In part three of my pizza nerd-cast with Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener, we go seriously deep into New York pizza, specifically the state of the NYC slice in 2018.
Scott observed that some of the best pizza in town is being made by a new generation of pizza makers, ones that have no connection with older pizzerias. As he puts it, “They’re not someone who learned their recipe from somebody else. They’re people who are taking it upon themselves to figure out how to do it and do it right.”
When I mentioned that the quality of some of the old-school slice joints had become markedly worse, Adam reluctantly agreed.
“That’s tough ’cause I came here from Oregon…and we had no slice culture. The first six months I was here, I probably ate a slice everyday, ’cause I could,” Adam said. “But eventually I burned out on it, and then…the next time I ate a slice again, I was like ‘What did I think was so good about this? This is like rubbery cheese.'”
Of course, I had to ask both of them for their definition of the New York slice.
Adam said, “Thin crust, it’s crisp, yet flexible, it’s got tomato sauce and cheese, but they’re balanced and they’re balanced with the crust. Like, you don’t have too much sauce, you don’t have too much cheese.”
Scott’s was slightly different: “A New York slice is low-moisture mozzarella, gas oven, served on a paper plate, but the slice is bigger than the plate.”
Since we were talking slices, Scott also had some thoughts about getting a slice reheated, which was accompanied by a bit of hard-won wisdom about pizza in general. “It’s not going to be the same after the reheat,” Scott said, “but that’s sometimes part of the game. It’s like toasting; sometimes you want a slice of bread, and sometimes you want toast. They’re different. It’s not just like breadier bread. You know what I mean? So, you gotta know your pizzeria. If their fresh pies come out the way that you like it, great, but some places you will want the reheat. You just gotta know your place.”
We talk about a whole lot more in this week’s episode, including our favorite slices in all the five boroughs and the pleasures and perils associated with the metal pizza stands you find at some of the city’s great pizza places. But to hear our picks and our collective pie wisdom, you’re just going to have to listen.
And when you’ve done that, know that there’s still more geeking out about pizza to come in the near future on Serious Eats. Adam, Scott, and I have collaborated on a multi-dimensional post on the State of the New York Slice in 2018, so stay tuned.
One final note: We’re taking a break from Special Sauce next week, but we’ll be back with a new episode on September 14th.
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike. What makes a New York slice a New York slice?
Adam Kuban: Thin crust, it’s crisp yet flexible, tomato sauce and cheese, but they’re balanced and they’re balanced with the crust.
Scott Wiener: Gas oven, low moisture mozzarella, served on a paper plate, but the slice is bigger than the plate.
EL: Scott Wiener and Adam Kuban are back to talk about pizza in New York and elsewhere. Adam is the founding editor of the seminal food blog Slice.com. Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours. Let’s talk about the state of the slice. You know I wrote that story in the Times about the state of the slice in 2002, and the three of us have been working on a state of the slice post for Serious Eats, and we were taking it quite seriously I might add. We had Adam’s car to avail ourselves of, so Adam and Scott and I, we did one day in Brooklyn where we hit ten or eleven pizzerias. In Queens we hit another ten or eleven, and then of course Scott is hitting, in a given month, fifty pizzerias, right, probably? And I’ve been doing a lot of Manhattan stuff, especially in the new places. What is the state of the slice?
SW: One observation that I have about what’s been going on now, is that so much of the best pizza in the city has been coming from a new generation of pizza makers who have no connection to pizzerias in their past. They’re not handed down in their family, and they’re not someone who learned their recipe from somebody else. They’re people who are taking it upon themselves to figure out how to do it and do it right, and I think some of the top slices in New York right now, are made by those people.
EL: I couldn’t agree more. I’m so glad you said that, because one of the things that Adam and you and I experienced, we went to every old-school slice place that anyone had ever told us about, right, every one. We went to the ones in Bay Ridge, we went to the ones in Dyker Heights, we went to the one in Park Slope, obviously we went to L&B Spumoni Gardens. We went to all these places and yet we found at least, in my opinion, that the best slices were made by the new-school of slice makers that respect the slice, love the idea of selling slices, and see it as an opportunity to elevate it, not in a chef-y way, but just to make it more delicious.
SW: Yeah, maybe in a way to bring it back to what they see as its former glory.
EL: What did you perceive, Adam, when you got here, as to where the slice was at?
