Or, 'Every Damn Slice Pizzeria in Park Slope'
You know, for all the pizza-eating I do in the service of this beast that is Slice, I typically focus on one place per blog post. I visit a few times, get a feel for the joint, and then file a dispatch for your approval. But a while back, I was forced to try a new approach—a systematic neighborhood slice survey. I had been asked by Time Out New York to survey the city's various Little Italys in search of the best pizzas in each one. Taking my journalistic duty seriously, I ate at each pizzeria in the various neighborhoods I was sent to—Bensonhurst, Howard Beach, Arthur Avenue, and Staten Island. (OK, with Shaolin, I had to ask some experts and narrow it down, so I didn't eat at every pizzeria there.)
Anyway, I quickly learned some slice-survey survival skills—like only sampling slices, not entirely consuming them. Like wine-tasting, except you swallow. I won't bore you with the other stuff I puzzled out, but I will say that I learned it was possible to tear through a neighborhood and get a feel for the slices on offer there. Recently, I decided I'd try to do a survey—or a slice walk—more regularly. So here's the first.
I focused on my own 'hood, Park Slope, for this one. My boundaries were Flatbush Avenue and the Prospect Expressway to the north and south, and Fourth Avenue and Prospect Park West to the west and east. I ate only where slices were available—no pies-only places. (Those, I'll deal with another time.) The results, after the jump.
The various joints appear in the order visited, starting on Fifth Avenue near 1st Street. From there I walked down (or is it "up"?) Fifth to the Prospect, looped up to Seventh Avenue, and then made my way to Flatbush. From there, I headed back down to Fifth to pick up the remaining places I missed on that street earlier. After that, I meandered down to Fourth Avenue and hit whatever was open. There are no places on Fourth between Flatbush/Atlantic and Union Street, when you hit upon Tomato & Basil, which is where I began that leg of the tour. Without further ado....
My first visit of the day was Albanese, where I ate the whole slice. This was basically my breakfast, so I couldn't hold off devouring the entire thing. That shouldn't be read as an endorsement. Albanese, while crisp enough, had a very bland crust. I did think they were using a good, creamy regular mozzarella on it, however. If the crust were better, it'd be a good slice. 412 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-369-2767
Joe's Pizza of the Village
Don't be fooled. This "Joe's Pizza of the Village" is not affiliated with the more famous Joe's near Bleecker Street. If it were, it'd probably be a little better. As it is, it's the most "typical" New York slice I had on this pizza walk. It was good but not stupendous. It wasn't too sweet, too salty, too cheesy, or too saucy. If you had to pick a slice that best represented the median of slicedom in New York today, this would be it. I did like the slightly burnt cheese, though. 483 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-369-2634
Not much to say here. This slice has a very sweet sauce, which is a shame, because this place had a decent balance among crust, sauce, and cheese, even if the cheese was a bit rubbery. The floppy crust exhibited significant tip sag. If you like your pizza sauce sweet, you might do well here; if not, avoid. 535 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-788-9111
Lenny's Pizza: RECOMMENDED
Lenny's Pizza was one of the highlights of my walk. Its sauce is a little on the sweet side, but that's cut by some nice, salty, tangy aged cheese, giving you a nice sweet-salty dynamic. It's got a good crisp-chewy crust that yields nicely to the fold hold. And, I have to say, the romance of the place is like none other in the Slope. This place is old school—a real trip to visit in person. 594 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215; 718-788-8928
Friend's Pizza Cafe
If you like cheese, they load it up here, which is to say it's a good value for your money. I found it way too loaded with cheese for my taste, but that said, there was enough sauce to balance that out. That said, the sauce tasted too much of powdered garlic. They use a dusting of cornmeal which adds some extra crispness, but that's probably wholly unnecessary, as the crust was plenty crisp alone. All crisp, no chewy—it wasn't very pliant, as it broke when I folded it into the fold hold. 487 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215; 718-840-0672
You can always count on Smiling Pizza for a fresh, hot slice. The place is always packed, thanks to a prime location on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 9th Street, right above a major subway exit. The sauce is good, with seasoning just this side of zestiness, and the crust is nice and crisp-chewy, but they really load this thing with cheese, so give it some time to cool lest you get pizza burn. It's a solid middle-of-the-road slice but nothing I'd go out of my way for. Though I really do like the guys who work there—full of character. They called me "paisan" not once, but three times in my short visit. 323 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215; 718-788-2137
