Or, 'Back in the New York Groove'
Following the biblical precept to visit the sick, the Slice czar found his way to Queens last weekend. Surely, he must have been wondering, where have all his stringers gone? At least onemehas had his pizza appetite bedridden the past six months.
Our Leader even armed himself with a remedy for my ailment: the hair of the dog that bit me. Thanks to the good folks at AstraZeneca, however, the prospects of a revitalized pizza weblog have improved dramatically. With my high-acid diet having dissipated considerably, so have the pangs that accompany it, a doctor's OK notwithstanding. I had actually dipped my toes in the pizza water six weeks earlier at Di Fara, following Slice's fifth-annual warm-weather welcome party at the Cyclone and the Coney Island boardwalk. With nary a hint of heartburn found in the aftermath of beers at Ruby's and artichoke pie from Dom DeMarco, I have recently reactivated myself from the disabled list.
This reunion took place in Forest Hills, home to one of the city's finest pizzerias. These pages have long had an unspoken affection for Nick's Pizza. Each of us had been several times previously, but never in a journalistic capacity. It's particularly poor reporting on my partNick's is but a few subway stops from Casa Seltzer.
Nick's is the kind of place that doesn't draw too much attention to itself. Its spacious, well-lighted, and high-tin-ceiling dining room takes up most of the restaurant, with its gas-fired oven (no coals, no wood, no brick lining) set in the back. Having opened in 1993, it doesn't have the history-book charm of Lombardi's or Patsy's. What Nick's does have is pizza that beats either of themand many others. Mr. Angelis has gone to great lengths to achieve pizza perfection. His gas-fired oven reaches a temperature much higher than others, enabling him to turn out a dark-bottomed crust that's evenly charred. It reaches a nice balance between the thin Grimaldi's crust and a slightly thick Lombardi's. It is slightly salty, pliant, and extremely tasty.
Nick's pies are slathered with a very tangy tomato sauce. I detected a hint of sugar but few if any herbssimple yet powerful. Then there's the nonpareil mozzarella cheese, made fresh daily at the vaunted Corona Heights Pork Store [Update: The Corona Heights Pork Store has since closed. Ed.]. The creamy taste lingers days later. Perhaps more than anything, Nick's achieves consistency. Slice has had uneven experiences at Lombardi's and even Patsy's recentlyamong New York finest purveyorsbut neither of us could recall a Nick's pie that was anything short of a masterpiece. Riding his Queens success, Mr. Angelis opened two additional restaurants bearing his name, in Rockville Center, Long Island (in 1997), and on Manhattan's Upper East Side (in 2003). Some of us are a little leery of branching out, wary of the original losing its luster [Hey: What're you sayin' with that link, S'boy? Ed.]. No worries here, however; Nick's is as solid as it has ever been.
After eating at one of Queens's modern institutions, we finished the night at one of the borough's oldest: Pete Benfaremo, aka the Lemon Ice King of Corona. Mr. Benfaremo has been making Italian ices just west of Flushing Meadows Corona Park since the 1940s, and a trip there never disappoints. Unlike the artificially flavored water that passes for ices these days, Mr. Benfaremo refuses to compromise, using the actual fruit to attain that unmatchable flavor. Many times, you'll get pieces of fruit (or even seeds from a watermelon or cantaloupe) caught in your teeth while eating one of these summertime staples. No napkins, no spoons, and, most of all, no mixing flavors. Italian ices with no pretensionthe way they ought to be.
Not sure what I was thinking in offering the Slice macher a return ride to Park Slope in my aboveground vehicle (brain freeze from the ices, perhaps). We quickly found ourselves in one of those colossal traffic jams that give even seasoned New Yorkers nightmares. Our trip time was nearly tripled, but we had some of my old "friends" to keep us company. Free-form radio impresario Vin Scelsa welcomed to his show Bruce Morrow, known to three generations of New Yorkers as "Cousin Brucie," one of several longtime radio personalities deposed in the recent upheaval that landed WCBS-FM in the dustbin of the Viacom empire. Mr. Morrow began his career in the late 1950s alongside Scott Muni, where the WABC pair became known as the M&M boys while chasing the Beatles around the Big Apple. (To listen to a streaming audio archive of Mr. Scelsa's interview, click here.)
With a bellyful of pizza, I was reminded of Cousin Brucie's annual broadcasts from the Feast of San Gennaro. If only the pizza in Little Italy were half as good as what we had in Forest Hills.
Address: 108-26 Ascan Avenue, Forest Hills NY 11375 (b/n Austin and Burns streets; map)
Payment: Cash only
The Skinny: No coal oven, no wood oven, just some of the consistently best pizza in the city. In the Slice top 5.