San Marzano Brick Oven Pizzeria
71 Clinton Street, New York NY 10002 (b/n Stanton and Rivington; map) sanmarzanonyc.com
Pizza style: Wood-fired Neapolitan
Oven type: Wood-fired brick
The skinny: Not the greatest Neapolitan pies in the city, but one of the few available by the slice. Cornmeal makes for an interesting Neapolitan hybrid. The only place we know of to get a wood-fired Buffalo Chicken pie.
Price: $11 to $15
You could be excused for thinking that San Marzano Brick Oven Pizzeria is just another Lower East Side pizza joint—another in the long list of good-not-great Neapolitan pizzerias in the city—except for one thing: they're a Neapolitan pizzeria serving... buffalo chicken pizza? Huh?
First, let's talk a bit about their regular pies.
The standard Margherita pies at San Marzano ($11) are pretty darn good. Certainly not in the upper echelon of pizza in the city, but flavorful, well charred, nicely blistered, and tender-crisp in the way the best wood-fired pies are.
Their cheese and sauce could use a bit of work—some more tanginess and creaminess in the mozzarella would've been nice.
Oddly, they stretch their dough in cornmeal, a practice usually reserved for New York-style pizza or chain pizzas (although San Marzano does indeed have a Long Island location, so it technically falls under the umbrella of chains). This gives their undercarriage a bit of texture and extra crunch. It's absolutely unnecessary, but I didn't mind it being there.
The specialty slices we tried were above average both in terms of being interesting and well executed. A meatball pie ($16) came with the smallest meatballs we've seen—they reminded me a lot of the tiny moist nuggets you find in a can of Spaghetti-Oh's, albeit with much better flavor. Combined with goat cheese and scallions, it was one of the best we tried.
Also successful was the white pie with gorgonzola, speck, and caramelized onions ($14). Simultaneously smoky and creamy with sweetness from the onions and a hit of funk from the blue cheese.
But we're really here to talk about that one outlier on the menu. The one that makes you do a double take, a head scratch, and a huh?
A few weeks back, I went off on what could be described as a mild rant about what are and are not appropriate pizza topping material. Chicken of any kind, particularly the buffalo variety made it pretty close to the top of my never-on-my-slice list.
As a topping, you find it almost exclusively at pizzerias that don't know how to make great crust and feel the need to make up for it by adding wacky toppings. But at San Marzano, there's something completely new to me: buffalo chicken pizza made on really good crust ($14).
They treat the toppings in a pretty thoughtful way. Rather than just shoving big bland chunks of chicken breast or breaded chicken cutlets on the pie, they shred their chicken into very fine moist slivers, giving you a much better ratio of spicy buffalo sauce to bland chicken, making it something that—*gasp!*—even I had to admit actually worked pretty well on the pie.
Two cheeses—gooey mozzarella and the requisite blue cheese (in this case a nicely aged gorgonzola)—are melted onto the crust as it bakes, while a coarsely grated Pecorino Romano is added at the end.
I never thought there'd come a day when I would say this, but this is actually a buffalo chicken pizza I could really sink my teeth into.
Interestingly enough, it's also the only Neapolitan pizza joint that I know of in the entire world that'll sell you pizza by the slice, reheated in a gas-fired deck oven.
It's not the greatest pizza in the city, or even on the Lower East Side, but it sure deserves a few points for sheer originality.