Tag Archives: pizza

When Good Just Isn’t Good Enough For Me & My Pizza

There I was standing in the middle of a Chicago hotel talking with a bunch of New Yorkers about the best place to have deep dish pizza in the city we were visiting. As we threw the names of different places out, an older gentleman, a man who calls Chicago home, came up to us. Having overheard the words “deep dish pizza,” he walked over and asked me the names of the places I was thinking of going. After rattling off the names, he paused and said to the group, “Those are good. But my personal favorite is Pizzeria Uno.”

It’s was like being told by a Maine lobsterman to go to Red Lobster when looking for the best lobster place in Portland. Or a southerner steering you to KFC for the best fried chicken in their city. It just rang hollow.

That conversation happened in late January as I was planning my second visit to Emmett’s in the West Village. Chicago focused, the cozy verging on subway car packed tiny place offers a menu of deep dish pizzas and Chicago dogs. They also uphold the time-honored Chicago rule of no ketchup on your Chicago Dog.

To get a proper appreciation for the effort at Emmett’s, I stopped at Lou Malnati’s in River North a few hours before my flight. I ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic and as I polished off my personal sized pie, I was struck by how appealing the buttery flavor of the crust was and just how much of everything there is in a deep dish. It’s no surprise given that the place has trademarked the phrase “Buttercrust.” Unlike your Sicilian that is overwhelmingly crust, the deep dish is more balanced.

But for all the hoopla surrounding the Chicago Deep Dish and Lou Malnati, I found myself walking to the “L” and thinking it was good, but nothing out of this world transcendent that would be a must visit the next time I’m in town.

It was this place of mind that I found myself when I ate at Emmett’s last Friday. My dinner companion and I found ourselves squeezed in so closely to the people on each side of us that Spirit Airlines executives would have blanched at our lack of personal space.

We went with green peppers and onions and after the requisite twenty-or-so-minutes for the pie to be ready, we dug in. The thing is the pie is good. The cheese is hot and gooey. The sauce has just the right amount of tang and the vegetables were fresh. Sans the Lou Malnati butter touch, the crust is crisp enough to hold the pie together, but doesn’t come out burned.

On paper, I should love deep dish. It has more cheese, more sauce. It’s more of everything I want, yet I can’t shake the feeling that something is amiss. Even though I was raised on Friday Night Pizza at the dinner table, to me pizza means a slice. The slice embrace a mobility that the deep dish doesn’t provide. Stop by a pizzeria, order a slice to go and in a few minutes you are walking out with a white paper bag containing two paper plates below a slice.

People get pretty parochial about pizza. Certain pizzerias are the best. Some toppings are unacceptable. Specific sauces are the only ones that can be considered. Our earliest memories help shape these beliefs. And for me, the pizza for me is the one that I can fold and eat with my hands. Not with a fork and knife.

All of that being said, if you like deep dish, Emmett’s is a place to visit if you don’t want to fly out to Chicago just for dinner. And don’t worry about not being able to finish. Reheated deep dish from is almost better than when it lands on your table at the restaurant. Almost.

Best Pizza is Almost Perfect & There is Nothing Wrong With That

20101101-best-pizza-reg-slice-thumb-500x375-120436A relative who no longer visits New York that often mentioned to me last month that when he does it has become harder to find a slice place in Manhattan. We didn’t get a chance to talk much more about that as a three-year old came running into the room wanting to show off his home-made race track that flung their toy cars down the basement staircase with their parents approval.

But as I took the train back to Grand Central, it got me thinking about how fellow Park Slope natives all had their go-to pizzerias. Central Sloper’s were Pino’s through and through. Closer to 9th Street and you were a Smiling Pizza person. Further north toward Flatbush and you might go with Antonio’s. Different neighborhoods have their long-standing pizzerias. And each one of those has a style that is acutely theirs. That style informs your perception of the perfect slice.

Having relied on pizzerias up and down the east coast for the last 20 years, I would argue that Best Pizza comes closest to the formula for perfection – and their Meatball Sub, usually, is even better.

On a regular slice – cheese can be too much of a good thing if it is mouth-scorchingly hot, overly greasy, and a ready made mess that won’t be avoided with two paper plates doing their best Venn-diagram impersonation. If New York wants to claim the best pizza in the country, we should be able to do better. Pizzerias should be able to turn out slices that are hot and have all the necessary ingredients in the proper ratio.

