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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.

              TT

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

                http://petercherches.blogspot.com

                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.

                    2. for me, ny pizza is thin-crust (but NOT crispy - must be soft enough to bend) so that you can fold it in half and eat it.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: baconstrip

                        Hear hear....that's my basic definition as well.

                      2. A thin crusted marvel with a perfectly browned bottom, quick baked in an extremely hot oven (up to 1000 degrees) but not so crisp that you can not fold. Real tomato sauce (gravy), not too sweet. Handfuls of mozzarella laid all over. Then the toppings. Maybe pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, meatball, peppers, not arugala, spicy chicken, spinach, nope, keep it to the old world basics. Clams stay up I-95 in New Haven, deep dish (both also heavenly) stays out I-80 in Chicago.

                        1. I agree NY pizza is thin crust, maybe some sort of char for flavour, soft enough to fold, plenty of cheese with some oil... I never get beyond that so I wouldn't know popular toppings, maybe pepperoni.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: steinpilz

                            Exactly. "NY pizza" isn't TOO thin, and it's soft. 7 Star Pizza in Hoboken would make slices so large, you could hoist them up a flag pole at Yankee Stadium. I betcha the pliable pizza-pennant would crisply snap while flapping proudly in the wind ...

                          2. I grew up in Jersey just outside NYC. I agree with all the folding, greasy (I fold mine in half and squeeze the grease out the top of the crust onto the plate -- no napkins! unless you want paper bits on your pizza!), cheesy. The crust area should be dark brown on bottom, some spots are black (but very few, and not to my taste). These are NOT the pizzas shown at places like Lombardi's -- this is closer to a Ray's or random multi-ethnic place. (One of my favs was a pizza joint owned by Spanish-speakign Mexicans in the heart of Chinatown.)

                            There is ANOTHER type of pie that my parents love, and they call it "bar pie." It's usually served at bars, or bars that have morphed into small restaurants. It's generally a small pie, 10 inches perhaps, with less cheese, and sauce stretching all the way to the edge of the (usually burnt) crust, leaving less than a centimeter of space. It's foldable but the crust breaks like a cracker. Bottom is usually burnt as well.

                            1. Most of the US hadnt heard of pizza until about 1950 when a guy named Ike Sewell decided to open up a Mexican restaurant in Chicago, opened it, decided he hated Mexican food, didnt know what to do until he thought... why not pizza? (See
                              http://www.americanheritage.com/artic... ) But in New York it's been around for a lot longer. My dad grew up on pizza. He told me that pizzas were known as quarters... because a whole large pie cost a quarter of a dollar! One day he got a big shock when he went into his favorite pizza shop, said gimme a quarter, and was told it was now fifty cents!

                              There have been a lot of posts about why authenticity is valued, and I think most people place a lot of value in love and pride and tradition. So that's why, for people in the West, New York pizza has a cachet. That being said, ninety nine out of a hundred pizza places in New York serve stuff that's indistinguishable from Papa John's or Pizza Hut. (I should note that, though a lot of places are named Ray's, none of them are related to any other. Even Santa, in Jon Favreau's film Elf, advises an elf heading for New York, "There are many Ray's Pizzas, but the only good one is on eleventh [street and 6 avenue]" Good advice. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray'...

                              )

                              Here's a story about my favorite New York pizza. It will show what I consider New York pizza. The best pizza I've ever had I got in a small 100 year old pizzeria way out in Brooklyn. Totonno's. They use a very old coal-burning oven. The oven is the key to good pizza. Those old coal-burners create a white-hot intense heat that's different in different parts of the oven. The pizza-maker knows all the different zones of the oven -- the hot spots, the cool spots, the sweet spots -- like a violinist knows his violin, and he moves the bubbling pizza from one spot to the other to crisp and blister the crust without drying the dough. I'd walked to the pizzeria from Park Slope. A ten mile walk but it was a warm summer night, and I drank beer as I went. So I was sloshed when I got there. This pizzeria was known for its rude service -- they were especially unwelcoming to fancypants Manhattan rich types -- but they were extra-friendly to me. Once (this was another night) it took a long time to be served and I asked what caused the delay and they said, we made your pizza and it wasn't good enough so we threw it away and made you a new one. Now this pizza joint made only a certain amount of handmade dough and when the dough ran out they closed for the night. So by throwing away that imperfect pizza they were throwing away money. But they preferred to throw away money rather than serve a pizza that wasn't perfect. Later, I paid them back by writing their ad slogan. They didn't know it, I wrote it in a letter to a guidebook, which printed it anonymously and they got it from the guidebook. The slogan: Only God makes better pizza

