About a month ago my buddy Peyton, who owns Mission Pizza Napoletana in Winston-Salem, told me he was treating some of his guys to an NYC pizza trip. They've been killin' it and this was not only a nice reward, but also a chance to explore a new pizza scene, learn, reflect, and return more motivated and inspired. His plan was to land in NYC, hit as many pizzerias as possible, and fly back the same night. These are the types of trips I salivate over, so when Peyton extended me and other pizza buddies an invite I knew I was going.
We put on a fearless performance. It was almost clinical the way we maneuvered through the city so efficiently and hungry. Peyton was ridiculously organized with every spot routed and timed, and he even got a bus for some of it! That allowed us to hit 10 pizzerias in 8 hours. All of which are heavy hitters in NYC and were specifically targeted for this crawl due to their pedigree and location.
Ok, let's talk about the pizza now in order of the crawl which, again, was 10 pizzerias so hunker down for this one. Also, clicking the linked pizzeria names will take you to their full galleries here on Forza Pizza. And also, don't miss the behind the scenes live action and go checkout the highlighted stories on the Forza Pizza Instagram profile. Ok, now crawl with me...
First up was Joe's Pizza on Carmine St. Duh. Joe's, to me, is the definition of New York style pizza. It's got a dense and chewy crust with just enough crisp to still be foldable with a saggy tip. It's a quintessential NYC slice joint and you can't leave it out of any visit. It also opens at 10am which is why it was first on the list. The satisfaction, convenience, and prominence of Joe's constantly reminds me of how great the NYC slice culture really is. C'mon Chicago.
Stop 2 was Danny Meyer's fast casual Roman spot called Martina. Danny Meyer is one of the country's most successful restaurateurs and, if you check out his empire, he clearly has an affitnity for Roman cuisine.
Rome has two main styles of pizza*. There's al taglio, which is sold "by-the-cut" and priced by weight, usually offering a bunch of different topping combos, and is enjoyed as a street food like a slice joint (here's one for reference). Then there's the Roman style thin crust which is actually extremely thin, think tortilla or crepe, is usually woodfired, and has a cracker-like texture with burnt edges. These pizzas are cooked-to-order and usually eaten in a pizzeria. I definitely appreciate that Meyer is spotlighting this lesser-known style.
*I actually wrote about their differences in 2009 right here. Yep, 2009, not a typo. I've learned a lot since then though, so if something in that article seems off well, don't blast me, we're outside the statute of limitations... :)
Unfortunately, while the top pic may look nice, I got all messed up at Martina and my order suffered. I really wanted the zucchini flower and anchovy pizza which is a classic roman combo, but they they didn't have it. I turned to plan B which was an attempt at a funky, briny, punchy marinara pizza with olives, red onion, oregano, and basil. Well they forgot the red onions, and I didn't ask for or see any oregano anywhere, so the result was a nicely made, but extremely lacking pizza. So sad, and it kinda spooked me out. Like "omg, all this buildup and anticipation for this crawl and now, on only the second stop, that's what I do? Snap out of it! Be a pro! let's go!".
Good thing toppings can't stop a nice booty though. I was very happy with Martina's. In Rome their bottoms were whiter and almost soggy, where Martina's has a nice char, added complexity, and sturdiness to it.
Stop 3 was Kesté on Bleecker St which is actually right by Joe's, but because of opening times we did a little backtracking. No one complained. Getting in some steps in between pizza is a good thing.
Kesté is rock solid Neapolitan pizza and owner, Roberto Caporuscio, is one of the most highly praised and highly respected Neapolitan pizza makers in the US and abroad. We were lucky enough to catch up with him while we were there and got to listen to him narrate each pizza for us. The dude knows his stuff and listening to him talk about ingredients and dough-making is practically poetry.
Every pizza was beautifully composed, nicely baked, and tasted spot-on. There was one major difference in the pizza from when I was there in 2014 though. They no longer use the traditional "Tipo 00" flour to make their dough. Instead, Roberto chooses to use "Tipo 1", which is more coarse, contains a variety of grains and wheat, and produces a heartier crust that has more of a breadlike taste than "00". You can actually see a speckling of the light brown grains when you look at the uncooked dough.
