

JOE & PAT'S Giuseppe Pappalardo, an owner, mastered his craft at three legendary Staten Island slice establishments: Nunzio's, Ciro's and Tokie's. His slices are distinguished by a superthin crispy crust. "They're easier to digest," he said, "so you can eat a lot of them." 1758 Victory Boulevard (Manor Road), Four Corners, Staten Island; (718) 981-0887.

From NYMetro.com:

At the risk of enraging the Staten Island pizza mob, those who crave a true thin crust, a mildly sweet crushed-tomato sauce, and a delicate dose of mozzarella might consider bypassing the hallowed grounds of Denino's for this nondescript, unatmospheric pizzeria done up in pre-fab Greek-diner décor and staffed by what must be half the local sophomore class of idly gossiping high-school girls. But when one of them can be troubled to take your order and deliver your fourteen-inch medium pie ($9.75), the environs melt away like artful dabs of cheese into a winningly thin crust.

Joe & Pat's Pizzeria

1758 Victory Blvd At Manor Rd.

718-981-0887

Pal Joey's recently moved to a new location. My experience and sense of the place was that it was supremely mediocre at best, and according to the food forum of the local paper it's gotten much worse since it moved.

Pal Joey's

676 Forest Avenue

718-981-3737

Lee's Tavern seems to be the dark horse that doesn't have the borough-and-further-wide reputation like Denino's (and to a lesser degree Nunzio's.) I know that Jim Leff has raved about it and that it gets rave in food forum of the paper (for whatever that's worth.)

From Jim Leff's 2000 review:

Their's is pretty close to a perfect rendition of the classic Staten Island style pizza: cracker crust, acidic fresh tomato sauce (containing few herbs) and just enough good cheese to mollify that acid and perk up the plain wheaty crust (there's no oil in it whatsoever, no cornmeal dusting, and almost no salt). .........

Lee's sauce was so good that it almost recalled DiFara's, at least in its utter lack of processed tomato taste and it's optimal acidity; it made me want to come back and order pastas and heroes (there's nothing fancy, of course, though there are some unusual pizza toppings like calamari and pesto). The pie as a whole was extremely impressive, and well worth a special trip,.......

From the Village Voice's Top 100 Cheap Eats in NYC (which also lists Denino's and Nunzio's):

Lee's Tavern

Tumble down the embankment from the Dongan Hills station and find yourself at Lee's, an antediluvian bar with no sign outside. Inside, a decor of dark woods stained even darker by millions of cigarettes, and a very tasty and unusual pizza. With a crust that resembles matzo, it's like a contemporary Roman pie. The sausage and cheese used are of memorably high quality, the sauce admirably light.

Lee's Tavern

60 Hancock St

718-667-9749

Oh, and FWIW, in the above review of Lee's, Jim Leff also says:

Forget about Nunzio's, a famous place pretty nearby. Their pizza is not bad, but can't compare. You will pass, however, Roma's (on Hylan near Clove Road), which makes great calzones and cheesecake (don't order any "real" food, though), and they do very respectable--if variable--slices, as well.
Edited by hillbill (log)
Gustatory illiterati in an illuminati land.
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Okay... so, who is going to Di Fara's for the 2:00 meet-and-eat on Saturday? Please PM me and I'll put up a list on the thread (this way the thread doesn't get too cluttered up).

We should decide what we're having, too. My feeling is that at least one pizza should be plain cheese and tomato sauce, and after that we can go for the specialties of the house (it sounds like Pan's on top of those). Among the things we can discuss while stuffing our faces is how to go forward, how to present our "findings" and whatnot.