AK: That’s tough ’cause I came here from immediately, before this, from Oregon, and Kansas City before that where I grew up, and we had no slice culture. I love thin crust pizza, so when I got here, I was “Gah, this is heaven.” I always liked to say that the first six months I was here, I probably ate a slice everyday, ’cause I could. I didn’t have anybody. I didn’t have my mom looking after me to tell me not to. I had my own money. Got a job now. Late at night, 2 am, I gotta eat a slice. But eventually I burned out on it, and then once I burned out on it, the next time I ate a slice again, I was like “What did I think was so good about this? This is like rubbery cheese.”
EL: No, because slices have gotten bad!
EL: Right, I mean think about it. There were dollar slices. There were slices on every corner, made by people who were giving customers what they could live with, and it was a cheap lunch. It was a fairly cheap business, to your point, to set up, and so I think what was left behind was knowledge. What really went into a good slice?
SW: Yeah, and I think part of that gets left behind through the generations, because as the next generation would take over, it was sort of the process without the knowledge of why the process was happening, and so I wasn’t around while the slices may have been at their peak, I don’t know. But, you know, the slices that I was eating, or have been eating, most of the time, you could just tell what they were and that they sort of lost their edge.
EL: Yeah. Interesting, so first of all, what makes a New York slice a New York slice?
AK: Thin crust, it’s crisp, yet flexible, it’s got tomato sauce and cheese, but their balance and their balance with the crust. Like, you don’t have too much sauce, you don’t have too much cheese.
EL: And there should be discrete areas of sauce and cheese, right?
AK: Yeah, there should be.
EL: Okay. Scott, what about you? What can you add to that definition?
SW: To me, a New York slice is low-moisture mozzarella, gas oven, served on a paper plate, but the slice is bigger than the plate.
EL: So made in a gas oven, cooked in basically the same temperature?
SW: Yeah, 550 or so. I mean whatever gets you what Adam said, the crunch yet flexible.
EL: Right, and the cheese is low-moisture. And to me, I actually don’t want fresh mozzarella on my slice. I want slightly aged mozzarella ’cause I want some saltiness. With fresh mozzarella there’s no tang, at least supplied by the cheese, you know? There’s some acidity, there’s creaminess, and there’s a bunch of other things, and I know that’s like Purcell, “Oh no it’s gotta be fresh mozzarella on it.” It’s like no it doesn’t.
SW: Yeah. Low-moisture mozzarella is the cheese of the New York slice.
EL: It should be off white, almost yellow.
SW: Yeah, it should be a little shiny. It should drip a little bit.
AK: And for those following along at home, I’ll clarify. Low-moisture mozzarella, what we’re talking about, is just the stuff you get in the grocery store. You’ll often hear it, we’ll call it aged mozzarella. It’s only aged in as much as it’s not fresh out of the cow and pulled into mozzarella. So, it’s Polly-O or whatever else.
SW: Sargento, Sorrento, Galbani, Grande.
EL: And all of the elements that we’ve talked about, have to be in harmony and in balance, right? Also, the key to a great New York slice, like, when I got to New York, the slice that everyone was talking about – I don’t want to say this, it was around turn of the 20th century – no, it was the 70’s, the slice everyone talked about was Famous Ray’s at 6th avenue, and 11th street. It was a disgusting slice of pizza, okay? Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting. Have I said disgusting enough? There were probably six ounces of mozzarella on that slice. It was crazy. You could sleep on that slice if you didn’t have a mattress.
EL: You know, but that was the thing and it was completely out of balance. Like, you didn’t even see the sauce. The key to me, is balance and ratio, you know. Besides all the other things that you guys mentioned.
AK: Well, we were just defining New York slice. Good New York slice is different. Like, you don’t have to be good to be a New York slice. Wish it were, but . . .
EL: Yeah, it’s true. I just had a pizza delivered from Corner Slice, which we all love, we just indulged in, right before we got on mic. It’s a fantastic slice of square pizza, I think. And I got one delivered the other day from Caviar, one of its delivery services, and it’s a mile and a half from my house. Okay, so I know you guys are looking at me like “And you expected it to be good?” So, the pizza was delivered and it was so limp. Let’s talk about what happens when you put a pizza in a pizza box. I mean what happens? Nothing good.
SW: Well, as much as I love pizza boxes, I do not like eating pizza out of boxes at all. Because you trap all of the steam when the pie lands in that box, and you close the lid, and it doesn’t matter if you have vents on there or not, the steam is going to get trapped. And not only is it gonna soggy your crust, but it’s also going to break down the parts of that box, the recycled paper board, and that’s why you end up getting that cardboard-y flavor on a delivered pizza.