The robustness of the "Tipo 1", or "Tipo Uno", doesn't really change any bible Neapolitan characteristics - it's still slightly crispy on the outside and soft inside, it still gets those nice leopard spots, and you still definitely can't pick it up and eat it with one hand. But, the bread flavor is more wholesome, the texture is more pronounced, and I would say the crispy "shell" of the pizza has a little more bite than what you typically find in a "00" flour. This was why, in my opinion, the Margherita with smoked buffalo mozzarella was one of the highlights of the trip. I don't think this pizza works on a traditional crust - the lightness wouldn't do anything to help the smoked flavor and would just taste like the Pizzaiolo didn't know how to use smoked mozzarella and just swapped it out on a Margherita. It needs more, and the "Uno" provided it.
Still on foot, we headed to stop 4, Song e Napulé. Having these two Neapolitan places back-to-back was a nice side-by-side way to taste and compare differences. While I don't know whether or not Song e Napulé uses "00" flour, the coloring and flavor profile was softer, lighter, whiter, and less hearty than Kesté. Is that why the anchovy pizza tasted so good here? Maybe. Or maybe I just like anchovy pizzas...
The setting at Song e Napulé is just as noteworthy as the pizza. This place must have only about 20 seats, 25 on a gorgeous patio-weather day like today. It's very tight and cozy and reminds of you those restaurants in Italy where they seem to nestle perfectly in some of the oddest of places. The best part though, is the whole front of the restaurant opens up to the sidewalk like one big sliding door (should've took a pic). Which was great for us because, even though we had to huddle around a small pizza table on the sidewalk, we still felt like part of the pizzeria. Plus, we're pro's and there's not much else you can do when 10 guys show up to your 20 seat place in the middle of lunchtime. The staff was incredibly nice and accommodating.
Ok, not even halfway, but now we got a bus and are headed just beneath the Highline to another place where the setting rivals the pizza. Quick, raise your hand if you ever been to a pizzeria with original Salvatore Dali artwork on the walls? Oh, no? Then you haven't been to The Woodstock. Stop 5.
The Woodstock is a brand new spot serving unique and, what I would call, artisanal pizzas in a rotating Cuppone oven. The pizza program is led by the highly-decorated and skilled Nino Coniglio of Brooklyn Pizza Crew. Which makes sense, because you can tell immediately these are not basic pizzas. A lot of thought and time went into this dough and these topping combinations, and the Yoko with smoked mozzarella, caramelized onions, pancetta, and a fried egg (pictured with Sal above and top right below), was another highlight of the trip (not sure why I'm falling so hard for the smoke though!).
As you can guess, it's very 70's in here. A lot of pink, yellow, and flowers with menu items named after songs and celebrities from that era. There's even a back area with carpeting and vintage living room furniture where I guess you just chill and talk about music and activism and stuff.
At this point it is probably around 2 or 3 pm, we've been eating pizza for five hours, and we're making our way to Motorino in the East Village for stop 6. This spot is actually the house that Anthony Mangieri built. He's the famed pizzai-owner of Una Pizza Napoletana which existed in this location from 2004-2009 before he decided to leave for San Francisco in 2009, make pizzas out there, and then return to NYC a couple months ago to open a new version of UPN in a different location... (breath)... more on that in stop 10. Back to Motorino.
Motorino makes dependable, entry-level, Neapolitan pizza. Meaning, it's definitely well-made with high quality ingredients, but a few modifications were made somewhere along the line so that people don't complain about a wet-soggy middle or a soft-drooping crust. It's good crowd-pleasing pizza with better Gragnano. Try the clam pizza.
Stop 7 was actually not a stop, but an act of true pizza heroism. At some point during Motorino, Paulie Gee (yes, that Paulie Gee) put a bug in Peyton's ear about Joe & Pat's located around the corner. Though not on the original roster, Peyton made a phone call and slipped out minutes later. Then, as the rest of us are walking out of Motorino, Peyton pops onto the curb with two Joe & Pat's pizza boxes which, in our eyes, looked more like his superhero cape. This is next level crawling, people. Some real pro sh*t. We took the thin, charred-edge, NY style pizza down in minutes and I am pretty sure this pizza was the majority favorite of the day. Not only was it delicious and addicting, but the heroics gave us the mid-day jolt we needed to move onto to number 8.
Back on the bus, we got 'roni cups to chase! Ya, you guessed it, stop 8 was the insanely popular and incredibly Instagrammed, Prince Street Pizza. Honestly, where do I begin? I really think this pizza is like 50 adjectives, some of which are opposites, but they make complete sense. It's soft, it's crazy, it's messy-as-hell, it's delicious, crispy, greasy, it's sweet, it's overwhelming, graphic, spicy, on and on and on. I don't think there is another one-topping pizza on this planet that has this much going on. Stare for a minute:
And in some more pro sh*t, so we didn't get bogged down by waiting in line and then ordering 10 individual slices, Paulie Gee picks up the phone on the way there and says, "Ya, it's Paulie Gee. I need a whole spicy spring. Double cut. We'll be there in 10 minutes...ok". This is how you pizza crawl!
