271 Bleecker St., nr. Morton St.; 212-243-1500
At the risk of being run out of town by an angry, pizza-peel-wielding mob, we have to concede that the No. 1 pizza in New York is no longer Italian-American, but straight out of Naples. So much for 100 years of local tradition. Not only that, the top pie is made by a former cheese salesman from Italy named Roberto Caporuscio, who in his spare time serves as the American-chapter president of the Associazone Pizzaiouli Napoletana (an organization dedicated to teaching any pizza maker with ten days’ time and $4,000 to spare the error of his ways). Also, Caporuscio is on record as saying that “it’s not that New York pizza is bad, it’s just that it isn’t Neapolitan.” And did we mention that the name of his four-month-old pizzeria is Kesté? Translation from the native dialect: “This is it.” If all that sounds like a bit much, it’s not without merit. Tucking into Kesté’s “Regina Margherita” can seem like eating pizza for the first time. A few bites in, and you’re struck by the sensation that life, such as it is, may have nothing more to offer. Chalk it up to a superb Neapolitan crust—soft and tender, charred and chewy—with a mountainous cornicione (crust edge) full of the moist and wildly articulated pockets of air that aficionados associate with long fermentation and advanced dough-stretching techniques. (Despite the fact that he looks like he could bench-press a brick oven, Caporuscio is to the delicate art of stretching dough as Tiger Woods is to sinking putts. He has the touch.) More than that, credit this pizza’s remarkable balance of flavor. Never in this town have oozy blobs of melted buffalo mozzarella and brightly flavored San Marzano tomatoes frolicked in such ecstatic harmony.
2. Una Pizza Napoletana
49 E. 12th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-477-9950
No one is as passionate about pizza as Anthony Mangieri. No one in New York, and no one in Naples. He has his code, and he sticks to it—like glue. He won’t put anything on a pizza he doesn’t believe belongs on a pizza, and what he believes belongs on a pizza you can practically count on one hand. His ingredients are unsurpassed, and so are his prices ($21 a pie). His dough-making procedure takes 36 hours to complete, and since refrigeration would compromise his and its integrity, he makes only a limited amount each day. When he runs out, that’s it, shop closed. Naturally, this annoys people who have a more relaxed attitude about pizza. Mangieri ignores those people. He figures they’d be better off at Chuck E. Cheese. His is the only opinion that matters, and the proof, he knows, is in the pie. And what a pie it is—tender and juicy, the crust deeply flavored by its marathon fermentation. The cornicione has the right amount of soft chew, the outer surface a fleeting, paper-thin crackle. The cheese, tomato, and basil acquit themselves nicely, and the wood-fired char is so delicate it melts in your mouth the way Japanese bonito flakes do.
295 Flatbush Ave., nr. Prospect Pl., Prospect Heights; 718-230-0221
Franny’s might be New York’s most polarizing pizzeria. Either you’re for its Pollan-endorsed ecosustainable ingredient-fetishizing party line, or you’re eye-rollingly against it. Of course, for nonpartisan palates, pizza speaks louder than politics. A true hybrid, the Franny’s pie takes its inspiration from two sources: Campania, where self-trained pizzaiolo Andrew Feinberg procures not only his D.O.C. buffalo mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes, but the conviction to serve his pies unsliced; and California, wellspring of the local-and-seasonal spirit that imbues the menu. Interestingly, Feinberg had never stepped foot in Naples before opening Franny’s, which may be why he seems unbound by convention, happily swapping King Arthur flour from Vermont for the Neapolitan standard Caputo “00” and aspiring to a lighter, thinner crust than the Neapolitan norm, singed and bubbly with a notable chew. There are some who’d say the defining characteristic of a Franny’s pie is the quality of its impeccably sourced toppings, like the flowering broccoli that made a springtime cameo, or the miraculously unrubbery littlenecks that grace the white clam pie, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong—eye-rolling notwithstanding.
230 Ninth Ave., at 24th St.; 212-243-1105
Ever since Sullivan Street Bakery bread master Jim Lahey flung open its doors last January, there have been nasty comments about the name (pretentious), the room (stark), the service (snotty), even the salads (underdressed and wimpy). Of course, no one is going to Co. for the room or the service, or the leafy greens. They’re going for the round, rustic-looking pizzas that the voluble Lahey has gone to great lengths to dissociate from the Neapolitan ideal. How, precisely? By speaking out against the tyranny of the Italian tomato, a non-native New World export, and the “mozzarella cliché”; and, most brazenly, by using a gas-fired Earthstone oven (instead of a wood-burning one crafted painstakingly by ruddy Neapolitan peasants). But Lahey’s dough—the product of his signature “no-knead” technique—is delightfully different: salty, full of tiny nooks and crannies, with a nice airy chew and an almost uniform thickness from tip to rim. It’s supple and a bit bready, in a good way, and sturdy enough for inspired combos like the Ham and Cheese (a caraway-seeded mélange of Pecorino, Gruyère, and buffalo mozzarella draped with prosciutto), or our current favorite, the Stracciatella, a hot and cold, sweet and salty, raw and cooked union of chunky tomato, creamy cheese, and peppery Greenmarket arugula.