"It is ironic that square pies, stromboli, and fried calzones are considered new here, worthy of press releases and reviews, while they have been staples of the city's pizzerias since time immemorial."
211 First Avenue, New York NY 10003 (12th Street; map); 212-473-7447; luzzos.com
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
Oven Type: Coal- and wood-fired (and in the case of the Quadrata, electric and gas as well)
The Skinny: Three "new" forms of pizza and pizza dough–based dishes that will be familiar to most New Yorkers deliver the goods
Price: Quadrata 12-inch, $17; 16-inch, $21
When Luzzo's opened five years ago it was ahead of the curve as regards the Neapolitan craze raging in New York City these days. That the pies it serves are more an amalgamation of classic Neapolitan and pizza suited to American tastes (read: crisp crust) is not really relevant. Luzzo's never took a staunch, purist approach to Neapolitan pizza but sought to satisfy local tastes rather than dictate them.
Unfettered by puritanism, Luzzo's has added a trio of new menu items that will be familiar to most New Yorkers but will make likely make the VPN crowd cringe.
Luzzo's has one of the few coal ovens in the city, obtained only because a bakery that previously occupied the space was grandfathered in. Luzzo's uses both coal and wood to fire that oven.
Luzzo's has an interior design that can best be described as eclectic. It looks as if it is the work of gypsies, with bric-a-brac fastened throughout the dining room. For some reason there is an upside-down table and chair stuck to the ceiling.
New to the Luzzo's menu is the Quadrata, which, as the name implies, is a square pie. But rather than the thick, often dense crusts found on Sicilian pies around the city this one is vanishingly thin. According to New York magazine, the pie undergoes a cooking process that seemingly involves every form of oven, save microwaving. First the naked dough is placed in a square pan and is cooked in a gas oven, it then spends some time in an electric oven before being covered in cheese and sauce and finding its way into Luzzo's coal-and-wood-fired oven.
All this preparation takes a bit longer than a round pie at Luzzo's. While the round pizza can take but a few minutes, expect to wait around 20 minutes for the Quadrata to emerge form the various ovens. It's worth the wait. The pie arrives at table partitioned into six small slices and served on a wood cutting board. It's covered from border to border with tomato sauce that is dotted with fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil.
The crust comes out crisp—corner slices, braced by the the end crust, exhibit no tip sag. The center is a bit softer but still far more crisp than a Neapolitan pie. It has a pleasing crunch, and the flavor is remarkable in that it evocative of both gas-fired ovens and direct-fire methods of cooking.
The cheese was nicely melted, although perhaps may have spent a little more time in the oven. The sauce is in perfect proportion to the crust. But it lacks vibrancy and it could be a tad sweeter, being a little on the acidic side. This is something I hadn't noticed on the regular pies here, so perhaps all the cooking is doing something to the sauce.
I liked the square pie, more so than the regular pies, which I find to be good but not great. The square pie probably would benefit from some form of topping—pepperoni or anchovies would add a needed saltiness; the crust is robust enough to support them.
Also new to the menu is fried pizza, a variation on the calzone that Luzzo's cooks in the pizza oven, except this one is fried in olive oil. It emerges golden in color, and the crust is both crisp but also soft—remarkable because it is paper thin. I had mine filled with ricotta, ham, mozzarella, and sauce, all of which spilled out of the pocket in a molten mass when I cut it. I enjoyed the pizza fritta. It is not pizza in the traditional sense even though the ingredients are the same, but it offers much of the same pleasure.
A final addition to the menu is the "frusta," whip in Italian. The name is doubtlessly derived from the seam that bonds the dough at the top of what most New Yorkers will recognize as a stromboli. The crusty loaf (made from the same dough used for the pizza) came stuffed with cheese, broccoli rabe, and sausage and was spiked with red pepper. Again, not technically pizza but delicious nonetheless and further proof of the versatility of bread—fried or baked, thick or thin, flat or folded, it makes for good eating.
It is ironic that square pies, stromboli, and fried calzones are considered new here, worthy of press releases and reviews, while they have been staples of the city's pizzerias since time immemorial. But in a sense we are witnessing a historical recreation as to how these dishes made their way onto pizza menus in the first place. Italian immigrants started out making pizza and them slowly added variations on the theme, inspired by recipes from their homeland.