L at First Ave.
Slices, $4.75-$5; pizzas, $26-$30
Houston St. to 23rd St., FDR Dr. to Fourth Ave.
Whatever the tiny shop lacks in tables and assorted other restaurant trappings—which is to say, everything—it makes up for in personality, and in very tasty, obviously homespun food. This is not dainty stuff. Portions are huge, even sloppy. Grated cheese is strewn with abandon, and tomato sauce liberally applied. The pizza is lumpy, a little heavy-handed with the muzz, occasionally burnt, and undeniably delicious. Of the three varieties usually on hand, the square Sicilian (made with a combination of fresh mozzarella, Polly-O, and a sprinkling of pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano) is our favorite, a hungry-man study in contrasting sharp, salty, sweet, and creamy flavors. The round “Margarita” is nearly as good, though you might fault its somewhat stiff, unyielding crust. The best thing the U.G. can say, however, about the artichoke-spinach pie is that Keith Richards apparently loves it. Thick, bready, and anointed with a super-creamy sauce enriched with butter and wine, it’s Garcia’s pride and joy, but kind of an acquired taste.
Outside of the décor, which includes a toothy portrait of the Kennedy brothers and a chandelier, a large part of Artichoke’s charm comes from its improvisational menu, a compendium of Italian-American dishes that pop up on the counter whenever Garcia gets around to it. None of them should be missed. If you see a batch of crusty house-baked bread, ask Francis or Sal to make you a meatball hero or a massive, juicy broccoli-rabe sandwich sprinkled with pecorino. It’s that kind of place. And don’t neglect the colossal stuffed artichokes, the joint’s namesake dish and clearly Francis Garcia’s madeleine. “They were something that we only had on the holidays,” he says, thinking back to a time when handcrafted slices like his were less of a rarity, perhaps, but just as thrilling to come across.Ideal Meal
A square slice and a round slice.