As a NY native, it took far too long to add the last piece to the holy trinity in the debate over best pie in the city.
These are the authentic originals with ovens that date back to somewhere around when my grandfathers were born. Each has it positives and negatives, some have a crust to die for, some have a view to do the same - I'll give you my thoughts on their finer points but you'll have to make sure to try all three yourself someday!
The three joints in questions are Lombardi's in Manhattan, Grimaldi's and Totonno's in Brooklyn.
After 31 years of being on this Earth, this past week I finally got the chance to eat at Lombardi's. I've walked by it countless times; always thought to myself while passing that I should make it a point to eat a pie sometime soon and would have eaten one a long time ago if not for the lines. They can be long as its located right in Soho, famous and written about in every guidebook.
On Wednesday I was right around the corner and said enough is enough – convinced my friend to brave the 30 min line and walked up to the bar to make the wait a little more pleasant.
After trying to figure out what language the two suits next to us were using to communicate, our name was called and we made our way to a table. I'm a huge fan of basic pizza – some cheese, sauce, and a killer crust. Plus when setting out to complete the trifecta, I needed to get an apples to apples comparison so the margarita was the obvious choice. My dinner companion was against this however so half the pie was covered in some extra spinach after some debate – I suggested the ricotta but spinach won out.
The pie came in about 10 minutes and it was pretty - with a great looking char on the crust which tasted like a good french bread's crunchy exterior. It was an excellent pie and getting a topping ended up being a good thing as the pie's crust is so incredible that it really needs extra ingredients above the basic sauce and sparse mozzarella scattered on top (complimentary cheese is severely lacking on this pie suggesting to me that they expect you to add toppings).
Given the extra flavors and moisture of added toppings, this pie would perhaps be the best – did I mention the crust.
The group a few tables away were older Italians and they got sausage and ricotta as their toppings. This would add $6 to a $14 (small) or $16 (large) basic pie so its price would be pretty high. As I walked out I commented that they must have eaten here before and they grunted in agreement between happy bites of their pie – suggesting we go with their topping choices next time we dare to brave the line (I added the braving the line bit).
Now a bit of a palette cleanser before you get to learn which is my favorite between the last two horses in our little NYC pizza race – On a tour of Italy a few years back, I had a chance to eat a pie from Da Michelle in Naples.
To this day, the only restaurant that has ever turned me away with the excuse that they were out of dough – suggesting I come back the following night! I should explain: around 9pm and starving after visiting Pompeii all day, I walk up and there were 40+ people waiting outside of this most famous of pizza places in Italy.
On this day, I would not get my chance to eat their pizza however there was another pizza joint across the street that perhaps exists solely to serve a pie to those who can't get one from Da Michelle. Their pizza was pretty good...
The following day, after walking around the city's winding street for the day, I showed up at 5, making sure that one of their many pies cooked this day would have my name on it. There still was a line and I was starving so I asked for the pie to go.
Your choices are simple in this place: cheese or no cheese – there isn't a topping to be seen and its been that way for decades. After 5 minutes my margarita gets handed to me and I make my way with a little skip in my step back to the hotel.
The pie was incredible – sauce perfect, cheese perfect, crust almost perfect (the steam from the hot pizza effected the crunch a bit) - I'm confident that had I eaten the pie at the restaurant it would have been everything its said to be, the finest pie in the world!
Now to answer the question of the finest pie in NY – we have two left and both are in Brooklyn so it takes a bit of an effort to get to each.
Grimaldi's is located at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Totonno's is located near Coney Island.
As far as the distance factor, Grimaldi's is much closer and its almost as much fun getting there as it is to eat their pizza. My general method of transportation is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on a nice day and make your way to Grimaldi's front door - crossing your fingers that there isn't a line. After you eat the pie you can walk a few feet down to the water and get a great view of lower Manhattan.
Their pizza is excellent with no real need to add toppings, a chewy thin crust that lacks the crunch of Lombardi's but does have a more liberal topping of cheese. Its a great pie – while not the best, if you add in the unique bonus points for its location and the walk there and back on a nice day building an appetite and working off the meal on the way back – its tough to beat it...
There is only one left and though located so far away that it takes about an hour to get there, and the fact that Coney Island isn't what it used to be – though the boardwalk on a nice day and a great break from life in the city – Totonno's makes the best pizza in the city!
Its a small place, with seating for maybe 25-30 but the two times I've eaten pizza here, I haven't had to wait and been impressed by the pizza each time. The first time I enjoyed it but thought that it was missing something – the second time I went with a large group and someone happened to know that you could get basil as a topping even though it wasn't on the menu? A margarita should have basil and the other two pies had it standard so I don't feel that its breaking the rules and man did it put the pizza over the top.
Its crust is crunchy, doughy and chewy all at the same time which is an incredible feat to accomplish. The sauce is incredible and the fresh mozzarella is generously covering the entire pie.
It is what pizza should be – sweet and salty, creamy, chewy and crunchy all in one bite... its making me hungry just thinking about it!