Saturday, March 21, 2009

new york pizza

I was just thinking of a little hole-in-the-wall on East Houston Street, New York and wondering if it was still in business. You know the kind of place where two big beefy guys serve up a slice for a few bucks that you grab on the way home, with the oil dripping through the bottom of your pizza box? You know, New York pizza. What is New York pizza, you might ask, and why exactly is it considered to be so superior to all other kinds of pizza?

There are plenty of pizzerias in the D.C. area which claim to make "real New York" pizza. A favorite local haunt is Radius, which, besides its pizza, all named after Italian motor scooters, serves an excellent grape and gorgonzola salad, as well as great pasta. Some other eateries also make very good pizza. But sorry folks, it isn't New York pizza. It's traditional brick-oven pizza, which is very tasty. But brick-oven pizza is not what people mean when they yearn for a New York slice.

Growing up in South Jersey, I was spoiled, thinking that all pizza is made with an extremely thin crust, and a minimum of sauce and cheese, which results in that foldable, delicious slice. When I moved to New York to go to art school, the pizza was generally the same as what I grew up with. I never really liked Famous Ray's in the Village, because they messed with the formula and dumped on way too much cheese. The rude awakening came when I moved away from the tri-state area and soon realized that most pizza was made elsewhere the Chicago way.

This is probably an endless debate, but where I think that most places go wrong is the dough. Obvious conclusion? Of course. But it's not just how thin the dough should be, which I think is where too many place the focus. Plenty of restaurants are making pizza with a very thin crust. It's how they cook the pizza. In New Jersey, the traditional pizza oven was used wherever we got our pies - not a brick-oven in sight. Thin-crust pizza, whether from Domino's or a more upscale joint, usually ends up very dry and crusty, even hard, on the bottom (I recently scraped the inside of my gum on a D.C. "New York" slice.) New York pizza should have a thin crust, which is crispy on the bottom, but where the crust comes in contact with the sauce and cheese it should not be dry at all - the opposite in fact. The dough underneath the sauce and cheese should be bubbly, moist and positively gooey. Sigh. There are definitely things I miss about New York and New Jersey.

Of course all this blather is just that, when you are lucky enough to be on vacation in Italy and have the "real" real thing. I'll never forget the pizza in Rome, which wasn't like American brick-oven pizzas, or New York style, but something entirely its own. And positively delicious. with some really unusual toppings. As I continue my quest for great pizza, I at least have some beacons in the night to light my way.

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