Mulberry Street Bar
176 Mulberry Street, New York NY 10013 (map); 212-226-9345
Pizza style: New York-Neapolitan
Oven type: Gas brick
The skinny: Go for the large regular mozz pies or the buffalo mozz. Avoid smalls and fresh mozz.
Price: Pizza: $7.95-$15.95 (small) $14.95-$23.95 (large); Calzone: $9.95
I've been following the recent developments within and around my favorite dive bar—Mulberry Street Bar on Mulberry between Grand and Broome—with great interest. It's always a little frightening when one of your favorite haunts comes under new ownership, especially when it's a relatively recently discovered new haunt. I mean, we were still in our honeymoon phase before she up and changed on me.
Luckily, the changes thus far have been pretty good. I've already written about the very decent burger they serve on their new* menu. Next up: the pizza menu, which is surprisingly expansive, with pies ranging from a classic dry grated mozz NY-style ($8.95/$17.95 small/large) to their "Doc" Margherita ($23.95, large only) with real buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil, and a Seafood Pizza ($15.95/$28.95 small/large) with clams, shrimp, calamiar, and mussels.
*new as in they didn't have a menu before, and now they do
Of course, none of this matters if they don't get the basics right. So how do they stack up?
My first couple of experiences there were solo, so I ordered small pies. Decent by Little Italy standards (where terrible pizza abounds), but not spectacular, with a slightly oversweetened sauce, and an underbaked crust that was not stretched thin enough.
The cheese on the Pizza Margherita ($10.95/$19.95 small/large) is a pretty generic and rubbery fresh mozzarella. If you're sticking with small pies, you're better off going with the dry mozz version (the "Classic Pizza"), or one of the topped options.
The Pizza Anna ($10.95/$18.95 small/large) comes with slices of perfectly serviceable if unspectacular prosciutto and extremely large and hot leaves of arugula. We're living in a mild baby arugula world these days, baby, but I personally like the bitter, peppery bite of mature arugula leaves.
It wasn't until my third try there that I finally discovered how to order: get large pies. The larger pies have dough that's stretched a little thinner and seems to be baked a bit longer, solving the doughiness problems that plague the smaller pies.
The regular pies handily beat any other pizza in the area (with perhaps the exception of Rubirosa, which doesn't count because of its completely different style), and are well above average for a typical casual New York joint.
The one to get is the "Doc" Margherita. Available in large only ($23.95), it comes with some great creamy, milky, tangy buffalo mozzarella, a grating of Parmesan, fresh basil (yeah, they cut it from from the live plants in the window), and a sauce that could use a bit more freshness, but is by no means bad.
It's really got very little to do with a true DOC Neapolitan pizza as their menu would have you believe—it's more of a hybrid between New York style with its relatively thin crust and smooth sauce, Little Italy style with its brick-oven browning, and Neapolitan with its excellent cheese. It's a combo that I really dig. I wish more New York-style pizzerias used buffalo mozz.
The pie is pricey for a NY-style pie at a casual restaurant, but it's big enough to feed 3 or 4 easily.
Their calzones are also strong, coming out of the oven puffed like giant footballs and available in five flavors (cheese; mushroom/roasted peppers/sausage; prosciutto; broccoli rabe; and eggplant caponata), all $9.95.
The well-stuffed calzone are gut bombs. I found myself going for the salad that comes on the side just to cleanse my palate of the creamy ricotta and mozzarella between bites.
If only they served that buffalo mozz pie by the slice, this might become my go-to lunch spot. As it is, I'll just have to continue to cajole and manipulate my coworkers into coming down with me.
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.