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900 Degrees' Pie in the Sky

A one-stop pizza place in the West Village tries to give you everything

In retrospect, the onrush of restaurateurs into the pizza biz was entirely predictable. We all know the reason for it: The ingredients are cheap and the mark-ups spectacular. No sooner had small and ridiculously expensive Neapolitan pies descended on Gotham a few years back, with their plainish taste and pedigreed ingredients, than Roman pizza floated in, like thin, low-carb crackers. Seeking to outflank them in healthfulness, New Age pies flaunting crusts of spelt and tofu "cheese" arrived with a dull thud, as dollar-slice places demonstrated how cheap pizza can be. There are now too many types and subtypes to accurately count.

It was also inevitable that a restaurant would try to make them all at once, yearning to create a one-stop pizza destination. Sounding more like an online university than a pizzeria, that place is 900 Degrees. The restaurant hunkers south of Sheridan Square in a doomed space that was once a Thai bistro, and before that an Indian tapas bar. With French doors propped open to catch Hudson River breezes, the dining room is wide but shallow, and a pair of ovens—one gas, one wood—rise like flaming robots behind a prep counter. 900 Degrees is an offshoot of San Francisco's Tony's Pizza Napoletana, helmed by American pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani. San Francisco telling New York how to make pizza? The end is near, my friends.

Scanning the 900 Degrees menu, you'll find 21 pies in six confusing categories—STG Pizza Napoletana (guaranteed authentic by an Italian trade group), Pizza Romana, Tomato Pies, Pizza Siciliana, Pizza Americana Wood Fired, and Pizza Americana Italian Brick Oven. Prices range from $13 to $38. Since all pies are preconfigured, with no options, ordering might be an easy task, except it's impossible to figure out the size and thickness of each pie from the menu description, or how many you'd have to order to feed, say, a table of four. Clearly, leftovers are in your future.

Enjoy some char, but no options.
Courtesy Jeff Orlick/Jeffrey Tastes
Enjoy some char, but no options.

At the top of the menu lie three traditional Naples pies. The Margherita ($16) is fantastic, with glistening gobs of cow's-milk mozzarella, a char-stippled crust made with imported flour, and crushed canned tomatoes. It bravely wears basil leaves on its breast like medals from the Pizza Wars. Preciously, the menu claims only 73 are fired per day, with the dough proofed in a wooden box of Italian origin. My favorite pie is the Diavola ($18), in the Italian Brick Oven section. Its toppings include chili oil, piquant soppressata, and two cheeses, on what used to be regarded as a normal pizza crust. You'll work up a sweat eating it.

Pizza Siciliana offers a choice of four thicker-crusted pies, in the $23 to $29 range. These tend to be rib-sticking, but unremarkable—the crust has none of the crunch-generating greasiness you find in the Sicilian slice at, say, Krispy Pizza in Dyker Heights. Typical of these pies is the misspelled "Bleeker," topped with "hand-crushed" tomatoes. (What would one normally use, an ice pick?) The other ingredients—prosciutto, arugula, and piquilo peppers—are applied post-oven. Fine enough, though those achingly sweet Spanish pickled peppers simply don't belong on a pizza at all.

The most annoying category is Pizza Romana—humongous pies nearly a meter in length divided into three segments, each with its own arbitrary set of toppings. The thin crust by itself is wonderful, but I can guarantee you'll hate at least one of the three compulsory combinations. For example, the DiFabio ($38) offers two boffo segments: prosciutto, arugula, and Parmigiano; and garlic, meatballs, and bechamel. The third features gorgonzola, candied pecans, apples, Nutella, and honey. Blech! It lies uneaten when the rest is finished. After dining on pizza, who wants more pizza for dessert?

As for the so-called Tomato Pies—they're round, inflated with hot air, and generally agreeable. Especially the New Yorker ($18), which involves mozzarella, garlic, meatballs, ricotta, pepperoni, and Neapolitan oregano, whatever that is. As we were digging in, one of my crew noted with a twinkle in his eye that, though his slice was utterly edible, "This pie tastes like it was just delivered from Domino's." And, indeed, he was right.

