753 Central Park Ave. Scarsdale, NY 10583 (map);
Pizza style: Neapolitan–style with a slight NY twist
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: First-class pizza made with quality ingredients
Notes: The Margherita is a standout
Price: $16-$19 for each 12-inch pizza
In December, USA Today put out a list of 51 great pizzerias: one for each state and Washington, DC. Did you happen to notice which spot was chosen as New York's representative to this pizza Senate? Was it Totonno's? Motorino? Di Fara?
Nope, it wasn't one of those. The New York pick was ZaZa.
When I heard, I was shocked that they'd picked a Scarsdale pizzeria that's located on a strip of strip malls with a Men's Wearhouse next door. I was prepared to hate the place. But now I must say that USA Today chose an amazing restaurant, one that truly should be considered among the stars of New York pizza.
My conversion experience happened two bites into a slice of Zaza's Margherita. The first bite impressed me. The crust was crisp—perhaps a little pale, but dotted with black blisters. The sauce was straightforward and balanced, with that nice bit of natural sweetness from the tomatoes. On the second bite I got a good amount of cheese. Creamy. Tangy. Even though it's not advertised on the menu, the cheese on these pies is buffalo mozzarella. The sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes, the dough is made from 00 flour, and the wood-fired oven that dominates the restaurant's dining room was built in Naples.
ZaZa's pies are a bit thinner than you might find at Motorino. They lack the open bread-like hole structure and feature a much thinner, slightly crisper crust. It isn't crackery or flaky, but remains pliable. Zaza's has managed to find a sweet spot between poofy Neapolitan and thin New York-style pies.
The pizzas were also far less soupy in the center than the usual Neapolitan-style (there's a slight bit of "dip tip," but not too much). The upshot of these two tweaks to the Neapolitan formula is that this is not fork-and-knife pizza. You can pick slices up, fold them and eat them without issue. Is it authentic? I'm not sure I care.
The crusts on the pies I sampled were all delicious. According to the owners, the oven gets up to a thousand degrees, so the pizzaiolo makes only two pies at a time, turning them once, and pulling them out after only two minutes.
A pizza topped with arugula, tomatoes, and prosciutto and drizzled with truffle oil was a lovely contrast of crisp, hot crust and cool, fresh greens.
The white pizza with artichokes, olives and ham was extremely rich and punctuated with nice hits of tanginess and bitterness from the olives and artichokes.
But the standouts were simpler pies that featured the cheese and excellent sauce. We had one topped with thinly-sliced salami that confirmed that salami is a far, far better pizza topping than pepperoni. The salami verged on delicate, giving the pizza a little extra meaty chew and tang without any serious spice. It balanced, rather than overpowering the pie. My only complaint: the pies are small, Neapolitan style, so you need to order one per person, and, being fancy-style, they're pricey.
Still, I can't stop thinking about the Margherita.
Getting back to that second bite: the richness and saltiness of the cheese, the bright acidity and sweetness of the sauce, and the pop of fresh basil play off the barely charred crust. It was one of those rare moments eating pizza when those few, seemingly simple elements—crust, sauce and cheese—hit exactly right. And then I got to take bite number three and do it all over again.