A SLICE WITH LIFE
A slice with LIFE? Make Make that five slices with LIFE. The magazine, reincarnated in 2004 as a weekend newspaper insert, asked me to serve on a panel of five judges in its "Battle of the Boroughs" pizza contest. Five slices, five boroughs, five pizzerias, five judges: Let the conspiracy theorists go wild.
To find the best of each borough, the magazine tallied votes on its website a few weeks ago. Reppin' their respective regions were: DeMarco's (Manhattan), Joe & Pat's (Staten Island), L&B Spumoni Gardens (Brooklyn), Louie & Ernie's (The Bronx), and Singas Famous (Queens).
The judgesNYU graduate food studies director Jennifer Berg, LIFE food editor Joanne Chen, Z100's Skeery Jones, New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis, and Iwere instructed to rate the slices, from 1 to 5 (5 being highest), in five categories: Presentation (worth 20%), Crust (20%), Sauce (20%), Cheese (10%), and Overall Quality (30%).
The LIFE staff brought slice after slice to the table, and, for once, I was glad I'd missed breakfast. Even on an empty stomach, judging was no easy feat. My plan was to take a few key bites from each slice (I learned this technique the hard way, judging a pizza contest on Long Island last year), but the diminutive Singas Famous slicea quarter-slice of a 10-inch pie (left)looked so good that I ate it all. Same with the superthin slice of Joe & Pat's that came out next, with its dollops of satisfyingly browned cheese and fresh-tasting sauce.
What I was worried about was the L&B square (right). Despite its surprisingly airy crust, I knew from experience that it could be filling. Either my stomach was numb (not that that's possible) or my pizza craving was uncontrollable, but even that formidable Sicilian didn't seem to put a dent in my hunger. And while I'm normally a fan of L&B, I have to say, the sauce this time struck me as a little too sweet.
Note: The LIFE folks, who were well-organized and a pleasure to deal with, were using a blind-judging system. If it seems as if they weren't, that's because I recognized four out of the five pizzerias from various visits past. The one slice I didn't recognize was the fourth one out of the gate (below right). Pleasant surprise, too. By process of elimination, it must have been Louie & Ernie's. Staten Island and The Bronx couldn't be any different from each other, but the slices represented here could have been brothers, at least superficially. Louie & Ernie's had the same superthin crust thing going on as Joe & Pat's (below left), if not more so. They both had the same browned, slightly burned cheese thing, too. They also had a similar color palettethe whole brownish-red thingbut what does that matter? What I really liked about Louie & Ernie's was that browned, crisped cheese. There was something satisfying about its toothsomeness and breaking through it into a very creamy, fresh-tasting layer of mozzarella below. This place has me curious, and I vow to make an in situ visit post-Xgiving.
Four slices down, and I still had room for more. I knew DeMarco's would be next and last. What I didn't know is that the DiFara spin-off would be offering its square slice (which I haven't yet tried) instead of the regular slice I was familiar with. Squares aren't usually my bag, but this was an impressive Sicilian. High-quality, creamy cheese under dollops of fresh sauce and pools of olive oil. A bit messy, but tasty. After turning in ballots, the other judges seemed to be murmuring approval, too.
But I won't make like a banana in this post without giving you the winner: DeMarco's.
Sometimes when it comes to the tally in these things, you're pretty sure who's ahead, but I had no idea here. My marks for the different slices were pretty varied from category to category and from pizzeria to pizzeria. The other judges seemed to hold their cards pretty close themselves. I think a good pizzeria won the day, though, so, uh, I guess that's that.
More of Slice's 'Battle of the Boroughs' Photos [via Flickr]