Now might be a good time to mention the newest addition to the Forza Pizza Shop - the SHOW ME YOUR 'RONI CUPS tshirt... check it out. ;)
We're on our second-to-last stop, number 9, and it was one I was looking forward to all day. Scarr's is all about vibes and I kinda knew it going in. A relatively new pizzeria made to look old with wood paneling and mirror walls, neon signs, and curved booths with a slice counter in front and a wooded bar in back. Man, that bar...total vibes. The kind of place you duck into cuz you got some free time and before you know it you've guzzled down and shot back more than a few, and you hope when you force yourself to leave it's still daylight and the Sicilian pizza you just scarfed helps limit your stumbles on the way home. Vibes, dude.
The owner, Scarr, is also clearly well-versed in the vibe arts because, even though he's a pretty big dude, he floats around his spot all chill, slows you down, and makes you feel like you're just hanging out in a friend's basement. A friend that blasts island music, mills his own four and can produce a Siclian style pizza that's crispy on the bottom, light and airy in the middle, topped with all-natural, high quality ingredients, and has a hole structure that looks like this...
All those Scarr's vibes made us fall a little behind schedule, and for a while we thought it was our last stop, but thanks to phone notifications and planes getting delayed for no reason we had time for one more - Una Pizza Napoletana. For those who lost count, that makes 10.
Mentioned above, Una Pizza Napoletana is Anthony Mangieri's place and he's largely responsible for the Neapolitan pizza renaissance that hit NYC a little over 10 years ago. Not only did he master his craft, he mastered how to shape a pizzeria around him making every single pizza. That's what he did in NYC and that's what he did in SF. He crushed every pizza by himself, 5 days a week, for 10 years which, in itself, is incredible, but pair that with coast-to-coast followers (real ones, not social media ones) and fanatics and you have yourself a pizza legend.
10 years is a long time to be making every pizza though, and it seems Anthony and his new NYC spot recognizes that it isn't sustainable or even healthy. So now the guy can take a day off here and there and they can also expand the menu a little bit. Instead of the famous pizza-only menu, this iteration of Una adds small plates, dessert, and a nice list of natural wines. It's also gorgeous in there.
(sigh) Unfortunately, the one day we decided to head out to NYC was the first day Anthony wasn't there making pizzas. To be clear, absolutely no one is knocking him for taking time. It just hurt a little. To guys like me, it's like being the world's biggest basketball fan with tickets to a Cavs game, but when you get there you find out LeBron isn't playing. I'll survive.
With Anthony's legacy we knew they weren't just gonna stick anyone back there - he must be good. Rest assured, the pizzas still had the signature look and feel of an Una pizza. High cornicione (crust of a Neapolitan pizza), smaller than the plate, and cleanly topped with high quality and simple ingredients. And, while we were staring at Anthony's heir, Peyton and I both noticed even his mannerisms and pizza touch resembled Anthony's. You can tell he was extensively trained.
I'm definitely in the minority here, but I'm just gonna say it - Una Pizza Napoletana's pizzas aren't my thing. That's not a knock on the pizza, or on the people who say this is the best thing they ever had. I see why people love it, and the way they use salt as a topping is genius and elevates every pizza, but I don't know. Maybe it's a "no to canotto" thing, maybe it's the softness of the crust, or maybe it's the amount of flour used during stretching and topping that kinda puts a cap on how much of this I can eat. Compared to Joe and Pat's above that I could eat every hour on the hour, or some other Neapolitan spots that are easier to take down.
In the end though, it really doesn't matter which pizza I liked the most or least, this was an awesome crawl with awesome people. I had a blast catching up with my pizza buddies and meeting new ones as we trekked through NYC and bonded over pizza. Keep this in mind for your next crawl - one day is the way to do it. Fly in and out on the same day and get as much done as possible. If you make it two days, you will likely not hit your potential on day 1 knowing there is another day planned, and then you likely won't hit your potential on day 2 because you'll be too full and tired. Plus you'll need baggage and a place to sleep and all that headache. Skip it. One day only. Trust me, I've done it both ways.
That's it! Hopefully you enjoyed the show! Again, don't forget to check out the highlighted Instagram story for all the behind the scenes. Where to next, guys?!