April/May 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 2
A coast-to-coast guide to America’s 10 (well, actually 11) greatest pizzas
I know of no Supreme Court decisions on what constitutes a pizza in America, but if the Justices ever need guidance, they might well turn to the rubrics drawn up by the august Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana that stipulates exactly what does and does not constitute a true Neapolitan pizza, including ingredients, size, cooking method, oven temperature, and the height of the crust’s edges. Here are some in the United States that I think would handily pass the test; they have certainly passed my own personal taste test.
32 Spring Street, New York, N.Y., 212-941-7994. You gotta hand it to them: Lombardi’s was apparently the first to sell pizza in America, and it was clearly the standard the pizzerias that followed had to meet or beat. It is still a great pizza— misshapen, steaming, slightly puffy, with a yeasty crust and wonderful gooeyness to the creamy, full-flavored cheese. The pizza bianca (white pizza), with three cheeses, garlic, and olive oil, is pretty terrific too.
278 Bleecker Street, New York, N.Y., 212-243-1680. There’s almost always a line out the door for John’s impeccable pies, which have a good chewy crust and nice balance of sauce to mozzarella. Practice makes perfect, and they go through thousands of pies each week here, at the original Greenwich Village location and at two others uptown that are just as good, if not so evocative.
2342 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, N.Y., 718-584-1188. If a business has been around since 1919 and is into its fourth generation of family members keeping things the old way (in this case the Miglucci family), and if every “New Yawk” sports figure and plenty of politicians wanting the Bronx vote come here, you know something good is cooking. The pizza at Mario’s, prepared by Joe Miglucci, is paramount for its flavors, the bubbly crust, and the good vibes of this cordial family eatery.
200 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y., 212-972-7001. To look at this sprawling, sleek trattoria adjacent to Grand Central Terminal, you’d think it is just too slick to be good. But Restaurant Associates put its clout, money, and resources into every aspect of creating a great pizza, including locating water with the same mineral content as in Naples and special-ordering the flour. The result is a superb pizza, and the wood-burning ovens turn them out every two or three minutes, with a good layering of cheese in counterpoint to the tomatoes.
1524 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y., 718-372-8606. Certainly the best of the Brooklyn pizzerias, Totonno’s (now with branches in Manhattan and Yonkers, New York) is as much a part of going to Coney Island as grabbing a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous. Once known for its screaming, eccentric owner (now retired), Totonno’s is a far easier place to like these days, as much for its ambience as for its perfect pizzas.
157 Wooster Street, New Haven, Conn., 203-865-5762
237 Wooster Street, 203-624-5271. These are the two famous pizzerias on Wooster Street that give New Haven its reputation for great pies, and, frankly, I give even odds on who makes the better pizza. Pepe’s has garnered more national attention, and the pies can be fabulous, but the wait is long, the waitresses are brusque, and the pizza guys take their time getting your pie out. Sally’s, here since 1938 and very proud of its pizzas, is a bit more lovable. Both make the New Haven specialty, a clam pizza, which I’ve yet to learn to love.
577 Main Street, Providence, R.I., 401-273-9767. Providence has a number of good pizzerias, and Al Forno is really a full-scale restaurant that got famous for Johanne Killen and George Germon’s grilled pizzas, made from dough stretched and placed on a blazing wood-fired grill, then turned and topped with ingredients. The smokiness is a great part of these pizzas’ appeal, but the crust attains a hot, bubbly charring that is as delicious as the toppings themselves.
176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, Calif., 310-385-0880. Swankier than this restaurants do not get—Wolfgang Puck’s wildly successful glam palace in Beverly Hills. But the original Spago (now closed) was set up as a pizzeria and grill, and the young Puck pioneered great pizza in California, even as he came up with marvelous new ideas for them, like a “Jewish pizza” topped with smoked salmon, sour cream, and caviar. Avoid his frozen pizza line in the supermarkets but go for the original Puck pizza at Spago.
623 East Adams Street, Phoenix, Ariz., 602-258-8300. Phoenix is not a town where you expect to find great pizza, but Bronx-born Chris Bianco has become a legend for his commitment to perfecting this single item of gastronomy. Many believe he has, with house-made mozzarella, luscious tomatoes, and fresh herbs, along with some other items like sausage and a few sandwiches thrown in for good measure.
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, Calif., 510-548-5049. Alice Waters’s great distinction as a chef and restaurateur is that she started out asking, “Why can’t everything in America taste the way it does in Europe?” Thus was born the great Chez Panisse and upstairs a café that serves salads and pizzas any Neapolitan would be proud of, even if Waters gets a little Californian with her toppings.