Ok, I admit – I am a pizzaholic, and I’ve been a pizzaholic since I was five years old. We were living in Staten Island back then, having made the then-upgrade from Brooklyn and a few years before we shuffled off to the leafy Jersey burbs. I remember my parents bringing home steaming-hot, whole cheese “pies” to feast at dinner with my baby brother and me. I also remember regular bouts of choking on the cheese, where my dad would drag me (or my brother) to the kitchen sink, put his hands inside my mouth and yank out the offending mozzarella cutting off air to my lungs. Then, as soon as I could breath easily again, I’d plead for another piece. Yes, somehow even the fear of death wasn’t as great as the worry of not having another taste of tomato-ey, chewy bliss.
If you’ve been following Gosstronomy for a while, you’ve probably noticed a disproportionate number of mentions about pizza. I am forever in search of the perfect pizza. Yet, somehow, the more I look and the more I taste, the further away my goal seems to get. Just when I’ve hit all of the legendary New Haven pizza haunts, made the pilgrimage to Brooklyn’s DiFara, devoured tasty slices at Joe’s, shlepped to Grimaldi’s (both the famed branch under the Brooklyn Bridge, plus the Hoboken off-shoot), and scoffed the terrific coal-oven meatball pizza at Arturo’s over and over again, a whole new wave of artisan pizzerias have come onto the scene and ruined it all. It’s like thinking you’ve nearly scaled Everest, only to climb to the top and see the real summit far off into the distance, rising high into the clouds. Hey, it’s the best analogy I can think of – work with me here.
What brought extra attention to my pizza-quest affliction was last week’s article in the New York Post about the city’s school chancellor, Joel Klein, being another obsessive pizza type. Klein has spent a lifetime trying to best pizzas throughout the five boroughs and was prompted by the newspaper to supply his list of favourites. He chose Lucali, found in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens, and Luzzo’s in the East Village. He then goes onto mention Keste in Greenwich Village, Anselmo’s and Roberta’s in repective Brooklyn neighbourhoods Red Hook and Bushwick. A sidebar also adds Staten Island’s Salvatore of Soho, the Bronx’s Zero Otto Nove and Queens’ Nicks Pizza.
Not to be outdone by Klein (which, to date, I regrettably have), I had already started my own research this summer, and begun to sink my teeth into the new pizza elite. I started off this summer at Una Pizza Napoletana, an artisan wood-fired maker creating much buzz in the East Village. Owner Anthony Mangieri is so strict in his pizza making – limiting the choices to four pizza types and zero substitutions – that he is the doughy equivalent to Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. And on a wet and bleak summer’s day (we’ve had lots of those this summer), I went with a friend to check it out. What I found was a broad crust that was the lightest, fluffiest, freshest dough I have ever tasted. That acknowledge, I tried two of the pizzas – a classic Margherita and the white pizza – and while both were good and used quality ingredients, I was disappointed that neither stood out in terms of flavour. I love simplicity, but these were simple to the extent of being bland. It was obvious that both pies were cooked beautifully and with skill and focus, but someone seemed to have forgotten to actually take a bite and see what all of that passion had wrought.
Even so, I did feel a sense of loss when, a few weeks later, Una Pizza announced it was closing. Mangieri is apparently making a lifestyle change to the West Coast, and another – another! – top-ranked newcomer, Motorino, will be taking over the space, expanding from its original home in Williamsburg. Hell, I just got started, and already the pizza landscape is reforming under my feet. As Tony Soprano would say: “Muthaf–kas!” You gotta keep on your toes in this cheesy business.
Now, sadly, no, this isn’t going to be a review round-up of the best pizza places in New York City. Rather, I’m sharing my histlist, and all of us who are in New York (or planning to visit) should experiment in unison and compare notes. Doing my part, I made my latest pilgrimage last week to Keste, a newcomer to Greenwich Village, tucked into a narrow space on buzzing Bleeker Street. Time Out and New York magazines both recently awarded Keste as the best pizza maker in city, so I had to find out if the place holds up to the hype.
The low-down? Well, I was solo that day (a bonus, as I made it quickly through the line in 15 minutes, where others in larger groups likely waited up to an hour), so I merely ordered a defacto Margherita, my baseline criteria for a great pizzeria. My philosophy has always been that if you can’t make a decent Margherita, then what’s the use of trying to put lots of fancy ingredients on top of it? And Keste didn’t let me down. The crust was thick, puffy and light – like Una Pizza’s – but here I found that the pizza had more flavour, from its lively tomato sauce to its saltier cheese and dough. It was, indeed, delicious.
But is Keste the best pizza in New York? I was pleased with the pizza, but not exactly shock and awed. Still, I was impressed enough that I’m resolved to go back for more research. A couple next to me ordered the lardo pizza, and the pie smelled of an intriguing rich, buttery scent with a pungent whiff of something not unlike the bent aroma of aged cheese. I was told it was stellar, but best enjoyed in small doses. There are 18 types of pizza available at Keste, using quality ingredients like imported proscuitto (de Parma and grand cru), fresh buffalo mozzarella, Italian rapini, truffle spread and more. Next time I’m going to bring friends – you know, the ‘sharing is caring’ type – and we can sample across the menu together.
Mind you, I’m also trying to get a bit slimmer as I get ready for Australian spring and triathlon season, so I’m trying to moderate my pizzaholism a bit, regulating my pie intake to once a week. But with only six weeks left in New York, and dozens of great pizzerias still to try, that’s gonna be a challenge. So if you see me tucking into a drool-worthy artisan pizza on one of my days off, just look the other way.
Keste, 271 Bleecker St, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, NY, + 1 (212) 243-1500, http://www.kestepizzeria.com
Motorino, 319 Graham Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, +1 (718) 599-8899, www,motorinopizza.com