There are Looney-Tunes pies on the menu, too, in the section designated Pizza Americana Wood Fired. One is the self-named 900 Degrees ($19). This belabored round of dough comes surmounted by tamarind-laced pulled pork, Mexican queso fresco, fresh cactus, concentrated agave nectar, and two types of hot peppers. It's surprisingly good, though a bit too sweet. But my problem with it is more fundamental—I don't think it ought to be categorized as pizza.

rsietsema@villagevoice.com

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14 comments
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nimei17

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LittleJoe
LittleJoe

I generally enjoy your reviews but do you really suggest that New York is the standard for pizza? Contests and awards should be discounted? If birthplace some how endows one with the ability to make and judge pizza, should a Midwesterner critique it? Of course not, stick to telling us about the food and really it’s OK to like it even if the chef is from the West Coast the Italians seem to think so.

Rsietsema
Rsietsema

Hey, Little Joe, I love Italian restaurants in SF, including Farina and Delfina --in fact we don't have anything quite like Farina here, but the pizza in NYC is far superior to that in SF; we've been doing it a lot longer, have many more varieties -- and pizza as we know it was invented here at Lombardi's very soon after the margherita was invented in Naples. The two (Naples and NYC) are certainly co-dependent, but our range and quality is, overall, superior to both Naples and SF. I think most pizza obsessives would agree with me.

Thanks for your comments.

Pizza
Pizza

YES. YES. AGREED. I was just there last week and at the end of my meal, I felt nothing short of disgusted, ripped off, and mildly hungry. We got the Margherita and something else with mushrooms on it. They were both wrong. Just dead, ass, wrong. They were mushy, the cheese tasted rubbery, the toppings' flavor profile just strange and unwelcome. You want to know something that's never happened to me before? I've never picked up what should be my last slice of pizza, looked at it with sadness, and put it back down (then look away with tears in my eyes, biting my fist). That happened last week at 900 Degrees, and so help me God, never again.

Kestrel-baby
Kestrel-baby

I can't believe what I am hearing... when I heard that Tony was opening on the East Coast I nearly pee'd my pants" from excitement. I can't believe that you guysa are comparing this to Domino's... Tony is a 9 time world chmp who has been asked NOT to COMPETE in ITALY (home of PIZZA) because he kept on winning. Really - those of you who compare these pizza's to Domino's must think that a truffle is "just a mushroom".

Dave
Dave

Tony was 9 time champions for Acrobatic Pizza.Which it states he is good to throw pizza in the air. That does not necessarily means he makes good tasting pies.

Indeed Tony also won ONCE for Neapolitan pizza.But that's all Marketing. Remember it's all a business !!!Flour and tomatoes company RULES these competitions more than anyone else.Some "industry people" realized Tony was very popular in the USA pizza world for his acrobatic skills.They decide he could also win the neapolitan category so that he could spread the good word about Neapolitan pizza in the USA.If u look a those competitions, you will see that each year you have a champion from a different part of the world, USA, Japan and so on based on where the Flour Company wants to market its product next year ... it's all about the MONEY ...

Tried their Marghertia, Ok. but not really a big deal ... there are definitely better pies around the city

Avayachick
Avayachick

@ Dave Please check your facts:•8 Time World Champion Pizza Acrobat95,96,97,00,01,05,06,07 •1 Time World Champion Pizza Maker07 - World Pizza Cup Naples, Italy•Gold Medal "Squadra Acrobatica " Pizza Olympics - Salsomaggiore, Italy 2007•Gold Medal "Squadra Acrobatica " Salsomaggiore, Italy 2006 •Gold Medal "Team Acrobatic" Las Vegas, NV 2005•Gold Medal/1st place Food Network "Pizza Battle" 2005•1st place Icon Estates Pizza Battaglia 2005•1st Triple Crown Winner in Pizza History•Gold Cup Pizza Classica - International Pizza Makers Challenge, Lecce,Italy 2008•Gold Cup Pizza Teglia -International Pizza Makers Challenge, Lecce,Italy 2008•Gold Cup Acrobat - International Pizza Makers Challenge, Lecce,Italy 2008•Best Pizza USA - World Pizza Championships, Salsomaggiore, Italy 2008•Silver Medal "Team Acrobatic" Salsomaggiore, Italy 2005•Bronze Medal "Pizza Acrobatic" Salsomaggiore, Italy 2005•Gold Medal / 1st Place Pizza Champions Challenge Food Network 2006•Gold Medal / First Place - Master of Champions (ABC TV)•Gold Medal/1st place World Pizza Cup Naples, Italy Best Pizza STG/Neapolitan category

