A Slice of New York
Let’s talk about New York style, thin crust pizza. I approach this topic with great trepidation, because everyone has their own take on the subject. Everyone has their favorite places, and the places they would never set foot in. Let’s not go there.
I view NY Pizza as street food. You are walking down the street, feeling a little hungry, and you can grab a slice for sustenance. A pizza parlor should have a counter, so you can eat in the shop, either standing up or atop a stool. Actual seats and tables are optional. The service should be brisk and no nonsense. People are in a hurry. If that means the staff is surly, so be it. Maybe they will have paper plates, but most likely you’ll get the goods on a sheet of wax paper.
So here is what I have come to look for in a pizza joint.
First, almost by definition, it has to be a slice shop. I have just recently come to the realization that I prefer slices to whole pies anyway. When slices get reheated, the bottom crust gets crisped in a way that is much more satisfying than a fresh pie. But I digress. What good is a pizza joint if they make the best pizza, and you can’t eat it on the go?
Every component piece needs to pull its weight. Each has the ability to add something. But all three, the crust, the sauce, and the cheese need to work with each other without one ingredient outshining the others.
The crust has to be super-thin; the bottom cracker crisp. Not that the crust should be like a cracker, because that would be so incredibly wrong. The crust needs to be yeasty, with good chew and flavor on its own. Eating the crust around the edge should not be a burden, or a chore. The idea of throwing the crust away should be inconceivable. When the crust is done right, it is this combination of crisp and yeasty that enables a slice to be properly folded for increased portability.
It seems odd to say this, thinking that it should be obvious, but the sauce should be savory, not sweet. It needs to be flavorful, but thin, without chunks or bits to disrupt the thinness of the slice. I like more of a bright tomato flavor versus a stewed tomato paste, but balance is key.
And finally, the cheese needs to taste like cheese. It should add a salty punch and enough grease to carry the rest of the flavors and coat the lips and tongue. Far too often the cheese used on pizza is absolutely tasteless. It’s a crime. If you are going to take the fat and calorie hit for a cheese-drenched food, the cheese should be worth a damn. The other common flaw is that the cheese is applied with a far too heavy hand.
When a NY slice is perfect, all three of these components blend together seamlessly. The crisp crust is on the bottom and the burnished golden cheese is on the top. But when you take a bite, there is no clear delineation of where the yeasty part of the crust ends and the cheese begins. The sauce fuses heaven and earth into a tasty amalgamation of umami. It is almost like the God Shot for espresso junkies. Even a pizza joint that can do it right may not do it right every time. Consistency is the enemy of brilliance.
Toppings shmoppings. If you can find a slice this good, toppings only get in the way. I’ll allow for a few shakes of cheese to soak up the grease, a dash of pepper flakes if you like it spicy, and a sprinkle of garlic or herbs if that’s your poison.
Pizza with toppings is a different matter entirely. For that, you’ll need to go to Connecticut.