New York City is the epicenter of many things, from fashion to gastronomy, and its most iconic dish is pizza. To understand the greatness of pizza in NYC, you have to go back to history. When the Italians (many from the Naples region) immigrate to the United States, their meeting point was the Big Apple. The Neapolitans brought with them a street food recipe that was only popular in their region; it was made up of bread, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil (the colors of the Italian flag!). It was an instant hit.
Pizza begins to conquer the city when they issued the first license for a pizzeria to Italian Gennaro Lombardi in 1905. From that moment on, the rest is a rich history of salsa and cheese.
In honor of the history that Mr. Lombardi started at the beginning of the 20th century, last weekend, two friends and I set out to have a foodiecation with the mission of knowing, experiencing and tasting the pizza culture in the city of New York. In just 72 hours, we had the opportunity to taste pizzas from fifteen different establishments. Yes, 15 different places!
The first stop was Corner Slice at the Gotham West Market, where its dough is fermented for 60 hours to give an airy and crispy crust to its square piece. Then, we continued to Luigi’s Pizza Gourmet, they are very famous, but they are nothing out of this world. The third stop completely marked the trip, Mama’s Too on the Upper West Side, is fantastic. Their square pizza -grandma-style- is everything you expect from a pizza and more. Its dough is an intermediate between pan pizza and NY style, and they crown them with the unique Ezzo pepperoni. The day continued at NY Supreme Pizza, very close to Penn Station, which it’s Margherita (whose name is a tribute to an Italian queen) became the favorite of the group for being the best balance between dough, sauce, and cheese.
The second day was the most intense of the route. Brooklyn, specifically the Williamsburg area, became the starting point, with Di Fara (located in the North 3rd Street Market) the breakfast pizza. TV shows have popularized it, but I cannot deny that the memory of the sauce makes me smile. After that, we walked through the very hipster neighborhood of Williamsburg to land at Joe’s Pizza and Best Pizza. Both are 100% NY style pizzas, where their triangular pieces are greasy, full of mozzarella cheese, their dough is thin, and very importantly, it is eaten by folding it. After a well-deserved coffee to recharge, another mandatory stop was Emmy Squared Pizza, a recipe that emulates the style of Detroit pizza, with well-roasted edges and pizza bread. I can tell you that it was delicious, but its size and price do not match. After four stops in the day, this has just begun. From Williamsburg, we took the subway to Coney Island, south of Brooklyn, to taste two of the most iconic pizzerias in the city. L&B Spumoni Gardens is a unique place that has been operating since 1939. We were in line for 20 minutes, but it was worth the wait. Going to Coney Island and not eating in Totonno’s means you didn’t go. Why? This is the second oldest pizzeria in NY, which has been in operation since 1924, and they still have the same oven style for decades. The place is small, and the line to enter took about two hours (at least the temperature was in the 70’s), so you have to go without an appetite. If not for the long wait, I would say with certainty that this is the best pizza, its history and recipe make it a unique culinary experience. After internalizing the pizzas of the day, we returned to Manhattan, took a well-deserved nap, and got ready for the midnight snack. The honor of the snack was held by Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, and it was worth the sacrifice, because that piece tasted like glory and fatty pepperoni
The last day of this pizza tour began at Prince Street Pizza where the slice had so many pepperonis that it was massive. But WOW! Thinking about that slice, it makes me want to go back. Next, we went to Brooklyn Heights to try two other institutions – albeit a little more commercial – Juliana’s Pizza and Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. Being Neapolitan-style pizzas, we had to order the full pie. Both were executed to perfection, and the colors of the Italian flag stood out. We were lucky not to have to wait in line because it is usually very long.
The grand finale of the foodiecation ended with a piece of a not so fancy pizza. Interestingly, and given the great culture of grab & go, pizzerias have been popularized in NYC, where the piece costs only one dollar. But do not get carried away by the cost, because the quality and size are worth it, and I confess that they have a considerable resemblance to the food truck pizzas of the western area of Puerto Rico.
It was an intense weekend, but it was fascinating to understand how in the simplicity of a slice of pizza, the decades of recipes, history, and, above all, the culture that transcends a city.
Paul E González Mangual is an author of four books, founder of FOODIEcations, columnist for Sabrosía Puerto Rico, TEDx speaker, Guinness World Record Holder, whiskey enthusiast, coffee addict, and producer of the Coffee & Chocolate Expo.
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