Cafe Amore has been open for 20 years in the location that formally housed a Tad's Steakhouse. The neon "Steak" sign in the window, hanging next to one that reads "Pizza," is probably a holdover from those times. There aren't any steaks on the Cafe Amore menu. Prior to yesterday I had yet to eat at Cafe Amore because I imagined that it was to pizza what Tad's is to steak: middling at best, and probably worse than that.
I have always imagined the same of the pizza at Bravo Pizza, an NYC mini chain with six locations, including one that opened a few months back, directly across the street from Cafe Amore.
Cafe Amore put up a brave front when Bravo moved across the street; it put up bunting to celebrate its 20th anniversary, competing with Bravo's grand-opening decorations, and Cafe Amore temporarily slashed prices.
Despite having never eaten at either one I sort of felt for Cafe Amore, up against the brand new, shiny rival across the street with the power of a chain behind it. But that is nostalgia and sentimentality talking; ultimately the better pizza deserves to succeed. Although with the Union Square station so close and surrounded by NYU dorms as they are, perhaps there is enough room for both pizzerias in the market place.
I decided to see which of the two I would recommend just in case you find yourself on the block and absolutely have a slice of pizza.
115 East 14th St New York, NY 10003); 212-253-2220; http://www.bravopizzany.com/Welcome.tpl
Pizza Style: New York Style
Oven Type: Some sort of spinning contraption
The Skinny: A sloppy, soft slice with a rather sweet sauce, oily cheese and little textural contrast
Price: Slice $2.53
First up I hit Bravo Pizza. There are a number of pies sitting under glass as you line up to place your order. Pretty much anything you order will be reheated although I did manage to witnessed a plain pie being made when I arrived. The dough and tomato sauce appeared to have been pre baked. Cheese was added on top of the cooked base and then placed in the oven. At the time I wondered why this would be necessary but after eating a slice I am pretty sure that the cheese would probably not stand up to the heat of cooking a pie all the way through. The oven is not a standard pizza oven but has a rotating rack and two openings - one by the pie assembly area and one by the counter. This just doesn't seem to be ideal for making decent pizza but rather for cranking out a lot of pizza at once.
I won't beat around the bush on this one, the slice I had was simply awful. The cheese was essentially flavorless and was horribly oily, it died the slice orange. The sauce was cloyingly sweet and the crust cruelly flaccid and soggy. My low expectations were met, this is the type of pizza that might be acceptable when you are in a drunken stuper or if you are homeless and starving but other than that it is best avoided. Bravo set a low bar indeed for Cafe Amore.
Cafe Amore Pizzeria
104 E 14th Street, New York NY 10003; 212-420-8287
Pizza Style: New York style
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny:Dense and doughy and undercooked but with some crispness in the crust
Price: Plain slice, $2.75
Cafe Amore's offering was not very good either but it was better than what Bravo served. The crust did have some burnishing on the bottom although the slice was also far too soft, bordering on the soggy. The cheese was applied in a much more generous amount than at Bravo and rather than melding into an amorphous orange mass it remained as a distinct layer. Coming off easily in a solid cheesy clump. The sauce seemed less noxious than the Bravo slice - milder and far less sweet. And it was a far larger slice so in terms of bang for the buck it offered more than the competition.
Ultimately I would be hard pressed to recommend either one of these slices. They are exactly what I imagined that they would be: middling. But at least the pie at Cafe Amore had some crispness and the potential for more—the pizza actually makes it on to the oven floor here as opposed to the slices that bravo serves, which are placed on foil and then into the weird spinning contraption.
Cafe Amore is certainly the sentimental favorite. It might not be great pizza, nor even good pizza, but it it better than the pizza across the street at Bravo.