It looks like we've decided that it makes sense to hit the "Big 5" first and then the other guys. So, this is my thought: I have no designs on being the "captain" of this survey. I think it will be a lot more fun if it's more democratic. So we'll agree on some evaluation and reporting details on Saturday, then we'll see where this takes us. I'll take the lead, with Pan's help for the inside stuff, in organizing the first outing. After that, maybe we can get some other pizza enthusiasts to take the lead in organizing trips to the other B5 places. Then, if anyone has a particular fondness for a NY pizzeria they would like to bring before the survey, they can take the organizational lead and get the ball rolling in this thread. For the lesser-known (i.e., non-B5) establishments, I think it will help if the person proposing a trip make the case for why that pizzeria is worthy of special note (what the pizze are like, any specialties, atmosphere, whatever makes you like the place).

I'll probably propose a few of the faves from my neighborhood, but other than that I'll just do administrative housekeeping in the thread (deleting, merging, trimming, moving the occasional post to keep the focus on pizza, etc.). For example, I might go back and archive all the detail-planning posts leading up to a gathering once we're visited a particular pizzeria.

Sound good?

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Di Fara: January 24 @ 2:00 PM

slkinsey (org.)

Pan (org.)

bergerka

JosephB

MRX

Anusha1

sherribabee

Eric_Malson

Who else?

I will update this list as people chime in.

Edited to update list.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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So that's 7 so far.

We have to keep in mind that the place is small. I think it will be very tough for more than a few more people to fit (like maybe one more), as we can't reserve the place for just our group. Even getting a free table for that many people is a problem on a Saturday.

I don't have the complete list of toppings for pizza and fillings for calzone memorized, but here are some possibilities (not all are available all the time):

Prosciutto, sausage, pepperoni, baby artichokes (a must!), delicious little eggplants, broccoli di rabe, porcini, regular (but very high-quality) mushrooms, red onions...And now I'm starting to draw a blank.

Sam, do you want to try to come early and meet me at the place around 1:30?

By the way, in the unlikely event that I am not there early, that means I had a meeting that went over. Possible, but unlikely.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Okay... that's eight so far. We'll undoubtedly be going back at least once more, so there's plenty for others to go next time.

Pan, I'll be catching a ride out there and will check with the driver as to arrival time. How many pizze do you think we should get?

I'd say we need one round, plain cheese/tomato pizza, one artichoke (a must-have, as you point out)... a square pizza is also a must-have, right? Since you're a regular, I think we'd be happy to put ourselves in your capable hands. Eggplant doesn't do too much for me, but I am happy to eat from the other choices if the eggplant looks really good on Saturday.

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I'd realy like to join you folks for this one, but I've got to much studying to do. Hopefully next time.

I think though that you should definetly get your round pizza plain. I've had his artichoke pizza and it is excellent, but I think for a first experience you've got to go with plain.

Also I wanted to say that part of what makes DiFaras so great is the whole experience. You walk into the place and it looks like a dump, but on the walls are all these articels about how great it is. Then there's dominick who appears to be a real artisan with passionate for what he does. I think that the reason he only makes one at a time (or so it seems), is that because he wants you to eat his pizza in its perfect form, fresh from the oven.

Mike

The Dairy Show

Special Edition 3-In The Kitchen at Momofuku Milk Bar

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My thoughts are that it's good to get one "standard" round plain cheese/tomato pizza everywhere we go, to be used as a basis for comparison. This makes it the easiest to concentrate on the crust, sauce and cheese, which are the three elemental pizza constituents.

Personally, I'd rather get more pizza rather than calzoni... just because calzoni are kind of tangential. That said, if you think they are good enough to be worthy of note, I defer to your judgment.

We're at 8 people, so maybe 1 round plain and then 3 square pizzas with different toppings? With the toppings, I imagine it's easier to go with all the same topping rather than doing half-and-half. But really, Pan, this is your place and you certainly know it better than I. Do what you think highlights Di Fara's strengths best.

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I could probably meet up with you next Saturday, baw, but let's be in touch that week to discuss it.

Sam, I've never had artichokes on the square pizza, but I suppose it could be done.

If we both arrive early, we may be able to ask Dominic what he thinks.

