Sacco Pizza: Revisiting a Childhood Favorite
You might remember Nick Solares's review of Sacco Pizza from last year. I love the place so much, I though it worthy of a revisit.
819 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10019; map); 212-582-7765
Pizza Style: New York–style
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: As classic as a NY slice gets, slightly underbrowned crust.
Price: Plain slices $2.50, Sicilian and Grandma, $2.75
I was one of those nerdy kids that went to music school several times a week. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night, my mom would pack up me and my violin and ship us over to the School for Strings on West 54th. While I would eventually grow to love music, I can't say that the hours of cruel and painful practice, or standing in line playing "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" in unison were what made me look forward to music school nights. Nope. It was the pizza, and more specifically, the pizzeria.
You see, right around the corner from the school was an old-school New York slice shop called Pat & Joe's. A few nights a week, I'd eat my dinner there—one seriously delicious, archetypical New York slice. Thin crusted and crisp, with just the right amount of chewy stretchy dough in between the base and the sauce layer. The sauce had a small hint of oregano, but tasted mostly of fresh tomatoes, and the cheese was always minimal—just a bare covering to lend a bit of flavor and fat to the base. Applied sparingly enough that the sauce would still peek through and the dough remained unfettered, allowing it to bubble up, creating the cratered, blistered, unevenly textured surface that is one of the hallmarks of a great New York slice.
On days when I was feeling especially hungry or adventurous, I'd get a slice of their Sicilian. Same great tasting dough, but this time a lot more of it, under a heavy blanket of cheese.
The space was as classic as the pizza, with a walk-up window on the sidewalk right next to the drink bubblers filled with bright red fruit punch and deep purple grape drink. I always opted for a fountain cup of fruit punch in lieu of the Coke they kept in the fridge at the back of the shop. Inside, the double deck oven divided the front counter area and the few booth-style seats in the back. I spent many hours in the back of the shop playing video games, occasionally burning my elbow against the back of the oven, which was completely exposed (marked with a piece of tape that said "HOT!").
I remember a night when I'd just polished off my slice and fruit punch, then proceeded to polish off one of the local teenagers in a Street Fighter II match. For winning, I received a slug in the gut from the much larger thirteen-year-old. The owner saw it go down and booted him out on the street, telling him never to step foot in his shop again.
These days, the video games are out (presumably to stop local teens from beating up on music school nerds), and a new floor has been put in, but you'll still find the same drink bubblers and the same excellent New York slices. The prices are higher—a regular slice runs $2.50, exactly double what it was back in 1986—and they've now got a garlic-lade Grandma slice in addition to their Sicilian. Otherwise, it remains largely unchanged.
The history of the shop—which is now known as Sacco Pizza and named after the Italian hometown of the current owner—is a bit hazy. According to the current owner, who calls himself Joe, he's been running the shop since 1980. That makes sense, because he's the same guy who's been slinging the pies and mixing the dough as long as I can remember. On the other hand, the same Joe told Nick Solares that he's been there since 1975. Compounding the mystery is the fact that after an oven fire in the early 90's, Pat & Joe's briefly reopened under the name Joe & Dominic's.
Some fairly reliable intelligence tells me that Dominic has been his business partner since they bought the shop in either 1975 or 1980 (before that, it was called Original Ninth Avenue Pizza and was around since 1961), but when I asked Joe when they had changed the name from Joe & Dominic's, he claimed that it never had that name, and that he didn't know who Dominic was. Odd. But he did assure me that it's Sacco pizza now, and Sacco pizza it will remain.
Is there anything strikingly original or phenomenal about their pies? Nope. But it's about as great a neighborhood pizzeria you could hope for, the kind with a bit of history, a whole lot of personality, and an owner who's willing to get your back when the bullies are beating on you.