I’ve spent more than my share of time in the Big Apple, and I’ve had a lot of pizza there. It is truly unique. Traits of a real New York pizza are:
The crust, which is not too limp or too stiff.
The sauce, which is a thin red layer of tangy tomato, and a blanket of melted mozzarella. Not that fancy schmancy round buffalo milk stuff, but the real person’s cheese.
Pepperoni so plentiful there is one per bite, curled around the edges to create a cup containing a puddle of grease.
Grease that drips down your arm and makes your face around your mouth shiny if you’re not careful.
This is the ultimate American street food. There are places selling a slice around nearly every corner in New York. I remember the first time I tried Ray’s, the joint whose lack of charm was its charm. Basic white paper plates, pies behind smudged glass, oven doors slamming as they heated your slice, gruffness everywhere. Quintessentially New York.
We had nothing like this in New Orleans, until Brooklyn Pizza showed up in Metairie. Brooklyn was more of a real restaurant in look and feel than a pizza joint, but the pizza was the real deal.The owner conducted his business behind a checkered curtain while the walkup-window-within-a-restaurant had a few people to slice the many pie varieties stacked for slicing and heating in the generic loud slamming-door ovens.
The mom and pop of this mom and pop had two track stars for kids, and in later years they were often gone to competitions. Both guys got scholarships to places like Stanford, and Mom and Pop followed them out of town, closing the restaurant. I guess we’ll never know why they didn’t sell it instead of just closing, but we miss Brooklyn Pizza.
Slice has been operating a fine pizza joint on St. Charles for many years, with the same style ovens and same pizza behind glass, but Slice is more of a real restaurant. Pizza Delicious set up shop in the Bywater and became an instant favorite. It is just like Brooklyn was, only hip.
And now there seems to be an explosion of places selling a slice of the real New York pie like Brooklyn, offering less for more.
As a New York style pizza fanatic, I had to follow these tales of the “real deal” popping up around town. The first I heard about was The Crazy Italian in Lakeview, then NOLA Pizza Co. in the space that was McClure’s Barbecue at NOLA Brewing. I still hadn’t even made it to NOLA Pizza Co. when Paulie Gee’s arrived in the space that was formerly the short-lived al taglio Italian pizza place called Bonci.
My NY pizza consultant is a college friend named Eric, with whom I have shared many passionate pizza screeds. I happily defer to his opinion since he is a New Yorker, though not from “the City.” We almost agree on all points of taste, especially the important one: we prefer the NY style to Neopolitan, which is also surprisingly plentiful in our town lately.
On Eric’s suggestion a few months ago, I found my way to The Crazy Italian, which is a challenging thing to do. The Crazy Italian is located in a tiny space in a row of nondescript businesses on Harrison between Fleur de Lis and West End.
This is the most NY pizza joint of all the ones serving this style of pizza here. Tiny, spartan style, with its little side corner of gelato in what seems to be a former closet, bathrooms down a hallway leading outside. This place better have great pizza, and it does.
I had it a few months ago before I had the other two to compare, but I think I prefer the taste of this one. The red sauce makes a strong statement, but I like that. All have the same substantial crust-not too flaccid and not too stiff, that perfect one-inch roll at the end, the blanket of regular mozzarella with the light sludge of grease from melted cheese and toppings of varying plenty.
The slices at The Crazy Italian are smaller but the whole pizza pie from which it is cut is small. And so are the prices. Of all of these places, I feel like Pizza Delicious may be the best value. They just aren’t the “new kid” any more.
A New York slice used to be $2.75 in the Brooklyn Days. But these are the new days, and the going rate is $3, $3.50, $3.75 for a smaller slice than the old ones, and at Pauli Gee’s you can do $4.00.
I love the pizza at Pauli Gee’s, but the place is too glamorous and hip to think about New York pizza. NOLA Pizza Co. makes no atmosphere statement because it is a corner of NOLA Brewing. It looks like pizza manufacturing, but the pizza being manufactured is indeed delicious.
There isn’t a glaring difference between these two, except that the ingredient disbursement at Pauli Gee’s seems slightly more generous. My slice of pepperoni was covered in pepperoni - the little kind that is thicker and better. The kind that curls into a cup to harbor grease. I ordered sausage at NOLA Pizza Co. and had only two clumps of sausage on a slice. The pepperoni was much better, using that same smaller better pepperoni and a lot of it. At The Crazy Italian my slice was covered with Italian sausage, cut too thick for my taste, but generous. Everyone’s pizza was a slab of melted cheese.
There is a unique pie at Pauli Gee’s which is good but peculiar, and expensive. It’s called the Freddy, named after Prinze. It has an upgrade called the Freddy Pepperoni. This is more like a Bonci thick crust which reminds me of focaccia, with cheese in the middle and sauce on top. The idea is to keep the crust crunchy by using cheese as a barrier for the sauce. Sesame seeds are pressed into the crust for extra crunch. No one loves sesame seeds more than I, but this was lost on me. I much prefer the good ole regular NY pie slice.
Now what of all this New York water talk? I have not chatted with the Pizza Delicious guys about this, and I didn’t even know of the water phenomenon when I was a regular at Brooklyn Pizza, but the hype about New York style pizza is that it’s “in the water.” New Yorkers are very proud of their water, and swear it’s the water that makes the dough that great elastic vessel for its toppings. The Crazy Italian’s owner actually showed me a bottle of New York water on his supply shelf, and told me of his filtration system. Pauli Gee’s has one of those filtration systems too. So 2021! I wonder what the Brooklyn Pizza folks would say about that.
This may not be New York, where you can walk the streets and get the favorite hometown snack on nearly every block, with no worries of “authenticity.” You will have to drive around town to satisfy that craving for this deliciously messy and addictive treat, but it is definitely worth it if you, like me, think pizza is the perfect all-in-one food. And the slices from New York the best.