Not on the menu, but always available, Roberta’s guanciale-and-egg pie demonstrates some of the place’s strange but effective ideas about pizza.
New York has always been the world capital of pizza, ever since the pie-as-we-know-it was invented at Lombardi’s bakery sometime before 1905. That pie has traveled all over the globe, and is even imitated in Italy.
Meanwhile, in a rear-guard action, the smaller individual pies of Naples, soft as throw pillows, have arrived here with an agenda – to prove that theirs are the only real pizzas. Fiddlesticks! But those pizzas are great, too, and now many of the city’s newest pizzerias imitate Naples, rather than New York.
Which is fine, because it only expands our roster of pizza styles, which run into the dozens if you’re willing to make fine distinctions. So, whether your favorite is coal oven, wood oven, brick oven, conventional oven, cooked from the bottom, or even barbecued; spare of toppings or lushly furnished; Sicilian or Neapolitan or “authentic” Neapolitan; meaty or vegetarian — you can find a pie in town that you can’t stop loving.
In June, 2009, we tallied Our 10 Best Pizzas, but lots of pies have come down the pike since then, necessitating a reassessment. Following are our current faves:
Like onions? Try this crazy pie from Co.
Maffei’s plain Neapolitan slice: perfect of its type
10. Maffei The plain slice at this Sicilian focacceria is a paragon of neighborhood pizzas: the crust done deep brown, the top cheesy without being overly so, and the sauce slightly sweet with a nice wallop of oregano. And the two-slices-plus-beverage deal ($5) constitutes one of the best lunches on the Ladies Mile. 688 Sixth Avenue, Chelsea, 212-929-0949
9. Co. After turning out wonderful sheet pizzas, sold bakery-style and paved with potatoes, mushrooms, or cauliflower, master baker Jim Lahey turned his attention to pizza-parlor pizzas, and the result is Co. These pies, too, demonstrate the same quirkiness, with a specialty in non-tomato pies. 230 Ninth Avenue, Chelsea, New York, 212-243-1105
8. Motorino Williamsburg’s best pizzeria produces an amazing wood-fired product, with a perfect puffy crust stippled with char. They come topped with ingredients that run from conventional (fresh mozzarella, sausage from Emily’s Pork Store) to the frankly odd (brussels sprouts, speck, and broccoli rabe) – but whatever the topping, the pizzas always delight. 319 Graham Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-8899; 349 East 12th Street, East Village, 212-777-2644
7. Denino’s Staten Island is loaded with great pizza parlors, but DeNino’s (established 1951) remains best in the borough. The signature crust is thicker than Neapolitan, thinner than Sicilian. Families in back, serious drinkers at the bar in front. 524 Port Richmond Avenue, Port Richmond, Staten Island, 718-442-9401
A bottle of wine from the Sorrento Peninsula, dark and slightly fizzy, makes an excellent accompaniment to a Motorino pizza.
The luscious margherita pie at Keste
6. (tie) Keste In the early days, this pretentious Naples-style pie place had difficulty controlling its new beehive oven, and the quality of the crusts was uneven. Those problems have been solved, and Keste is now among the half-dozen places in town providing a good facsimile of “true” Naples pizza. 271 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, 212-243-1500
6. (tie) John’s Directly across the street from Keste, John’s – another of the city’s coal-oven places – pizza couldn’t be different. In the Neapolitan-American style, the pies are big, generous, thin-crusted, crisp, cheap, and stacked up on metal racks as they’re brought to the table. Throw on the extra crushed garlic! 278 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, 212- 243-1680
4. Roberta’s The quintessential hipster pizza parlor also doubles as a community center, urban farm, and, now, a wine bar. The wood stacked by the door provides much flavor, and the sometimes-wacky toppings only increase the excitement. 261 Moore Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn, 718-417-1118
3. DiFara – Dom DeMarco is indeed the king of New York pizza, but why is he listed here in third place? Well, his pies have always been somewhat uneven, and his runaway fame has made them nearly impossible to get. And his reported future foray into Vegas – rather than opening a larger and more accommodating place in Brooklyn – may be one of the century’s saddest royal abdications. 1424 Avenue J, Midwood, Brooklyn, 718-258-1367
2. Patsy’s — One of New York’s four ur-pizzerias, Patsy’s coal-fired oven yawns like the gates of hell, and the austere pies come out imperially thin-crusted, slightly charred, and spare in the extreme – they make you love pizza again for its unfussy plainness. 2291 First Avenue, East Harlem, 212-534-9783
Even a single pie — in this case our favorite, lavished with sausage, ricotta, crushed garlic, and black olives — gets the rack treatment at John’s.
Totonno’s in Coney Island — still the city’s best pizza
1. Totonno’s This sainted pizzeria – founded by one of Lombardi’s bakers, Anthony “Totonno” Pero, in 1924 – recently survived a fire, and came back better than ever. The lush pies, slightly damp in the middle, and always made with unimpeachable cheese, form the link between the Naples and New York styles of pizza making. 1524 Neptune Avenue, Coney Island, Brooklyn, 718-372-8606