"Conquering All Five Boroughs"
Veni, vidi, ediNo matter what trendy or controversial new polls and lists might claim, New York City remains the epicenter for destination pizza in America. If you measured by ratio of great pizzerias to residents, maybe New Haven could challenge. But for sheer volume of truly wonderful pie, New York rules.
I've had many of the legendary pies in Manhattan (click any for my review) -- John's, Arturo's, Artichoke Basille. I've enjoyed pizza from Denino's and Lee's Tavern in Staten Island. I enjoyed the pie at Zero Otto Nove in the Bronx. I had great pie all over Brooklyn: Totonno's, L&B Spumoni Gardens, Ramagi, DiFara, Lenny's, Motorino.
|From NewParkPizza.com. Click any pic to enlarge!|
What was missing? Queens! With a trip scheduled from my Pennsylvania home to Plainview in Long Island, it prompted me to search for great Queens pizza. Online research pointed to Nick's in Forest Hills, or New Park Pizza in Howard Beach.
New Park got the nod because it is just a minute off the Belt Parkway, and because pizza guru Adam Kuban had written that he finally appreciated a slice by ordering it "well done." He noted that " The slice will have some serious pizza-burn potential—but you won't care."
|Glassed-in picnic tables in the front|
I arrived shortly after 1pm on a sunny October Tuesday. There is inside seating, and it was perhaps half full. I was more charmed by the four or five picnic benches enclosed at the front near the takeout windows. I noted one fellow sloppily folding a soft slice (folding is a horrible NY habit) and that reminded me to order mine "well done." Good pizza doesn't require folding!
I ordered two slices there - one sausage, one pepperoni, and a root beer. A plain slice is $2.75, a slice with toppings is $3.50. Total was $8.75 with the soda.
At lunch time, most of the patrons are solo, so the tables serve as community spots. I sat down opposite an elderly gent just finishing; his spot was then taken by a woman who had more restraint than me, having ordered just one slice. She was a lifelong native to the area and confirmed that New Park serves a quality slice, even as the proliferation of dollar slice joints makes it more difficult to find good pie.
I shared my theory that too many mom and pop joints are pushed to use cheap mass-sourced ingredients so they can compete on price with the big chains. So Americans get bigger, cheaper, soft lousy greasy pizza. Happily, many legends like New Park and Tacconelli's live on, and I'll gladly pay the extra for authentic pie.
When I asked for my slices well done, the friendly counterman two of the darkest slices from a pie already well cooked. To my dismay, they were plain slices to which he then added the meat toppings. He then tossed them in a gas oven, and they were ready for me quickly.
The generously applied pepperoni slices were thin, so they were able to get some oven cooking in that short re-heat. Sausage, though, is my go-to pie. Best is real Italian sausage, in big uneven chunks, best exemplified at DeLorenzo's in Robbinsville NJ (formerly Trenton). This was pre-cooked sausage, sliced into fat half-rounds, and piled on in a heap.
The problem here is that these thick carvings of sausage barely got warm on the slice re-heat, and did not meld into the slice at all. Still, I enjoyed the slice, ate the whole thing, but it was an ordering error. It's better to spend more words of this review on the pepperoni slice, which had an identical crust, sauce, and cheese.
The crust was on the thin side, beautifully crisp, and loaded with flavor. As Adam had warned, the cornicione was burnt. I love the entire slice, and I always eat the pizza bones, but here I had to leave a little bit of that carbon behind. My table mate - and most folks - would have been unhappy with a slice burnt that way, but I saw it as a small price to pay for the lovely crisping of the slice and the extra browning of the cheese.
The crust was so remarkable - rigid, crunchy, but not dry or starchy - that I paid little attention to the sauce and cheese. They were excellent role players here. I regret not ordering a plain slice, so that I could better appreciate the cheese.
I like a salty pie and generally add some table salt; here, (like Denino's) adding salt was not required. Kuban explains that the crust is baked on a surface where salt has been applied. I think the salt is in the sauce at Denino's; either way, I feel that the saltiness of both pies helps account for their popularity.
New Park Pizza opened in 1956, and I understand why it's a legend. This is great pizza and an absolute classic "New York slice." It is not quite destination pie with the magic of DiFara or La Porta, but the great texture of the pie and old-school ambiance are special.