As Life of Pie continues to tick New York City's best pizzerias off the list with amazing speed, there isn't the time nor space to fully review them all. So, a re-cap of several months of pizzactivity with five small bites: Emporio, Veloce, Patsy's, Sullivan Street Bakery, and Kesté.
Emporio is in Nolita, which means it's less a "pizzeria" than a semi-fancy trattoria that happens to do pizza really well. The best view in the house is in the back room, where skylights illuminate the pizziolo in action at his wood-burning oven. Given Emporio's busy brunch traffic, my wife and I were seated at the front window, so our view included the neighborhood's street traffic (including a small white poodle with a purple Mohawk) and a salon across the street where women were receiving intense neck massages. About the pizza: it's Roman-style and the crust is perfect on the edges, but turns a bit soggy in the middle, as the buffalo mozzarella pools with San Marzano tomatoes and basil in a very flavorful mess, topped off with a bit of hot pepper oil for some kick. Forks are required. This column is about pizza, but we'd be remiss if we did not mention the excellent salads. Blue state alert: one was endive, beet, and hazelnut, the other fava bean with fennel, and both were delicious. A bit hard on the wallet, but worth a special trip.
Having read some recent reports that Veloce, a fine purveyor of Sicilian pizza, was having trouble filling seats, we circled back for another visit, my parents in tow. After rapping a bit with the bartender about their endless loop of Sicilian films (guys, you are wearing that L'avventura DVD out), we dug in to two pies: the arugula (mozzarella, fontina, sweet onion, grape tomato) and the sopressata picante (tomato sauce, parmigiano-reggiano, sweet onion, mozzarella). Both were excellent examples of a pie somewhat different from the style New Yorkers have come to know as "Sicilian" (read: doughy): Veloce's crust is airier and includes some potato flour. These guys also know their wine, so have them pair one with your pizza of choice (try the nero d'avola, grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Etna).
There probably isn't much new to be said about this institution that hasn't already been noted over the last 70-plus years. The bottom line, if you are anywhere near East Harlem, make time for Patsy's. They offer both a takeout window featuring slices of their famous coal oven pizza and a dining room (cash only). The crust is rather light and thin (they use no olive oil in their dough) and the fantastic ingredients (including aged mozzarella) are so cooked to perfection, a party of two can easily kill one large pie, as evidenced by these photos, taken at the conclusion of a long spring bike ride:
Jim Lahey's Company was covered a few column's ago, but his Sullivan Street Bakery is another animal all together. Where Company is a communal, sit-down restaurant experience, Sullivan St. is mainly a bread and sandwich outpost for restaurant and retail distribution, with small sit-down area to grab a slice of pizza and a Pellegrino. I've visited several times alone or with a friend for the pizza pomodoro (tomato, olive oil, and salt; thin, crisp crust with slightly burned edges) and the pizza zucchini (zucchini, gruyere cheese, bread crumbs; thin, crisp crust). They are both out of this world, as is the stecca, a small bread loaf made with pizza bianca dough and filled with a seasonal vegetable. Sullivan Street Bakery is a little off the beaten path (for Manhattan), but worth the trip.
Photos: Jessica Kourkounis
Since being voted New York's best pizza by New York magazine last year, and given its Bleeker Street location in tourist central, the wait at Kesté can be long (mitigated by the owners occasionally bringing some sample slices out to the hungry horde). Luckily, these authentic 12-inch Neapolitan pies come out of the oven in the requisite 10 minutes and boast all the hallmarks of a Naples-certified pizza: charred crust, tangy tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella. I could on and on, but will say only this: if you can manage to get in the door for the Pizza Del Papa, do so. The mix of butternut squash cream, imported smoked mozzarella, artichoke, and red and yellow peppers sounds like a mess on paper, but in reality was one of the best mixes of flavors I have ever encountered.
— Brett Essler
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