Friday, December 26, 2014

The 14 Breakout Pizzas of 2014

The best annual recap of pizza comes from Adam Kuban, with "8 Pizzas That Haunt My Dreams." Adam is in fact living the dream, having made the transition from pizza writer to pizza maker with his popup pizza in Brooklyn. His tradition inspired my own annual list, based on the discoveries documented here at Pizza Quixote

Three and a half years into compiling a pizza blog, and there are no signs that I'm running out of new places worth trying. Some are the venerable places with well-deserved legendary reputations, and others are new places that have sprung up during the ongoing pizza renaissance. Amazingly, I had to omit some pretty good pies to get this list down to just fourteen.
At Napolese, Indianapolis, IN

Honorable mentions go to Napolese in Indianapolis IN, Grotto Pizza in Dewey Beach, DE, and Tony Boloney's in Hoboken, NJ. Click on any of them to see a full review.

Here they are - the Breakout Pizzas discovered in 2014. Go get some! Click on any pizzeria name to get the full review and pictures. These are not the best pies ever, but they are the unforgettable pizzas of 2014. All fourteen of these are included in our list of 100 Pizzas Worth the Calories

14) Clank's Bar, Marcus Hook PA.  Clank's was on my radar for a long time. There is always something special about a neighborhood taproom that is turning out a great pizza. The very best of that breed is Lee's Tavern in Staten Island and their brilliant bar pies; at Clank's, it's a thick pan pizza with a dense sauce and the cheese underneath.
Pan pizza at Clank's Bar

13) Rosati's Authentic Chicago Style Pizza, Bloomington IL. This local chain makes both a deep-dish and a thin-crust party-cut pie, which I sampled and enjoyed. If you are on the east or left coast, you may not know the wafer thin pizzas of the Midwest, cut into bite-size squares, but they have earned a spot on the list of great pies.
A party-cut slice at Rosati's

12) Barbuzzo, Philadelphia PA. Have you ever seen two wonderful pizza joints that are adjacent to one another? Probably not even in Naples! But Philadelphia has just that on 13th Street, where Barbuzzo turns out some lovely Neapolitan pies right next to Zavino. Both are small but lively spaces with a bit of sidewalk space for al fresco dining.
Neapolitan pizza at Barbuzzo

11) Vecchia Pizzeria Napoletana, Phoenixville PA. Vecchia is another of the growing number of authentic Neapolitan pizzas being made in the US. They imported the materials and the oven maker for their dome oven that cooks pies in 2 minutes at 900 degrees. This tiny borough is fortunate to be home to Neapolitan pie every bit as good as places in Philly and Brooklyn.
Margherita con soppressata at Vecchia

10) Pica's, Upper Darby PA. Pica's is legendary in this Philly suburb, and it got a big boost when Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey shared some Pica's pizza on Fallon's TV show. Like Clank's Bar, Pica's makes a pan pizza that is "upside down" with the cheese under the sauce. It's kind of a Philly thing and it's a cousin to a Philly tomato pie, with that thick and airy bakery style crust. Very old school, very red gravy, the kind of place that never changes.
Pan pizza at Pica's

9) Bufad, Philadelphia PA. Philly's gentrifying Loft District is home to Bufad, which offers Neapolitan pies and square al taglio cuts. It's a cozy space with great service. Roman-style pizza is still largely undiscovered in America, but Bufad is helping to change that.
Al taglio at Bufad

8) Regina Pizza, Boston MA. We paid $30 to park and then stood in line for an hour on a cold October night to get a pizza at the original location of this legendary Boston local pizza chain -- and it was worth it. This pie goes shoulder to shoulder with the old time classics such as John's in Manhattan, Totonno's in Coney Island, and Frank Pepe's in New Haven. Major props for keeping the quality so high while churning out so many pies for locals, college kids, and tourists.
Lined up for Regina Pizza in Boston

7) Joe & Pat's, Staten Island NY. Across the nation, pizza lovers are mostly aware of the great pies in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but Staten Island can be overlooked. However, with Lee's Tavern, Denino's, and Joe & Pat's, Staten Island is home to world-class old-school pies. You don't have to stand in a line to get this pie - but it's good enough to warrant that kind of demand.
Underside of a slice at Joe & Pat's

