Sunday, December 27, 2015

The 15 Breakout Pizzas of 2015

As the pizza renaissance rolls on, I find myself with the happy problem of too many great new pizza experiences to contain in a list of just fifteen. This year's top pizza joints offered pie in all styles - Neapolitan (all the rage), old-school thin crust, Detroit style, NY style, and even a Chicago deep dish.
Hybrid pie at Patsy's in New Rochelle, NY
Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Here are some great pies that didn't crack the top fifteen, but which deserve your attention and calories:
It's Nutts Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Don Antonio By Starita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

MOD Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Patsy's Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dough Pizzeria Napoletana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dough Pizzeria Napoletana, San Antonio TX

Once again, a shout out to Adam Kuban for his thought-leader's annual take on "Eight Pizzas That Haunt My Dreams." That concept continues to serve as inspiration for this list. 

This is not a "Best 15 Pizzas" list - these are the best ones I discovered in 2015. But some are truly spectacular! And now, the countdown; click on any pizzeria for the full review and more pictures.

15. Wolfgang Puck Express, Indianapolis, IN. The lower end of this list is populated with some chains and spin-offs, which is just more evidence of how far the Pizza Renaissance is spreading (and how it may be cresting). After eating the B+ pizza at Bazbeaux, considered the best in Indianapolis, I stumbled upon much better pie at the airport as I was heading out of town. The open-flame dome oven caught my eye, and I'm glad I took the chance. Yes, it is a chain, yes, I was at the airport, but the Neapolitan breakfast pizza was wonderful.
Breakfast Neapolitan at Wolfgang Puck Express, Indianapolis Airport

Wolfgang Puck Express Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14. Grimaldi's, San Antonio, TX. I've been to the original in Brooklyn, and was curious to see how good the chain version could be. Turns out, it is great pizza. It won't make you forget any of the iconic East Coast pizzerias, but this is far better than you'd expect in the land of BBQ. It's a revelation that folks as far away as Texas can experience a pretty good rendition of a great NY pie.
Grimaldi's, San Antonio

Grimaldi's Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13. Seventh Hill Pizza, Washington DC. Our nation's Capitol is rich in good pie joints - 2Amys, Comet Ping Pong, Wiseguy NY Pizza, Pupatella. But this cozy spot in Capitol Hill makes a Neapolitan hybrid whose delectable crust vaulted it directly into the city's second-best pie slot. Get there before everyone else discovers it.
Seventh Hill, Washington DC

7th Hill Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12. Home Slice, Austin TX. Where can you get an authentic NY slice? This hipster spot in Austin delivers authentically rendered NY slices with a yeoman's crust and toppings that zing. It's better than the highly-regarded NY slice at NY Pizza Suprema, found later in this list for a different reason. Just a fun place to be and food that makes it a destination.
Home Slice, Austin, TX

Home Slice Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

11. La Brea Bakery, Disneyland, CA. There are not many retail locations for this huge national bakery, but the one in Disneyland makes a terrific Neapolitan breakfast pizza. I stumbled on this one, simply looking for some interesting food somewhere in the dull city of Anaheim. This pie was amazingly good, and all the more delightful because it was so unexpected, just like the Puck pie in Indy. Perfect crust, top-notch toppings, and nicely balanced. And the coffee was memorable, too.
Spectacular stuff at La Brea Bakery, Anaheim, CA

La Brea Bakery Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

10. Primanti Brothers, Ft. Lauderdale, FL. If you know of Primanti Brothers, you think of their Pittsburgh home and the iconic sandwiches, stuffed with meat plus french fries and cole slaw. How good could the pizza be at a franchise location on the beach in Florida? Much like Home Slice in Austin, they've mastered the classic NY slice. This huge slice of pie was crisp, rigid yet chewy, and sporting that lovely orange pepperoni grease. Just a delightful surprise in a town where you don't expect to find great pizza.
Beautiful char under the hood at Primanti Brothers in Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Primanti Brothers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

9. Lorenzo's Pizza, Philadelphia PA. Lorenzo's pizza is legendary in its Italian Market location on 9th Street in South Philly. Much beloved by late night revelers as a pit stop for a slice to soak up excess alcohol, its reputation made me skeptical of how good the pizza might be.

