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Troubling Pizza Trends in NYC

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[Photograph: Dave Katz]

As a New Yorker who has known and loved and chronicled New York pizza as much as anyone, I guess, I regret to inform Slice'rs that the state of our pizza union in general in Gotham, and our much-storied slice in particular, is pretty damn sorry right now.

That's because of the confluence of three unwelcome trends here:

  1. Every deli on every corner seems to be putting in a pizza oven—I guess to encourage one-stop lunch shopping on a daily basis. The unfortunate result is lots of less than mediocre (all right, let's call them bad) slices.
  2. The proliferation of dollar slice places. I know and appreciate a good food deal as much as anyone, but almost all of the dollar pizza serve pretty awful pizza. I don't mind the small size of the slices, I mind the banal quality of the pizza. I would put it on a par with frozen or chain pizza. I also know that being able to have two slices of pizza and a soda for less than three dollars means there are going to be more, not fewer, dollar pizza places. So I am pissing into the wind here.
  3. But even the Neapolitan pie, which in general has gotten better, is not immune to mediocrity. There's a proliferation of "Neapolitan" pizzerias here that tout their wood-burning oven and their authentic Neapolitan style. Some of these, of course, are excellent. But you could have the greatest wood-burning oven imaginable and make your own mozzarella and use San Marzano tomatoes and still produce bad pizza. Why? Because making good pizza requires skill and passion and care and great effort. Perhaps most importantly, it requires learning how to make pizza from someone who knows what good pizza is.

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Are these trends only in New York? Maybe the dollar slice is, but the ubiquity of bad pizza by the slice is definitely spreading across the nation. On our last trip to the Cape, I noticed that just about every gas station sells frightening-looking pizza. And I'd like to know from all you Slice'rs out there, can you find mediocre pizza made in a wood-burning oven where you live?

These are important questions worth pondering everywhere. But even as we continue to see better pizzerias, innovators and fine piemen all across the city pushing the boundaries and making ever more-interesting pizza, we continue to see the bottom fall out of the proud corner slice tradition—and we see that the title of a Neapolitan pizzerias does not mean what it once did. I fear the pizza culture is collapsing in on itself.

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