Pizza & Pasta: BIGGEST SLICE, SURFACE-AREA
I'd never been to Pizza & Pasta before. The weird signage that looked like '80s shopping mall and über-generic name just screamed NO GO! to me. I mean, it's like naming a place Hamburgers or Tacos or Sushi. But in the name of completion, I had my work cut out for me. Sure enough, the pizza here tasted almost exactly like the pizza I used to get at Original Pizza at Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kansas, in my late '80s mallrat days. Which is to say fairly bland. No zip. The crust was nicely crisp, with just the faintest bit of char—just like Original Pizza—and it was one of the thinnest slices of the walk. It was also the largest in terms of surface area, which might be a draw to the kids from John Jay school across the street—although a sign on the door makes it clear that students are barred from the premises between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. 256 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215; 718-499-4994
Update: In searching for the address here, I learned that the place is actually called La Bruschetta. Who knew!
Pino's La Forchetta
And so we come to Pino's, which has long been my go-to place for delivery pizza. My advice was to always ask for it well-done to ensure a crisp crust. I was a little disappointed at how Pino's held up to the other joints in a head-to-head-to-head-to-head comparison. The crust is crisp enough, and the balance of everything is on—not too much cheese, sauce, or crust. But the balance is a bit of a mixed blessing—because you can actually taste the sauce, you'll also notice it's a bit bland. Sure, it tastes of fresh tomato, but it left me wanting more bite to it, more salt. I might have to switch up my pizza allegiances. 181 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-965-4020
Joe's Pizza of Park Slope
Oh, good. Cops are getting slices to go as I walk in. Good sign. Cops usually know where to eat. I order a slice. I sit down, shoot it, snap an upskirt. I take a bite. OMG! Have my taste buds shut down after one too many tastings? I cannot taste a thing! This pizza has no flavor. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Those cops must have been rookies. 137 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-398-9198
Whew! I just got my taste buds back. Glad they weren't shot. But now they're tasting too much sweetness. Very sweet sauce here at Roma. And absolutely blanketed with cheese to boot. The greasiest and cheesiest slice I've had yet. So watch out with a fresh-from-the-oven slice or a reheated slice. The cheese and oil pose severe mouth-burn risk. 85 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217 (map); 718-783-7334
Antonio's has long been a sentimental favorite of mine. Before I ever moved to the city, I visted a couple times and stayed with friends who lived just across Flatbush Avenue from it. We'd often end sightseeing-packed days with a late-night slice here. And you really can't beat the beautiful neon sign that the daytime photo above just does not do justice. Unfortunately, romance only goes so far, and Antonio's is way too cheesy and heavy for my tastes these days. At this point in my slice walk, this is the heaviest, hunkiest slice by a nose. And a tail. And a slab or ribs. If you're looking for value and to simply stuff your belly, your cash will go a long way here. 318 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11238 (map); 718-398-2300
Gino's Pizza: THE HEAVIEST SLICE
Gino's turns out to be sort of a dark horse on this slice survey. I walked in, saw a most unappetizing-looking pie. Thick, thick cornicione (or end crust). Very pale crust. Pale cheese that looked barely melted. But an entry from the Not for Tourists guide was cut out and pasted in the slice display case, touting the salty-sweet dynamic of the place—and noting that it's a favorite among bar patrons in the area (I'm guessing O'Connor's and Freddy's). Being a favorite of drunken hoots doesn't always translate, though. But, surprisingly, this pizza is just crisp enough, has just enough color in the upskirt shot (thanks to the reheat), and does have a nice sweet-salty dynamic not unlike Lenny's I had earlier in the day. They go a bit too heavy on the cheese here, though. I thought Antonio's was something, but Gino's is something else. This is the heaviest slice of the Park Slope Slice Walk. 220 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217 (map); 718-230-3932
And that gets me thinking about microclimates. Can there be pizza microclimates? I think Antonio's and Gino's fall into one on this short stretch of Flatbush, both making exceptionally cheese-laden slices.
