Is it possible to have TOO MUCH GOOD PIZZA? Because that’s what it felt like this year. Sorta. I’m not complaining, though. OK, I am, but my complaint is that there were so many openings this year that I couldn’t keep up. There are still a bunch of “best new slice” joints that I have to either do a first visit or follow-ups to.
That said, I did better than last year, when I seemed to hit the same places over and over again. Earlier in the year, I gave myself a short list of places I really wanted to get to in 2019, and I did OK—didn’t finish the list, but I got to more of them than I’d thought I would. Including a couple that would rise to the top of my all-time best pizza experiences. Enough blabbing, though, right?
But before we get to the heart of the matter, here’s my caveat/preamble as always: Every year I compile a year-end list of memorable pizzas I’ve eaten in the past year. These are all pizzas I ACTUALLY ATE AND THAT MADE AN IMPRESSION ON ME. So if your favorite isn’t here, I either didn’t eat it or it didn’t haunt my dreams. Don’t like the list? Make your own. Without further ado and in no particular order*…
*Actually, these are in roughly chronological order.
Homemade ‘coal oven–style’ in my Breville SmartOven Pizzaiolo
There isn’t a Thursday evening that goes by that I don’t think about making dough for Sunday Pizza Night to re-create the fine specimen pictured above. That’s the problem. I think about it but then get sidetracked by Instagram and Twitter, fall asleep on the sofa, and wake up at 11:30 to my wife: “Are you going to snore out there all night or come to bed?”
I’ll make it tomorrow night and just forgo a day of fermentation, I always tell myself. But, truth be told, it’s been a while since I’ve done much home pizza-making. For 2020, I need to get back in the habit.
But back to this pizza above. That’s the one where I feel I finally dialed in the Breville Pizzaiolo oven and created something at home that I never would have been able to do before. (Full disclosure: Breville sent me a tester/loaner oven, which I still have. It’s been a ton of fun. See here and here for my take on it.) It also sold me on “upside down” pizzas—where you put the cheese on first, then the sauce. That’s the way a lot of the old-school coal-oven places do it, and I really like the way this type of pizza eats. You get a nice, juicy, saucy bite, and the cheese stays oozy and melty because the sauce effectively insulates it from browning and crisping.
I’m now regretting all the nights I fell asleep, phone in hand, looking at Instagram pizzas rather than making my own. (This seems like the stuff of readymade resolutions!)
Upside Pizza: plain slice
I thought this was from late 2018, but it looks like I first tried Upside in January 2019. It’s a tiny slice shop in a pretty grimy part of Times Square, but it’s making some fantastic naturally leavened pizza. This is one of those slices that, when I drop it in my Instagram stories or feed, prompts several DMs—two-thirds of which are “I don’t get it,” the rest mentioning it favorably. (I think people are more prone to comment when they don’t like something.) I like this slice, though. It’s super thin and crisp, which is up my alley, and has a great blend of cheese. If anything, maybe it could use a little more sauce. Along with the entry just below, it’s one of about six great options that are within easy striking distance of my office during lunch break and that I end up at more than my Instagram activity lets on.*
* The others are Mama’s Too, Sacco’s, NY Pizza Suprema, and Corner Slice—all accessible by a quick subway or Citibike ride.
Sofia Pizza Shoppe: Sicilian slice
This has been one of my go-to lunches this year. Sofia is a quick 13-minute subway ride–then-walk from my office in Midtown Manhattan. After having this slice earlier in the year, I was struck by how I’d originally dismissed it. It’s light and airy and crisp, with the whole “upside down” thing reminiscent of L&B Spumoni Gardens. In the embed above, click through to the second frame and tell me that doesn’t make you want to run right out and jump on this bandwagon.
Dani’s House of Pizza: pesto slice with sauce
I think about this slice a lot. And it’s not like I don’t live a 15-minute-walk away from it and couldn’t get it at damn near the drop of a hat. The one thing I always think about, though, is what this slice might be like with just a zig-zag of sauce drizzled on. I mean, I LOVE the visuals here (and apparently so did nearly 1,900 fellow Instagrammers—it was my second-most-liked photo of 2019), but this slice might as well come with directions to the nearest dry-cleaner. It’s a miracle I didn’t get any on me. One of my 2020 goals is to end the speculation and finally ask them for “just a schmear” of the #sweetsauce. (I wonder if that bit of bagelry jargon will translate.)
Rosie’s Pizza: Sicilian slice (with pepperoni)
I put “(with pepperoni)” in parens up there because it’s not the pepperoni that’s the defining awesomeness of this slice. Pepperoni is just bonus. Lou Tomczak (@Loubron on IG) put Rosie’s on my radar with a strong recommendation, and when Lou goes gaga for a place, I know I’ve gotta go. It did not disappoint.
You know how when you make a mixtape you don’t want to put two songs by the same band on there? (Or at least not on the same side of the tape—and, yes, I’m talking about actual, literal tape, because I’m old as dirt.) Well, I don’t want to put two slices by the same place on this list. Because it feels the same way. What I’m getting at is that I had a hard time choosing between the plain round pies at Rosie’s and the Sicilians, but I went with the Sicilian because even my wife remarked how good they were—and at times I think she’s a more discerning critic than I am. I am predisposed to like pizza with a good story and an impressive roster of ingredients. But my wife doesn’t really follow any of this pizza stuff and doesn’t necessarily love squares, so when she is impressed by one, I know it’s good.
