One Man, Three Days, 15 NYC Pizzerias
"I don't get to New York a lot." That's the excuse I give people when I'm trying to explain why I recently ate 40 slices from 15 different New York pizzerias in 2.5 days. I don't get there a lot, but my schedule aligned with a friend who had space in his fancy hotel room, and I found a cheap flight. Though to be completely honest, I don't think I really needed an excuse. If you truly love pizza, you are compelled to visit the Pizza Mecca.
My first trip to New York was about discovery. I barely knew what good pizza was and I honestly didn't know that such large swaths of it could be so good. The second trip was focused on the top tier of pizza, based on recommendations from Slic'ers. This trip, the end of the trilogy, was to be about settling scores with all the great places I had missed out on.
Compiling the list was nearly as much fun as executing it. The best resources were the recent 10 Best Pizzas in NYC post on Slice and Adam Kuban's list on Foodspotting. Nobody's eaten as much pizza as that guy!
What started out as eight solid picks began to expand as last minute worries set in. What if I regretted not hitting old favorites like Motorino and Totonno's? I switched gears and decided on a greatest hits itinerary, but that didn't seem right either. So, I did what any true pizza lover would do. I combined the two lists into one and doubled the amount of food I'd be eating.
While the slideshow above may give contrary evidence, the last thing I wanted to do was to turn the trip it into a stunt. This wasn't a gluttonous, Kobayashi-style eating contest, it was about getting the most out of New York in the time allotted, while still being able to enjoy every single bite. The second I was forcing food down it would go down as a loss in my book. To ensure that didn't happen, I developed a military-grade battle plan.
Any pizza trip is fatally flawed if you aren't hitting both Brooklyn and Manhattan. Knowing that, I broke out the itinerary geographically so I didn't have to travel back and forth on the same day. From there, I cross referenced operational hours (some places don't do lunch, check twice), broke out a rigid schedule, and calculated not only travel time between pizzerias, but appetite recovery time, as well. If you're getting a single slice you'll likely be hungry in an hour, but pie-only shops like Forcella need to be padded or you will max out quickly. I also factored in walking—lots of it. I figured that if I kept moving forward, I could trick my body to go into overdrive burning fuel...thus creating space for more pizza.
No matter how much I planned, I also knew to factor in at least fifteen extra minutes to get anywhere. Unless you're on Scott's Pizza Tour (next time...), getting around New York will be a combination of GPS apps, printed maps, and advice from strangers. At some point they will all fail you miserably. As long as you can accept going in that you will get lost like a bozo a minimum of five times, you'll be fine.
Day One: Brooklyn
I started with the biggest mistake you can make: I took a red eye in from Los Angeles. On normal days taking a red eye is a questionable choice. On a day that you're supposed to eat at six different pizzerias, the decision deserves a short prison sentence. Four hours later, I made my second major mistake and ate four big slices at recently reborn Totonno's, which was only the second stop of the day. I had only planned on two slices, but when you're coming from a pizza desert you can't be trusted. The rest of the day would be spent teetering on the edge of food coma.
That afternoon, veteran Slice'r John Wozniak foolishly agreed to join me for a stop at Di Fara and I ended up taking him hostage for the rest of the day. John had a surprise cooked up and took me to Lo Duca Pizza in Flatbush, one of the big revelations of the trip. After putting down three grandma slices in a row from heavy hitters like L & B Spumoni Gardens and Di Fara, underdog Lo Duca came out on top. Ever have a slice where the crust melds into one with the cheese and melts in your mouth? If not, you need to get your butt to Lo Duca.
My hostage then made me a pie of his very own, The Bull Durum. It's John's take on Paulie Gee's Hellboy, but he makes it with a completely unique semolina flour-based crust. It was not out of place on a day of amazing pizza. Stockholm syndrome rocks.
Day one ended with my long-awaited first visit to the real Paulie Gee's, where I shared three amazing pies with Wozniak and the famed Slicemaster General. I don't believe there's better pizza or company in Brooklyn.
Day Two : Manhattan
Let's just say I started in the red. I assumed my body would have no trouble working through the 16 slices from the day before. That was not the case. But the good thing about having a firm itinerary...it tells you what time you need to get to work.
Unless you count Di Fara (and I don't), I'd never had a "real" slice from New York, just pies. In fact, I was never that into slices. Coming from a pizza fanatic that may seem odd, but pizzerias in Detroit where I grew up didn't even offer them. If you check the slideshow you'll see I didn't get the best available slice at Sal and Carmine. No matter, there's no amount of pixels that can convey how good it actually was. I finally "got" the lore of slices and they will now be added to future trips. I followed it up with a great coal oven slice from Patsy's, then shot down to my most anticipated spot of the trip: Don Antonio by Starita. Kesté's Roberto Caporuscio opened Don Antonio with his mentor, Antonio Starita and since Kesté' is amazing, I was wondering how freakishly good the pizza from the guy who trained him was going to be. Pro tip: Expectations suck.
