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Help me narrow down my pizza choices...

  • tvham May 19, 2009 03:06 PM

SF Hound coming into Manhattan for 4.5 days and I have too many pizza places bookmarked to try. Out of these choices, which are in your opinion 'must try' and/or 'must avoid' My personal preference is Neapolitan style (favs in SF include A16, Pizzeria Delfina and Pizzeria Picco) but would love to also try some traditional New York style.

BTW, I'm perfectly content eating pizza every day. :)

Luzzo's
Una Pizza Napoletana
Grimaldi's
Bleeker Street Pizza
L'asso
San Marzano

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  1. I can only tell you what I like, in each of the categories I would use, Neapolitan, NY, and modern artisinal:

    To me, Una Pizza Napoletana is the best of the Neapolitan's in NY. It is a expensive, 2 small pizzas and a bottle of wine will set you back a hundred bucks with a generous tip... but I don't care, I think most of the rest of the pizza in NYC sucks so I have no choice to get something I want. They have 4 types, which I will describe as straight up pizza (margherita), pizza without cheese, pizza without sauce, and pizza with tomatoes instead of sauce. Their straight up margherita pizza is easily their best.

    Luzzo's around the corner is also Neapolitan style has a lot of rustic charm, but the pizza is boring tastewise, not worth the calories if you ask me. The "other" Neapolitan place worth a try is Keste which is relatively new. Near Luzzo's is Artichoke which many people swoon over, but which I dislike as being ... clumsy, that's what it is, and stylistically it they don't fit in the categories, they should be termed round clumsy and square clumsy.

    Grimaldis is good, but it's just NY pizza. If I lived near there or I'm around I would eat it. I find Difara (in Brooklyn) to be the great pizza worth travelling for. I have uncovered no interest in their "square slice" but if you love pizza a lot, you will probably like it. I don't think Difara is magic (though it is magical). You can watch him make it, and the trick is clearly in the EVOO poured all over. Good crust, good cheese, good tomato sauce, all are essential, and the fresh basil is a nice touch, but I think the trick is in the EVOO. I have had one "bad boring" one, but ever other time I've had a great one. I always order a whole plain pizza.

    I have not tried the other three you mentioned, but I have tried Johns, Arturos, and Lombardis, all of which are NY style pizza and which I might eat at if I lived nearby but not to travel to, but if you plan to eat pizza every day here, you should try them also, and Totonno way off in Coney Island (not sure if that's worth traveling to, but it's not worth traveling past Difara's, that is for certain.

    The other pizza I've tried and like is Franny's in Brooklyn, which is not NY or Neapolitan, but more modern artisanal style. In that case I would get the clam.

    13 Replies
    1. re: acidity

      acidity - I modified my eating itinerary to substitute Franny's for Di Fara simply after I read the DiFara reports on the "outer boroughs" board, mostly because of time constraints. Obviously I can tell from your post that you hold Di Fara in high regard, but as a Brooklyn substitute, do you approve of Franny's? I am also having a Coney Island day where I am planning to eat at Totonno's.

      1. re: pizzajunkie

        I would recommend doing a little reading on the current state of Coney Island before devoting the time to making a trip out there (about an hour on the subway). The Cyclone and Wonder Wheel still stand, but the amusement parks were torn down last year. The beach isn't nice at all (never has been). Without Astroland, I don't really see the point of going all the way out there.

        1. re: pizzajunkie

          Totonno's recently had a fire -- are they open?

          1. re: City Kid

            You're right - I don't think they did reopen the Coney Island location. It doesn't even appear on their website anymore.

            http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/16/nyr...

            1. re: City Kid

              Latest word is sometime in July for reopening.

              http://lostnewyorkcity.blogspot.com/2...

              1. re: boccalupo

                Thanks. Strange that the front page of their website would reference their "3 locations," pointing to the two in Manhattan and one in Yonkers. Sure makes it sound like the Coney Island location is history.

            2. re: pizzajunkie

              Frankly, if you are going to Franny's at a normal dinner time, you might end up waiting just as long as if you hit up Di Fara. It's not a big place and is super popular. Lunch might be less crowded than dinner.

              Actually, I like the other food at Franny's better than the pizzas. They have great pasta, housemade sausages and terrines, appetizers, vegetable sides, dessert, etc.

              Totonno's is still closed! Fingers crossed it will be open by July.

