5. Zero Otto Nove
2357 Arthur Ave., nr. E. 186th St., Belmont, the Bronx; 718-220-1027
Most folks hereabouts swear the best pizza in the world hails from the 212 and 718 area codes. For Roberto Paciullo, it’s all about the 089—the area code of his Campanian hometown, Salerno. That city provided not only the name of his skylit Arthur Avenue trattoria, but the inspiration for its theatrical trompe l’oeil décor, its substantial menu, and, most important, the succession of young, moody pizzaioli taking turns at the gorgeous tile-fronted oven. Currently, Giuseppe Paciullo is manning the station, like Riccardo before him, with equal measures of apparent boredom and technical acumen. These guys have an innate feel for the dough and a knack with the peel, culminating in a textbook Neapolitan crust—soft and springy with an appealing char, topped with quality ingredients procured in neighborhood shops like the venerable Casa della Mozzarella around the corner. Speaking of cheese, the mozzarella on the Margherita is nice and fresh, a great foil for the bright, acidic sauce, while the La Riccardo pie winningly pairs smoked mozzarella with a squash cream, its potential sweetness countered by chile flakes and nubbins of pancetta.
211-213 First Ave., nr. 13th St.; 212-473-7447
Luzzo’s serves what its menu calls pizza Napoletana, but it’s not what you might think. In fact, style-wise, it’s pretty much in its own category. That’s because owner-pizzaiolo Michele Iuliano, while Naples born and bred, is unafraid to flout the rules. Sure, he flies in the buff mozz from Caserta like a good Italian pizzaiolo. And yes, he’s down with the San Marzano tomatoes. But he brazenly cooks in the coal-and-wood-fired oven (instead of the regulation wood-only) he inherited from Zito’s East, and he even disses the fetishized Neapolitan brand of flour called Caputo. “Caputo? I’m sorry, I no like,” he says. And that’s not all: He puts sugar in his dough, which among puritans is something like the equivalent of Alice Waters crop-dusting the Edible Schoolyard. Shocking, apocalyptic stuff. The result of all this roguish behavior is a crust that’s somewhere between the Neapolitan and Roman ideals. Like the Roman, it’s uniformly thin and crisp with only a modest cornicione, yet it has the silky, tender, inviting mouthfeel of the Neapolitan minus that style’s puffy, sometimes heavy chew.
7. Veloce Pizzeria
103 First Ave., nr. 6th St.; 212-777-6677
Not only has Sicilian-style pizza taken a decided backseat to its Neapolitan counterpart in the current pizza craze, but it turns out that it doesn’t even exist in Sicily—or so Sara Jenkins learned when seeking inspiration there for this new East Village joint. No matter: Sicilian is big in New York. Sometimes too big—doughy and undercooked, with no redeeming features other than sheer heft. Into this breach steps Jenkins, who is Italian by childhood residence and culinary inclination (see Porchetta, 50 Carmine, etc.) if not by blood, and her equally passionate partner, wine-and-atmosphere honcho Frederick Twomey. Their contribution to the new pizza landscape is a sophisticated stunner of a twelve-inch pan pie, distinguished by a shallow crust that’s at once springily tender and crisp (an unusual touch of potato in the dough sees to that). Toppings are of uniformly high quality, and generously applied, especially the hen-of-the-woods and oyster-mushroom combo on the funghi, and the pungent but harmonious marriage of anchovy, onion, tomato, bread crumbs, and caciocavallo in the Palermo specialty sfincione.
319 Graham Ave., at Devoe St., Williamsburg; 718-599-8899
When Neapolitan pizzaioli engage in mine-is-bigger-than-yours trash talk, chances are they’re comparing cornicioni. On that front, Mathieu Palombino has nothing to be ashamed of. His crusts are so tall and puffy they should be tethered to ropes and paraded down Broadway like Bullwinkle on Thanksgiving Day. And that’s not the only thing the Belgian chef, who’s worked the fine-dining circuit from Bouley to BLT, has mastered: His tomatoes are bright, his buffalo mozzarella sweet, and his Margherita DOC a thing of beauty. The crust exhibits a range of appealing textures, from crisp and chewy to light and airy. Of the various other pies on offer, including seasonal specials like ramps and sweet peas, we like the spicy Pugliese with sausage, burrata, and broccolini. Nearly surpassing it, though, is a football-shaped behemoth called Rocky’s Grandfather’s calzone, a sometime special stuffed with spicy sausage from Emily’s Pork Store nearby. It’s meaty reassurance for the old-timers in the Italian-American neighborhood who believe that things like sweet peas and ramps have no place on a pizza.
9. La Pizza Fresca
31 E. 20th St., nr. Broadway; 212-598-0141
A dozen years ago, when New York pizza-making was a frenzy of willy-nilly twirling and outré toppings, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana gave its official blessing to this pioneering Gramercy ristorante, declaring it the city’s only bona fide purveyor of true Neapolitan pizza. (Since then, the number of AVPN-certified pizzerias here has doubled; midtown’s Naples 45 now passes muster, too.) Say what you will about the pizza police and their motivations—a power trip, xenophobia, membership dues—the organization knows its stuff, and so does the Ecuadoran pizzaiolo here. Even when distracted by the soap opera unfolding on a concealed iPod or chatting on his cell, he’s got the ritual down: the stretching of the dough, the ladling of the sweetly acidic San Marzano tomatoes, the careful application of the mozzarella di bufala. When the pizza Margherita emerges from the wood-burning oven after the allotted two minutes, its cornicione is airy and moderately high, and its crust chewy, pliant, and soft enough to double-fold without cracking—the mark of a vera pizza napoletana, according to AVPN propaganda cards displayed on every table.