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Feb 24, 2010 08:40 PM

What Makes New York Pizza special? [Split from Minneapolis St. Paul Board]

[This discussion was split by the Chowhound Team from a pizza discussion on the MSP board


Essentially it's the water. NYC tap water is from upstate fresh water reservoirs. That's why the bagels are better there too. You get a slice that you can pick up, fold and it won't fall apart on you. In NYC there are many places with mediocre slices: too much cheese, lower quality cheese, canned mushrooms, etc. So, even the better places such as Ben's really stand out.

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  1. As pointed our by diehartz2 above in the thread:

    1. The water argument is all in the New York imprinted head and an excuse to justify preferences for NY Pizza that thus could not be duplicated elsewhere even though the world has knowledge and access to the best ingredients, pizza making technology and skills, and ovens. Today, it is such a tired argument. It is about as bad as Philadelphia claiming the best cheesesteaks even though they use a godawful fake processed cheese wiz available anywhere.

      43 Replies
      1. re: Davydd

        Amen. Seriously, the water? As in, the water we have in Minneapolis causes dough to fall apart upon being cooked? We try to fold our slices, but the darn water causes the whole enterprise to disintegrate on cue? I mean it's cute. Every city is allowed to have it's tall tales, but...

        What New York style pizza in the twin cities is missing is, well, New York. The whole thing is about stepping into a bustling pie shop, grabbing a hot slab served at lightning speed, folding it for maximum efficiency, devouring it, and hitting the streets. Same thing with a Chicago dog. Outside of the sights, smells, and energy of its native environs, it loses something.

        There are places that make "NY-style" pizza here (there's even one in the skyway), and their pizzas are fine.

        1. re: kevin47

          Spoken like someone who's never had true NY pizza. Sorry, but it's the water.

          1. re: salvage7

            I've had it. Doesn't the study linked above blow a hole in the whole water thing? Nonsense.

            Oh, and the idea that a sandwich requires Cheez-Wiz to be an authentic anything is proof that authenticity doesn't mean squat. It's like saying we shouldn't buy a Honda because a real American-style car breaks down after four years and gets poor gas mileage.

            1. re: kevin47

              Correct - it is not the water. The quintessential NYC pie is marked by a very thin crust with "leopard" skin bottom on the crust (i.e. black burn marks) that comes out of a coal or wood burning oven with raging high heat from places that do not sell individual slices.

              1. re: scoopG

                Ding ding... ScoopG has the correct answer folks. If you believe the melarky about the water I've got a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

                1. re: scoopG

                  i don't think that is close to the quintessential pie. the quintessential NYC pie, to me, is not a very thin crust at all, it is medium thin, with both crispness and chewiness, more akin to the crust of an artisanal bread, than thin like a cracker. Moreover most NYC pies never saw a coal or wood burning oven. They come out of bari ovens, are served as slices, which are most easily eaten folded in the middle.

                  also water makes a difference. it is not the whole story, but it cannot be dismissed as nothing. If your water tastes bad the food you make with that water will taste different. the minerals in water have to make a difference, especially in an ingredient light product like pizza crust. cooking is chemistry.

                  1. re: thew

                    Sorry to disagree but if you take a look at most of the highly regarded pizza restaurants in New York they use cool or wood fired ovens. Most of the places serving slices are nothing special at all but certainly better than the typical slice you will find in a lot of other cities. I think you missed the point about the crust, cracker is just a term (like falling off the bone) that people (usually uninformed people) use to describe a typical east coast thin crust pizza.

                    And the water...of course if water tastes bad the crust will taste bad but it most certainly is not a critical factor here. Any quality water will suffice.

                    Good pizza can be found in many places but it is in high concentration in NYC because there is a long tradition there and a lack of effort- or as another poster mentioned, passion- elsewhere.

                    1. re: virtualguthrie

                      as a life long new yorker i have to say that those "highly regarded pizza restaurants", while delicious, are not what i consider prototypical New york pizza. In my 50 years living here i have gone to coal oven places a handful of times, and slice places thousands of times. the slice place is the platonic new york pizza. when some one says new york pizza to me i do not think grimaldis or arturos or lombardis. I think italian village, and tony's, and the like. And yes , many by the slice places are mediocre, but that does not delegitimize the entire style.
                      again - coal/wood delicious. but not the typical NY pizza.

