Address: 456 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10018 (b/n 35th and 36th streets; map)
The Skinny: Good mozzarella on the Margherita; careful balance of crust, sauce, and cheese; crust could stand some more salt and some more crispness. The Provençal seems to be a sort of Mitchel London specialty, and, with its interesting mix of fresh mozz, Gruyère cheese, and herbs de Provence, was our favorite pie on each of our visits.
Cost: large Margherita, $13.95; small, $7.95. Large Provençal, $13.95; small, $7.95. Premium pies run $1 to $2 more.
Yeah. I know. It's been a while since I've evaluated a pizzeria. So when news of the recently opened Mitchel London Pizza hit the web a couple weeks ago and I saw how close it was to the office, I figured this would be an easy opportunity to get back in the saddle.
I visit first for a solo dinner after work on Friday, August 10, and order a large Margherita. The space is clean and efficient looking, equipped with no-nonsense stainless steel racks and prep tables, as befits its history as the production kitchen for London's catering business. Pizzas are rolled out very thin with a rolling pin before being built up and slipped into a small Wood Stone gas-fired oven that doesn't look like it could handle more than a couple pies at a time.
The Margherita arrives soon after I order at the counter, take a seat, and puzzle over the crossword for a bit. In appearance, it seems to have the right balance of crust, sauce, and cheese. In taste, well, that's another matter. The crust is barely crisp and lacks any hint of saltiness. The cheese is good (nice, buttery fresh mozzarella), and the tomatoes are just fine (canned San Marzanos). But the thin, bland crust, though pleasingly tender, leaves me wanting more from this pie.
I know that London is passionate about food, and he serves excellent burgers and cupcakes next door at Burgers & Cupcakes, so I chalk this one up to the place's overall newness and the fact that London was not at the oven at the time of my first visit. I hope for a crisper, tastier pie on my next trip, which I plan for the following Monday, August 13.
Monday rolls around, and I gather my coworker Raphael and pizza freak Tien Mao, a Friend of Slice from way back. We get there shortly after 1 p.m., and Mitchel London himself is making pies and overseeing the operation. Our expectations rise, and, with more mouths to feed, we order a large Provençal in addition to another large Margherita.
The Margherita, though slightly better than on the first visit, is still barely crisp, and the crust is again bland. This time, however, the sauce is heavily salted—too much so. It's as if the crew is trying to make up the dough's lack of salt in the tomatoes. The crust has marginally more char, as you can see in the composite photo above.
The Provençal that we eat features a heavier coating of cheese as well as herbs de Provence and olives. If you witness London's enthusiasm for herbs de Provence on pizza in this video, you'd come away, like I did, with the idea that it's a sort of signature pie for him. And of the pizzas we sample this day, it's the winner. The Gruyère and mozzarella make an interesting combination—a nutty and buttery flavor that goes well with the assorted herbs sprinkled atop. Were it not for the crust, this pie would be a real treat—that, and the fact that the "olives" promised on the menu turned out to be a single olive holding court at the center of the pizza. (On a third visit, the Provençal had a generous helping of sliced olives scattered over it, which increased the deliciousness level considerably.)
On our next visit, we had a chance to talk to London about his pies and the oven. Turns out it he's been running it around 550°, after playing with it to find a temperature that cooks the top and bottom evenly, though on the day of our third visit, it was running around 527°, which may explain the crust issues. We'll check in periodically, since he's still breaking the place in. Given London's careful eye toward food, I'm hoping he'll address the salt and crust issues that are holding back what would otherwise be good pies.