6) Nomad Roman, Philadelphia PA. Philly has truly become a pizza destination town. Legendary Tacconelli's, upstart Pizza Brain, Trenton-style tomato pies at Gennaro's, Bufad, and plenty more. Nomad is already established in Philly with its funky pizza wagon, and two fixed locations making state of the art Neapolitans. At this newest location, the pie is a thin crust Roman style. Not Roman al taglio like Bufad, but a round pie that took me back to Le Montecarlo in Rome. This pie is so light and thin and yet substantial in flavor.
Roman pizza at Nomad

5) Lucca Grill, Bloomington IL. Bloomington is a lovely town that is home to State Farm and Illinois State University. Because it is more than two hours from any major airport, it has a low profile. But the locals and visitors are glad it has some stellar versions of the thin-crust party-cut Midwestern style pizza that you can get at more famous places like Vito & Nick's in Chicago. A delightful venue with great pizza and great service.
Top and bottom of party-cut slices at Lucca Grill

4) Lombardi's, Manhattan NY. The place where pizza began in America, according to many accounts. Like Regina in Boston, Lombardi's is a major tourist attraction and they are cranking out LOTS of pizza. We went on a lovely warm August Saturday at lunch time, and our pie was rock solid. Even though the oven-charred crust had some droop, this pie was exceptionally well-balanced. Is it Pizza Mecca? Not quite, but serious pizza eaters need to visit at least once.
A slice at Lombardi's

3) Pizzeria Vetri, Philadelphia PA. Yet another destination pizza in Philly. We tried the superb Neapolitan pie, which is pretty much the same as the pizza at Marc Vetri's upscale Osteria venue. But I nearly fell off my chair swooning over the al taglio cut with soppressata. This expensive slice was art-gallery beautiful to see and even better to eat. Walking distance from the new home of the Barnes Museum? Bonus!
Al taglio at Vetri, pretty enough for framing

2) Norma's Pizza, Manheim PA. Lancaster County is home to the big-portion meat-and-potatoes Amish style dining; hence it was an unlikely spot for destination pizza. You can get it only on Tuesdays (when the Roots Country Market is open), but Norma Knepp is crafting some brilliant Detroit-style and "Boardwalk style" pizzas there in her tiny shop. She's been dubbed the "Dough-Li Lama" and she's a genuine pizza scientist. Easily my favorite pizza experience of 2014. Get some yourself!
Boardwalk pizza at Norma's

1) Scuola Vecchia, Delray Beach FL. My personal pizza bias is toward the thin and rigid crust styles of old-school pizzas of New York, New Haven, and Trenton. While most of the new pie makers in the current Pizza Renaissance are crafting authentic Neapolitans, none of them had been able to challenge for the top spot. However, Scuola Vecchia (Italian for "old school") has changed all that. Their Neapolitans are state of the art. 
Salsiccia pie at Scuola Vecchia

My two dining companions both felt "best pizza of my life." I'm not ready to bump DeLorenzo's or Pepe's or DiFara, but this pie is a game-changer. The Neapolitans at Scuola Vecchia are ideal in texture and moisture (a frequent point of failure for Neapolitan pies), and topped with wonderful fresh tomatoes, cheese, and savory cured meats. We were in heaven eating this pie in a crowded and noisy shop on a trendy street of this popular beach town. Scuola Vecchia is our top breakout pizza of 2014.
Interior at Scuola Vecchia


  1. Have you ever found a Chicago style pizza like #13 Rosati's thin crust here in Philadelphia? I've looked everywhere (and eaten tons) but no luck.

  2. The closest thing to this midwest party-cut pie around Philly and NY is generally called a bar pie. The best one I ever had is at Lee's Tavern in Staten Island. Also, although it's been 25 years since I was there, the Ivy Tavern in Trenton makes a good one, but the crust is probably a little thicker. I need to make a return visit there. Not aware of any thin-crust bar pie in Philly, but keeping an eye out. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Philly bar pizza? Think crust? And the locals love it? STOGIE JOE'S on passyunk ave in south Philly

  4. Hi Lou, I looked at some pics of Stogie Joe pizza online - that thick square pie looks a lot like the pizza @ Clank's Bar in Marcus Hook (which I reviewed here a few months ago). Have you had Clank's?

  5. Norma's pizza looks so good! I really hope I can try it the next time I am in Manheim. I can see why you rated it number two on your list! I also want to possibly try Scuola Vecchia, but unfortunately, I hardly ever have business in Florida.