              1. re: pizzajunkie

                Here's the thing: Difara is (or seems to be) unique in the world and incongruously, if you like it you can't help but wonder, why isn't all pizza just like this? He makes it seem so simple. Then in addition to that, you get to watch Dom make it, something that is quite a ritual. (He goes slow, he grates the cheese right on, he grates a different cheese right on, he handles hot pies in the oven with his bare hands, he snips the fresh basil with scissors, he's grating another cheese...) So, I can't endorse leaving it out of an itinerary.... but it is a long ride out there, and you could get a long line... If pizza is really your thing, you gotta go, but I wouldn't insist that everybody go there.

                Franny's I like quite a bit, and as somebody mentioned, it has a lot of other good food too. It's casual, but it's a sit down table waitress knife and fork restaurant, not an old school pizza joint, and other cities have restaurants like Franny's (not all as good).

                hmmm...

                1. re: acidity

                  THANKS everyone so much - I am going to NYC in July, which as someone mentioned, looked like Totonno's was going to reopen by. I had read a lot about Coney Island in Tme Magazine and so forth - and I knew that it had been partly torn down - I guess I just wanted to see it before it inevitably disappears. But it would eat up the better part of a day, so I am still wavering about that. Maybe it's not worth all that.

                  Now you have me rethinking Di Fara! I did notice that it's only a couple more subway stops from Franny's. I guess if I'm going all the way to Brooklyn, I should go to the legendary place. This is too hard! ;)

                  1. re: pizzajunkie

                    You have to go for the square sliced pizza if you are going to Difara and not mind a lot of olive oil (it is basically fried in the pan). You will most likely be let down if you go for a round slice. I know I was.

                    1. re: pizzajunkie

                      Hopefully it will reopen in time for your visit. I did not put Totonno's (Coney Island) on my list because it is closed. However, they are my number one old school NY coal oven pizza and one of the best pizza places in NYC.

                      1. re: boccalupo

                        dhs and bocca - thanks for this info too - I noticed that the "outer boroughs" board also seemed to pretty much agree that the square pizza was better at DiFara. It sounds similar to A16's pizza in SF, which was my first experience with that much olive oil on a pizza.

                        Yes I am definitely keeping a close eye on Totonno's! Here's hoping!

                        1. re: pizzajunkie

                          I do not understand the love of the square slice, not at all. But I do agree that Difara's is a better square slice. Didn't chime in just to say that though.

                          Go to the Totonno's website and look at the picture of the pizza. That's pretty much what it looks like and you'll be able to tell if you'd like it (I didn't really) However, they do have a tendency to char different parts more than in that picture, like places where the crust bubbles up in the middle. It gives it a nice old fashioned look, but charring on a pizza doesn't taste good. (Hate it when they sometimes char at Una Pizza, cuz that pizza is small and pricey, it's like a $1 wasted per burn patch.)

                          http://www.totonnos.com/Pizza.html

              2. Definitely don't go to L'Asso. Their pizza is mediocre. I think that as a total package, Franny's in Brooklyn is more similar to Delfina than any other place I can think of, but as acidity notes, it's not Neapolitan style. I haven't been back since my last, extremely disappointing experience at Luzzo's. I haven't been to Grimaldi's in several years but liked it a lot when I went. (There have been many "Emperor's clothes" reports on them over the years, which I suspect has to do with whether the oven was hot when the reporter went.) If you want coal-oven New York-style pizza, though, the classic is really Patsy's East Harlem, because it's all about the crust and char there. In Manhattan, there's also Arturo's, which isn't as thin but whose concept is a little more like Grimaldi's, in that while Patsy's pizza is really all about the crust, Grimaldi's and Arturo's are also about the toppings (if you go to Arturo's, strongly consider getting a clam pizza). I haven't been to the other places you mention, but heck, if you want la vera pizza napoletana, wouldn't you have to go to a real Neapolitan place like "Una Pizza Napoletana"? If not there, Keste serves Neapolitan-style pizza that's less expensive. I haven't been there, either, though.

                1. I'd stay away from Keste unless you like a really soggy middle on your pizza. I had the sausage pie there, and it was super soggy, and the sausage was devoid of any flavor.

                  I like Una Pizza quite a bit though.

                  If you like a flavorful pizza, try the square slice at Artichoke Basil. It's a flavor-lover's dream.

                  I've been to Lombardi's a couple times, and it's terrible. Avoid it.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Slob

                    If tvham really wants a Neapolitan-style pizza, I would think that Artichoke is 100% out.

                    1. re: Pan

                      You're absolutely right about that, Pan. But I thought he mentioned something about trying other types of pizza and being willing to eat pizza every day.

