Singas Famous Pizza
82-86 Broadway, Elmhurst NY 11373 (near Whitney Avenue; map); 718-651-3190; plus other locations singaspizzas.com
Pizza style: Greek-style personal pan pizzas
Oven type: Blodgett gas-fueled deck ovens
The skinny: Many toppings available. Triggers a Proustian reaction from those who grew up on it but fun stuff even for people discovering it as an adult
Price: $5.95 for a plain pizza, up to $8.25 for the most expensive specialty pie
If you know anything at all about Singas Famous Pizza, a small 23-store chain based in Elmhurst, Queens, it's likely that the place is an Indian-run pizzeria popular with South Asians — an assumption we've made in the past round these parts.
But, says Singas director of operations Enrique Almela, "That's a popular misconception that actually works in our favor. The name's Greek. Maybe the strangest Greek name you've seen, but the original owner was Greek."
That might explain both the style of pizza at Singas — a 10-inch personal-size pizza cooked in a pan until the crust is ultra crisp, almost fried — and its popularity among South Asians. That part's true, but whether that's due to the name or the fact that Elmhurst once had a substantial Indian and Pakistani population is anyone's guess.
You'll always get a fresh pie at Singas because they're cooked to order. Even though the crust here is a bit thinner than most Greek-style pan pizzas I've sampled, it still takes about 15 minutes before you get pie. When it's pulled from the oven, the guy behind the counter pries it from its pan onto a red circular cutting board, and, with a well-practiced series of moves, slices your pizza with a long, cool-looking curved knife.
Do you think anyone even considers robbing this place?
A plain cheese pizza, with its slightly sweet sauce and just enough mozzarella, is $5.95. It's a good deal. It will comfortably fill up one person and might even be split among two dainty eaters, like the pair of elderly Chinese women I witnessed sharing a pepperoni pizza (Elmhurst's demographic has shifted heavily in the East Asian direction). It's not "artfully charred" or "artisanal." It's a workaday pizza that seems to be part of the fabric of the neighborhood, with teenagers stopping in after school and families taking their kids there as a treat. Just look at Yelp, for instance, and you'll see many a reviewer namecheck it as their childhood pizza.
Coming to it as an adult, I'm not sure if I'm as big a fan as those folks, but it does sort of bring out my own personal nostalgia for Pizza Hut's Personal Pan Pizza — but seems better than I remember those tasting, if only because Singas still has the veneer of a mom-and-pop shop.
And, with a ton of topping choices (all the usual suspects and then things like cauliflower ... ? ...) and the fact that even the most expensive pizza comes in at $8.25, it's a place that encourages experimentation. I seem to remember our onetime Queens correspondent Joe Distefano recommending a jalapeño pizza. Tasty, when I tried it, but it's still coming back to haunt me as I type this hours later.
I can't say that Greek-style pizza is my favorite genre, but it hits the spot every now and then, and Singas does a credible job of it. Worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood.