633 Jericho Turnpike, New Hyde Park NY 11040 (at South 8th Street; map); phoneNoHere; originalumbertos.com
Pizza style: New York-, Sicilian-, and grandma-style
Oven type: Brick-lined gas oven
The skinny: Umberto's claims to be "home of the grandma pizza," and that's definitely the thing to get there. It makes one of the best grandma pizzas I've had
Price: grandma pie, $17.75; Sicilian pie, $17.90; regular pie ("Neapolitan"), $13.81
I don't know how much I really have to say about Umberto's Pizzeria and Restaurant, so let's see if I can't just wrap it up with one sentence: The grandma pizza here is phenomenal. That's about all you need to know.
But guess what? See that info box over to the right? I need to write at least enough stuff to reach to the bottom of that, otherwise this post will look sort of funny.
OK. I'm joking ... Sort of. Really, the grandma pizza at Umberto's is killer. Thin-crusted, as per the "nonna" style, it's topped with a rich and complex yet bright-and-fresh-tasting plum-tomato sauce spiked with oregano. Over that, just enough regular mozzarella cheese, baked in spots to that nutty-brown color, all crisp-chewy, with that special flavor that comes with it—almost-burned-but-not-quite. And where the cheese is not crisped, it's creamy and almost oozing from the slice. This is a deeply satisfying pizza, and it's no surprise that the grandma pie is what Umberto's is known for.
That's pretty much the short and long of it. So I'm going to devote the rest of my space here today to ...
The Difference Between Grandma-Style and Sicilian
You know, almost as many tipsters seem to dig the Sicilian at Umberto's. So while I was there I picked up one of those in addition to the grandma. But my real motive was to do a little compare and contrast. See, dmcavanagh asked last week about the difference between the two styles:
Grandma vs. Sicilian vs. that Santucci pie in one of today's posts, exactly what are the differences. And, my belief is that "real" Sicilian pie does not have mozzarella on it.
And then, when I got home with these pizzas, Girl Slice was like, "What's the difference?"
Ah ha! And so the second half of this post was born. Now that I've got some photos to share, I'll just quote myself from that thread last week, since some of you may have missed it.
Grandma vs. Sicilian is the easier part of that multi-part question. Sicilian is the thick square/rectangular pizzas many people might be familiar with. Here's Umberto's Sicilian above.
Grandma, in my mind, is a thinner-crust Sicilian. Usually with ample garlic... But, not always. In fact, Umberto's grandma had no discernible garlic flavor whereas the Sicilian had a hint of the stuff.
My only experience with "Sicilian" pizza has been in NYC, where it has mozzarella 95% of the time. I think I've seen it with just a dusting of Parm on very rare occasions. If you are talking "real Sicilian" as in FROM SICILY, then I'm sure you've seen Scott Wiener on this subject. Scott indicates that in Sicily itself there would be no mozzarella. Personally, when *I* talk about Sicilan, I mean NYC Sicilian—and therefore mozzarella.
You can really see the difference in the thickness in the shot above and in the following.
And though this is not always the case, I've found that there's often a difference in the crust doneness between the two styles:
Just above is the grandma upskirt.* It's more a dark-golden brown. Whereas many of the Sicilian pies I've had around the city ...
Sometimes get a little too dark. This corner slice is really walking the line between what I'd consider acceptable and what I'd term burned. My guess is that the thicker dough requires a longer bake and therefore more time to get to this state.
While a lot of folks online, on Slice, and in person have raved to me about the Sicilian at Umberto's, I would say that it's good, but nowhere near as stunning as the grandma. I'd put it up there with the ones at Adrienne's Pizzabar and Best Pizza, though it's different from either—more traditionally "NYC corner slice joint" than those two versions, which I think of as grandma pies kicked up a notch or two.
I am now kicking myself for not heeding the words of Cary and Lillian Steiner, who have been urging me to try Umberto's for AGES. Cary, Lillian, I'm sorry. And I finally understand your obsession with the place.
And now I think I've said all I have to say about the place. Hasta la pizza, folks!
* I know we've moved away from the term "upskirt" for slice bottoms, but I could not resist the combination of "grandma upskirt." That phrase is going to be gold in terms of SEO.