Ed Levine posts about something we at Slice have commented on for years: the sorry state of New York pizza. In his post Pizza Slice Crisis in NYC, he writes:
The NYC slice, once a justifiable source of culinary pride in this town, is going to hell in a hand basket filled with pizza cheese and canned pizza sauce. Think about it. The streets of Manhattan are filled with slice joints, each one worse than the next. You know the slices I'm talking about. The crust is thick and gummy. Every bite brings a mouthful of unbaked dough. The sauce is canned pizza sauce. It tastes like Franco American on a bad day. The cheese is that abomination called pizza cheese, and there's so much of it on every piece that slice weights are approaching one pound.
I call this the Ray's syndrome. Ever since some variation of a Ray's (Original Ray's, Ray Bari, Imitation Ray's, ) started appearing on every corner, the state of the NYC slice has never been worse. Other mini-chains have also descended on our city like some kind of slice plague, and the situation has reached epic proportions. Our quality slice culture is fast disappearing. Interstingly, this fast deteriorating situation seems to be limited to Manhattan.
Brooklyn's quality slice culture remains intact, or certainly more intact than Manhattan's. Certain neighborhood in Queens have upheld slice standards well. And Staten Island, the home of Nunzio's and Joe and Pat's, is a veritable beacon of pizza slice quality.
That pretty much sums it up. Part of the reason I started Slice was to document the search for worthwhile pizza here and to help others find it. Since I've been at it, most of the places I've visited with great pizza have been strictly by-the-pie.
Such is the state of the slice itself that I hardly consider grabbing a single piece of pizza from a random pizzeria in Manhattan.* And that effectively rules out my favorite food for lunch.
So what's going on? My own not-so-intricate and not-so-novel conspiracy theory goes like this: Rents in Manhattan are too high, and pizza consumers just don't care.
If you're a pizzeria owner and you're doing bang-up business serving crap pizza to loads of people willing to eat it, what's your incentive to craft a pie made with fresh ingredients and good cheese? You'd be crazy to do so given the price on square footage on the island.
And the crowds keeping many of the subpar purveyors in business are primarily concerned with a quick meal on the go. Pizza, for many New Yorkers, is, sadly, not a destination meal. Sure, a lot of them probably know what they're eating is a shit slice, but when you've got 20 minutes for lunch and $3 in your pocket, what are gonna do?
This, then, is why I think many of the destination pizzerias are in out-of-the-way places. The pizzaioli who are concerned with high-quality slices and pies can't afford to ply their trade in high-rent areas. And so the destination pizzerias end up in the outer boroughs or in far-flung areas of Manhattan.
Perhaps I'll expand on this later. For now ... off to lunch! (And, most likely, it won't be pizza.)