I’ve been low-grade bummed out for most of 2018 so I almost skipped this year, but, heck, I’ve been doing “8 Pizzas That Haunt My Dreams YYYY” since 2009, and it would be sort of a shame to break the streak on what would be the 10th year of this thing, so here’s the 2018 edition, right under the wire.
It’s 9:53pm as I start this, so it’s going to be quick and dirty.
As always, my caveat/preamble: Every year I compile a year-end list of memorable pizzas I’ve eaten in the past year. These are all pizzas I ACTUALLY ATE AND THAT MADE AN IMPRESSION ON ME. so if your favorite isn’t here, I either didn’t eat it or it didn’t haunt my dreams. Don’t like the list? Make your own. Without further ado and in no particular order…
Louie’s Pizzeria (Elmhurst, Queens): grandma slice
I’m going to put Louie’s first here, because it really clarified some things for me this year. And because I can use it to talk a bit about the whole Serious Eats “State of the Slice 2018” piece I worked on with Serious Eats founder Ed Levine and Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours.
In early 2018, Ed roped me and Scott into helping him take the temperature of the New York slice. He wanted to do a 2018 version of his 2002 State of the Slice that he wrote for the NY Times. We did the bulk of our fact-finding in February and March on a couple of epic pizza crawls in Brooklyn and Queens, and then followed up leads the rest of the year separately. Louie’s wasn’t even on our list until late in the game, when I finally heeded the advice of my fellow Queensers on Instagram and checked it out.
I was blown away by the grandma slice in late August and ended up visiting three nights in a row to evaluate it. I was so impressed with the whole operation that I ran home and started typing up an epic post for this blog about Louie’s and the meaning of hospitality. But I never published it because I realized it would be great for the Serious Eats piece. So I cannibalized my own blog/Instagram and waited for the SE post to drop before hyping Louie’s to you all here or on my IG. Go read the piece at Serious Eats, because I’m not going to get into it here.
Long story short, go to Louie’s and get the grandma slice. Really, a whole pie is even better, because you can always freeze what you don’t eat and then parcel it out in lunches here and there.
NY Pizza Suprema (Midtown Manhattan): Hot Honey slice
I fell for this slice pretty hard back in February. It’s a great combo I’ve never seen before but that just works so, so well: mozzarella, ricotta, mushrooms, and Mike’s Hot Honey. Sometimes the ricotta dollops are a little too heavy handed for my taste, but the flavor combo is out of this world. The funny thing is, I was talking to Suprema owner and operator Joe Riggio this summer, and he mentioned that he doesn’t even really like this slice himself. [insert shruggy emoji here]. At home, I’ve made a Sicilian based on this slice, but I pipe on little stars of ricotta (inspired by L’Industrie Pizza) and finish the whole thing with a sprinkling of post-oven sottocenere (a truffled cow’s milk cheese), a nod to EMILY, which uses the stuff on their eponymous Emily pie. Speaking of which…
Emmy Squared (Williamsburg): The Hatchback
When the EMILY folks and I first crossed paths, the pizza that really did it for me from them was their eponymous “Emily” pizza at their original Brooklyn location in Clinton Hill, where I do my Margot’s Pizza pop-ups. But then I developed a late-in-life (mild) allergy to certain nuts, including the pistachios that they throw on that pizza post-oven. But these days, the pizza of theirs I dream of most is from their first spin-off location of Emmy Squared in Williamsburg. (They now have an EMILY in Manhattan’s West Village, an Emmy Squared in the East Village and now in Nashville, and a new place called Violet opening soon also in the East Village.) Anyway, the Hatchback hits a lot of my buttons:
- It’s a square pie (and I’m loving square pies this year)
- It’s a pan pizza (and I’m loving pan pizzas)
- It’s got Hatch chiles on it (which taste like Ro-Tel, which I love)
- It’s Detroit-inspired (I love that frico edge)
- It’s named Hatchback (which was the name of a very early website I once futzed around with)
Mozzarella, Hatch chiles, chorizo, crema. Kinda tastes like a big-ass nacho. Get it!