                              4 Replies
                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                  OMG, that looks delish! But doesn't quite look like what I grew up on. Still, can't wait to track it down and try it.

                                2. re: Brian S

                                  A little more careful reading of the first article cited above plus some additional information would have said that Ike Sewell did open a Tex-Mex restaurant in Chicago in 1963. Su Casa still exists but is something of a tourist trap. Sewell's Italian-American partner, Ric Riccardo, was the one who didn't like Mexican food. This led to their opening Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and Pizzeria Due in 1955. Chicago had a material Italian presence going back to the nineteenth century. Chicago thin-crust pizza was fairly widespread well before thick crust was invented and has evolved independently. Judging from comments on the Chicago board and the Chicago-centric lthforum.com, many people would like a New York style pizza here but can't find it. Indeed, one person thought that Apart Pizza came close to New York style. The only problem is that the pizza maker came from Italy fairly recently and had never been in New York. The Italian roots of New York pizza just came though.

                                  1. re: Brian S

                                    Brian, I think you may be a bit confused on your Ike Sewell information. He opened Pizzeria Uno in 1943, followed by Pizzeria Due in 1955. It wasn't until 1963 that he opened his Mexican Restaurant Su Casa.

                                  2. A bit of trivia - In my 40+ years of eating pizza in NY, the price of a slice of pizza has generally been close to the price of a subway fare, both 15 cents when I started eating & riding in the early 60s.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Peter Cherches

                                      Does this mean that, just as you can buy a month of unlimited subway rides for about $80, you can buy a month of unlimited pizza for the same price?

                                      1. re: Brian S

                                        To use the price* of a slice from Famous Ray's as a benchmark, that 80 bucks will buy you 45 slices, which seems to me to be darn close to an unlimited supply of slices.

                                        *menupages.com

                                      2. re: Peter Cherches

                                        I remember paying 15 cents for a slice. When I told my co-wokers, they thought I was nuts.

                                      3. From a trade-magazine article on New York-style pizza:

                                        "If I were in New York, I might be tempted to call some of my friends there and get an opinion or two. The mistake in doing that is directly connected to the fact that every New Yorker has an opinion (or three) about New York style pizza. 'It has to be this, it has to be that.' 'You cannot do this, you cannot do that.' 'You have to use this kind of cheese (or tomato), not that kind of cheese.' 'The secret is ....'"

                                        http://pizzatoday.com/production_arti...

                                        11 Replies
                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I've lived in New York almost all my life -- I was born in Manhattan -- and I've always been passionate about pizza. I've never heard anyone talk about New York style pizza. I never knew the crust could be folded, I've never seen anyone fold the slice.

                                          1. re: Brian S

                                            You've lived in Manhattan all your life, and you NEVER saw anyone fold a slice????????
                                            I am incredulous!!!!!!!!...do you eat pizza with a knife and fork???
                                            Perhaps it was Manhattan, Kansas......

                                            1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                              A pizza would have to be pretty bad for me to have enough attention left over to notice how other people were eating theirs.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                But in NY we're talking about the tradition of the by-the-slice place where you eat a pretty big slice standing at a counter. A "normal" person :-) folds it and lets the extra grease drip down through the crust onto the paper or paper plate they've served it on. I don't know how you can eat a slice like that without utensils unless you fold it. The times I do use a fork & knife because the pizza seems too messy to pick up I feel self-consciously prissy.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Yes, I focus on the pizza. I dont watch other people eat. What can I say? I just never thought of folding the slice. And I've been to just about every old-school pizzeria in town. Totonno's, Patsy's in Harlem, Lombardi's. Even at Totonno's, which is not known for being prissy, they give you a knife and fork. I've never gone to DiFara's, but I'd be surprised if everyone there folded the slices Mr DiMarco slaved over.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    According to that History Channel show, Patsy's was the first pizzeria to sell by the slice.