EL: It’s funny because everyone says “Oh, what’s the ideal delivered food? Pizza.” Actually no, that’s not the ideal delivered food. People can take their leftovers home at Margot’s, but I assume you’re not making pizzas to go?
AK: Well, at Margot’s it’s a pop-up I do at Emily in Clinton Hill. I don’t know if we got to it in this episode, yet but it’s a ticketed pop-up. People come, they buy tickets beforehand, they come on the given date, and they sit down and they eat the pizza, so really it’s kind of an experience more than place where you would just pop in and grab pie to go. Although, some people have taken them to go, because you know, they buy the tickets a week in advance and show up. Circumstances have changed for them, and they’re like “Hey, I need it to go.” So we make it to go for them. Honestly, if I were operating a pizzeria, I don’t care. That’s a revenue stream for me. If you want to buy my pizza and take it out the door, fine, but I will tell you it’s not the great way to eat the pizza, and I think Roberta’s might have it. They have on the box, reheating instructions. I would do something like that.
EL: So what is the ideal way to reheat a slice of pizza?
AK: Actually I think Andrew Janjigian wrote about it on Slice, Serious Eats, years ago. It’s basically, you start with a cold pan, a saute pan, hopefully with a lid. I don’t know do saute pans have lids, or sauce pans, I don’t know. Ask Kenji. You start with a pan with a lid big enough to hold the slice. Start with it cold, put it on low. As it starts to heat up, put a few drops of water in there, and then put the lid on. The water helps to, can’t remember, he’s got the science behind it on the post. But the water helps to re-moisturize the slice, and then putting the lid on creates a moist environment to help melt the cheese on the top.
EL: I’ve tried that, but the water evaporates before the slice is entirely heated. I’ve actually tried that, so I thought there may be another way.
SW: Sometimes I heat up the pan first for about a minute, then I drop the slice on there, and after maybe forty-five to sixty seconds, I’ll flip the slice over, so it’s face down for maybe ten to twenty seconds.
EL: So it won’t stick?
SW: It’s not going to stick, it’s got all of that cheese and oil and everything, but what I like about it is that the fat from the low moisture mozzarella burns off, and crisps. The when I take the slice off, I can scrap that stuff off of the pan, back on to the slice.
EL: Wow that’s genius.
SW: It is crisp, and it’s delicious. And then you just wipe the pan, and you know, you’re fine.
EL: That’s like MacArthur genius award territory.
SW: Well, thank you very much. I’ll accept this award. No, but it’s just because you want to do it quick and easy. My only issue with the wait a second, put two drops, then the lid, is just when someone’s reheating his slice, they probably don’t want to go through too many steps.
AK: That’s why I usually just put it in the toaster oven honestly at like 300 degrees.
EL: Do pizzerias store their leftover pies and slices overnight in their fridge and re-sell them when they’re open?
SW: Not the good ones.
AK: I’ve never seen it, but I’m sure I’m not in there in the morning to see what they do.
SW: I’ve heard of some places, not in New York, but I’ve heard of some places that will bake pizzas, freeze them, and then just reheat them. Don’t let that happen.
AK: That’s like bagging the popcorn at the end of the night, that you don’t sell in the movie theater, and restocking the popper with it.
EL: So do you leave slices of pizza out overnight without throwing them in the fridge?
SW: If I’m going to eat it the next morning, absolutely.
EL: I do, but you know, I’ve gotten a lot of shit from everybody who’s ever worked at Serious Eats about this.
SW: That’s why I never got a job at Serious Eats. Yeah, I’m with you. I don’t understand, they don’t want to leave the slice out? I don’t want it to get refrigerator shock.
EL: Right, so tell them.
SW: Do what you want, live your life. If I know I’m going to eat the slice, if I know I’m eating within the next twelve hours, it’s not going in the fridge.
EL: And what about this issue with freshness when it comes to slices? Can a commercial pizza oven get an older slice to the same place that a fresh slice gets to?
SW: It’s not going to be the same after the reheat, but that’s sometimes part of the game. Is it’s like toasting, you know, like sometimes you want a slice of bread, and sometimes you want toast. They’re different. It’s not just like breadier bread. You know what I mean? So, you gotta know your pizzeria. If their fresh pies come out the way that you like it, great, but some places you will want the reheat. You just gotta know your place.
EL: You know, one question that I’ve always had is, you know when you get two pizzas, and they bring that holder? You know so you can stack pizzas essentially, or you can just put them up. Do you regard that as a sound invention?