Yes, the calzone is a must, no matter what.

So maybe one plain round one, three squares (one plain, one with some kind of meat, one with artichokes) and two calzoni including one with porcini, if available.

Folks, just FYI, this isn't a cheap pizzeria. Don't be surprised if your meal costs around $20, but it will be worth it.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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My thoughts are that it's good to get one "standard" round plain cheese/tomato pizza everywhere we go, to be used as a basis for comparison. This makes it the easiest to concentrate on the crust, sauce and cheese, which are the three elemental pizza constituents.

Personally, I'd rather get more pizza rather than calzoni... just because calzoni are kind of tangential. That said, if you think they are good enough to be worthy of note, I defer to your judgment.

We're at 8 people, so maybe 1 round plain and then 3 square pizzas with different toppings? With the toppings, I imagine it's easier to go with all the same topping rather than doing half-and-half. But really, Pan, this is your place and you certainly know it better than I. Do what you think highlights Di Fara's strengths best.

I want to come to an understanding about square pizza. In Sicily, square "pizza" is called sfincione. No one in Sicily would think you were referring to sfincione if you said pizza. Pizza in Sicily is Neapolitan, and is comparable in quality (at the good places) to pizza in Naples, IMHO. Here is a recipe for sfincione, if you're interested. BTW, the best sfincione that I've eaten in Sicily had no tomato sauce or mozzarella. Instead, caciocavallo, anchovies, and olives were buried in the dough, with the whole thing covered in caramelized onions, toasted bread crumbs, and EVOO.

I agree that we should focus on the Neapolitan pizza, and that we have at least one with just cheese and tomato. The square "pizza" and calzone are something else entirely.

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Di Fara's - Incredible. I am fairly sure that there will be some other reviews coming soon (Joe and Sam seemed to have a fairly good talk with Mr. DeMarco - and Pan seems to be a regular [lucky son of a -]).

My take was that this was very worth the trip from Manhattan - we started the Pizza Survey with a square pepperoni pie. Incredible! Each of us was floored, it cannot be compared to other pies - it has a uniqueness that makes it so special. The crust is thinner than a sicilian, the mozzarella is fresh, and the pepperoni is thick cut. A homerun.

After a 15 minute pause our second item was the best calzone that I'd ever had - it's huge (could feed three or four HUNGRY people. This calzone was broccoli and sausage (Pan will probably supply which type it was). I overheard the remark that it was "as big as a baby". Apt, but it was also truly beautiful to look at - I hope the pictures do justice. The blending of the two cheeses was perfect, the freshness of the ingredients outstanding. A homerun.

Suddenly the food started arriving quickly, boom! The Artichoke pie. Homerun again.

Then another calzone, which some how did even better than the fisrt one - so within a period of 20 minutes, I'd had the two best calzones in my life. The second was notable for the porcinni mushrooms. A grandslam.

Now the let down (and almost anywhere else, this would NOT be a let down), the plain regular pie. After the glories of the first four items, this one just didn't have the same impact. Several of us rated it against Patsy's and found the crust to be lacking something (it is still better than 99.9% of pizza places), I found the sauce too sweet - but others disagreed. Also to be fair, it was the final of 5 items and we were pretty full by then.

The place is a dump - but not as bad as Patsy's, but the drink selection is fantastic, the food incredible and Mr. DeMarco is the anti Totonno, meaning he was really pleasant and easy to talk with.

I would also like to thank Joe and Donna for providing transport.

A great time, and I will be back.

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After a 15 minute pause our second item was the best calzone that I'd ever had - it's huge (could feed three or four HUNGRY people. This calzone was broccoli and sausage (Pan will probably supply which type it was). I overheard the remark that it was "as big as a baby". Apt, but it was also truly beautiful to look at - I hope the pictures do justice. The blending of the two cheeses was perfect, the freshness of the ingredients outstanding. A homerun.

