Veloce Pizzeria, East Village, Manhattan
"Here Come the Nice"
103 First Avenue, New York NY 10003 (b/n 6th/7th; map); 212-777-6677; velocepizzeria.com
Pizza Style: Sorta Sicilian, sorta grandma-style (somewhere in between) pan pizzas
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: If cooked to sufficient doneness, these 12-inch pies are delicious. Crunchy crust with a spongy-springy interior topped by a thick tasty sauce and quality mozz. Just be sure to eat it IMMEDIATELY; the dough (which may be too oily for many people) loses its crispness fast, becoming flaccid within 5 minutes of sitting in the pan and downright soggy after 10. Your best bet is to go in a group of 4 and order accordingly
Price: Margherita and sfincione pies, $15; arugula pie, $16; sausage or mushroom pie, $17
WIth all the pizza newbies setting up shop lately it's hard not to be skeptical. Is the latest Pizzeriza Nuovo actually dedicated to the art or just jumping on the artisanal pizza bandwagon?
When stories first splashed about the opening of Veloce Pizzeria about seven weeks ago, I was like, "Not another one! Geesh." And it's specializing in Sicilian pies? Hmm. Not my favorite style.
As Amanda Hesser wrote in a 2004 New York Times profile, Jenkins is a bit of a "gypsy chef." She's an Italian-influenced chef who's moved from place to place, cooking for others and winning quiet praise from critics and food groupies—but she has not really become a "star chef" in her own right. (Although, within the last year she's opened her own restaurant—Porchetta, yum—and has started to gain wider acclaim.) To put it another way (and maybe it's not perfectly analogous), if Mario Batali is the Who, Jenkins is the Small Faces. (Music-snob foodies, feel free to beat me down in the comments for that one.)
First Visit: Margherita Pie
When I hit the place for lunch on an initial visit and received a soggy, undercooked Margherita pie, I was disappointed. Sure, the mozzarella was good (a low-moisture fresh mozz from DiPalo) and the sauce (cooked) was thick, rich, and savory—but nothing can salvage a pie that forces you to choke down raw, gummy dough.
This is what I had read some early favorable reports about!? Seriously? Sure, there were some nice crunchy bits of cheese and crust at the edges, and I appreciated the fact that the 12-inch pie was cut in quarters, ensuring that every slice is a coveted corner slice, but, to quote a Chowhounder, the slice and a half I ate on this visit "sat like a rock in my stomach."
It was a very greasy, floppy, sad mess.
Second Visit: Sausage Pie
About four days after my first visit, Frank Bruni named Veloce's Margherita No. 2 on his favorite pies list. I was going to do a second visit to Veloce anyway, but this had me hoofing it back there double-time. Had I missed something?
And on this visit, I was sufficiently impressed. Talk about a second chance at a first impression. I eschewed the Marg in favor of sausage. If there's one thing Sara Jenkins knows her way around, it's pork. (The porchetta sandwich at Porchetta is awesome.)
And here, it's a house-made crumbly pork sausage flavored with rosemary, sage, fennel, and fennel pollen. It's a mix that's somehow subtle yet flavor-packed—none of the herbs overpowers the others, but there's a rich, musky finish to the bite.
And, thankfully, this time the crust performed. It was crisp, even crunchy, with a springy-spongy interior. I could actually pick it up without resorting to knife and fork. Winning crust plus awesome sausage equals one of the most alluring pizzas I've eaten in weeks.
Plan Your Attack (a Digression)
That said, I did discover something about this pizza: You have to eat it immediately after it hits the table. After five minutes sitting in the pan, it becomes flaccid; after ten minutes, it's absolutely soggy, with the moderately dense hole structure of crust having reabsorbed the abundant amount of oil found in the pizza at Veloce. To say that these pies are oily is an understatement, and some people will find them delicious [raises hand]; others will be put off entirely.
Your best approach is to bring three friends and, to use a Bubbleism, house those slices like nobody's business.
The slices are dense and filling. If you're a light eater, one slice will do you up—especially if you've had a salad or appetizer beforehand. Two slices should satisfy even a heavy pizza-eater. So if you do the four-friend attack, just order accordingly and try to eat fast.
Third Visit: Back to Margherita
With one bad and one excellent pizza on the card, I needed a third visit to settle things before I felt I could write this place up. So on Monday I hit Veloce again. After considering a mushroom pie, I went with another Marg. I really wanted to stick as close to the baseline as possible, and I felt that, if I got a soggy crust with a mushroom pie, I'd never know if it was due to undercooking or the moisture level of the fungus.
Anyway, long story short, this pie was also very solid. You can see the difference in appearance between the slice just above and the one I had on first visit. This one was cooked properly and had the same crunchy-but-not-too-crunchy texture with that nice springy crust interior. There were bits of crisp, just slightly charred cheese (I happen to like those bits). And the cook took a heavier hand with the grated aged cheese.
What Other People Are Saying
I've yet to try the other pies on the menu—the Mushroom, the Arugula (with mozz, fontina, sweet onion, grape tomatoes), and the Sfincione (tomato sauce, anchovies, onion, caciocavallo cheese, toasted breadcrumbs)—but I've found a winner so far in the Sausage pie. If you're a carnivore, opt for that over the Margherita.
Veloce also offers special pies on occasion. Bruni mentioned a clam pie, and when I was in on Monday, they had a spicy sopressata pie with caramelized onions.
There's also a lunch special—a slice (choice of Margherita and sometimes Mushroom or Arugula), a salad, and a beer (Radeberger—the only beer on tap there) for $10. It's probably the best bet for the solitary diner; did I mention that one slice is pretty filling?