A Hamburger Today
Royal Pizza: A Dying Breed
592 Third Avenue, New York NY 10016; map); 212-685-3619
Pizza Style: New York–style
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: A solid, dependable slice of old-school pizza at a more than fair price
Price: Slice, round or square, $2.50
They are a dying breed, pizzerias like this. Old school. Not a stop on a pizza tour. Not fawned and obsessed over. No celebrities dine here. No camera crews or food tourists visit. This is workaday pizza for working people. And like them it is humble and solid and dependable and unpretentious. Salt of the earth pizza for salt of the earth people.
Royal Pizza has been banging out pies since 1973 and serves up as classic an example of New York–style pizza as you will find. There are older and more celebrated (and to be honest, better) examples of the breed out there (Ray's on Prince, Sacco in Hell's Kitchen), but a slice or two at Royal will satisfy the soul and your hunger and won't break the bank in doing it. A slice of either round or square pizza will only set you back $2.50.
Obviously for such a low price you won't be getting artisanal cheese, lashings of extra virgin olive oil or a storied pizziola snipping fresh herbs on to your pie. But you will get a solid slice - the dough, crunchy and nicely burnished has some suppleness and a faintly yeasty flavor. The cheese, molten and mild, fuses with the sauce, which is more sweet than acidic, and provides a solid synthesis.
I don't really recommend getting toppings on the pizza here. The sausage slice I sampled had far too much of a dull tasting generic Italian sausage on it which obscured the more interesting flavors below.
But I like the thick brick that is the Sicilian slice at Royal most of all.
It is surprisingly not dense or stogy given its outward appearance. Rather underneath the crunchy exterior the inner core is light and airy. The sauce is applied in a very generous amount but fortunately it is the same sweet sauce as used on the plain slice, otherwise it might be a recipe for heart burn. A deluge of low moisture mozzarella tops the pie in what appears to be comic proportion, a dusting of oregano adding a herbaceous punch to the pie. Because of the thickness of the slice the cheese is not as out of control as it appears but is actually pretty close to the right proportion to for the sauce and dough.
Royal Pizza is one of those classic neighborhood gems. It is not the sort of place you necessarily travel great distances to try but it might be one day. There are fewer and fewer of these types of pizzerias around, these days you are far more likely to find a new pizzeria serving Neapolitan pies than you are to find one that serves an authentic NYC slice.