20110211-best-pizza-meatball-sandwich-thumb-500x332-139904Best Pizza comes the closest to enviable goal. With an old-timey sign overhanging the entrance and a huge 33 on the door that makes me think of Patrick Ewing every time I stop by, their slice formula comes the closest to perfection I’m aware of.

A slightly charred crust, gives a crunch to the pizza so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating dough, but is not so black to the point of burned. The mild tang of the pasta sauce and the conservative in comparison, but more-than-reasonable in a vacuum cheese coverage, drive home the fact that this is a pizza made with consideration for the person eating it. Topped off with a fresh piece of basil, the Best Pizza slice is a must have if you’re in Williamsburg.

Best Pizza though, is more than just a slice joint. In their write-up, New York Mag mentioned that the meatball sub has something of a cult following. After trying it on three different occasions – yes, I take my meatball subs seriously – I can say that description is less hyperbolic than it might seem. Only on my third visit did the sub fail to live it up to its previous highs.

When the sub is first brought to your table, your eyes and stomach may ask in unison, “I paid $9 for this?” Fear not, the sub is chockfull of ground meat that is fresh and include parsley and diced onion. Layered between that ball and cheese is a tangier pasta sauce. A thin slice of cheese sits on top.

The ingredient that brings it all together is the bread. On my first two visits, the bread was toasted just enough to give a slight crunch that accentuated the softness of the meatballs and the sauce. This past Sunday, the bread had been toasted just a bit too long. The harder bread left me wanting for the sub of my previous visits.

In a city where pizza places are more prevalent than subway stations, the best is quite the aspiration. Perfection is hard to ascertain. Best Pizza, situated on a sleepy residential stretch of Havemeyer in Williamsburg, may not hit the mark, but they give it a run for its money.

A Tale of Two Slices

Forget six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Try six degrees of pizza. If you’re anything like me you can connect most people or events in one’s life to pizza.

What did I eat when I was at a party at the Watergate in High School? Pizza.

Where did my mom take me and my third grade bully in a bid to close the rift? A pizzeria.

Why did I rock the RIF competition in 4th grade? Because you got a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut if you read a certain number of books per month.

Even after we left the pizza mecca that is Brooklyn and our church that was Pino’s, Pizza Friday remained a staple during my teen years in Vermont. It is safe to say for a long time we wandered in the desert – from Pizza Hut to Little Caesar to Domino’s until two guys from New York opened a pizzeria in Rutland – Ramuntos.

sicilianGrowing up, I was a slice kid. I know there is a small contingent that embraces the Sicilian – otherwise known as the grandma. And while our homemade pizzas took the rectangular shape of a Sicilian, they lacked the height and crustiness of the grandma pie.

With gourmet pizzerias popping up on a regular basis, it is easy to lose track of the fact that a pizza is at its core a pedestrian food. Three ingredients, an oven, and you’re all set. That’s why Crocodile Lounge near Union Square is a personal favorite. Buy a drink, get a free personal pan pizza. There is no love put in the pies. But the cost is built into your alcohol. It is also why I would drunkenly shake my head when I’d leave and see a line of drunk people across the street waiting for a slice at Artichoke.

In the past month, I made two trips to Artichoke. The first was to try the namesake slice – one that was panned. The second was to tackle their Sicilian. It was a tale of two slices.

It is easy to slam something that has been razzed in a widely read publication like New York, but it must be done. In our world of culinary portmanteaus, one might thing that a pizza that tasted like macaroni and cheese would be an invention one would be thrilled to discovery. After the second bite eradicates your initial quizzicalness, said person would realize the folly of such a concoction.

There is bad pizza and then there is disappointing pizza. The artichoke slice manages to be both. While the combination of mozzarella and pecorino romana cheese is a nice touch, it is overwhelmed by a heavy cream sauce and a slice that is double the typical crust. On top of that, my generously-sized slice had just one smallish artichoke on it. The artichoke slice has the trappings of a special concocted by the culinary whizzes hired by Olive Garden and Papa John’s.

About two weeks later, I returned with my eye on the Sicilian slice. The first bite was promising. It was the following bites that answered the question as to why people would line up across the street from “free pizza.”

While I noticed some variation in the cheese coverage in the Sicilian slices on the tray, my slice was partially covered which gave greater attention to the sauce which had a trace of tang to it. This zip, paired with the just crunchy crust and the cheese that was on there was enough for a Sunday night dinner.

Artichoke has a great slice and they have an awful slice. Don’t let the name fool you.