 But this stuff is the real deal, and it's yet another fabulous and authentic NY slice on this list. The huge slice is only $2, and it was crisp yet chewy, with a wonderful sweet sauce and a serious char to the undercarriage. A great slice at a great price.
Lorenzo's, South Philadelphia

Lorenzo's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

8. North of Brooklyn, Toronto, Canada. We're only at number 8, yet this huge slice from an 18" pie was nearly perfect pizza. The best NY slice I've had in or out of New York City. The crust had great flavor of its own and that ideal mix of crispness and al dente chewiness. It had the upgrade of fresh mozz, one of the tastiest red sauces we've found, and high-end toppings like the Calabrian n'duja sausage.
North of Brooklyn, Toronto, Canada

 Later, I discovered that North of Brooklyn is a partnership that includes Williamsburg's Frank Pinello, famous for Best Pizza in Brooklyn. The earnest young men in this hipster spot are cranking out some of the best pie anywhere. 
North of Brooklyn, Toronto, Canada

North Of Brooklyn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

7. Capofitto, Philadelphia, PA. I typically get more enthused over a classic thin crust American pie than the dozens of Neapolitan pizza joints popping up, but I was excited to visit Capofitto due to the nice reception it got from Philly's legendary food critic Craig Laban. I've read that "real Italians" expect the center of a Neapolitan to be wet, and that they eat pizza with a knife and fork. In general, I reject the notion that any part of a pizza should be wet (and hence soggy), but here was the first time it all made sense. 
Capofitto, Old City, Philadelphia PA

Every bite of this pie revealed the skills of the pizzaiolo and the quality of the ingredients, such as the n'duja sausage. It's the only Neapolitan that rivals the life-changing pies at Scuola Vecchia in Delray Beach, FL. In its Old City location, Capofitto is not capturing the attention of hipster joints like Beddia and Pizza Brain, but this is world-class pie, and you don't have to stand in line to get some.
Under the hood at Capofitto

Capofitto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

6. NY Pizza Suprema, Manhattan. Steps outside of Penn Station, this slice joint was jammin' on a weekday when I arrived at lunchtime. Their NY slice was very good, but not as good as the ones mentioned above in this list. The home run shot here is the thick-crusted "upside-down" Sicilian square. 
Lunchtime lines at NY Pizza Suprema, Manhattan

An ideally browned chewy and airy thick crust was crispy on the bottom and had a layer of conventional mozzarella acting as a moisture barrier to the sea of brilliant red sauce riding on top. And that sauce is spectacular. This slice yielded up a dizzying delight of textures and flavors. Nothing pretentious going on here - just great skill and a 50-year tradition of slinging out hundreds of slices for hungry New Yorkers.
NY Pizza Suprema, Manhattan

NY Pizza Suprema Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

5. Pete's Pizza, Kate & Al's (tie) Columbus, NJ. As much as I value the terrific new pie sellers opening up during the ongoing Pizza Renaissance, I have a soft spot for the old-school places who might have served my parents or grandparents the same stuff I'm eating today. These two NJ pizzerias had their beginnings in the 1950s and 1960s, and they currently anchor opposite ends of the wonderfully tacky Columbus Farmers Market. This throwback farm market, flea market, and auction is much like the Roots County Market in Lancaster County, home to the incomparable Norma's Pizza.
Kate and Al's Pizza, Columbus NJ

They both make a sauce-heavy square pie that is not too different in spirit from the slices at NY Pizza Suprema. These are vintage-style pies, simple in ingredients and execution, but delightful for how that 50 years of experience leads to such good results. Saucy, sloppy, and just a joy to work your way through one of these slices. The crust is a little better at Pete's, the sauce is a little better at Kate & Al's - but why quibble? Have a slice at each place.
Pete's Pizza, Columbus NJ

Kate & Al's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pete's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

4. Via 313, Austin, TX. Detroit style pizza has long been on my radar, and I finally got some a year ago at Norma's Pizza. Norma's genius with this pie made me hungry for more, and a trip to Austin gave me a chance to visit the highly-acclaimed Via 313. While Via 313 still sells pies from its two food truck locations, we visited the newer full-service restaurant. 
Detroit-style at Via 313, Austin TX

We sampled both the thin-crust bar pie and the thick-crust Detroit style. And both are spectacular. Either one is good enough to put Via 313 on your radar. The Detroit pie is astonishing - it's right there with Norma's Pizza as the best pan-baked pie anywhere. The crust is the star, and caramelized cheese on the edges simply puts it over the top. 
Detroit slice at Via 313, Austin TX

Meanwhile, the bar pie was thin, crisp, and perfectly balanced with genuine chunks of Italian sausage riding on top. It reminded us of the stellar bar pie at Lee's Tavern in Staten Island. It's a grand accomplishment to make world class pie in any genre, and Via 313 is succeeding in two styles.  