                  2. Keste over San Marzano. I've had the margherita at both, once each, and note that my San Marzano pie was delivered (so the quality likely suffered from time out of the oven). I found Keste quite impressive, but eat fast, because it degrades quickly. I've tried Artichoke three times. The artichoke slice is not what you're looking for - heck, I can't imagine it's what ANYONE is looking for; it's a slice of pizza slathered with artichoke dip. The square slice was crazy good on one visit, and just ok on another. But if you're walking by anyway, it's worth a shot.

                    1. My personal favorites in NYC:

                      Top Naples-style:

                      1) Una Pizza Napoletana
                      2) Keste' (vastly improved on my 2nd visit)

                      Top NY Style:

                      1) Lucali
                      2) DiFara

                      If you are going to go to Brooklyn, Lucali is not much further from Manhattan than Grimaldi's and it's much better.

                      I did not think much of L'asso when I tried it.

                      A couple of newer places I have not got to yet but you might consider are Co. and Motorino.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: boccalupo

                        Thanks for all the replies...it sounds like SF Hounds aren't alone with strong opinions on pizza!

                        After looking at pics on Yelp, Keste' is definitely added to my list. And as Pan said, Artichoke doesn't sound like my cup of tea.

                        Keep the feedback coming!

                      2. > Luzzo's - skip if you're already going to UPN, I think the dough is more flavorful at UPN
                        > Una Pizza Napoletana - excellent, inconsistent because ONE guy makes all the pies, pricy, but check the hours/go early, they run out of dough, but when they're ON, they're on...oh and service is hit or miss.
                        > Grimaldi's - slowly going downhill for a while, or, at the very least, inconsistent -- sometimes the pies aren't "done" enough
                        > San Marzano - not worth it if you're already hitting up UPN, the crust is a little too thing

                        There are a few distinct styles of round pizza found in NYC: New York style (gas-oven), Neopolitan style, and a hybrid style of the two (usually coal oven).

                        Di Fara is kind of out there, Dom is definitely doing his own thing with the olive oil drizzle and multiple kinds of cheeses. He uses a gas oven, very specially chosen cheeses, cuts fresh basil to finish it, and throws a bunch of parmesan and olive oil on top. It's very flavorful but I think it's more an evolution of Naples pizza (Dom went back to Italy to study pizza making at some point) to something only Dom could have conceived. It's definitely worth a try if you are pizza fiend.

                        Then to throw another wrench into things, some places are known more for square pies (like Artichoke).

                        Note that lot of famous places like John's of Bleecker, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are pies only. Do NOT assume you are going to be able to walk in and get a slice. John's, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are famous, a bit touristy, and I think some newcomers are kicking their butts lately (lots of buzz around Co, Motorino, and Keste).

                        Really there's not that many places doing stellar Neapolitan style in NYC. UPN is quite good but pricey. Co. aka Company is Naples inspired but his toppings are his own concoction, and the crust appears to be inconsistent. Perfectly puffy and chewy on one visit, then not puffy enough on another. Franny's is definitely in the same vein but their crust on a recent visit was very, very, very thing. Almost paper thing. Fluffy and puffy but no chew at all. But it's really flavorful and their pizza bianca is amazing as are the toppings (they make all the sausage themselves).

                        IMO the ones that get the mixture of flavor-chewiness-puffiness-charredness right in the crust are really hard to find. I would say UPN (no real "toppings" to speak of though), Totonno's of Coney Island (CLOSED currently due to a fire!), Patsy's of East Harlem (though the quality of topping is not so great) and Co. (on a good day) are the ones that get it closest to ideal.

                        I haven't tried Keste, Motorino, or Lucali but I've gone to Joe's (old location and new location), John's (West Village and Times Square), Grimaldi's (I liked it until I worked nearby for several months and each successive pie was worse :( and it got so soggy quickly), Lombardi's, Arturo's, San Marzano, UPN, Luzzo's, Franny's, Di Fara, multiple Totonno's, and countless Ray'ses.

                        PS to Pan - I think what I find lacking in Arturo's is that there's no internal puffiness of their crust. Charred, definitely, even maybe a little too much, but the crust seems too solid.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: kathryn

                          I agree that the crust at Arturo's doesn't have much puffiness, but that simply doesn't bother me. I don't say their pizza is the best in New York, though; merely dependably good to very good.

                          My impression is that the thing to do if you're going to Grimaldi's is get there right when the place opens (or, actually, stand on line so that you get in right when the doors open), because that's when the oven is hottest. Can you confirm or refute?

                          1. re: Pan

                            I would advise getting to Grimaldi's right when it opens or even a few minutes earlier because otherwise you will wait in line for an hour or more, and frankly I don't think ANY pizza is worth that.