OK. I think this mixtape has reached Side Two now, so here’s Rosie’s plain pie:
Mama’s Too: ‘house slice’
And here’s a 2018 entrant making its way onto the list for a second year. At this point Mama’s Too might be more beloved for its squares, but the round “house slice” is remarkable. As I’ve said a few times before, this slice reminds me of Di Fara’s plain regular slice—but with the TURBO BOOST button engaged.
Don’t get me wrong, you should always get a square at Mama’s Too—they’re all good, so get whatever topping calls to you—but you should also definitely get a house slice if they’re available. And eat it as hot as possible. It really does make a difference.
Norma’s Pizza: plain pie
Remember I mentioned having had two all-time-greatest-ever-memorable pizza experiences up in my intro? This was the first of them.
What more can I say about Norma Knepp and her pizza than I already have here? Just an incredibly sweet woman whose hard work and curiosity are truly inspiring. One of the realest.
King Umberto: Elmont slice
Kinda feels like 2019 was the Year of King Umberto for me. I fell hard for this place. This photo is technically in the correct chronological order, but I first visited King Umberto in April to try their grandma pizza, which they’re known for having “named and perfected here.” I love their version of the grandma, so is it sacrilege to highlight the Elmont slice as my favorite offering there? The truth is, my favorite item here changes from visit to visit, since KU executes all styles to high quality. Also well worth checking out is second-gen owner Giovanni Cesarano’s metro slice—an impossibly light and airy Roman-esque pizza that would be setting the NYC pizza world ablaze if KU were situated in NYC. The one thing that never changes, though, is that we get an order of the Fried Capellini™, which are little pucks of breaded fried pasta bound by a light, just-cheesy-enough white sauce. Click through to the sixth slide here for Fried Caps video:
Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop: Freddy Prince
I love how Paulie Gee and his team took two of Paulie’s inspirations—the sesame-seeded squares from Freddy’s in Whitestone, Queens, and the Soho Square from Prince Street Pizza in Manhattan—and mashed them up into a first-rate Sicilian slice of their own. It took me a while to finally get to this slice, but it was worth the wait.
(By the way, the video above is one of my #SpinningPizzaThing things. I started carrying a mini battery-operated turntable around while pizza-ing and try to capture revolving slices when I can. Someone suggested I should create a whole separate Instagram for it, so I did: @SpinningPizzaThing.)
Philomena’s Pizza: plain square
Is this turning out to be the year of the square for me? I don’t know. But I LOVED this one from Philomena’s. The sauce here is absolutely fantastic. I ordered four slices the first time I tried the place and told myself I’d just sample a couple bites from each, taking the rest home for snacking later on.
But the sauce was so good here that I simply housed the plain and pepperoni slices I got. The white pies still had the same stellar crust—super light, airy, potato-chip crisp—but they just couldn’t match those reds.
I wonder what a plain square pie with extra sauce would be like—or an upside-down…. 🤤
Razza Pizza Artigianale: ‘standard’ Margherita
I have been delinquent in keeping this secret blog here updated, and so I have not yet synthesized my 3-part Instagram post about Razza into a single entry here, like I did with my visit to Norma’s. But, along with Norma’s, this was the second Top 5 Pizza Experiences of My Life™ that I had this year. (That list also includes my 2009 trip to Pizzeria Bianco; a visit to Paulie Gee’s backyard [also in 2009]; and maybe also this weird 2010 trip to Sally’s Apizza with Ed Levine, where, thanks to Ed’s presence, me, my wife, and my wife’s friend were treated like pizza royalty and got to chat with Flo Consiglio—this was a few years before her death.)
I hate to do this, but you can go read all three parts on Instagram at this tag: #akubanxrazza.
Razza has two Margheritas on its menu: the “Margherita” and the “Jersey Margherita.” The Jersey Margherita uses Jersey Girl fresh mozzarella, which is fantastic but which also happens to melt really well and oozily. Normally this is a good thing, but here it seemed to melt so well that it covered the sauce—whereas the standard Margherita left more sauce exposed. It just hits your palate in a different way, which I happened to prefer. So that’s why I’d choose the standard Marg over the Jersey Marg. Blah blah blah.
L’Industrie: burrata slice
I’m probably burying the lede here, but I just want to say… there have been A LOT of pizzeria openings this year—slice shops in particular—and it seems like with each new opening a lot of people like to run there on Day One and post up to Instagram proclaiming “BEST NEW SLICE IN NYC.” Do you remember when people used to jump into blog comments and go, “First!”? It’s like the IRL pizza-culture equivalent of that.
If all these places anointed bEsT nEw SlIcE! this year were on L’Industrie’s level, I would understand the hype.
Massimo Laveglia’s deceptively simple-seeming slices are otherworldly good. You are almost compelled to stop a couple bites in just to sit there and quietly contemplate your place in the cosmos and how stupidly lucky you are to be alive in this moment, even as the world burns around us, experiencing one of our civilization’s highest forms of pizza expression—and all for a mere $5. This was perhaps the best individual slice I ate all year.
Well. That’s all I’ve got for you this year. Keep movin’, and may you find small moments of peace in 2020.