AK: Absolutely. When I’m at a pizzeria, and I’m sitting there, and I order, and you’re sitting there drinking your drinks, talking. When that stand comes out, usually that stand comes out about three to five minutes before your pizza comes, but you’re sitting there. When you see them carrying the stand, you hope it’s for your table. They put it on your table, you’re like “yeah, my pizza’s coming.” And then the pizza comes, so absolutely, if I open a place, and god willing, I’m gonna do it, I’m absolutely having stands, and that is part of the pizza theater, that’s the stagecraft of a pizzeria, is the stand.
EL: Oh wait, Scott may have a different –
SW: No, I love that moment. It happens to me everyday, and I love it more and more every day. My one hope is for Adam, for you, when you open, I’m not even going to give you instruction here, but I just want pizzerias to think about those stands, and how the customer interacts with them, ’cause so often I see stands that are not good at holding on the pie, and then they kind of whack them off, and then are the pizzas not cut right, so then as people try to jiggle the spatula under it, and then everything topples. So, I –
AK: No spatula. Why do you need a spatula? Just grab it with your hands. I mean –
SW: I’m with you on that.
EL: Wait, you even have a term for grabbing it with your hands, for sliding it –
SW: Oh, yeah with the snag ‘n drag. It’s because I see this happen everyday. When somebody grabs a slice from the tray, picks it up vertically so that the tip hangs down toward the core of the earth, everything falls off of it, and you’re like “guys, think about it. If you bring your plate right up to the tray, drag the slice horizontally, it’s all good.” Anyway, have you seen the pizza stand at Nicoletta?
EL: No, I’m sorry. I may have, but I don’t remember. Genius?
SW: It’s crazy.
AK: I love it.
EL: What is it? So this is Michael White, the Italian chef, Michael White’s pizzeria on 2nd Avenue, and what makes it have a distinctive stand?
SW: Number one, it locks into the table, so the table’s already got a little port in it that the thing locks straight in. Number two, it’s magnetized, so when you put the tray onto it, it magnetizes onto the stand.
EL: That’s MacArthur genius stuff.
SW: That is, seriously.
AK: I didn’t realize it had the magnet.
SW: Yeah, it’s so cool
AK: Wait, so what kind of pans are they? It must be putting, I guess a steel pan, ’cause they’re not putting aluminum on there.
EL: Yeah, for sure.
SW: I’m telling ‘ya.
EL: So let’s talk a little bit in the time we have left, about places in Brooklyn we went. So we went to a lot of the old school places, right? We went to Delmar, we went to L&B, and you schooled me at L&B about what I considered to be uncooked dough. You call it the gumline, and you explained to me that just because it looks like it’s not cooked, doesn’t mean that it’s actually not cooked. So, explain that.
SW: Right, so this is like a big pizza industry kind of buzz word kind of thing. When you look at the crust section of a slice, and see that kind of grayish area underneath the sauce, that could be undercooked dough, and it could be un-proper fermentation or cold sauce and cheese that goes onto the dough, whatever it is, uncooked. So, what we did that day at L&B is I showed you how if you flip the slice upside down and then tear it from the underside of the crust toward the top. . .
EL: You get a completely different experience.
SW: Yeah, and the problem that happens is when you slice that pizza, it pushes the tomato down into the crevice between slices and that can give you the visual effect of undercooked dough. So by ripping it from the bottom up, you’ll reveal if there really is undercooked dough.
AK: This is some deep shit right here.
SW: Also, the undercooked dough will separate from the rest of the crust when you rip.
EL: Yeah, but we like L&B right? We still love L&B.
SW: Oh I love it, gummy or not.
EL: You know, L&B has been around forever, and it has a few distinctive qualities, right? The sauce is put on first, right?
SW: The cheese is put on first.
EL: The cheese is put on first, and then the sauce, and they do have some cheese baked into the crust.
SW: Oh yeah. Pecorino.
EL: And it’s really good, it’s really salty. We also liked a place in Park Slope called Luigi’s. That guy is totally old -chool. Nobody talks about it in the annals of great New York slices, but we really thought that slice was a damn good slice, you know?
AK: It’s a definitive slice.
SW: It’s the truth, the honest truth of New York pizza.
EL: Yeah, and we know, we went to Delmar, and then let’s talk about Di Fara. You know, he’s a legend. You said something really interesting when we had our Di Fara pizza, and that his pizza has evolved. He’s still the only one making pizza there, I think, but he doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, and there’s not as much theater. He’s not snipping his own herbs, he’s not using buffalo milk mozzarella anymore, but you said you know what, you were gonna cut him some slack ’cause it’s still a damn good piece of pizza and he’s still Domenico De Marco, and he’s been making pizza there, you know, however many years.