                                                2. re: Brian S

                                                  I can't believe you've never seen anyone fold either. You have to be making that up :-)

                                                  1. re: sivyaleah

                                                    Ditto. Foldability is a key attribute to how NY pizza is designed.* I've been watching people fold NY pizza for 40+ years....

                                                    * In fact, it's one of the things that distinguishes classic NY pizza from classic Boston pizza (think the original Pizzeria Regina's in the case of the latter). Classic Boston pizza is just a tad enough thinner and crisper on the bottom that folding risks cracking the bottom crust; it can be done, but with greater risk. And there's less of a tradition of standing and eating slices in Boston compared to NYC.

                                                  2. re: Brian S

                                                    Brian, your list of pizzerias is exclusively sit-down, whole-pie places. What about Ray's, Stromboli, Joe's, etc.--i.e. single-slice, stand-up places? The quick slice on the run kind of place. If you want a fork & knife you have to pick up your own plastic.

                                                      1. re: Peter Cherches

                                                        Life is too short to hurry. Especially where pizza is involved. So no, I've never eaten pizza standing up. Ray's on 6 Av has a few seats.

                                                  3. Its a thin slice, crispy on the bottom but still some chewiness in the middle. Off the top of my head, I'd say maybe 1/4 inch think in the middle. Can't be overloaded with cheese or toppings, just enough to make a thin layer. The sauce cannot be sweet.

                                                    How you eat it is secondary, although everyone says that the way to determine if you have a NY style crust, is to fold it. If it cracks along the seam, the pizza is too crispy and not chewy enough. If its perfectly rounded, its too soft and not crispy and probably cooked at too low a temp (imagine folding a slice of pizza made from boboli).

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: ESNY

                                                      Growing up on the Fairfield/Bridgeport line, a place opened called the Apizza Center...about 25 booths a service beer/wine bar and damn good pies, at least to 10 year old kids in 1955.

                                                      People always left their charred crust ends on the platter and we'd cruise the aisles daily to finish a few off.

                                                      Years later a friend/neighbor in KC,MO called one night to see if we wanted to go out. I told him we were hungry and did he want to split a large pie. An abrupt "no" until the next morning when his girlfriend told me his request, "You better tell that guy I don't eat sweets."

                                                    2. Here's Robert Sietsema's NY pizza primer:

                                                      http://www.villagevoice.com/arts/0335...

                                                      And an excerpt from Ed Levine's "A Slice of Heaven":

                                                      http://www.sliceny.com/archives/2006/...

                                                      1. It's in the water, people! The water! That's what makes NYC pizza dough (crust)! ;)

                                                        Same thing with our bagels.

                                                        6 Replies
                                                        1. re: Justpaula

                                                          ...and yet neither of these foods was invented or first popularized in NYC...

                                                          1. re: Luther

                                                            No, and the burrito wasn't invented in the Mission, either, but they're the ones who have raised it to an art form.

                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                              You don't think pizza or bagels were ever raised to an art form in Italy or Poland before those foods were popularized in NYC?

                                                              1. re: Luther

                                                                In a word, no.

                                                                Not in the sense that they are an art form in New York City now, anyway.

                                                                1. re: Luther

                                                                  I don't think the history of pizza supports that argument.

                                                                  Are there any real bagels left in New York? Ten years ago there were only maybe three places left in inconvenient corners of Brookley or whaterver.

                                                                  1. re: Luther

                                                                    Robert, the Bagel Hole in Park Slope makes a great version of what is pretty much a classic NY bagel, though perhaps bigger than the bagels of my childhood. I've never tried the famous H&H bagels, and Ess-a-Bagel bagels are good, but are not classic NY bagels. Check the NY & outer boroughs boards for bagel talk.