That calzone was prosciutto and broccoli di rabe.

The two cheeses that Dominic uses in every calzone are mozarella and ricotta, and there's actually a third cheese: Genuine parmigiano reggiano in big rounds that he grates on top of the calzoni after pouring olive oil on top of them.

The meal was undoubtedly as good as the best previous meals I've had at DiFara's.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Di Fara - 1424 Avenue J at 15th Street, Brooklyn

Owner and solo pizzaiolo Domenico De Marco is the show here. Dom, as he seems to be called, was born in Italy outside Napoli. As JosephB and I discovered, he returns there from time to time and remains quite fluent in Italian. He makes all the pizza right out in the open, at his own deliberate pace. And yet, there was not heard one single complaint from the large crowd assembled to purchase his wares. Mr. De Marco is definitely one of those artisans whose artifice borders on art in a certain sense, and it was a pleasure to watch him at work. All the pizze are formed by hand and sauced with Di Fara's excellent house-made tomato sauce. Then he picks up an old box grater, shaves some low-moisture mozzarella directly onto the pizza, scatters on a few dabs of fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil. The whole thing goes into a delapidated old stainless steel pizza oven. Yes, that's right... a gas fired stainless steel pizza oven. And yet, he still manages to turn out some of NYC's best pizza. As Fat Guy remarked to me recently, based on his own comprehensive look at NYC pizza some years ago, the more you look around the more you come to understand that the quality of a pizza depends far more on the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the pizzaiolo than the equipment used or an adherance to certain pizza-making dogma. So, on to the pizza:

We started with one of Di Fara's house specialties: the square pizza. Well... really it's a rectangular pizza. The crust is slightly thicker than a standard round pizza, but not at all thick and bready like a"Sicilian" pizza. Unlike their round pizze (more on this later), the square pizze are baked in large rectangular pans greased with olive oil. Dom ladles on a fairly thick layer of sauce and then bakes just the crust and the sauce in the oven. Later, the tray comes out for some cheese and other toppings, plus a little extra sauce before going back in for another baking. We had two: one with pepperoni and one with sauteed fresh artichokes. Both were outstanding. The crusts were robust, stiff (as opposed to flexible) and extremely crispy. The pepperoni was sliced by hand significantly thicker than is usual. The artichokes were amazing. It is the first time I have ever had non-canned artichokes on pizza in the US.

After that came two of the largest and prettiest calzoni I have seen. Each one was essentially a pizza folded in half. The first was cheese, prosciutto and rape di broccoli. The second was cheese and porcini. Most everyone preferred the porcini calzone, and he certainly doesn't skimp on the mushrooms. Despite being gigantic, they were surprizingly light. That said, I would have preferred a smaller amount of filling for a better crust-to-filling ratio.

Last came the standard, plain round cheese/tomato pizza. This was excellent in many ways. First and foremost, it is the perfect vehicle for experiencing Di Fara's excellent sauce and cheese blend. The toppings are not applied with a heavy hand, which is always a plus in my book. The crust was thin and crisp. However, many of us felt that it didn't have quite the character that well-made pizza can attain in the hands of an expert working with a coal- or wood-fired oven. The bottom was nicely browned, but there was no char and no blistering of the top crust. Significantly, as JosephB and I discussed, the crust didn't have quite the morbidezza we would have liked (Joe can describe this better than I). The very best pizza has a crisp bottom, but also a thin layer of softer, less cooked-through dough above. Di Fara's pizze take around 15-20 minutes to bake, whereas coal- and wood-fired ovens take around 5. Our working hypothesis is that the longer baking at Di Fara means a more evenly and fully cooked crust, whereas coal- and wood-fired ovens work so quickly that the bottom is crisped and the toppings cooked before the crust is entirely cooked through. All this said, however, the fact remains that Di Fara's "standard" pizza is still miles better than most NYC coal- and wood-fired examples -- a testament to Domenico De Marco's skill.

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