Gramercy: Frank's Express Pizza
127 E 23rd Street, New York NY 10010; 212 379 5469; franksexpresspizza.com
Pizza Style: New York–style
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: A perfectly fine example of the classic New York slice
Price:$2 a slice, square or round
Frank's Express lives up to its name. You can walk down East 23rd Street hungry one minute and the next be munching on a slice of perfectly fine classic New York–style pizza. Talk about instant gratification. At Frank's there always seem to be two pies waiting in the glass box, already apportioned into slices. A steady stream of eager students from Baruch and SVA, local businessmen in ill-fitting suits, and sweaty utility workers file up to the counter and whisk away a slice or two each. A pie can disappear in mere minutes, the metal serving tray stripped bare, quickly replaced with another pizza with an equally short life span.
The regular slice at Frank's is on the thicker side of things compared to the best New York pie. It falls somewhere between the svelteness of slices like those from the original Ray's on Prince or the original Patsy's in Harlem on one hand and the far thicker (and far too thick in my view) of most all the other pizzerias named Ray's. It also falls between the two camps in terms of quality. It does not scale the lofty heights of the best that the city has to offer but is far from the worst. And it is an authentic neighborhood pizzeria, something of an endangered species.
The sauce—a concoction dubbed "Carmelo's zesty Sicilian"—lives up to its name as surely as the pizzeria itself. It is tangy, sweet, and redolent with a flavor that is best described as "mixed Italian herb." It is applied in a dense slick on top of the dough and is the dominant flavor of the pizza.
The cheese is mild to the point of innocuousness and melts in small globules on top of the sauce. It stretches and becomes stringy—combined with the vibrant red sauce underneath, it looks like the face of Freddy Kruger or Jonah Hex.
The crust is soft and floppy. It does have some crunch but not enough that it will ward off tip sag. It doesn't have much flavor although even the sourest of sourdoughs might have a hard time asserting itself against Carmelo's sauce.
While the sauce dominates the flavor, a slice of Frank's still has a pleasing texture and overall is decent and enjoyable. It's well worth $2 and two or three minutes of your time.
I wasn't expecting much when it came to the Sicilian slice. It looked like it was going to be dense and leaden, and indeed if you get there late at night, it might well be. But I had a fresh one early in the day, and it was incredibly light and airy. The inner dough was more like a zeppole than your average square slice, while the bottom had a good crunch. The sauce is applied with far more restraint than on the regular slice, and the cheese is a dense blanket covering the whole pie without the sauce peeking out. In other words it doesn't resemble a disfigured movie or comic book character.
A decent round slice, a more than decent square. Each for only $2. What's not to like?