                                                                    As far as bialys are concerned, Kossar's is as good as ever.

                                                            2. I grew up in NY and know as well as most of you what NY Pizza is. Many of the popular pizza places (the million different Rays) would not, in my opinion, be considered true New York Pizza bcause they are loaded down with pounds of cheese. This is a mistake that many places now make by mistaking volume of ingredients for quality of a slice. I am currently in South Florida and have found a pizzeria that makes pizza that would be considered very good by New York standards. It is Times Square Pizza on 18th Street between Military Trail and Powerline in Boca Raton. It is run by Brazilians and the pizza maker was trained in Maryland. Thin foldable, slightly charred crust, cheese doesn't overpower the excellent sauce and the right amount of grease. I highly recommend it.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: lotech

                                                                Can't get more authentically New York than a Boca Raton pizzeria with a Maryland-trained Brazilian cook!

                                                                1. Hahah, I love the story about the KC, MO "pie" misunderstanding.

                                                                  When I started at grad school in Boston, one day sitting around with a bunch of guys from school who came from all over someone requested ordering some food. I said: "Sure. Should we just order a couple pies?"

                                                                  response: "Pies? What are you talking about? I was thinking pizza or chinese or something."

                                                                  I laughed for 15 minutes.

                                                                  1. Never in my life, before moving out of new jersey, had I ever heard someone go into a pizzeria and order "one large pizza." It was "one large pie." Now, living in Boston, it's the opposite.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: tamerlanenj

                                                                      On Long Island, we used both usages, and since I continue to use both I've never noticed that others in Boston tend not to...

                                                                      1. re: tamerlanenj

                                                                        Speaking of a large pie, about 30 years ago I'm at Queen Pizza on Court Street, in Brooklyn, having a couple of slices, and a big, heavy guy is standing next to me. Out comes a large pie, and the pizza guy is about to put it in a box when the big guy says, "No, no, no, I'm gonna eat it here."

                                                                        1. re: tamerlanenj

                                                                          I moved to Florida from Bayonne, NJ, nearly 10 years ago, and I've lost most of my accent. But when I go to a local pizza joint here owned by guys from Staten Island, my husband laughs every time I ask, "canni getta lawge pie." I know of no other way to say it. :-)

                                                                        2. A New York slice:
                                                                          Thin crust.
                                                                          A little bit burned on the bottom.
                                                                          Whole-milk mozz, just enough, not too much like in the Ray's or Ray Bari style.
                                                                          Sauce not too sweet.
                                                                          A dusting of oregano.
                                                                          Foldable.
                                                                          Or the the case of a certain 1970's movie set in Bensonhurst, doubled-up.
                                                                          A little bit greasy.
                                                                          Yep, to get 8 slices of the same together is a pie.
                                                                          Or a lawrge pie.
                                                                          Price of a slice is near the price of a subway ride. $2.
                                                                          Gotta have an orange drink with it.
                                                                          Or a Coke.
                                                                          Or, even better, a Rheingold.

                                                                          1. The pizza=subway price ration is a very good catch. Although thankfully pizza has lagged behind the latest price hike to $2. I think most manhattan slices can still be had for under $2.

                                                                            1. Seems in general, slices are quickly closing in on two bucks, regardless of proximity to the train.

                                                                              I don't think I ever heard any New Yorker ever order a pizza. If yr in a pizza place, that's what they have. So, a pie or a slice?

                                                                              I can spot tourists, visitors or new residents easily via a number of clues: one dead giveaway is, "Can I get a cheese slice?"

                                                                              My experience in most of the country besides the obvious cosmopolitan areas is that pizza means Pizza Hut, so it's pre-made trash waiting for your order of fake frozen meats and veg heaped on top. I remember some chain marketing slices as unique a couple years ago. Oh, and there's that bizarre "party pie" cracker crust crap I've had near Midwestern campuses.