For months I've been hearing about the Montanara and staring at this picture, and when the pizza finally came before me...it was too much. Too much everything. I know they do it in Italy but I guess I'm not man/woman/Italian enough for it, and that realization was next-level depressing. I shared a basic white pie with arugula and it was probably amazing, but I was so thrown off by the Montanara I couldn't fully enjoy it. Like I said, expectations suck.
Three hours later I wandered into Motorino in a pizza funk. I had been told on good authority to get the Brussels Sprouts pie, but there was one looming issue. I have a violent hate and life-long distrust of Brussels sprouts. Thirty minutes later the Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta pie was in the pantheon of best pizzas ever. The lesson? Don't be afraid to take recommendations that clash with your tastes. You'll end up missing out. That and pancetta can cure just about anything.
I had planned to polish off a pie at Forcella later in the evening, but I was worried I was crossing the line into gluttony. Instead, I went to Daniel Boloud's DBGB with a friend and we ate the most appropriate item for when your stomach is busting out at the seams: sausage. It was the only non-pizza item I ate over the three days. An hour later, I was in line to get a slice at Joe's before bed.
Day Three: Manhattan to Brooklyn to JFK Airport
No matter how much you plan, things will go wrong. Places like Adrienne's Pizza Bar will have the wrong opening time posted on their website (11:30AM, not 11AM), they will no longer offer half-pies for lunch at the bar as is specified in reviews, and you won't get to eat there even though it was one of your most-anticipated stops (and obviously somebody needs to pay dearly for this). But from the depths of despair come backups like the vodka slice at Rubirosa, my first Staten Island-style pizzeria and the place that fundamentally altered my understanding of "cracker crust."
Still fueled with anger from the Adrienne's fiasco, I hate-ate a full pie at Forcella (outstanding) and took the train to Brooklyn for a last-minute addition. Wozniak commanded I try the infamous provel-based Saint Louie pie from Speedy Romeo It was definitely not the best pizza I ate in New York, but it was definitely the most innovative/memorable and I shudder to think that I might have missed out on it.
When I finally walked into Best Pizza to complete the itinerary, I felt like a failure. My head was in a permanent fog, the salt was building up in my throat, and it started to feel like I was sweating grease. I was going to have to force my first slice of the trip down. I seriously considered leaving so I could go out on a high note. But like I said, I don't get to New York a lot.
Lucky for me, the slices were a amazing. As soon as I had one bite, all the pain drifted away. As I nursed my last few bites and shot the shit with locals, I seriously considered moving not to "New York," but to "somewhere near Best Pizza."
The good times did not last. I sat on the train to JFK trying to remember when I had felt this bad in my life and I kept coming back to this car accident I had during college. Then a TSA Agent pulled me aside at the airport to pat down one single body part—my formerly flatish stomach. It was as if the bloated mass of foodbaby above my belt could not possibly be real. Thanks, guy. As someone who dropped some weight a couple years ago, that one hurt.
On the plane back to L.A., I went through the calendar and tried to approximate which month I'd be eating pizza again. It certainly wasn't going to be June. July, maybe? Perhaps, but I wouldn't force it. Seven hours later, I walked into my apartment, took out two more slices I had the guys at Best Pizza wrap up for the flight, and popped them in the toaster oven. They were delicious.
The Final Itinerary
DAY ONE 10:30 AM Sullivan St. - Pizza Bianca (1 slice) 12:30 PM - Totonno's - Plain Pie (4 slices) 1:30PM - Spumoni - Grandma (1 slice) 3PM - Di Fara - Grandma and Plain (split both, 1 slice total) 4PM - Lo Duca - Sicilian and Grandma (2 slices) 4:30PM - Wozniak pie - The Bull Durum (1 slice) 7:30PM - Paulie Gee - Greenpointer, Mo Cheeks, Spectacle 261 (6 slices)
DAY TWO 11:30AM - Sal & Carmine - Plain (1 slice) 12PM - Patsy's - Plain (1 slice) 3PM - Don Antonio by Starita - Montanara & White Pies (4 slices) 7:30PM - Motorino - Brussel Sprouts Pie (4 slices) 11:45PM - Joe's Pizza - Plain (1 slice)
DAY THREE 12PM - Rubirosa - Vodka (1 slice) 2PM - Forcella - Margherita Extra pie (4 slices) 3:30PM - Speedy Romeo - The Saint Louie (4 slices) 5PM - Best Pizza - Pickled Veggie and Pepperoni (2 slices) 12AM - Best Pizza (in L.A.) - White with Onions and Grandma - (2 slices)