150 East 14th Street, NY NY 10003; map); (212)388-9474; joespizzanyc.com
Pizza Style: NYC
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny? Quintessential NYC street slice, replicated almost perfectly at the new location.
Price: Slice $2.75
I went to high school a few blocks away from the original Joe's Pizza, back when it sat at the intersection of Carmine and Bleecker. It was my go-to slice back then; an affordable snack that I could grab while skipping class and heading over to Bleecker Bob's to peruse records. In retrospect, I took those slices for granted, just as I did the rest of my wayward youth. This was in the late 1980's, and although Joe's had been open for well over a decade, I don't think it had quite attained the quintessential NYC status it holds today. The amazing thing is, the pizza at Joe's hasn't changed at all in the ensuing years—it remains as classic an example of the New York street slice as I've ever known.
What has changed, and drastically so, is the city itself. We have lost neighborhood slice joints like Joe's at an alarming rate. The pizzeria was actually forced to move back in 2005, but thankfully only a few doors down the block, on Carmine. The assault on traditional slice joints comes not only from gentrification, escalating rents, and the encroachment of national chains, but also, somewhat paradoxically, from the allure of rapidly proliferating $1 slice joints. It may be hard to argue with the cost of a $1 slice; what it delivers in the way of value is another matter entirely.
Granted, New Yorkers have enjoyed a renaissance of high-end pizza of late, especially for lovers of Neapolitan-style pies. And Artichoke Pizza has done a good job of generating a market for $4-5 slices. But what is increasingly missing, especially in the East Village / Union Square area, is the middle ground: authentic NY slices for under $3, at the ideal intersection of cost and quality.
Which is why I'm so giddy that Joe's has, at long last, expanded. The new 14th Street and 3rd Avenue pizzeria is mere blocks from my home, meaning that I've eaten there on more than a few occasions since it opened earlier this month. I couldn't be happier to report that "new" Joe's is still the real deal. It's a pure slice joint—no heroes, wraps or pasta—and at its best, the slices are virtually identical to those at the flagship location. Even when they don't quite meet those lofty standards, it's still easily my top neighborhood pick.
What to order
The plain cheese slice ($2.75) is a sure bet, especially if a pie looks fresh. I personally prefer a slightly warm slice that has been sitting for a bit to a piping hot reheat, but even the latter is a solid option.
The crust is thin in comparison to most other classic slice joints, and positively anemic when compared to most anything from Artichoke. It is crunchy and rigid enough to avoid complete tip sag, but still pliant, giving a pleasing textural contrast. This is a slice that is eminently portable—just fold and go.
The sooty blisters that are such a hallmark of the original Joe's are starting to appear on the pies on 14th Street as well, though they were decidedly absent on my initial visits.
The sauce—mild, slightly sweet and blessedly low in acidity—and the cheese—a milky low moisture mozzarella—are applied in perfect proportions for the thin crust. This slice is all about synergy, as so many have noted before.
The Sicilian ($3) is actually my favorite slice at Joe's, but it needs to be fresh from the oven...reheats tend to rob much of the life and sponginess from the crust.
But at its best, it's deceptively light and airy, with a crisp exterior giving way to a yeasty, honeycomb-structured interior. The cheese and sauce are also applied with the same harmonious balance as the regular slice.
What not to order
Unless you are getting a whole pie made to order, I would steer clear from any toppings. There always seems to be a beleaguered pepperoni pizza ($3.50) behind the display case, looking an awful lot like a regular cheese pie with some cold pepperoni thrown on top. Not only have the flavors never mingled in the oven, but the pepperoni is practically screaming "I'll never be crisp." Instead, it leaches its oil all over the pie, perching soggily on its bed of cheese. The same holds true for other toppings, so order at your own risk. If you insist on ignoring my good advice, at least insist that they leave the slice in the oven for as long as possible—they have a tendency to under-heat things when left to their own devices (this applies to the Sicilian slice as well).
I wanted to like the fresh mozzarella slice ($3.50), but I'm just not a fan. The cheese becomes desiccated, losing much of its flavor. I also discovered that the cheese on the regular slice adds a crucial structural component, holding the crust together where it ruptures.
The cheese on the fresh mozzarella slice is so sparsely dispersed that it provides no help whatsoever in this department.
Joe's Pizza is most assuredly my new go-to slice in the neighborhood, and I won't take it for granted this time around. Just as Joe's in the West Village is an easy recommendation for the area, the same holds true here. There's simply no reason to spend more than $2.75 a slice in these parts, and there is certainly no reason to spend less.