SW: Yeah, since ’65. It’s another thing that comes up everyday for me is people ask about Di Fara, because it’s the pilgrimage pizzeria of New York City. It’s going there, and waiting in that line and the whole deal, but then the things that people talk about have become so much of legend. Exactly what you just said. “Oh I heard he’s growing.” People always say that he’s growing his own herbs in the window, and I don’t think that was ever the case. He put a stack of dried oregano in the window.
EL: It’s a marketing ploy.
AK: He had a rosemary plant in the window at some point.
SW: Yeah, I remember that. It was dead.
AK: It probably was.
SW: I do remember the first time I ever went, and the theater was the real deal, and this was before I ever read anything about it. A friend told me to go, and he had the cassette tape of opera playing, and when one side ended, he walked slowly over to the cassette deck, opened it, flipped it, and it didn’t even have auto reverse, and put it back in, and then boom.
EL: That’s awesome, and he was still yanking all the pizzas with his bare hands
SW: Yeah, when he wants to.
EL: Yeah he still does, which is kind of crazy. So we went to J&V, which was an old school, solid place, but not at the level of the newer places we went to, right? Best Pizza at Williamsburg started by a chef, you know, and he has added his own touches. It’s a very light slice, doesn’t he use some Romano cheese on it, or … I can’t remember. It’s certainly salty. I don’t know what gives with the saltiness.
SW: There’s definitely Pecorino on the white slice.
EL: Got it.
SW: I think on the cheese slice, I don’t think there is.
EL: Got it.
SW: But, yeah, it’s a great pizza.
EL: It’s great pizza. Thin crust, but pliant and I’ve never had a bad slice, even when it looks old.
AK: Now, it’s interesting there, aren’t they using fresh mozz?
SW: Yeah, he’s making it in house. But, it’s funny, the mozzarella that he’s making is not … Oh, gee. I want to make sure I’m accurate here. He doesn’t go through the process to the full extent that most cheese makers would. Where they pull it into a ball and it’s a high-moisture ball. He roughly pulls it together, and then lets it dry, and then puts it into a ball into a plastic bag. Then rips it up, shreds it up.
SW: A little different, but it is fresh made in house.
EL: And then a place that you told me about, that I didn’t know about, L’industrie?
SW: Oh, yeah! L’industrie.
EL: He’s an Italian dude.
SW: Masimo. Yeah.
EL: And it was really good. And not like any other slice I’ve ever had in New York. Talk about it Scott.
SW: One of the things we’re running into now is the re-Italianization of pizza. And not in a way that says one way is right, and one way is wrong. It’s not an Italian machismo thing. It’s more like this Italian guy making New York Style pizza, but in the way that he would do naturally. His little Ricotta dabs are more floral looking. He’s got more fresh cured meat on top. Not fresh cured meat. He’s got cured meats on top. It’s just a really cool, good pie in a tiny 300 square foot space.
EL: And, those were the two best slices of pizza we had in Brooklyn, to me.
SW: Adam, you got to L’industrie?
AK: Yeah. We went when we went with Peter Reinhart.
EL: Peter Reinhart the famous pizza maker and bread baker who was a seminal pizza maker in the States, would you say? Or, the first bread baker slash chef that was serious about pizza?
SW: After I read A Slice of Heaven I read American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.
EL: Yeah. He and I used to talk all the time. In Queens, we really didn’t find any new-school pizza that we loved. Right? We went to Rizzo’s for their distinctive thin crust square … rectangle, I guess. With that strange single slice of mozzarella, of dry … of aged mozzarella. And a little bit of sauce. It is so minimalist and they have a place in Manhattan. But, it still kind of speaks to me.
SW: Yeah. It’s fun. It’s got that biscuity, dense crust.
EL: It’s a biscuity crust, it’s true. And then we also went to a place, that I think you guys might’ve liked a little bit more than I did. We went to Danny’s House of Pizza in Kew Gardens. Wow was that place, Kew Gardens, oh my god. It’s like hurdling back in time. It’s a real old-fashioned neighborhood in Queens, and you get off the subway, or maybe I got off the Long Island Railroad, and you’re right there.
SW: Yes, you did, remember? I didn’t realize, and I go there all the time. I didn’t realize that the Long Island Railroad goes under the building.
EL: Yeah, it was nuts. It had a very sweet sauce, if I remember, right? He must add a lot of sugar to the sauce.
