We started our much anticipated pizza tour on Saturday June 7th in Port Washington and wrapped up on June 17th in Manhattan. In those 10 days, we tasted 18 unique pizzas from ten different pizzerias (not counting a second visit to Salvatore’s in Port Washington and the two repeat pizzas we had there).
We are not New York pizza experts, so our categories may differ from others. In our minds, the pizzas fall into several categories.
New York coal-fired oven pizza:
This was our favorite category. The coal ovens char the bottom of the thin crust that comes out crisp, but light. The cheese doesn’t rule the top side, but rather balances the crushed tomatoes in a red-white zig zag pattern. At least a few bubbles explode around the edges of the crust and rise a few inches above the rest of the pizza. The pizzas look great and taste even better.
Lombardi’s is the king of the coal ovens. It lays claim to the oldest pizzeria in the U.S. Of course, there are some caveats to that claim, but there weren’t any caveats to the pizza on the day we were there. Notice how the cheese shares the top of the pizza with the sauce. This is how a pizza should look.
Salvatore’s in Port Washington surprised us. Yes, they have a coal oven right here in Port Washington. And, the pizza was almost as good as Lombardi’s. So good that on a different day, it very well could have bested the Lombardi’s pizza. We loved the wood boxes they used for the rising dough and enjoyed watching them stretch the crust on a counter right in the dining room. We liked Salvatore’s so much, we went twice. The second time we had a blast there with our Salty Dawg friends from the Hanse Happy Chaos.
Patsy’s in Harlem is one of the three second generation pizzerias that sprung from Lombardi’s. We took the train up and weren’t disappointed. At Patsy’s we had both a traditional coal-fired pizza with aged mozzarella and a margherita with fresh mozzarella. The traditional pie was outstanding.
Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn was a hit, but wasn’t as interesting as the pizzas above. They had good sausage.
John’s on Bleecker. We heard a lot of mixed reviews of John’s. In any other city or on any other pizza tour, the sausage pizza at John’s would have been a huge hit. It was good, but, it really didn’t rise (literally and figuratively) to the pizza’s at Lombardi’s, Salvatore’s, or Patsy’s. Only Greg made it to John’s, but he had a critical lunch companion in the other Greg from the office who knows a thing or three about pizza himself. We missed the exploding bubbles in the crust which ended up a bit boring. The sausage on top was really great, however, with a strong fennel taste.
We visited only one Neopolitan pizzeria (Motorino) and thought of these as a separate category, but they aren’t actually too different from the coal-fired pies. They seem a bit more artistic; the toppings are more adventurous. Motorino uses a wood-fired oven and the pizzas here develop a touch of smoky taste that we loved. Along with a sausage pizza and a margherita pizza, we had their famous brussel sprout pizza. We liked it, but not as much as the sausage. They must take a breadmaking approach to their crusts which had a nice, fermented flavor that reminded us of a long-risen bread dough.
New York non-coal oven pizza:
These pizzas are the role model for most pizzas across the US. We ate at Sal & Carmine’s and picked up a slice at Joe’s and Bleecker Street Pizza, and they beat flatterers like Papa John’s or Domino’s hands-down. The crust is thin and crisp, though in some cases it can come out less charred than the coal ovens and even taste a bit like a cracker. Old-fashioned aged mozzarella smothers the top of the pizza and salt dominates much of the taste. We thought the first slice of these pizzas was great, but the subsequent slices hit us like rocks in the stomach.
New-fangled baker’s pizza:
It may not be fair to lump everything else into this category, but we only went to one bakery (Sullivan Street Bakery) that fits in this category, so we’ll go with it. We have Jim Lahey’s book and use the technique for slow rising bread dough that he popularized. So, we had actually made versions of these pizzas before and liked them. We had slices of a tomato pizza, a potato pizza, a zucchini pizza and a cauliflower pizza. I didn’t call them new-fangled for no reason. Ironically, we liked our versions better. Eating the slices here reminded us that we had tweaked the recipes to suit our tastes. So, while we really liked his bread, the pizza wasn’t a hit with us. Of course, your preferences are slightly different, so you might like them more than we did.
Now we are thoroughly stuffed and sticking to salad and tofu. At least the salad part is true.