This Franny’s–inspired clam pie from a one-off private pizza workshop I led back in April
If Ed Levine asked me to jump off a bridge, I would seriously consider it, because any time he’s asked me to do something I’ve had, at the very least, great fun doing it (the State of the Slice thing this year) and at the very most a life-changing experience (helping him launch Serious Eats back in 2007). This pizza was the result of Ed recommending me to do a private lesson for a friend of his, and it was a blast. We did a number of different pizzas based on his friend’s preferences. The friend requested a clam pie, and so I ganked the Franny’s recipe off Serious Eats, and … Bob’s yer uncle. The recipe is legit. The clam topping is fantastic. It really brought back some Franny’s memories (RIP). Our crust might not have been Franny’s level, but it was also none too shabby. Go grab the recipe, get yourself a Baking Steel (which is what we cooked ours on), and have at it.
L&B Spumoni Gardens (Gravesend, Brooklyn): the Sicilian slice … as if you’re getting anything otherwise!
When someone talks about “an L&B–style slice,” they’re often talking about the way this legendary Gravesend pizzeria assembles its square pies: dough, slices of low-moisture mozzarella cheese, THEN the sauce, followed by a dusting of pecorino Romano.
But there’s more to it than that. There’s this almost indescribable texture in the crust. The bottom of the slice is plenty crisp, but the interior is tender and soft—I’ve described it as “airy” before, and it is, but all things considered, it has a pretty tight-to-medium crumb (the “crumb” being the hole structure that forms as bread bakes and gases are trapped in the network of gluten that forms as the dough is kneaded and rises).
Where the cheese and crust meet, the two become one (get it on, get it on). Some people find this off-putting, because it almost feels like the dough is undercooked, but it’s not.
I’ve always waffled on whether I like the L&B slice, but the last couple times I’ve had it, I’ve really fallen for it. It truly is its own thing. So when someone describes a New York Sicilian pizza as being “L&B–like,” I always have to consider the source and ask, “Is it really? IS it?”
Mama’s Too (Upper West Side): Square slice with pepperoni
I probably shouldn’t give Mama’s Too any more exposure, but what the heck, it’s not like not including them would take any shine off the spot. Not after Pete Wells went and blew it up in the New York Times. Thanks, Pete. [insert eyeroll emoji here] Owner Frank Tuttolomondo has said he’s going for a cross between Gabriele Bonci–esque Roman-style pizza al metro and New York squares. He’s nailing it. The squares (of which the pepperoni has been my fave so far) and the round “house slice” are equally superb, but since I’ve been on something of a square pie jag this past year (and last year), I’m gonna put up the square here in this list.
Ah, whatever. Here’s the round slice:
It’s downright Di Fara–esque, on a day when Di Fara is firing on all cylinders.
Beebe’s (Long Island City, Queens): Margherita pizza
My friend Lou Tomczak was the founding pizzaiolo at Beebe’s, and he made a spectacular pie when there. Lou is a pizza geek of the highest order, and at Beebe’s, he was working some kid of wizardry, seemingly conjuring airiness throughout the dough, not just at the rim. Look at the pie here. You can clearly see bubbles forming across the entire surface. I love a bubbly pie. Lou’s no longer at Beebe’s, he’s at Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop now, but from what I’ve heard, his legacy lives on. I’ll have to stop in at Beebe’s in 2019 to see if the pies are still holding up. Meanwhile I can visit him at Paulie’s Slice and pick up some of this…
Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop (Greenpoint, Brooklyn): assorted slices
The first time I had Paulie’s slices, on the first night he was open to the public, they were OK. They were better than many of New York’s pizza slice joints, but … I mean, most places aren’t trying. Just by giving a shit and putting in some effort, he was already ahead of the game. When I stopped back in a couple months later as Ed Levine and Scott Wiener and I were finishing up research for the mega State of the Slice 2018 piece we were working on for Serious Eats, the slices had improved markedly. They’re fantastic slices, sure, but the reason they haunt my dreams is just seeing how Paulie himself followed his own dream in opening this retro-inspired shop. It’s just as personal as his original wood-fired place around the block but in a completely different way. It’s nice to see someone you know succeed, especially having known him since his pre-pizzeria days, when he was a frequent commenter on Slice and a very vocal and entertaining part of the community there.
Rad Times Pizza (various locations but most often at the Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens): plain pie
Rad Times Pizza makes what co-founder Anthony Falco refers to as “thin and crispy” pizza. I’ve also seen him refer to it as “American–style” pizza. Whatever you call it, it’s rad. Having been raised to idealize Chicago/Midwest thin-crust pizza, my touchstone has always been thin and crispy pies. Rad Times’ pies are that and then some. They’re exceedingly thin, and perfectly crisp. Not crackery-shattery bullshit, but crisp and foldy. Falco and crew make a fantastic fresh mozzarella for it and blend it with the more standard low-moisture mozzarella, and they absolutely nail the cheese-sauce ratio. I mean, look at this thing. I’ve said in my IG post that this thinness would be the thinness of my ideal NY–style pizza. Find out more by following their IG.