SW: Oh yeah.
EL: And there’s nothing chef-y about it, but it’s a very satisfying slice of pizza.
SW: Super satisfied, but when we talk about places like that, or when I talk about it with people on tours, they might say something like “Oh, I don’t like it, the sauce is so sweet,” and it’s like if you don’t like sweet sauce, a place like Danny’s, you will never like that pizza. You know, it’s just a characteristic of it. That’s the hard part about determining what slices are good and what are not.
EL: And then we all like New Park, and Howard Beach. Right near JFK of course, will forever be linked to the gang that chased the African American man onto the Belt Parkway, I believe. They make a great slice. It seems like the oven gets hotter, I mean what kind of oven is that?
SW: That’s an old, brick-lined oven that’s got like a flamethrower inside. I think it used to be a coal fire oven that was just repurposed. They do that thing where they throw the salt on the floor of the oven, every hour or two?
SW: Yeah, so the underside of your pie, it picks up little salt crystals.
EL: Wow, that’s crazy. And in Manhattan, which is a really interesting borough for pizza, everyone rightfully loves Joe’s. Joe’s is still a remarkably consistent slice of pizza, and it’s the pizza that if you talk to people either in Manhattan or or out, and when their friends are coming in from out of town, they always say go to Joe’s. And even chefs, I remember all kinds of Italian chefs like, that’s where I go for my midnight slice. The original Joe’s is on Carmine. I just found a Joe’s on 14th and 1st, or 14th and 2nd? And by the way, I tried a slice and it was very consistent. Didn’t they open one in Brooklyn, but that didn’t work out?
SW: No, its still there. On Bedford and North 5th in Williamsburg.
AK: And there’s one by Times Square now.
EL: And there’s one in Times Square?
AK: And one in Shanghai. It’s weird.
EL: That’s so great. And also, we all love our friend Joe’s at Pizza Suprema. Adam remembers our first office was at 27th and 7th, and we used to call and because I put Joe in A Slice of Heaven, you know, I was like Joe, okay we need this much pizza, and no matter what we ordered, he’d send five pies and you know, we’d just have to tip the hell out of the delivery man, because he wouldn’t accept any money.
AK: Yeah, even now when I go in, I like seeing him, but sometimes I hope he’s not here, because I want to actually pay, and I don’t want him to feel like I’m taking advantage of him, because he will not take my money when I go if he sees me.
EL: Right, and so another sweet sauce, that he swears doesn’t have sugar, but we know it does, and it’s delicious, and really you know high quality, probably Grande aged mozzarella. That’s a really fine slice of pizza, but then, Manhattan has the place where we just talked about, Corner Slice which is very chef-y and uses all kinds of cheese, but is a feather light piece of square pizza. To me, that is a phenomenal slice. I don’t know what you guys think of it.
SW: Yeah, I love it. The crust is fragrant and has a crunch, but is light on the inside.
EL: And then a place you told me about, or maybe, no you told me about, Scott, is a place called Scarr’s. A guy who used to make pizza at Lombardi’s, and the first time I walked in, thanks to you, he’s like “I know you man, you’re Ed Levine.”
SW: Second time you ever got spotted. Firs time was Adam.
EL: He said “You’re Levine, you used to come into Lombardi’s all the time when I made pizza there.” And he’s milling some of his own flour. I mean that’s crazy, and that pizza is delicious, and I did have a slice of Sicilian that was just too crusty. It tasted stale.
SW: He’s always changing the Sicilian. That’s what I was eyeballing before I ordered, but the regular pie is-
EL: Phenomenal, yeah. Have you been to Scarr’s?
AK: I’ve been to Scarr’s once. I need to get back.
EL: Yeah, it’s really really really good. And then a place that you and I have talked about briefly, we didn’t go together, is called Fiore’s.
SW: Oh yeah.
EL: Fiore’s is a very solid Staten Island-derived slice, right?
SW: Exactly, yeah. It’s sort of an homage to the Joe & Pat’s style.
EL: Right. Describe what a Joe & Pat’s slice is.
SW: Thin, flat crust all the way to the edge and discrete cubes of low-moisture mozzarella, rather than shredded with full coverage.
EL: Yes, it’s very minimalist, and sometimes the pizza’s been lying around way too long, ’cause I’m not sure how much volume they do.
SW: Well you’re two blocks from Joe’s, but that’s a place where I like the reheat at Fiore’s better than the fresh, but at Joe’s I like the fresh better than the reheat.
