We've been watching the progress of the new Nolita location of popular Sunset Park bar/pizzeria Toby's Public House with great interest over the last few months. After a few hitches with neighborhood vandals opposed to grating the owners a liquor license, Toby's finally opened a few weeks ago with a full menu of salads, antipasti, pizza, and desserts. The liquor license issue is still up in the air.
The good news? Their oven is real wood-fired. To the best of my knowledge, it's the only wood-fired pizza oven in the vicinity of Little Italy, which gives it the potential of being the best pizza in Little Italy as well.
Toby's doesn't do slices, but whole pies cook fast. We called in an order from the office, was told it'd be ready in ten minutes, went over to pick it up, and found that it had been ready to go for a few minutes before we got there. I'd estimate closer to 6 minutes from order to readiness. This is also a good sign, indicating that the pies cook fast—that's what you want if the perfect balance of crispness and chew are what you're after.
Pies range in price from $13 (a plain Margherita) to $18 (made with prosciutto and black truffle cream), with most of their 18 variations sitting at $14 or $15.
The wood-burning oven really does make a difference. Toby's pies are certainly not Neapolitan, but they aren't quite New York in style either. They straddle the two styles leaning a little closer to New York, but they do show a good amount of char and bubbling around their edges and underneath, with a nicely raised edge.
Their sauce is unremarkable but fresh tasting, and while I could have done with a bit more crispness in the super thing crust (these slices flop if you hold'em from the edges), the dough itself was nicely flavored. I enjoyed eating the bones of this pie almost as much as the center.
You can see from the underbelly shot here that they keep their ovens reasonably hot, which translates to a nice amount of char and a subtle smokiness. My biggest complaint? The cheese. It's clear they're using fresh mozzarella instead of the low-moisture shredded king typical on a New York pie, but it's not of the highest quality. Rather than melting into gooey, moist puddles, it stays mostly intact, coming off more as dry than creamy the way a great fresh mozzarella should be. My guess is that they buy in bulk and refrigerate, causing the cheese to lose its good melting properties.
Is it a pie worthy of making a special trip? No way. Is it a step up from the standard NY by-the-slice joint? Absolutely. Add to that the fact that once the liquor license issues get handled, you can get it with a couple of pints or a cocktail on the side, and it's not a bad thing at all. As Ed put it: "If this were the new standard for typical New York pizza, I'd be happy with that."
Toby's Public House
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.