Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Thirteen Breakout Pizzas of 2013

As another year comes to a close, let's look back at our top findings. These are not (necessarily) the best pies of all time - just the best ones discovered in 2013.  We found great pies, and just as importantly, a wonderful trend. 
Spatola's Pizza, Paoli PA

Don't neglect our Twelve Breakout Pies of 2012 - link HERE.

I had to omit some truly excellent pizza (Ramagi in Brooklyn, New Park Pizza in Queens, Spatola's in Paoli PA, Pieous in Austin TX) to get down to my Top Thirteen pizza discoveries of 2013What a wonderful world of pizza!
More people = more varieties to try

All of these (with one technical exception) are pizzas I've never had before. And remarkably, my list of places to try continues to grow. Part of this is just growing awareness, and part is that we're still in a pizza renaissance, with new and distinctive pie places opening across the nation.
Apprentice pizza tasters
Good pizza = true happiness
At Pieous, Austin TX

Even as I discovered some old-school pies, particularly in the Midwest, I also found some new pizza that isn't marching to the Neapolitan beat. Let's count down the thirteen top discoveries of 2013:

13. Domenica, New Orleans. Domenica is a full-service Italian restaurant, not just a pizza place. It is owned and operated by celebrity chef John Besh, and everything about our meal - including the Neapolitan pizza - was superb. You can't get a bad meal anywhere in NOLA, really. You can read the full review HERE.
The smoked pork pizza at Domenica. Click to enlarge!
12. Roberta's, Brooklyn (Bushwick). This was simply a near-perfect rendering of a Neapolitan crust in a friendly hipster setting. Opened in 2009, it's the kind of frontier outpost that is helping transform an ugly industrial zone into a hip neighborhood. Full review HERE.
Margherita with pork sausage at Roberta's.
11. Pane Bianco, Phoenix AZ. Same owner (Chris Bianco) as Pizzeria Bianco, many of the same Neapolitan pizzas that many consider world-class, with none of the crowds and lines. One dining partner declared their Margherita to be the best he's found. Full review HERE.
 
The "Rosa" at Pane Bianco


10. Apizza Scholls, Portland OR. Even though Portland is a very hip town, it's not the place I would expect to find a classic New Haven style apizza. But there is it, and it is thin-crisp crust wonderful. Genuine old-school pie in an entirely new-school setting. A revelation - and worth enduring the crowds. Full review HERE.
An East-coast pie out on the west coast at Apizza Scholls

9. Zuppardi's, West Haven CT. Two New Haven style pies in a row here! In New Haven, Pepe's and Sally's and Modern get all the love. Happily, we didn't overlook Zuppardi's in nearby West Haven. We tried several pies there, and all were a delight - but the real draw is the fresh-shucked clam pie. A work of art, and no crowds and lines as found at the big-name New Haven pie slingers. Priceless neighborhood gem. Full review HERE.
Zuppardi's clam pie

8. La Villa, Morrisville PA. 2013 saw the final steps in Trenton's vanishing status as the capitol city of pizza. Not one of its legendary pie makers remains. The good news is that DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies and Papa's Tomato Pies are still being made, only now in nearby Robbinsville NJ. 

Even more good news is the number of seriously good tomato pies now being made in the suburbs of Trenton. Bordentown, Hamilton, Ewing, Pennington, Morrisville. We tried and enjoyed Palermo's in Ewing NJ, but the true star is at La Villa, right across the river in Morrisville. The square tomato pie was a revelation - one might compare it to DeLorenzo's, the highest possible praise. Destination pie, big comfortable dining room, modest prices. LOVED it.  Full review HERE.
Square tomato pie at La Villa

7. DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies, Robbinsville, NJ. Speaking of DeLorenzo's, this is the one pie we've had before - at the restaurant on Hudson Street in Trenton before it closed (full review HERE) and as takeout from the Robbinsville location. But until this year, the swarms of pie seekers have prevented us from the sit-down dining experience in Robbinsville. We arrived early on a Saturday, still waited 45 minutes, and enjoyed some classic DeLorenzo's tomato pies. 

I must concede that the pies have lost just a bit of the magic, and I think it is because the production volume is up. The restaurant is perhaps three times the size of the old Trenton location, parking is easy, and crowds unrelenting. A lot more hands are now crafting these pies. But even slipping a few points, DeLorenzo's remains my #1 pie. For sure, the competitors have closed the gap. More good news - progress on a Pennsylvania location, targeted for Newtown in Bucks County. Full review HERE.
Sausage pie at DeLorenzo's

6. Sally's Apizza, New Haven CT. Volumes have been written about the relative merits of Frank Pepe's and Sally's Apizza in New Haven. Both are superb, I can't imagine anyone who likes one and spurns the other. Sally's is firing on all eight cylinders - thin crust old school pie in an old-school setting. What better pizza eating event than one your grandfather might have experienced in a near-identical fashion? I'm normally pretty conservative with pizza toppings, sticking to the cured meats, but here we also tried and loved the potato pizza.  Full review HERE.
Huge pies at Sally's
The potato apizza

5. Pizzeria Delfina, San Francisco CA. This sweet spot draws crowds for its hybrid Neapolitan pizzas. The crust alone bursts with flavor, and it stands above most other Neapolitans because it is crisp, rigid, and not wet in the center. Masterfully crafted pies where the toppings keep up with the brilliant crust. Full review HERE.
Salsiccia pie at Delfina
Try THAT with any other Neapolitan!