EL: Interesting, and then a place that I think Adam turned me on to, is my savior, ’cause they’ll almost deliver to me and that’s a place called Mama’s Too.
SW: Yeah, I finally went, did I tell you?
SW: Oh, yeah I finally went twice.
SW: Two days in a row.
EL: So that’s an interesting place, because his family owns a generic or worse slice place on 106th and Amsterdam called Mama’s. And then he decided he wanted to make serious pizza, so he opens a place called Mama’s Too on 105th and Broadway where both the Neapolitan slice and the square slice are excellent, great ingredients, he obviously knows what he’s doing, and it’s a god end. It’s a couple blocks north of Sal’s & Carmines, which I have a soft spot in my heart, and will always have a soft spot, because I used to go when it was just Sal’s on 9th and 5th and Broadway in the 70’s, that’s how old I am gentlemen. If you talk to anyone who lives in the upper west side, they swear by that place, you know? But I don’t think we put it in our slice pantheon now at this point.
SW: Our discussion always comes back to, there are neighborhood slices and destination slices.
EL: Right, right, and how far you’re willing to travel. Like I would travel for Mama’s Too, I would travel for Corner Slice, I would probably even travel for Joe’s. And then in the Bronx, we haven’t been together, but we’ve all been individually, many times, there’s a place called Louie & Ernie’s in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx, right, and we all have a soft spot. What do we love about Louie & Ernie’s?
SW: I mean, but I gotta say, I posted a picture on Instagram of a sausage slice . . . every comment was about how it looked like cat shit.
AK: Come on.
SW: But the picture kind of did, but it tasted so good. But no, that’s a great slice.
EL: A regular cheese slice is solid.
SW: With a little bit of cornmeal on the underside, and a little texture, and then put a pinch of black pepper on the center, so that your first bite has it.
EL: That’s awesome, and on Staten Island, we did reference Joe & Pat’s, which is a favorite of all of ours. The slice is enjoying a Renaissance, because our friend Paulie Gee is going to eventually open his long awaited Paulie Gee’s slice place. What neighborhood is that?
SW: It’s in Greenpoint, right around the corner from Paulie Gee’s.
EL: Oh it is? I didn’t know that was still Greenpoint.
SW: Yeah it’s right on Franklin.
EL: The pictures on instagram look great.
AK: They look insane.
SW: I’ve read at least three articles about pizza in New York that mention his slice shop that’s not even open yet, that’s not even finished yet, doesn’t even have a floor.
EL: And then Joe & Pat’s opened in Manhattan, right?
SW: But it’s not by the slice.
EL: Oh it’s not by the slice?
SW: I don’t think they do it by the slice.
EL: That’s sad. And then Di Fara’s opened up a second place in Williamsburg, which I haven’t been to. I’ve seen pictures, they look pretty good, not the same, but pretty good. And then did Denino’s open in Manhattan?
SW: Yeah, on MacDougal.
EL: But that’s not a slice place, right?
EL: So, will the slice ever become ubiquitous outside the pizza belt?
SW: I don’t think pizza by the slice is gonna make waves anywhere else. If it hasn’t by now, it’s not going to become a big thing elsewhere, and that’s why people love to say things like “oh, how come I can’t get good pizza in L.A., or Boston?” And what they’re saying is that they can’t get pizza by the slice, and it’s not because of something about the ingredients, it’s just something about the way people eat food.
EL: Let’s talk about this whole thing that came out of Saturday Night Fever, which was folding slices, you know the way he folded two slices so he could eat two slices at once. First of all, how do you feel about folding pizza?
AK: I’m not a fan.
AK: I mean you’ve got a pizza where it’s crust, sauce, cheese, so you’re biting down on cheese first. You fold it, you just made it a sandwich. Now you’re eating crust and crust.
EL: It seems to me like there’s so much going on in pizza in New York. Bar pies, Detroit pizza, I’ve noticed there are all these Detroit slice places that I haven’t tried and of course, Emily has put Detroit pizza on our minds when we’re in New York, and it’s good.
SW: Yeah, Detroit pizza is a pan-baked Sicilian pizza that’s topped with cheese before sauce, and the cheese runs directly up to the edge of the pan so that when it bakes the cheese tends to burn around the perimeter of the pie, and it’s served normally by the whole pizza, and more recently available by the slice at some places.
EL: We should say it’s rectangular shaped, and of course the famous ones in Detroit are the seminal ones where Buddy’s, and Cloverleaf?
SW: Buddy’s, Cloverleaf, Louie’s.
EL: And they still exist.
SW: Yeah. Still there.