                            Re: Lombardi's, it has been my neighborhood delivery place for years, since before the expansion when the entire restaurant was basically an L-shaped hallway and you could sit right across from the oven (the best table). It used to be great, but since its expansion has been inconsistent - occasionally great, occasionally mediocre, usually in between. I will say that I tend to get better pizza ordering takeout than eating in the restaurant there. Could be my imagination, but it sure seems that way.

                            Finally, has anyone else noticed that over the last 10 years the most famous old-school pizza places have become a bazillion times harder to get into? I swear I used to be able to just walk right into Grimaldi's, Lombardi's and John's, especially at lunch. Now, forget it!

                            1. re: Pan

                              I think it might actually be worse to go too early, because the oven needs adequate time to heat up.

                            2. re: kathryn

                              Kathryn
                              Do try Motorino, and don't forget Mozza ("I couldn't help myself")

                              1. re: wew

                                Mmmmm.... Mozza. Really what I want in a pizzeria is some sort of magical hybrid of UPN (but less strict about toppings, and actually be open for lunch, and/or on more days) and Mozza (but less bready, slightly less filling).

                            3. No one mentioned Patsy's Harlem. I think their fresh mozzarella pie is still one of the best of NY thin crust pizzas. Despite some recent claims of soggy middles I'ver never had a sogy middle nor a bad pie there in 20 plus years.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: johnindabronx

                                That place is cool to go once, but I was really disappointed when I ordered an olive pie and got a cheese pie with the contents of a can of regular black olives dumped on top.

                                1. re: johnindabronx

                                  I definitely mentioned Patsy's... with the caveat that the toppings are kind eh. Stick with the plain pies there. I love their crust.

                                  1. re: kathryn

                                    I mentioned Patsy's, too. John, you can always search the thread before posting.

                                    Una mas, yeah, there's no good reason to order olive topping at Patsy's. Probably the only types of pizza worth ordering there are regular and fresh mozzarella.

                                  2. re: johnindabronx

                                    yeah, I don't get all these complaints about soggy middles.... the "nose" of a NY slice is supposed to "droop", and when it does, melted cheese, sauce and oil will slide off... if it does not, you are doing it wrong.

                                  3. I always recommend Motorino. IMO, it's by far the best pizza place in NY for neapolitan style pizza. In fact, I remember the first time I had it, I thought to myself "This is what I expected Una Pizza Napoletana to taste like". UPN didn't impress me at all- just very bland taste to me.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: razorramon

                                      Motorino looks fantastic...plus it's close to Barcade, which I've always wanted to check out!

                                      Thanks for all the suggestions, although now my list has grown even as I've crossed a couple of places off!

                                    2. i really like angelos on 58th (have to eat it there though). pepperoni and sausage. their penne vodka is a nice sidecar. wonderfully fresh ingredients on their pizza.

                                      and imo, going to artichoke and not getting the artichoke slice (at least your first time) is a mistake.

                                      i would skip the whole johns, grimaldis, arturos line of pizzas. theyre just not that good.

                                      1. you may want to take the metro north to scarsdale
                                        get out and go to the rear exit downstairs

                                        you will find alla antica there http://www.allanticapizza.com

                                        its as good as any ive eaten in nyc

                                        the potato and prosciutto is great as is the portabella but then again they are all good

                                        tell them howard sent you

                                        1. I would like to thank everyone for the input. I ended up trying three different pizza places: Keste, Motorino and Una Pizza Napoletana. I thought all three were very good to great with my favorite (and best value) being Motorino.

                                          Keste and Una were very close IMO but I might have to give the edge to Keste based on the overall dining experience (although they still don't serve beer/wine) Una was really good but not sure it's worth the price tag when their margherita pie is more than twice the price of the margherita at Motorino.

                                          Overall, all three places lived up to the hype but if I could only return to one it would definitely be Motorino.

                                           
                                           
                                           
                                           
                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: tvham

                                            Thanks for the report! I'm jealous. Sounds like three great pizza experiences.

                                            1. re: tvham

                                              Just a quick note on Una Pizza Napoletana. Before NYC, he was in Point Pleasant Beach NJ in a small strip mall on Rt. 35. Then one day they were closed and I thought he just ran out of dough again. When I found out he closed I was unconsolable and began to drown my sorrows in the gooiest and soggiest pizza I could order over the phone. Thankfully I have recovered. (just kidding on this part)
                                              He used to display a VPN logo which may just be a Naples based advertisement. Check out the prices to join. Here's their website.

                                              http://www.pizzanapoletana.org/index_...