                    2. re: thew

                      NYC slices joints are not the quintessential NYC pizza in my mind. I am thinking of the whole pie places like Grimaldi's, DiFara, Totonnos, Patsy's etc. Or these places:


                      1. re: scoopG

                        patsys is a slice joint. and an overrated one at that

                        anad again - those are all wonderful places. but i dont think they epitomize NY style pizza

                        from the same site:


                        you are talking about the 2nd - but i think the 3rd is far more typically thought of as NY pizza (as opposed to NY neopolitan)

                        1. re: thew

                          Jfood hates you. How dare you put a link like that on the boards when jfood has absolutely no way of having any of those unbelieveable looking gems today. :-))

                          Just take a look at the Sally's apizza halfway down. A total work of art. (swallow incredible amount of saliva that just occurred).

                          1. re: jfood

                            i'm cruel like that. maybe i'll saunter out of my door and have some real NYC slices for lunch. la la la la la......

                            1. re: thew

                              at least the burger plce jfood went to today cooked the burger better today than yesterday. BUT...jfood is about to saunter to the beach with me and I get to play with all my friends la la la la woof.

                          2. re: thew

                            Have to agree with thew on this one.

                            The quintessential NYC slice of pie is the stuff you get when walk up the subway exit, turn the corner, find a nice hole-in-the-wall joint, buy a slice, fold it, take a nice bite, and be on your way ...

                            Places like Grimaldi's, DiFara, Totonnos, Patsy's, etc. are all good and fine, but to me they do not epitomize what makes a NYC pizza special. You can find gourmet, wood-fired pizzas all over the country (the best in my opinion being Bianco in Phoenix and Mozza in Los Angeles).

                            1. re: ipsedixit


                              Especially if one understands that "epitome" does *not* (repeat *not*) mean "apex".

                            2. re: thew

                              Patsy's is most certainly not a slice joint - they have 4-5 Manhattan locations with East Harlem being the best.

                              1. re: scoopG

                                i've had slices , at the original patsy's in east harlem, a few times. it was years ago, but thats because even then i thought the place was overhyped. i found the crust limp and the sauce meh.

                                im also amused at their claim as the "1st pizzeria restaurant" in NYC, which they are assuredly not

                        2. re: scoopG

                          Thank you for that analysis, it was outside the pissing contest and I appreciate that.

                          1. re: scoopG


                            That more describes New Haven pies.

                        3. re: salvage7

                          I've eaten regularly at DiFara and Grimaldi's and sparingly at John's, Lombardi's and almost every iteration of "Rays"...and kevin speaks the truth. It's not the freakin' water.

                          With all of these regional foods people are always asking for (bagels, pizza, bbq) it's often more about them wanting to reproduce the experience of eating the food, not so much the food itself.

                          I will admit that terroir plays a part in these foods, but in something as layered (figurative and literal) as pizza, I do not think there is a palate that refined as to tell.

                          1. re: salvage7

                            Homebrewers pretty routinely modify water to match specific water conditions from their favorite brewers. It ain't the water .... or at least, anyone can replicate the water if they really think that's it

                            1. re: jgg13

                              and people do. i've seen at least 2 places in california that take filtered water and add minerals and chemicals to make it the same as NYC water for making their pizza (dont ask me the names - saw it on TV - one in LA and one in SF i believe)

                              1. re: jgg13

                                you might approximate but it would be a rare feat of water purification to replicate.

                            2. re: kevin47


                              As you know jfood is a huuuuge fan of the food in your city but it lacks a couple of items, great pizza being one of them. Even a place like Black Sheep whose owner comes from NY and is about as good as it gets in MSP is not a NH quality pizza. Whether the water, the relative humidity or something else, even if you swap the Minneapolis Nice for the NY Surly, the pie just won't get there.

                              1. re: jfood

                                I agree, in a sense. There are hundreds of pizza joints in NY emulating that particular style. Same goes for every other style. The more shots on goal, the more goals. So on a case by case basis, Minneapolis pies cannot compare to the cream of the crop joints in highly populated urban areas.

                                That said, there is some really great pizza here. Black Sheep and Papa's get it right all around. Punch and Nea have the OCD/authenticity joint down. Luce's baked potato pizza has all the hallmarks of a regional specialty, as does the cracker-crust style at Scoreboard. Psycho Suzi's is almost an afterthought in the discussion, but they do some really inventive, fun stuff.

