For years I've daydreamed of starting a pizza museum. How cool would it be to see pizza tools from New York City's legendary pizzerias? To see an exhibit that untangles the braided branches of the city's pizza family tree?
Of course, the trend in museum design in the last couple of decades has been toward more immersive and interactive exhibits, so the pizza museum of my dreams would serve pizza as well, with different types of ovens pumping out examples of the various pizza styles we've identified.
Turns out that the new Greenwich Village pizzeria 900 Degrees has pretty much taken my daydream and made it reality. With two different ovens, this spacious, welcoming restaurant offers visitors four distinct genres of pizza: Neapolitan, Roman, Sicilian, and "tomato pie," in addition to a sort of category-defying menu subsection dubbed "Pizza Americana."
Nine-Hundred Degrees is the first East Coast outpost of business partners Tony Gemignani and Bruno DiFabio. Gemignani is an award-winning pizza-maker and dough-tosser whose name graces Tony's Pizza Napoletana and Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House, two popular and highly regarded pizzerias in San Francisco. (Regular Slice readers might recall David Kover's piece on Tony's Slice House or these posts on TPN.)
At 900 Degrees, they've installed a talented young pizzaiola,* Audrey Pagnotta Sherman, who apprenticed for two years at Tony's Napoletana in SF before moving to NYC seven months ago to oversee the pizza operations here. Judging by just the handful of pizzas I sampled earlier this week, Ms. Sherman is doing a fine job matching the excellent Gemignani-made pies I've had at TPN in San Francisco. That is to say, she's got her shit down.
On the Neapolitan side of the menu [pdf], all from the wood-fired pizza oven, you've got three choices, the Marinara, the Spacca Napoli, and the Margherita — and only 73 Margheritas are made each day. Our friendly waitress, clearly not knowing we were a table of pizza know-it-alls, helpfully explained the style: "The pizzas are wood-fired, which gives them a nice char around the edges and some crispness, but the center is still a bit moist, which helps the ingredients retain their freshness."
All true. The crust was charred just a bit around the edges, with some mottled black spots on the bottom, lending a nice amount of smokiness in some bites and maybe a bit too much in others. The tiny blisters at the edges seemed to add an unusual crispness, but the crust remained soft and chewy. The sauce had an unbelievably bright flavor, and the cheese (fior di latte) was milky fresh, creamy, and gooey. The center, yes, was "wet," but not insanely so. With care, you pick up a slice, flop the tip back on itself, and forgo the knife and fork (900 Degrees serves its Neapolitan pies cut into sixths).
As with Neapolitan-style pizza, the rule of thumb is one per person. If you're looking to share a pizza, however, you might try the ...
The Roman pizza here is an interesting concept. There are three of them on the menu, each 2.5 feet long. They're all pan-cooked in an electric oven imported from Italy. Each is essentially three pizzas in one: one-third "antipasto," the middle third the "entree," and the remaining third the "dessert." We tried the namesake Gemignani pizza:
- Cherry tomato, cured black olives, basil, garlic
- Hot soppressata, arugula, shaved Parmesan
- Sweet fig, prosciutto, balsamic reduction, goronzola
The crust is extremely thin. My dad, the ultimate thin-crust lover, a man who has taken to topping flour tortillas with pizza junk, would LOVE this crust. It's paper thin in the middle, which is crisp just out of the oven but becomes a little floppy as it sits. But the edges, where left bare, puff up nicely, ranging from golden brown to, well, a bit burned here and there.
I particularly liked the soppressatta "entree" and the sweet "dessert" thirds of this pizza. Ms. Sherman and crew take a light hand with the toppings — just enough so you get a bit of them all in each bite, but not so much that you're eating an arugula salad on top of your pizza. These 3-in-1's are meant to be eaten sequentially, but it's not going to kill you if you go and mix up the order.
The Roman pies are $35 to $38 and are meant to be shared by two to three people.
The "tomato pie" portion of the menu again has three different pies. They're about the same size as the Neapolitan Margherita but are cooked in the electric oven, which is brick lined. Despite the name, which many pizza nerds will associate with New Jersey pizza, they're essentially Gemignani's interpretation of New York–style pizza. The dough is chewier, a bit more dense than the Neapolitan pizza. The edges are a little more airy. Ms. Sherman explains that the difference is that the tomato pie dough includes malt and oil, whereas the Neapolitan dough is simply flour, salt, yeast, and water.
The tomato sauce, a generous amount topping aged mozzarella, is herbed and maybe a touch too sweet. The "hand-pinched" sausage on the Original Tomato Pie with Cheese is superb. My only complaint is that it's laid on a bit sparse.
We didn't get to the Sicilian and "Pizza Americana" bits of the menu, but, hey, when you go to a first-rate museum, do you see every exhibit? At a place like The Met or AMNH, there's just too much. And 900 Degrees is first-rate museum-level stuff. I'm planning my next visit now.
* Note that pizzaiola is the feminine version of pizzaiolo. More on that here.
29 Seventh Avenue South, New York NY 10014 (Morton/Bedford; map)