A Hamburger Today
Joe's Pizza in Los Angeles
Editor's note: Today, Chuck K., a New York expatriate living on the West Coast, drops by with intel on the outpost of Joe's Pizza that opened in Los Angeles. Buon appetito, friends! —The Mgmt.
Step right up! Get your honest-to-goodness, 100 percent original New York-style pizza. Whether it's Tony's, Johnnie's, Frankie's, or Vito's, Los Angeles pizza purveyors love to claim New York authenticity in their pies. Not long ago, an establishment in Marina Del Rey killed whatever optimism I had left for "New York-style" pizza around L.A.
At this nameless place, the crust tasted like a ream of loose-leaf paper, and the sticky, sweet ketchuplike sauce was smeared all over the dough. The cheese, well, we won't go there. L.A.'s generally dismal New York pizza scene changed for the better a few months ago when Joe Vitale of New York City's original Joe's Pizza opened a red brick storefront on Broadway in Santa Monica. The sign screamed to me, “Yo, how about a slice?” Was I dreaming? Was I experiencing a pizza hallucination? Would an alleged New York–style pizza finally taste like New York?
I've heard that New Yorkers deprived of good pizza for too long develop hyponapoletana nervosa, a condition characterized by sweaty palms, irregular heartbeats, and an insatiable craving for fresh mozzarella. Joined by a couple ex-New Yorkers, we cured this bug with Vitale's fresh mozzarella pie, which was as delicious as any on Carmine Street. So authentic that, for a moment, I thought I could hear basketballs pounding on the asphalt of the West 4th Street courts.
Anyone who has enjoyed a Joe's pie knows Vitale makes a firm, crisp, and chewy crust with no tip sag. Silky and creamy, the fresh mozzarella sticks to the slice and melds with the fresh sauce. Folded, the pizza makes that magical crunch—one that only a true pizza lover understands.
In addition to the fresh mozzarella, we also devoured a half-sausage, half-cheese pie, which was good but only average. A nice homemade fennel sausage would have improved the taste. The fresh mozzarella is the way to go. Probably because Vitale uses fresh Grande-brand mozzarella despite the price. For sauce, he reaches the same gourmand caliber with San Marzano tomatoes. The pies are baked between 500 and 525 degrees—not nearly as hot as a brick oven but hot enough for a perfectly charred crust.
Is It Really the Water?
Finally, I had to ask Vitale about the water. Does it really make a New York pie? In his words: “It's not the water. Santa Monica can be proud of its water.”
His opinion can be taken to the bank. The pie tasted like it had been sauced, cheesed, and baked right there on Carmine Street. What else is there to say? I'm going back over right now for a couple more slices. Vitale said he'll be opening more L.A.-based pizzerias, and with the price of gas rising like the dough in one of his pies, this won't be a minute too soon.