EL: And I barely covered it in A Slice of Heaven.
SW: Cause it wasn’t at that time, it was just pizza.
EL: And actually a Detroit chef friend of mine shipped me slices from Buddy’s.
SW: Right after the book came out?
EL: No, before. It was crazy.
SW: Well, it was funny, it was such a sleeper, that stuff has been around since the 40’s and I never heard of it, and I blame Adam because he never wrote about it on Slice. I’m just kidding.
AK: No, it’s true, we never really write about it much, and the first time I had it, was ironically, a Domino’s flew me out to their corporate headquarters. Pizza Hut, you still need to have me, because I’ve been to Domino’s and Papa Johns.
SW: That’s hilarious.
AK: Domino’s flew me out to their corporate headquarters for like some kind of pizza contest they’re having where people could submit their topping combos, and I was a judge in that. Then, we got to tour the Domino’s facility, which was fascinating by the way, but at night when we were free to go back to our hotel, I rented a car and I drove to Buddy’s.
EL: You know he once called me after New York Eats came out and just left a message on my phone, my home phone, “If you’re the Ed Levine who wrote New York Eats, will you call Tom Monaghan.” Okay, who’s playing a joke on me? So I can him, and he goes “Yeah, somebody gave me your book, like it was the best book about food I’ve ever read. Will you help us make sandwiches at Dominos?” So he flew me out to Ann Arbor. It was so weird, like the whole thing was so intense, and I it ended up doing a little bit of consulting for Dominos. What a long, strange trip it’s been.
SW: You created the lava cake?
EL: I created the lava cake. Do you think there’s an infinite capacity for new and good pizza in New York of all kinds?
SW: I think that there’s heightened interest in exploring the boundaries, now that the floodgates have opened with things like Detroit-style becoming accepted. Remember when only a couple years ago when articles were being published about “Oh, will New York accept a different city’s style? They rejected Chicago, but now what about this?” And you know there’s new stuff in the pipeline that’s gonna be opening that’s not traditional New York-style, and I think it’s awesome. I think that I’m shocked that New York still is ready for more, but at this point I’ve been convinced on it, so it’s like okay let’s go.
EL: Does Detroit have a chance of spreading?
SW: It already has. It’s huge, big time. The pizza magazines are covering it all the time, and at the trade shows, there are seminars and lectures all about it. I mean that’s just a way you can see what’s going to happen in the industry is, where are all the pizza makers? What are they thinking about? ‘Cause they’ve all got Detroit on their mind.
EL: And now with people like our friend Anthony Falco who’s this pizza consultant and there are all these stories recently about “wow, there’s something called a pizza consultant” and yes it’s a cool thing, and Anthony’s a really good pizza maker, and of course he made his name at Roberta’s. One of the results of there being pizza consultants is that Anthony Falco is helping people make great pizza all over this town.
SW: All over the world. Yeah, ’cause he’s a guy who likes good pizza, and he doesn’t care what it’s called. He likes good pizza that’s made well and with thought. And so now that he’s being hired around to work with other restaurants, it’s in a way better place than when people used to hire consultants which have been around for decades, but the consultants used to say “oh well, let’s see what you’re margin’s gonna be on this, how should we reorganize your menu, this is an easier way to dumb it down.”
EL: Right, and he’s got standards.
EL: Yeah. And you say it’s all over his consulting our pizzeria’s in San Paulo, and you know Singapore. It really does speak to the universal appeal of pizza which sort of takes us back to the beginning of this discussion. Which is kind of awesome. So, thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us, Scott Wiener and Adam Kuban. If you’re at all interested in pizza, you must go on one of Scott’s pizza tours, and if you want to eat a lot of great pizza, for a good cause, we didn’t even get a chance to talk about your fantastic charity event called Slice Out Hunger.
EL: Where you raise, you know, fifty thousand dollars by having pizzerias make a lot of pizzas that all gets delivered to one place and then people can buy it for a dollar a slice, and all the proceeds, right, go to fight hunger in New York.
SW: Exactly, all the great places.
EL: That’s awesome, and if you love pizza, snag a spot at one of the monthly Margot’s Pizza pop-ups, but act fast. How fast, Scott? We’re talking . . .
AK: 30 seconds.
SW: Maybe 12 seconds?
EL: 30 seconds. And look for our collective effort on Serious Eats as we explore in glorious detail the state of the slice in New York in 2018. Thanks again guys.
AK: Thank you.
SW: Thanks so much.
EL: Always a pleasure, and we’ll see you next time Serious Eaters.