I guess all these titles are "about the money". But I guess you're right... it's all about the money, Food Network challenges - all about the money, International Pizza Challenge - all about the money, ABC-TC Master of Champions - all abut the money.If his food is mediocre, why has he been invited to the Jay Leno Show, Rachel Ray ShowGood Morning america, Oprah... O P R A H....Emeril.... YEP....it's all about the money...I like what Kestrel Baby said - a truffle is just another mushroom.

Truth is,us New Yorkers are snobs... we all think that no one can do anything better than us, Lombardi's pizza... yeah it's pretty good... when I told the waiter that my crust was a tad overcooked (mostly black on the bottom) he gave me a dirty look and told me that I didn't understand pizza...

Dave
Dave

@Avayachick ... there is a competition in every corner of the world that give away big titles like those ... world champion, gold medal and so on ... but what they really mean?

TV appearance? It's much easier to go on TV for acrobatic skills than for actual cooking skills ... and most important a great PR company can do it for you ... you pay and they bring you in TV no matter how good you are ...Is the number of your TV appearance a way to define how good of a chef you are?Look at Rachel Ray or Giada De Laurentiis, they most likely never worked in a restaurant and they are known as "celebrity chefs" ... is this a joke?

If we have to believe that someone is a great chef just because he was on Jay Leno or on Oprah, than this society has a huge problem, but really, a huge one!!!

Customer are your ultimate judges. Customers and customers only !!!

Rsietsema
Rsietsema

Thanks so much for that info, Dave, it's pissed me off for years that the Neapolitan association has been coming over here and telling us what true pizza is. They even laugh at them in Rome, which is nearly as diverse as NYC, pizzawise.

Davmp
Davmp

Rob, I agree with you and (being a huge fan of Neapolitan Style) I'm sorry to say but all those association were born with noble intents and they end up being maneuvered (and financially sustained) by manufacturing companies that use those associations to promote their products ... It's much easier to sell your flour or your tomatoes if the Official ASSOCIATION of WORLD CHAMPION ABSOLUTE BEST PIZZAMAKERS says that your products are the only one you can use for the WORLD BEST PIZZA EVER ... MONEY MONEY MONEY .. it's all about the money ...

Rsietsema
Rsietsema

Thanks for your comment, Kestrel-baby. I really don't care what contests anyone has won, it's the way the pizzas taste that matters to me. I've eaten his pies here and in San Francisco, and I wasn't all that impressed (though I can understand why he wins in Italy, his margherita is phenomenal). Americans are the masters of pizza (and specifically New Yorkers), not Italians.

JK
JK

I call bullshit on this whole post. Your USE of CAPITALIZATION says "IDIOT" to me. Go eat a pizza with truffle oil, Mr. Fancypants.

Melissa
Melissa

We got the Pizza Futura at Tony's place in San Francisco and nearly died trying to finish it. What a gutbomb. Amongst the numerous toppings, the crust was Domino's texture (it was made with Anchor Steam beer so it was "supposed" to be good) and very, very heavy, and there was so much cheese - both white cheddar and parmesan that it sat in our stomachs like lead. It was an interesting pie to try but a simple Neapolitan margherita would've been better.

JK
JK

What I said was, "This is the very best pizza Dominos could make on their very best day." It was a complement! I liked that one the best.

 
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