Tucked into a tiny East Village storefront (14th St. between 1st and 2nd), patrons cram in to order four available types of slices: margherita, Sicilian, artichoke and spinach, and crab. There is tiny ledge (below a creepy, very toothy painting of the Kennedy brothers) to eat, but most choose to eat on the sidewalk. There is beer on tap, but with no seats, drinking and eating at the same time seems difficult. Also available are some appetizers, such as stuffed artichokes, but the reason for visiting Artichoke is the slices.
So, does it live up to the hype? I'd say yes; though the crust is not the best, the toppings are across-the-board excellent. Is it New York's best? Not for this pizza lover to say as I've hardly tried every noted pizzeria across the five boroughs, but I will say without reservation is that Artichoke has quickly become the pizzeria that I have returned to most often. The slice reviews below are from three visits, across several months.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/daned/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Margherita (Regular) and CrabMy first visit was long after the opening hype had dissipated, though the crowd was still sizable for a crisp fall afternoon. I've always thought a margherita is a good first introduction to a pizzeria — if they can't get that right, it does not bode well for their other, more complex pies. Artichoke's margherita (or, "regular") was just OK on this visit. The sauce is delightfully tangy, the mozzarella fresh and cooked just right. The crust, however, was too burned and a little too thick for my taste; I like a little black in the Neapolitan style, but this seemed excessive.
I was long a detractor of seafood on pizza until I tried a delicious, fresh tuna pizza in Sicily a few years back. Now open to the idea, I dug into Artichoke's crab pizza and was not disappointed. The crab and mozzarella was well-blended; the "fishiness" of the crab was pitch perfect. My only complaint would be that crust was so thick it seemed overwhelmed the topping flavors, which were perhaps spread a bit too think to compensate. Maybe a little less dough would help this slice. (Or perhaps some pineapple! I kid.)
While neither slice rated a perfect, both were very tasty and the experience felt very "New York" — eating outside next to a chain link fence watching East Village hipsters walk their dogs. Based on the quality of the toppings and the unique charm of Artichoke I vowed to return.
Artichoke and Spinach
For my second visit I tackled the the artichoke and spinach slice, which is the signature pie here and it is not for the faint of heart (online reviews have spanned the spectrum from "ethereal" to "disgusting"). My partner-in-pizza described the slice as a "heart attack waiting to happen" and it is admittedly one of the most unhealthy looking pizzas I have seen since a Chicago deep dish adventure several years ago I'm only just bouncing back from. Where to start? While waiting for our slices, I saw one of the pizzioli stirring a thick cream sauce in a plastic tub. That creamy concoction (which apparently includes liberal amounts of butter and some white wine; it basically resembles a vat of Alfredo sauce) along with a mush of artichokes, spinach and some cheese make up a slice that can barely be contained by the crisp crust. Admittedly, it's a bit rich given the size of Artichoke's slices, but for a few bites it's a delicious mix of flavors. If you have an engagement after eating or are far from a safe place to nap, I'd recommend holding off on this one.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
On my previous visit to Artichoke, I saw several slices of the Sicilian get passed across the counter and briefly toyed with the idea of ordering one in addition to the artichoke and spinach slice. Cooler heads prevailed and I returned later to sample the thicker, square Sicilian. Because of the inclement weather, I was able to get a pretty good sight line as the pizzioli prepared the Sicilian, first baking the crust, tomato sauce and mozzarella. After it's sufficiently browned, it's removed from the oven, at which point fresh basil and a pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano mix is added before being sent back to the oven.
The result was so delicious — the perfect mix of tangy and sharp, sweet and savory — that I gladly ate outside in a cold drizzle. Since the slices are square, they are slightly more manageable and ordering two is not out of the question for someone with a healthy appetite. The crust retains the crispness and holds up well beneath the prodigious cheese topping. It was one of my most satisfying pizza experiences in recent memory.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bee721/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
— Brett Essler