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The Decline of NY Style Pizza

June 13, 2019

Recently my friend Rochelle shared a regional pizza ranking scorecard she stumbled onto somewhere on the interwebs. And it went like this:

#1 Chicago
#2 Detroit
#3 California
#4 New York

Now there is a lot that’s wrong with this on its face. Primarily it’s that Chicago is a city with three very different styles of pizza. Most of us think of the Chicago stuffed deep dish pizzas, when conceptualizing pies from the windy city. But some of Chicago’s best pizza isn’t stuffed, but rather simply a thick crust pan pizza with cheese out along the edge. And then there is the most widely eaten pizza in Chicago itself, which is thin crust tavern pies. These are cut into squares so each piece can fit neatly on a cocktail napkin.

Also, I might argue that California style pizza is more like a flatbread, but I don’t want to open up that can of worms today.

Really, what I wanted to focus on was New York’s place at the bottom.

A long time ago, I got into a little bit of trouble when I suggested that New York wines deserve their bad reputation. And I’m going to make the same claim for NY Style pizza.

Before moving forward, I should probably remind everyone that NY Style pizza is my absolute favorite pizza when done right. The problem is that it’s harder and harder to find places that do it right. And God help you if you happen to be a tourist and are looking to try this famous pizza style in the heart of Times Square.

Forget Times Square. If you’re a visitor to Manhattan, and you want to try and have an authentic experience by popping into a slice shop, ordering one cheese to go, executing the fold, and eating your prize as you walk downtown, it’s going to be full of meh.

There are just too many places selling too much sub par pizza, that the glory that was NY Style pizza is largely gone. Sure, it’s still better than Domino’s or Papa John’s. But it’s not going to send anyone back home with tales of a life changing pizza experience.

Do you know why? Really, I think there are two reasons. One, as Jimmy McMillan famously said, the rent is too damn high. And two, is the tourists themselves.

Pizza is an inexpensive food. Part of the glory of a NY Style slice is its affordability. But when rent goes up, and there is downward pressure on prices, corners have to be cut somewhere. And when a business has a steady flow of tourists visiting, they aren’t focused on repeat customers. It’s a one and done transaction. A legion of sub-par pizza places exist in Manhattan, cranking out cheap pies for tourists who think they are getting a taste of a regional delicacy.

Except they are not though. And as a result, we all suffer.

You want a good NY Style slice? Go pretty much to any strip mall in New Jersey. Why? There are no tourists, and the shops have to rely on their regulars. In a place like Jersey where there is such good pizza everywhere, places that are mediocre just won’t be able to survive.

But nobody is going to New Jersey to try the NY Style pizza, and even if they were, they might get the mistaken impression that it’s NJ Style pizza. It would be an honest mistake. But NJ Style pizza is its own thing, thanks to the glory of Trenton tomato pies.

Which didn’t make the list that Rochelle shared. Nor did New Haven coal fired pizza, which is fantastic. New England Greek is a style that some people love, but it wouldn’t be in my top five. Although there is something charming about Old Forge White outside of Wilkes-Barre.

What I personally love about America’s regional pizza styles is each one is delightfully unique. And each should be appreciated on its own terms. I can enjoy a thick medium rare hamburger, a burger made with thin diner style patties, or a plant based burger, and not have to declare one form superior to the others. Each has something to love. So let it be with pizza.

I’m looking forward to my future pizza adventures in Michigan, but I’m also going to try and enjoy as much good pizza from the Capital Region as I can before I go. Because no matter how delicious a midwestern pizza might be, I’m going to miss the pizzas of New York.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Benjamin M. permalink
    June 13, 2019 12:41 pm

    Reminds me of the great episode of The Office where Michael goes to NYC and says to the camera something along the lines of “Whenver I am in the big apple I always go to my favorite pizza place, Sbarros…”

  2. June 13, 2019 5:03 pm

    A Midwestern pizza is not delicious. It’s disappointing. You are going to be pissed when you get here.

    I don’t know what things are like in Michigan, but I have two pet peeves about the pizza purveyors here in Cleveland:
    1. They use shredded provolone on their pizza, not mozzarella. The other cheese choice is a cheddar/jack blend. WTF. Some places will let you add fresh mozz, but not shredded.
    2. They make calzones with only provolone cheese. No ricotta. That ain’t a calzone.

  3. June 13, 2019 7:30 pm

    I don’t buy your argument that it’s tourists that have driven down the quality of NY slices. It’s the general American penchant toward cheapness that’s the culprit, and that certainly includes New Yorkers who live in an exorbitantly expensive city and certainly will save a buck on lunch if they can. If all New Yorkers cared about great pizza, Domino’s and Pizza Hut would have zero presence in the city, but there are countless locations of both. It can’t be only tourists ordering delivery from Domino’s. And just because one lives in NY, doesn’t mean one grew up eating great pizza.

    Great NY style pizza is like anything. It takes skill, a little luck, dedication, knowledge, and passion to make a great product. Just because one opens up a pizzeria in NY does not automatically mean one knows what a great NY slice is, or how to make it.

    My wife and I have longtime friends who lived in Manhattan on the upper east side for many years. Neither of them would know good pizza if it hit them in the face.

    Most pizza sucks. Period. NY slices in NY are no exception, most of them suck too.

    By the way, if you want to know where to go for a great slice in NY, download the One Bite App. Dave Portnoy has reviewed hundreds of NY pizza places, and while he’s not infallible, you can generally trust his opinion.

  4. June 14, 2019 8:39 am

    Here’s a good article related to this discussion. The rise of the dollar slice had a lot to do with the decline of pizza quality in NY.

    “By the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed that the evolution of the slice had stopped. Or should we say the slice devolved? In any case, slice places popped up on every corner, with nothing to differentiate one from another. Pizzerias started blanketing their pies with excessive amounts of bad mozzarella, and canned pizza sauce became ubiquitous, as did cardboard-like crusts made with inferior flour.

    The era of the dollar slice, in the mid-2000s, further undermined the genre; slice places started using low-quality or near-expiration ingredients to keep costs low. Dollar-slice shops flourished after the Great Recession of 2008, as shops were able to pick up favorable leases in the down market—a market that also made their low prices appealing”

  5. Benjamin M. permalink
    June 15, 2019 8:16 pm

    That is an interesting article Steve. But it isn’t just pizza. The rise in places like Wal**** and the American dream to pay as little as possible for things has led to a decline in quality is all areas of life. Sadly, pizza included.

  6. Marty Augustine permalink
    June 23, 2019 10:01 pm

    Whoever said these things just hasn’t had the right pizza…


  1. What’s Up in the Neighborhood, June 15 2019 – Chuck The Writer

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