Best New York style pizza
I'm coming from the U.K. and have a hankering to try some good New York style pizza. The U.K. isn't known for its pizza. I've been to Chicago several times and know of the famous pizzerias there. But where should I go in New York? Where shoul I go for some history and where should I go for the best? Are the well known places really good or are they just resting on their laurels?
Thanks for your help!
There are actually few distinct styles of round pizza found in NYC: New York gas-oven style, Neopolitan style, and a hybrid style of the two that is also unique to New York (usually coal oven). Then to throw another wrench into things, some places are known more for square pies (like Artichoke).
Because you say "NY style," that leads me to believe you seek either coal-oven pizza (whole pies) or gas-oven (street slices) and not the Naples influenced pies (which you can easily find at home I bet). With zero toppings or one topping, maximum.
If you have a specific interest in pizza, I would advise you to try a few different places, trying both coal oven and gas oven, as quality and styles can vary around town.
Note that lot of famous places like John's of Bleecker, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are whole pies only.
I would also suggest reading this NYC Pizza Primer:
For pizza, if you are limiting yourself to only Manhattan, my favorites, agnostic of oven type:
John's of Bleecker, if you ask for it well done. Get it plain or with one topping, max. I'm partial to their green peppers. This is classic coal-fired NY-Neopolitan hybrid style pie. They do sometimes undercook/under char it, though, so ask for it well done. Whole pies only. Don't expect creative toppings or superfresh ingredients or an amazingly flavorful crust. This is more about finding the intersection between chewy, crispy, and charred. A more of a working man's pie.
Motorino for Naples style. Delicious but not really historically "New York" style, maybe not what you seek, but it is basically my favorite in Manhattan. Crimini and sausage, spicy soppressata, or whatever their special pie is. Wonderful taste, quality and creative toppings, amazingly puffy crust. Whole pies only, but they are on the smaller side. Can get a little soft in the center, as it is Naples inspired. Some hounds prefer Forcella (known for their deep fried Naples inspired pies), Don Antonio (by Starita, new and in Midtown, so conveniently located for visitors), or Keste (IMO too wet for me).
For both you may have to wait in line to get a table. I have also enjoyed Patsy's in East Harlem (coal oven) in the past but it is a bit far uptown dependent upon where you are starting from, and I've not been very recently. Whole pies OR slices if you want. Again, this type is more of a working man's pie.
South Brooklyn Pizza or Joe's for a slice (gas oven). Joe's is a bit less crisp/more chewy and on the more cheesy sied and has a more uniform appearance; very popular with the post-bar crowd, and I have a soft spot for the place, even if the pizza is not always consistent.
South Brooklyn is more crispy and has an interesting cheese blend (mozzarella, grana padano, and fontina) with fresh basil, and the cheese and sauce are more scattered, which you usually don't see at slice joints. It is slightly more upscale (and pricey) for a slice joint.
Outside of Manhattan, I highly recommend Di Fara, if it fits into your schedule, especially for the square pie. Do a search on the Outer Boroughs board (or on slice.seriouseats.com), as it has been discussed MANY times. Dom DeMarco of Di Fara uses a gas oven but he doesn't really do a typical NY gas oven pie, and his distinctive style is absolutely delicious!
Another "classic NY" place in Brooklyn is Totonno's (Coney Island location ONLY). However, I'm not sure if they will be open in time for your trip. They are still struggling after Hurricane Sandy.
The others in Brooklyn that are spoken highly of (Franny's, Lucali, etc.) are probably too "nouveau" for what you seek. The bigger problem is that the new and interesting places these days tend to be more Naples inspired--Paulie Gee's, Don Antonio, etc.
Avoid Grimaldi's (I've had one too many underdone pies), Lombardi's (too wet), unless you are a completist. Also avoid the Times Sq John's. And remember that pizza is a fundamentally difficult food to make consistently.
An itinerary of Joe's, John's, Patsy's (East Harlem) would be a good spread of famous NY places.
Wow, thanks for that really detailed response, you've totally piqued my interest. I didn't know about the coal fired/gas fired difference either.
And you're right, I'm not looking for neapolitan, i can get that pretty easily, or anything nouveau but quintessential New York style pizza that originated there. I'll stick them on my list.