I don't have much to say about V&M Pizzatown. I've described slices like this before, and it's hard to put into words how they taste, but I've come to use the shorthand phrase "tastes like grilled cheese." That is to say not much sauce coming through in the flavor profile, with an overall notably oily taste. This one did not rate high on the Park Slope Pizza Walk list. Then again, this was also the last pizzeria on the Saturday leg of this walk, so it's possible that pizza fatigue had set in y this point, but I don't think that's the case. 85 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217 (map); 718-789-4040
Tomato & Basil: RECOMMENDED
I left the Fourth Avenue slice joints for the Sunday leg of my tour. Tomato & Basil being the first stop of the day. This place is a couple years old and opened along the stretch of Fourth Avenue from Union Street to 9th that is slowly adding residential and businesses other than flat-fix shops. Wow. I think I've been taking Tomato & Basil for granted these last couple years. It serves a great little slice. It's crisp and chewy, pliant enough to be folded without breaking. It's nice and thin. It has perfect balance among cheese, sauce, and crust. And it's got some tang to it. In retrospect, I've always liked the slice here. What has turned me off to it is that when I get it delivered, it's always overcheesed and undercooked. I wish the delivery pies were as good as the slices. 226 Fourth Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-596-8855
Peppe's Pizza & Panini
Peppe's. I raved about it when it first opened. And it was doing a solid slice back then. A lot of you out there agreed (though there were some notable detractors). But then word came that Mike, the original pizzaiolo at Peppe's, left. That appeared to be the case when I visited, as there was someone there new with Peppe when I walked in. The good news is that the slice is still pretty good. I said here when I first blabbed it up that the crust lacked some saltiness but that the use of good-quality, aged Pamesan made up for that. It seemed on this visit that the amount of Parm had been racheted down. Definitely ask for a dusting of Parm it if you go or order a pie. The one thing I really like about Peppe's, though, and that no other pizzeria on my walk did, was that there's ample basil added, so you get that nice pungent, licorice/clovy flavor. So many of the other pizzerias on this walk could benefit from such an addition, and it's surprising they don't. I guess it's just too much to add. 597 Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-788-7333
At this point in the tour, I met up with fellow Serious Eats coworker Raphael, and he tipped me to some pizzerias up on Prospect Park West. With the caveat that they weren't very good. I found Sabella to be the better of the two up on this stretch of PPW on the border of Windsor Terrace. 229 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-768-4950
Joe's Pizza (Prospect Park West)
And so we come to the third Joe's of our tour. They're friendly guys here, and the place is hoppin'. The crust is very crisp, not at all pliant, and appears to have been cooked on a screen, with the tell-tale diamond pattern in the upskirt view and the very evenly deep-brown color. The sauce is very sweet here. Remember what I just said about Sabella being the best of the two here? I'm now not sure. Sabella was fairly lackluster, and at least Joe's, though sweet, sweet, sweet, has some kind zing to it. It's a toss up, but for my money, I'd head down to Lenny's on Fifth Avenue or have it delivered. 259 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn NY 11215 (map); 718-965-3433
Peppe's and V&M Pizzatown, at $2 a slice at time of publication. All other joints charged a cool $2.25
Tomato & Basil for North Slope and best in the Slope overall, despite what my neighbor Johnny says. Lenny's coming in a close second overall; best in South Slope.
Best Bang for Your Buck
Gino's, whose slice felt like it weighed a pound. It probably didn't, but it felt like it.
Gino's for heft/density; Pizza & Pasta (La Bruschetta) for surface area.
I took a boatload of photos for this post, most of which didn't make it in above. Here are some outtakes.