Bar pie at Via 313, Austin TX

Via 313 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

3. Louisa's Pizza and Pasta, Crestwood, IL. I've long been skeptical of Chicago style deep dish pie, but this year changed all that. Crestwood may be 10 miles south of Chicago, but the veteran pizzaiolo at Louisa's make a deep dish pie that sports a classic buttery crisp crust and a brilliant red sauce. This was the year of scrumptious sauces, including the square slices at Kate & Al's and NY Pizza Suprema. 
A small deep-dish pie from Louisa's, Crestwood IL

All the ingredients here were in perfect balance, and it helped me end my internal debate of NY vs Chicago pizza. There are so many great kinds of pizza, and usually something very special for the best-executed pies within any genre. Eat them all and vive la différence!
Cross section of Louisa's deep dish pie, Crestwood IL

Louisa's Pizza & Pasta Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

2. Binge House Pizza, Downingtown, PA. What happens when a pizza blogger turns pizza maker? Adam Kuban is getting great acclaim for his bar pies at Margot's Pizza, a pop-up in Brooklyn (I really need to get there and have some). You may know James Oley as Keystone Pizza Critic, the blog where he chronicles his Pennsylvania pizza experiences. 
Hybrid pie by James Oley, Binge House Pizza

James hails from Northeastern PA (NEPA) and is steeped in the square pan-baked "Old Forge" style pizza of that region. He's looking to move ahead with his pizza passion, and is testing consumer responses to some of the hybrid pies he's crafting. I'm one of the lucky folks to have taken home one of these gems that he's baking in his home oven, and that spectacular pie just floored me. 
James did a lot of research to get the right pans for his hybrid pies

It's a NEPA-Detroit hybrid, and it sports that insanely addictive edge of caramelized cheese on every square slice. It's a medium-thick crust, but dense, crisp, chewy, and perfectly al dente. Unlike a lot of Old Forge pies, this one sported ideal top browning of the cheese. This is some pie with real gravitas, and all the ingredients were beautifully balanced. 
Underside of a Binge House pizza

On top of all that, James is a genuinely nice guy with a big heart and a house full of rescued dogs. James has all the skill to become a successful pizzaiolo, and I'm going to be proud to say "I knew him when" he was just getting started. Read the full review; James is looking for potential business partners. Check out the Facebook page for Binge House Pizza.
Beautiful to look at, and even better to eat

1. Picco, Boston, MA. How can you top the fantastic hybrid pie from Binge House? Well, it was a squeaker, but the pizza at Picco is - truly - flawless. I can find room for improvement in even my all time favorite pizzas, like Robbinsville's (Trenton, NJ) DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies and Brooklyn's DiFara. The warts on those pies are OK, because the core is so ideal. 
Margherita slice at Picco, Boston MA
Pepperoni slice at Picco, Boston MA

I really would love to eat Picco and DiFara and DeLorenzo slices side by side, because Picco is dangerously close to being my new and all-time favorite pizza. I've eaten and loved some of Bostons' better known iconic pizzas, such as the original Regina's and Santarpio's. I didn't contemplate that Picco was in the same league, but this hybrid pie (with a crust that was like Totonno's crossed with a Neapolitan) was flawless. 
Serious char on the undercarriage, Picco, Boston MA
Pepperoni pie, Picco, Boston MA

The crust was as good as bread can get, bursting with colors, textures, and flavors. But that was just the beginning, serving as an ideal base for the intensely rich dark tomato sauce, milky white fresh mozzarella, and top-grade small diameter pepperoni. Perfect balance of sensory delights in every bite. I wouldn't change a single thing about this pizza. 
Picco, Boston MA

One would not suspect that this swanky modern setting would be the source of pizza with such a genuine old-school heart, but it all comes together. Good service and great appetizers rounded out a wonderful meal here. Picco belongs on any list of the greatest pizzas in America.
All smiles at Picco, Boston MA

Picco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Four and a half years into this blog, and 2015 is easily the best crop of new discoveries. That is testament to just how robust is this current Pizza Renaissance. We're living in a Golden Crust Age.


  1. You have to come up to Lynn and try Enzo's pizza. The owners are Sicilian and it's far and away the best pizza I've ever had. Only go when Guy (the owner) is making the pizzas.

  2. Thanks for the tip! I won't be in Boston as frequently as in the past, but it's on my list!