Like the fashion world, the New York pizza business is a cyclical beast. A period of wild innovation, like the grilled-pizza boomlet from a couple years back, and, more recently, Mario Batali’s great griddled-pie experiment at Otto, usually precipitates a return to a more traditional approach. Sure enough, 2004 may go down as the most exciting year for pizza purists since Gennaro Lombardi first plucked a hot pie out of his coal oven. Like just about every other edible thing in New York, pizza has gone artisanal. A feisty new flock of pizzaiuoli are making their own cheese (or importing mozzarella di bufala from Italy), growing their own herbs and greens, curing their own pepperoni. Pizza is suddenly serious business. And just in time: With notable exceptions, like the Coney Island Totonno’s and relative newcomer Nick’s, the great old New York pizza places—Lombardi’s, John’s, and Patsy’s—have increasingly been caught coasting on their bloated reputations and gone-haywire Zagat ratings. With the closing of Joe’s (the one on the corner that counted, not the other one up the block), the slice-joint scene is in even worse shape, inducing nostalgia addicts to Q-train it out to Di Fara in Brooklyn, where owner Domenico De Marco almost singlehandedly upholds the tradition. Or to Sullivan Street Bakery, where even old-school slicehounds must admit that the very un-New York, Roman-style square slice served at room temperature is one of the best in town. The pizzaiuoli of 2004 consider themselves traditionalists, and, with the exception of Di Fara’s Manhattan spinoff, De Marco’s, look more to Naples than to New York for inspiration. In New York, of course, pizza’s much more than food—it’s fodder for endless debate about crust, sauce, cheese, fuel, toppings, and the heat-conductive merits of Vesuvian lava stone. Besides a new wave of worthy pizzerias, this year brought us yet another hot-button issue: To slice, or, as Franny’s and Una Pizza Napoletana have controversially dared, not to slice? That, pizza fans, is the question. Below, the new pizza players.
According to the menu, the salami and garlic sausage are house-made, the parsley for the pesto comes from a New Paltz farm, and even the meatballs are made from grass-fed Maine cattle. That might sound like a political statement, but it’s also proof that sustainable farming, organic ingredients, and adherence to preachy Slow Food tenets make for really tasty pizza. A good brick oven and expert technique help, too, and chef Andrew Feinberg has it down. Witness his super-crisp, deeply charred, almost medieval crust, masterfully topped, especially in the case of the house-cured salami pie.
295 Flatbush Ave., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-230-0221
Consider Michael Ayoub’s approach a tug-of-war between a purist’s devotion to good ingredients—he grows his own herbs, greens, and vegetables and makes his own mozzarella—and a hedonist’s urge to pile it on a bit thick. Some of the pizzas on the menu under the heading “the Third Generation” have too many ingredients, but the classic styles—the margherita “classica” and marinara—are terrific.
187 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-384-6004
It’s too early to know for sure, with De Marco’s official opening scheduled for this week. But if anyone—besides Di Fara legend Domenico De Marco himself—can resuscitate the dying art of the slice, it’s his offspring, three of whom run this full-service (and takeout) joint specializing in classic New York and thin Sicilian-style pies, both made with a blend of three cheeses, including mozzarella di bufala, and San Marzano tomatoes. After a minor dispute about the name (Domenico nixed plans to call it Di Fara at the eleventh hour), the gas oven has been lit, and hopeful pizza connoisseurs await the results.
146 W. Houston St.; 212-253-2290
Light and puffy where it should be, tender and tasty throughout, and minimally topped so you experience alternate states of giddy delight in each bite, this is Neapolitan-style pizza made with house-made fior di latte cheese (best experienced on the margherita pie) by a native Neapolitan by way of Martha’s Vineyard’s Chilmark Store.
72 Fifth Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-638-4760
Una Pizza Napoletana
Una’s young, talented, and tattooed owner, Anthony Mangieri, is such a stickler, he serves only four types of pizza—marinara, margherita, bianca, and a comparatively risqué one adorned with cherry tomatoes in place of crushed San Marzanos, all made with mozzarella di bufala, save the first, and Sicilian sea salt, cooked in two minutes in a wood-fired brick oven, and served unsliced. This is pizza unlike any other in the city and maybe even Naples—unbelievably pure, fragrant, tender-crusted, and flavorful—and Mangieri knows it. That’s why he works his magic only when the spirit moves him—Thursday through Sunday, up until the dough runs out.
349 E. 12th St.; 212-477-9950