L’Industrie (Williamsburg, Brooklyn): plain slice
Massimo Laveglia’s burrata slice is the L’Industrie slice that Instagram is in love with—and, don’t get me wrong, it’s great—but how can you beat the sheer perfection of his plain slice? On the day of our Brooklyn pizza crawl for the Serious Eats piece, this was the last stop. Now, when you do a pizza crawl what tends to happen is that the earlier stuff wows you and then after a while you hit a wall. For something to blow you away at the end of an 8-hour day of eating pizza, well… that’s good stuff. Laveglia is from Italy, but he’s not doing Neapolitan or any of that jazz. As Nick Baglivo, who works for Massimo, put it, “It’s like if you had an Italian guy who was raised in New York but spent summers visiting family in Italy. That’s what this pizza’s like.” Or, as Scott Wiener put it, “It’s New York pizza through an Italian lens.” This was probably the most exciting round slice I ate this year.
Scarr’s Pizza (Lower East Side, Manhattan): plain slice
It’s getting late. It’s 11:32pm. So I can’t say much about Scarr Pimentel’s NY-style pizza except that it’s really damn good. He’s been in the pizza business for ages, has made all different styles, from NY coal oven to Neapolitan to, of course, NY-slice style. He’s milling his own flour that he blends with artisan flour from upstate. And his slice shop is so, so cute-cool. It’s retro in a really well done way. Super cozy. Go there in the late afternoon, before it gets packed with the dinner rush and, after that, the young folk of the neighborhood.
Corner Slice (Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan): marinara slice
It’s now 11:36, so Corner Slice is getting short shrift here. It made the list last year. It’s made it this year. Sorry if you’ve already read the Serious Eats thing, too, because it made that list. So much of my list here is a rehash of that, huh? Oh well. The marinara slice here is fantastic. I generally do not crave tomato-only slices, but this one does it for me. The crust is [chef kiss], the sauce is well-balanced. Get this and a couple other slices for good measure.
Brooklyn Square (Jackson, New Jersey): Sicilian slice
No time for words! But it’s phenomenal. Pillowy, crisp, cheesy. So, so good. Can’t wait till we go to Wildwood again in 2019, because this is now going to be a stop along the drive down.
Mack’s Pizza (Wildwood, New Jersey): slice with sausage and onion
Speaking of Wildwood… I love these stupid sausage pellets. I don’t know why. Nostalgia probably. But what I love more is the addition of raw onion to the slice. This is what a slice with onion gets you at Mack’s. This is SUCH A GREAT topping. I need to make this at home.
Places I’ve had on my list forever and resolved to visit…
At the end of 2017 I looked back at my pizza year on Instagram and was disappointed. My pizza resolution for 2017 was to travel farther and wider and unique-r than I did in 2016. I failed that resolution in 2017 and hoped to right it in 2018. Here’s my list of places I wanted to visit this year. Let’s see how I did.
- Razza, Jersey City, New Jersey [Still haven’t been]
- Norma’s Pizza at Root’s Country Market, Manheim, Pennsylvania [Still haven’t been]
- Pizzeria Beddia, Philadelphia [It closed, goddammit!]
- Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NYC [Went the night it opened to the public!]
- Pizza Moto, Brooklyn, NYC [SMDH still haven’t been]
- Speedy Romeo LES, Lower East Side, NYC [Went and it was FANTASTIC. By all rights I should have it on the 8 Pizzas That Haunt My Dreams list above, but I didn’t have any singularly memorable pizza there—they were all good—just the overall experience itself was fantastic (and the non-pizza food is solid). I love the space and the vibe here. So let’s say that Speedy Romeo LES is a PizzeriaTHMD 2018 finalist]
- Lynwood Cafe, Randolph, Massachusetts [Still haven’t been]
- Brooklyn Square, Jackson & Manalapan, New Jersey [It was amazing; see above]
- Pizza Gutt, Philadelphia [Maybe this year]
- And a bunch of others around NYC, too numerous to mention, as well as a bunch of thin-crust/bar-pizza places in Central Jersey that have been eluding me…
Until 2019, folks, hasta la pizza.