                                Unless you have a pre-conceived notion of what pizza should be, this is a great place to eat the stuff, not least of which because you aren't shoehorned into a particular style.

                                Don't get me wrong; regional staples are part of what make it fun to eat food. But I think our pizza scene is vastly underrated. Try finding good pizza in California, for example. Roundtable? Puke.

                                1. re: kevin47

                                  nicely put K. remember when one poster stated that wolfgang puck invented the pizza. can't make this stuff up.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    I'm not sure which chowhound said that Puck invented pizza or what the context was, but I think Puck is pretty much responsible for California-style pizza; maybe not for inventing it, but certainly for popularizing it. For years, Puck was the go-to guy whenever anyone wanted to talk about CA-style pizza.

                                    Was recently at 20.21. Oddly, did not see pizza on the menu. I guess it doesn't fit with the pan-Asian thing they've got going and, now that their Sunday brunch is gone, it no longer has a place on their menu?


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      Let's not go down that slippery slope of "California Style Pizza". :-).

                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          T'was adding the third word that cause consternation.

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            Yes indeed, pizza is in the palate of the beholder... as we learned in this "pizza to end all pizza discussions" thread...


                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Hey, you guys first try the pizza at Pizzaiolo, Pizzeria Delfina, or Pizzeria Mozza first, *then* try to talk smack about the pizzas from my adopted state :)

                                        I actually consider all of these highly regarded pizzerias to be California-style in that they seem to have been heavily influenced by the artisanal bread tradition in California - the crusts all seem to have more highly developed gluten than my favorite places in NYC. They have the crackle and chew of a great loaf (despite being fairly thin), and tend to have a more spare, Italian-style application of toppings. Toppings can be classic (sausage and rabe) or Californian (my favorite at Pizzaiolo has grilled Monterey squid and aioli).

                                        There's an even more eccentric Californian-style pizza pioneered by the Cheeseboard/Arizmendi - sourdough base, no sauce, veg toppings only. Sometimes there's corn, sometimes poblano chilis, sometimes cilantro. It's freaking delicious, and every visitor from NY who's tried it has swooned over it.

                                        We have some pretty decent NY-style pizzas, too. Nothing on par with DiFara (which is its own style, anyway), but I'd say my local Lanesplitter makes better pizza than 80% of the places in Manhattan.

                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                          Well, if it isn't good, it isn't fun. They have some well chosen topping you just can't get on other pizzas in town.

                                      2. re: jfood

                                        sounds like you're saying that the local pizza style, a.k.a. midwest/upper midwest/st. paul-milwaukee/chicago thin crust/cracker crust/square cut/kansas city style of pizza either "does not exist" or is wholly unworthy of notice? come on now. you gotta know them's fightin' words, Jfood! :)

                                      3. re: kevin47

                                        water is water.
                                        And butter is butter.
                                        olive oil is olive oil.
                                        vinegar is vinegar.

                                        Any one who suggests otherwise is handing you a tall tale.

                                        Why bother with balsamic when you have the white stuff under the sink?

                                        Just saying - water is an ingredient. It makes a difference.

                                        1. re: Uisge

                                          So does the proximity of the pizza oven to the restroom, theoretically. The question is whether New York water detectably contributes to the success of a particular style. I find no evidence that this is the case, and have no compelling reason to believe it is the case.

                                          Water is not produced in an environment that controls toward its properties as a food additive, as is the case for butter, olive oil and vinegar. So, we are supposing that the water makes the pizza by sheer, dumb luck.

                                          Fine, but it's pretty lucky that the style of pizza for which New York water is necessarily conducive just so happens to be the largest city in the United States, which also happens to have a infrastructure supportive of a certain type of pie. There are simpler explanations.

                                          1. re: kevin47

                                            It's whats IN the water that makes the difference.
                                            NYC tap is treated in a different way than well water or water from other reservoirs. The amount of dissolved minerals in ANY water will affect how the dough is hydrated, the rise of the yeast, etc. The properties specific to NY tap water happen to make a darn good pizza dough, bagels, bread etc. There is a bit of food chemistry behind this, long explanation needed of course, but when we say it's the water, it's the water.

