Cheap-Slice Showdown: St. Marks 2 Bros. Pizza vs. 99 Cent Fresh Pizza

From left: St. Marks 2 Bros. Pizza, 542 Ninth Ave, New York NY 10018 (at West 40th Street; map). 99¢ Fresh Pizza, 569 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10036 (at 41st Street; map). Click all photos for larger versions. These and all subsequent photos feature 2 Bros. on left and 99¢ on right.

Fig. 1: A side-by-side comparison of St. Marks 2 Bros. Pizza and 99¢ Fresh Pizza slices.

Yesterday afternoon, Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch issued a challenge via blog and tweet. He claims he doesn't know much about pizza and wanted my opinion on the hot new pizza rivalry occurring within the realm of his blog's coverage.

But first, some history: Just west of the Port Authority Bus Terminal on the northwest corner of 41st Street and Ninth Avenue is 99¢ Fresh Pizza. This bargain pizzeria has been king of the cheap slices for about three years—eventually opening up a branch on 43rd Street and Third Avenue, which in turn inspired other pizzeria-delis in the area to drop slice prices to a dollar. While 99¢ Fresh Pizza has only two locations, it has claimed the majority of dollar-slice mindshare in this town, thanks to its first-mover status and the fact that its cheapassity is built into its name.

But last summer, upstart buckslice joint St. Marks 2 Bros. Pizza opened in the East Village and by mid September had already branched out to Chelsea. And yesterday, 2 Bros. pretty much brought the noise straight to the castle walls, opening a location on the southeast corner of 40th Street and Ninth Avenue.

Whose cheap-ass dollar slice would reign supreme? I took up Zach's challenge late yesterday afternoon in order to find out. The results, after the jump.

The Prices Are the Same

From left: St. Marks 2 Bros. Pizza, 99¢ Fresh Pizza.

Let's get this out of the way. The prices are the same. At some point 99¢ Fresh Pizza had been charging tax, so your slice actually cost $1.07. As of yesterday's visit, the slices at 99¢ were an even $1, tax included. (Yes, the logic of calling your place 99¢ Fresh Pizza and charging a dollar is flawed, but 2nd Ave. Deli is no longer on Second Avenue, is it?)

At both places, $2.75 (tax included) gets you two slices and a can of soda.

Price Winner: Tie. (Although for a real tie-breaker, I probably should have noted the selection of beverages, as a choice of Dr Pepper at 99¢ might push people like me over to its side.)

Anyway, with price out of the way, let's get to flavor and relative value.

Thickness, Slice Size

Look, if you're eating dollar pizza, you're pretty much broke, drunk, or hungry and out of options. So flavor's not a huge deal. Operating on this assumption, let's look at fill-factor and slice size.

The 2 Bros. pizza was easily thicker—both at the end crust and throughout the slice—and more filling than the 99¢ slice. Beyond that, however, you can see that the 2 Bros. slice is more bready and has better hole structure in the crust.

As far as surface area goes, just eyeballing the two slices in the side-by-side comparison shot (see Fig. 1 at top), it looks like both slices are about the same width and cut at similar angles. But 2 Bros. has the edge—it's longer, overhanging its paper plate.

Size Winner: 2 Bros.

The Upskirt Shots

You can see that both pizzas are baked on a screen. The dimpled crosshatching gives it away.

I'm actually giving 99¢ Fresh Pizza a leg up right now. The upskirt pictured here (above right) is from the second slice I grabbed from the place. The first slice exhibited significant tip sag.

Both slices are fairly close in terms of crust color, though again, 99¢ benefits from a second round; its first example was pretty blond.

Crust Winner: 2 Bros.

Though the upskirts tell a similar tale, the proof is in the biting. The crust at 2 Bros. was crisp and bready. Sure, it's not great or all that flavorful, but if you're looking for a cheap-ass approximation of what a good New York–style slice is supposed to be, this comes closer to the crisp-chewy ideal. The crust at 99FP was doughy and limp yet somehow flaky—it was like what I'd imagine would happen if you let a frozen pizza thaw out completely before baking it only minimally.

Overall Flavor

Overall, the 2 Bros. pizza had a better flavor than the 99¢ Fresh Pizza slice. While the 99FP slice was better balanced in terms of crust-sauce-cheese ratio, that's not necessarily a good thing here, since that balance allows you to taste the sauce. It's flavored heavily with what tastes like powdered garlic—acrid and almost metallic-tasting. When scraped away on its own, the 2 Bros. sauce is bland but at least does not assault your tongue.

Flavor Winner: 2 Bros.