"Burnt cheese is not a gimmick, it's a guilty pleasure that we should all indulge in..."
1592 First Avenue, New York NY 10028 (82nd/83rd; map); 212-734-8800; abitinospizza.com
Pizza style: Grandma pies and slices
Oven type: Steel-deck gas-fired
The Skinny: The grandma pies here are the thing to get. Make sure to order them well-done
Whatever happened to "What can I get for your, sir?" when you walk into a pizzeria? These days, I'm getting a lot of "Whaddya want, tons of fun?" It's that type of treatment that has had me ordering in lately. Back in the day when I was writing more articles for Slice, I would walk into a pizzeria and it was all "DJ Bubbles, great to see ya, let me know what you want and we'll get it all taken care of, this is on the house!" And that was great, I really appreciate that kinda reception when I'm hittin' up four or five different pizzerias in a given night. Alright, I'm playing. For the most part. But I gotta say, my last delivery order made me not even mind the rude overtures by New York's countermen. In fact, I think I may just stay in more often....
Abitino's grandma (or nonna) pie is the first great pizza I've discovered since living on the Upper East Side. I ordered mine well-done, and 40 minutes later I opened the box and found something worth writing about. Put me in a room with one of these bad boys on a Saturday night with a Cherry Coke on ice, and you've got yourself a party. I like it for several reasons: a thin square crust greased with olive oil with a crisp bottom that has some crunch and a dense, chewy interior.
Don't let me forget a high-quality aged mozzarella that was burnt in spots, a secret favorite of mine since back in the day. There's no shame in asking for a pie well done: Burnt cheese is not a gimmick, it's a guilty pleasure that we should all indulge in when we order our delivered aged-mozz pies.
And the sauce—it's a fresh and sweet combo with (perhaps) some sugar added that outdoes so many other pizzerias that use a heavier sauce for their grandma pie that is often onion-based. Abitino's apply its sauce in straight lines down the pie so you don't get it in every bite, but, boy, when you do, you are a happy seriouseater. The pie also touts fresh garlic, which is not too much but just a little subtle hit on the tasters, but don't get me wrong: I have always reserved the right to crop-dust my slices with garlic powder and shaved Parmesan to turn my tricks into treats, and I did so here.
More important, though, it reminds me of the good pan pizzas of the Midwest that I grew up on. In a town where there's a plain round slice on every corner, it's good to know that certain New York pizzerias can show they can also do it square-style like the middle of the country—only Abitino's was better than anything I've had. And, for the record, the Abitino's on 83rd and First Avenue takes Veloce to school for sure. In fact, there's no question about it, and I know that to be true.
To be sure, don't get into Abitino's and get a grandma slice to go, but rather, eat in or get it delivered. Veloce is wayyyy too greasy and is just too pretentious. It doesn't bring it compared to this place. For once, you gotta go uptown to get the real (aside from the original Patsy's, of course). Sliceheads, you will not disagree on the one! I am not vouching for other Abitino's, but I know, for sure, that the pizzaiolo here, Nino, does it all with love. Ask for that bad boy well-done and you get what you are looking for. We're not all the biggest square pie fans here in New York, but this is taking the competitors, including Maffei and the upside-down slice at NY Pizza Suprema, to da university.
In praise of the morning slice
Now I don't want to get too scandalous, but let me ask you a personal question: Have any of you ever had really good "Morning Slice"? You know that feeling right when you wake up and you absolutely crave the chance to warm up a piece of last night's pizza, even if it wasn't that great to begin with? Well, I had a baaaad case of it this morning, lemme tell ya. It is not very often the actual moment of housing that morning slice eclipses what you had dreamt about, but I experienced it full force. I turned on a little Barry White, cranked the oven to 500 degrees, and let a corner slice sit in there for a good five minutes.
Lo and behold, that slice was even better than the night before! Perhaps you don't know about a breakfast slice before 10 o'clock in the morning, but maybe you should! Saturated fat and bad carbs in the a.m.—it's sometimes necessary to get the day started off right. How does it go again? A slice a day keeps the doctor away? Hey, man, all I know is that Bloomberg banned trans fats and I had to walk up the stairs when the elevator broke yesterday, so it's a wash!
Until next time, Slice off!
José Jiminez, RIP
Let me just say, before I leave, RIP to José, the pizzaiolo at East Harlem Patsy's. His work, his craft and, really, his art, gave me some of the best moments of my life with the people I love, who are the only people who deserve to get the cab up to 118th and First Ave. It's a labor of love for us and for them, the real dudes who make the real pies that we house and love. And let me say one more thing: José was Ecuadorian, a true master, and one thing all of us must understand and dig—pizza-making, or any trade, for that matter—is for everyone, no matter what ethnicity, color, or walk of life....believe that, my Sliceheads!!!
And I'm out!