316 Mamaroneck Avenue, Mamaroneck NY 10543; map); 914-381-2022
Getting There: Metro North New Haven Line to Mamroneck Station; Mamroneck is accessible from I-95 and the Boston Post Road
Pizza Style:Neapolitan and Sicilian
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Decent Neapolitan and outstanding Sicilian justify the lines that stretch up the block. The Sicilian has a crisp, airy crust a not-too-sweet sauce and gobs of oozing milky, cheese
When I moved to Mamaroneck in the early 1990s to attend nearby Purchase College, my first order of business was to scope out the local food scene. During an early morning drive through town, before the stores had opened, I noticed no less than three pizzerias on Mamaroneck Avenue, the towns main shopping street. When I returned that evening two of the three shops had a few people milling about and the third, Sal's Pizzeria, had a line of 50 people outside of it. There was little doubt in my mind that Sal's would be the place I would be eating pizza in my new hometown. Any doubt that might have remained was soon vanquished as I sampled the pizza for the first time.
Sal's have been in business for almost 45 years and while they also serve heaping plates of pasta and calzone the size of your head it is the pizza that is the pizza that dominates the menu. Sal's make a decent, although not world beating, regular pie that Ed Levine correctly described as as having "a yeasty crisp crust that holds up well" to the toppings in his pie opus, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven.
They also make a more novel salad pizza—regular thin-crust dough is baked with tomato sauce and then topped with a mixed salad doused in Italian dressing. Amazingly, it never seems to wilt or get soggy despite a generous coating of oil and vinegar, although that may because they sell a lot of slices and it never sits around for long. But the real reason to visit Sal's, the reason people line up 50 deep on a weekend, is for the Sicilian slice.
Forget those thick, dense, stogy Sicilian crusts that you might be familiar with, Sal's dough is light and airy. The bottom crust comes out of the oven a burnished, golden hue. The exterior has a pleasing crunch but the inside is quite delicate with a honeycomb-like internal structure. As a testament to the crusts lightness whole pies tend to sag at the corners under the weight of all the cheese. If you like your crust a bit crunchier go for a corner slice, otherwise stick to the middle.
The sauce is sweet but not unduly so, with notes of oregano and basil. The mozzarella is mild and milky, because it is a young cheese it has a fresh flavor but not much depth. It melts perfectly, oozing over the slice irregularly, revealing traces of the sauce below. Biting the slice provides a near perfect pizza synthesis as the gooey cheese and vibrant sauce contrasts with the snap of the crust, yielding a slightly chewy, yeasty inner core. Although I always think that there is too much cheese on the slice I always end up eating it all, which is an indication that the ratio is actually ideal.
I still remember my first bite of Sal's Sicilian—I was instantly transported back to Siena, Italy, but not to a pizzeria, instead to a bakery that sold focaccia topped with a simple tomato sauce. It was a virtually indistinguishable recipe from the one that graces Sal's Sicilian slice. Although I moved back to New York City after school, I still make it a point to visit Sal's a few times a year. These days biting in to a slice at Sal's no longer evokes a bakery in Siena as much it conjures up in my mind the first time I stood in line with my new neighbors and ate some truly delicious pizza.