4. Tacconelli's Pizzeria, Philadelphia PA. I've wanted to try this legendary pie for more than a decade, but its location outside center city and its "reserve your dough the day before" protocol kept me at bay until this year. Finally got there on a Friday night with a large group, which afforded the opportunity to try several pies, including the regular, the white, and several toppings. Wafer thin yet crisp, rigid, and an ideal base for the high-octane red sauce. If I were in the kitchen, I'd use a little more cheese and a little less sauce, but this is remarkable, one of a kind pizza. Many claim it's Philly's best.  Full review HERE. 
Tacconelli's pie - thin and rigid!
The highly-sauced pie at Tacconelli's

3. (TIE) Vito and Nick's, Chicago, IL and Rubino's, Columbus OH. Cheating a bit here to get 14 pizzas into our list of 13, but perhaps it's a jump start to 2014. This is the year I discovered the super-thin crust Midwestern pie, typically given the "party cut" into small squares. There's a lot of overlap with an east-coast "bar pie." Both depend more on the skill of the pizzaiolo and the technique than on high-end artisanal ingredients. Completely old-school, bursting with salty tangy flavor and perfected with oven char. Easy to eat a lot of this thin light stuff. Full review of Rubino's HERE, and full review of Vito and Nick's HERE
Sausage pie at Vito and Nick's on Chicago's south side
Pepperoni pie at Rubino's in Columbus OH

2. Gennaro's Tomato Pies, Philadelphia PA. This eye opener was a delightful surprise: a brand-new pizza place, serving old-school Trenton-style tomato pie in the heart of South Philly. The crust alone was a thin, rigid, flavor-packed delight, and it was the perfect base for artisanal toppings with bright and zesty crushed tomato. If I had this side-by-side with DeLorenzo's, it could challenge for the top spot. Full review HERE.
Tomato pie perfection at Gennaro's in South Philly
Pesto pie at Gennaro's

1. Pizza Brain, Philadelphia PA. As we noted, 2013 was a great step forward for pizza, with new destination spots opening all over. Most of these are still Neapolitan, but some are fantastic Neapolitan hybrids. Most remarkable of all, though, was Pizza Brain in Philly's evolving Fishtown section. Here we found a brand-new rendering of an absolutely classic American pie. 

Too firm to be Neapolitan, too crisp to be a New York pizza, too thick to be a Trenton tomato pie or New Haven apizza. This pie was inventive, balanced, nuanced, and yet not pretentious even as the funky space swarmed with hipsters. In our review, we wrote that "If you care at all about pizza, this is a stop you have to make." It's destination pie, worth the trip, and I'm hoping it spawns a host of imitators. 

Kudos, Pizza Brain - our top find for 2013.  
Full review HERE.
The "Forbes Waggensense" at Pizza Brain
Slice close-up at Pizza Brain
In summary, our top 13 (14, actually) includes 3 Trenton style tomato pies, 3 New Haven style apizzas, 3 Neapolitans and 1 Neapolitan hybrid, 3 wafer thin crust old-school pies, and 1 (our champion) American classic. It's a great time for pizza in America. Mangia!

5 comments:

  1. I've seen so many delicious versions of this cauliflower crust, I really do need to try it eventually! This looks just perfect - a wonderful twist on a classic pizza...More Pizza

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  2. Well done!! Due to various mix ups the San Francisco pizza tour we were discussing didn't happen but Delfina is definitely on the bucket list. I'm going to be about 90 miles from New Haven Super Bowl weekend, hoping to make it to 2 of the Big 3 on the Monday after.

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  3. Rubino's in Columbus looks great. I love that style. Great list, Don Quixote!

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  4. I really appreciate your top pizza lists so much more than the national top 10 or top 100's that the major media outlets push out. Those lists are loosely based on - nothing! You take painstaking measures to try each pie and carefully rank them, and I appreciate that!

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  5. NEPA - Thanks for those kind words! I'm afraid that the better known lists are constructed for the purposes of being controversial in order to draw more eyeballs. Also, they often come as slide shows to induce "clicks" that drive their advertising revenue online. PQ

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