                                            1. re: iluvcookies

                                              I see no reason to believe that NY's water doesn't contribute to the greatness of its pizza. That said, I suspect the expertise and craftsmanship of its pizzaioli are even more important. Families, restaurants and neighborhoods in NY have been making the same type of pies for decades, even a century, and they have the technique down pat. It makes a difference, I suspect.

                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                Very, very true. Practice makes perfect :)

                                              2. re: iluvcookies

                                                Thanks. That's what I was trying to say.

                                                1. re: iluvcookies

                                                  I'd love to hear the long explanation of why NYC water is specifically suited. In particular, I'd like to hear how the study noted above is flawed or wrong.

                                                  I don't deny that there is good pizza (to me) in New York. I'd even go so far as to say that NYC water may have some minor part in the makeup of the dough But you can count me in the camp of water skeptics.

                                                  The reason that "the best bagels are from NYC" is because there's a concentration of people who have specific expectations of what a "good bagel" is and those expectations have become the conventional wisdom of what a "good bagel" is. That conventional wisdom is that a "good bagel" is what was produced on the Lower East Side for the last 120 years and, that for decades, was subject to fairly strict production standards due to the influence of the bagel bakers union (no joke). There is nothing particularly good or bad about a bagel from Brueggers/Panera/other provider as a foodstuff but as a bagel qua bagel it fails to meet the paradigm of the traditional NYC bagel. In my mind that's the result of conditioning by the group that's been, for the most part, eating bagels longer than those arrivistes from the South, Midwest, and West. (It doesn't hurt either that New Yorkers are both parochial and vocal about these things either.)

                                                  I believe the same holds true for the NY pie.

                                        2. The water and the flour. The owner of John's on Bleeker in NYC told me he opened a place in FL based on the water there. When I lived in MT, a guy from Brooklyn made great pizza, he had the water modified to be like that in his cousin's pizza joint in NY and got the flour from the east coast.
                                          Here in San Antonio, a great pizza place that is VPN certified also modifies his water and uses very specific flour.

                                          1. It's the city.

                                            There's something intangible -- a certain je ne sais quoi -- about picking up a crustly slice of pie in NYC from some guy named Guido or Geno or Giovanni, folding it, and taking that first bite (without burning the roof of your mouth) while trying to hustle to hail that fleeting cab ....

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              Except that a lot of kitchen staff these days is from Central America....

                                              NYs pizza culture, like its bagel culture, is not what it was 2 generations ago, but is in a baroque stage of innovation and decadence.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                I think this is it exactly. Doesn't hurt that the stuff is cheap, either.

                                                1. re: kevin47

                                                  Some where I remember reading about someone opening up a pizza place, t
                                                  hey were from NY and I think it may have been Phoenix, they had NY water shipped to them monthly . I know they got rave reviews, and they claimed it was because of the water.

                                                  I just can't remember where the heck it was now, I know it was far away from where they were from, sorry. But they so claimed it was the water.

                                              2. It's neither the water nor the city, it's the passion. Wood-fired ovens have popped up all over San Francisco and the East Bay. Even New York's (and New Jersey's) Anthony Mangieri, late of Una Pizza Napoletana, has cashed in his chips back east and moved to the Bay Area. San Francisco and its environs are now ground-zero for great pizza in North America. New York pizza, as an icon, is a thing of the past and we'll just have to deal with that. Heck, London's Strada chain makes better pizza than most of the joints in NYC.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: steve h.

                                                  I think the point of the post is not "why NYC pizza is the best" but rather "what makes NYC pizza special?"

                                                  In other words, what's the sine qua non of NYC pizza?

                                                  I don't think people will argue that there certainly are better pizzas, and pizza joints, than those found in NYC or the five boroughs. I think what people want is a slice of pie that reminds them of the kind of pizza they can get back in NYC.

                                                  As a former Queens kid, I can certainly relate to that yearning ...

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    I feel your pain. My modest point is that that the concept of a New York slice nowadays is something that resonates more in the minds of people like you and me and less on the street corners. Sky-high rents and restrictive zoning here discourage the new guys. The old guys are, well, old. Are there exceptions? Sure, but they are exceptions.

                                                    In LA, I like a pie at Nancy's place (Pizzeria Mozza), in Manhattan maybe I go to Motorino, in San Francisco I go to A16, Tony's in North Beach or maybe a half dozen other places.

                                                    There was a time when New York was the acknowledged center of the North American pizza world. I no longer believe that's the case. The Bay Area has grabbed the reins and more power to them.