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Aug 11, 2006 12:09 AM

What is New York Pizza?

The San Francisco Board has these endless discussions about what NY Pizza is supposed to be.

So if you are a New Yorker, what is pizza to you?

If you are a transplanted New Yorker, especially a Californian, what are you looking for that you are not getting.

I grew up in Connecticut, close enough to NY to know the city very well and ate a lot of pizza in NY and surrounding areas.

All I can say is that we still don't have it in San Francisco. Not that we don't have excellent pizza in the area ... still ... when I'm on the East Coast and stop in even a nothing special pizzaria, with one bite the old yearnings come back and I think "why can't they do this in SF? It is just dough, cheese and tomato sauce".

One of the discussions is that NY pizza has a darker bake. I don't think that is true. I never actually liked a dark bake pizza.

Then there is the issue of foldable slices.

All I can say is that usually in SF, the crust is too thick and ... well, really ... everything is medicore ... the sauce has little flavor and even the cheese is 'eh'.

And let me state clearly ... anything with salad on it is NOT NY Pizza. It doesn't have argula or toy box tomatoes. And it has SAUCE on it, not stuff called 'tomato magic' or 'tomato confit'. Now that might taste really fine ... but it is not NY Pizza.

And I really don't understand it ... can't define it ... only know it when I taste it ... but for all the high-class organic artisan ingrediants, nothing beats the slice from that multi-generational pizza parlor in NY or even anywhere on the East Coast. When I lived in Boston, I never felt pizza-deprived.

As someone asked on the SF board ...

"Is it a slightly crispy, rather thin pie (no slices) from John's Pizzeria in the Village, or a ubiquitous heavy slice from Ray's found on almost any street corner?"

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    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Which illustrates my point perfectly. While both might be made in NY, and both excellent in their own right, only one of those can satisfy what a transplanted East Coast person is craving.

      If I were craving California pizza when living in another area, I would zone in on Cheeseboard pizza the minute I stepped off the plane.

      There are lots of fine pizzas here that I would happily eat here, but only one I would crave. So what is the first type of pizza you had to have the minute the plane hit the airports in the NY area.

      A general yes means there is no craving and all NY pizza is created equally. It is not.

      It's the difference between being married and dating. There's lots of people you date, but only one you love and commit to. Visiting New York, trying the best, and liking them all is not the same as committing to the same type of pie long term and living with it.

      1. re: rworange

        They're both indisputably NY-style pizzas. The pizza business isn't Highlander!

        Mine when I lived there was John's, but probably only because I wasn't diligent or lucky enough to learn about Grimaldi's, Lombardi's, Patsy's, or Totonno's.

        1. re: rworange

          To answer my own question, I think of John's as a classic NY pie. However, I also crave the street corner slice.

      2. I think it has to do with the level of grease floating on the top. The cheese absolutely has to be whole milk, and it has to be cooked such that the fat separates from the whey. That's NY pizza to me. Foldability, tangy (not tart!) sauce, those are of course important too.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jania

          Jania hit the nail on the head.John's on Bleeker, Grimaldi's on Fulton in Brooklyn or Frank Pepe's in New Haven are the standards, in reverse order.

          Tomato sauce, mozzarella, sausage, mushroom(optional). IMHO

          1. re: jania

            I also agree with jania's description only to add that maybe some of the grease oozes onto your hand whilst eating the folded, thin-crust slice; THAT'S New York pizza!

            1. re: jania

              Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! That's been my issue for years. The grease thing is CRITICAL. And it also helps (somehow) if the counterman uses a few undeleted expletives. Adds to the atmosphere.

            2. You know, I've had pizza in NY, Pizza in SF, and Pizza in just about every major U.S. city. I think there are good and bad styles of pizza in any place. But, then I'm easily pleased so maybe I just can't tell the difference.


              1. Ray's pizza is a grotesque mutation of NY pizza.


                1. ----
                  And let me state clearly ... anything with salad on it is NOT NY Pizza. It doesn't have argula or toy box tomatoes. And it has SAUCE on it, not stuff called 'tomato magic' or 'tomato confit'. Now that might taste really fine ... but it is not NY Pizza.

                  Wow, and I thought yuppie pizza was getting out of hand up here...

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Vexorg

                    I have to disagree there. Plenty of great pizzas are made with crushed, salted tomatoes (not sauce). They are not cooked before going into the oven.

                    Also, I had a great slice about 15 years ago underneath Penn Station. This was a regular NY slice onto which a pile of salad had been dumped after cooking (shredded iceberg, tomatoes, and olives). You could also drop some prosciutto on there with the salad after cooking the pizza. Is this more "Italian" than "NY?" I dunno.

                    1. re: Luther

                      The original tomato-topped pizza as invented and still made in Naples uses crushed canned plum tomatoes. I think the cooked "pizza sauce" puree was invented here in the U.S.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        You are absolutely correct. pizza with uncooked sauce is the pizza I grew up on and against which I judge all other pizza. That to me is what makes a NY pizza!

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          In making homemade pizza, I was amazed to discover that this, indeed, is one of the secrets to really great tasting pies. I discovered this one day right here on Chowhound when a now-unknown poster from Italy commented:

                          “The best pizza ‘sauce’ recipe, that which is used by many (if not all) pizza places here in Italy is just canned tomatoes (crushed), salt, pepper, dash of sugar and then oregano or basil. Mix together and spoon on to pizza dough. Do not cook the sauce first. That is the secret.”

                          1. re: Morris Malken

                            In my observation, the standard "sauce" in Rome was canned San Marzano or similar plum tomatoes, crushed. Period. Anything else was added by hand after the sauce went on. No pepper ever unless it was in a sausage. No herbs except on some pizzas a few fresh basil leaves.