I ♥ NY—but Susan & I make better pizza

New York is a great town with great pizza. But quite possibly the very best pizza in New York is made within the walls of our own home.


Better than New York–style: A pizza Susan and Dustin made at home on  20 January 2012.
Better than New York–style: A pizza Susan and Dustin made at home on
20 January 2012.

I love pizza. I can’t remember a time in my life I didn’t like it. I mean, who doesn’t like pizza, right? If there is a universally-loved food, I believe it’s pizza. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who said they don’t like it. Even chocolate isn’t liked by everyone; I’ve met a few people in my life who have a real aversion to chocolate. And, clearly, a real aversion to taste, but that’s a topic for a different time. But pizza—nope, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like it.

That’s not to say that all pizza is liked by everyone equally. Different brands, different types—everyone has their favorite and disfavored varieties. Different slices for different folks, as they say. Okay, so they don’t really say that, but close enough. Take me, for instance, since I’m writing this. I have never really liked Papa John’s pizza, though I’m not above eating it if it’s offered to me. Especially if I can dip each slice into that totally-bad-for-you, artery-clogging, but-oh-so-good buttery garlic stuff that comes with it.

It occurs to me that if the best word I can come up with for an item I am ingesting is “stuff,” then maybe I shouldn’t eat it. But, again, that’s a topic for a different time.

Even in Italy there was plenty of pizza going around that I wouldn’t touch. Such as pizza al tonno—tuna pizza. The thought of cracking open a can of tuna and spreading it out over a pizza is revolting to most Americans, I’d say. Then there’s the type of pizza many Italian kids like to eat, with hot dogs chopped up and spread over the top. That is also revolting. Let’s say I hadn’t eaten for days and my only choices were a pizza al tonno and a pizza with chopped up hot dogs all over it. I think I’d starve.

Then there’s pizza with corn. Europeans seem to think of this as “American-style,” but I don’t think it would ever occur to most Americans to put corn on pizza. I don’t think we would find it revolting—corn is clearly not in the same category as chopped-up tuna or chopped-up hot dogs. Just unusual. Unless it’s a flatbread from Jamba Juice, in which case it’s pretty good. But, admittedly, probably loaded with salt. And it probably comes to the store frozen and they just quickly heat it up for you, so basically you’re spending three bucks on a frozen pizza.

There was a commercial I once saw on TV in The Netherlands. A man wakes up in the middle of the night in need of a midnight snack—a so-called American-style pizza. He gets out of bed and walks downstairs—in his cowboy boots—to heat up a frozen pizza with corn on it. It’s funny to see the stereotypes others have of us Americans. Since, of course, we never stereotype them, right?

Kind of like the sizes of ice-cream cones offered in France: one boule (or scoop), two boules, three boules, or américain, which has not just four scoops but also toppings such as chantilly (whipped cream), nuts, chocolate sauce, and, of course, a cérise (cherry). But, again, that’s a topic for a different discussion.

So back to me. Or, rather, the types of pizza I do and don’t like. When we lived in Washington, D.C.—and right next to a grocery store—Susan and I would have frozen pizza quite often. It was basically the only frozen food we would buy. And other than being a bit high in sodium, like most frozen foods, it’s pretty good, as long as you get the right type. We would occasionally enhance it with our own additional toppings. All in all, our almost weekly pizza nights were something to look forward to.

We occasionally went out for pizza. There were a couple of small pizza shops along 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan, a few blocks from where we lived. We once went to Ella’s Wood Fired Pizza in downtown D.C., across F Street NW from the Smithsonian Institution’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. [Note 1] Ella’s was good, but not $13-for-a-10-inch-margarita-pizza good, especially compared to the pizzerias I frequented in Italy, where a decent—as in, better than Ella’s—margarita pizza was half that much, even at the dollar’s unfortunate exchange rate with the Euro. [2]

I recall only one occasion in D.C. when we ordered out pizza. If there were other times we had pizza delivered, they clearly weren’t good enough to remember.

Then we moved to New York City, a town so known for its pizza that it’s actually called New York–style. Pizza here can be pretty good. It can also be pretty inexpensive, if you know where to look. On 2 September 2011, the day after we moved to New York, we went to a pizzeria near Susan’s school in Williamsburg. The pizza at La Nonna was pretty good, but it was also pretty pricey. Definitely not something we could make into a habit.

Then we ran across a place in Midtown, at 6th Avenue and 39th Street, which had a special: two slices of pizza and a soft drink for $2.50. Now that could fit into our budget. We thought it would be fun to grab a couple of slices of pizza and a soda and then take Fiona to ride the carousel at Bryant Park. But the guys behind the counter were not only rude but also used a racial slur—for Asians, which is odd, since I’m clearly not Asian—when they thought I took too long to decide what to get. It was one of those moments when, in hindsight, we really should have just walked out of the store. Yet it happened so fast and unexpectedly that I didn’t really have the time and forethought to react. But, needless to say, we determined then never to return.

Then I ran across another pizzeria with the same special, 2 Bros. Pizza. It’s a local chain with a number of locations across Manhattan and even one in downtown Brooklyn. The original location, on St. Marks Place near New York University and the Cooper Union, has two locations on the same block, separated by just a few storefronts. Three, to be exact, plus entrances to two apartment buildings, as far as I can count. I’m not sure which is the actual original location. But the location I have been to most often is not on St. Marks Place but at 6th Avenue at 17th Street. It’s very convenient to the subway station at 6th Avenue and 14th Street, which has an exit at 16th street and is served by both the L and M trains, which are the two lines nearest to where we live. I’ve searched for other locations as needed using Google Maps on my phone. [3]

But here’s the thing. For a buck per slice of cheese pizza, or “plain,” as New Yorkers often call it, 2 Bros. is pretty good. But, obviously, it’s not that good. It’s only a buck. And I’m pretty sure the cheese isn’t real mozzarella. It’s probably “shredded mozzarella product.” And (like that garlic “stuff” I mentioned earlier), if the best word for an item I’m ingesting is “product,” I probably shouldn’t eat it.

So let’s say we upgraded and got slices at a place that’s a little more expensive and a little higher quality than 2 Bros. You know, a place that uses real mozzarella. The pizza would be better, yes, but it would still pale in comparison to what we can make at home.

That’s right: we make pretty darn good pizza right here in our own little kitchen. Better, honestly, than anything I’ve had from a pizzeria in New York. Maybe it’s because Susan worked for a time at a Papa Murphy’s (a chain in Utah that makes pizzas that you can take home and bake yourself—their “Chicago-style” is pretty good, whether or not it’s really what true Chicago-style pizza is like). Maybe it’s because Susan is just a really good cook in general. Maybe it has to do with the New York water—which is what a lot of people claim gives New York–style pizza its flavor anyway—that we put in the crust (which, yes, we make ourselves). Maybe it’s because we always use real mozzarella cheese and we can put whatever toppings in whatever amount we want on our pizza. And we can make sure our toppings are fresh and decently healthy.

The moral of the story? A New York–size slice of New York–style pizza is great, and you can find it cheap—but Susan-and-Dustin-style pizza is better.


NOTES

  1. The Reynolds Center has such a long name because it’s the home of two separate Smithsonian museums housed in one common building: the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. And because Washingtonians really like long names.
  2. The exchange rate at the time was somewhere between $1.20 and $1.30 to €1.
  3. Another 2 Bros. location, on 6th Avenue between 37th and 38th streets, which I found through a Google Maps search and subsequently patronized, was reported back in March by The New York Times to be in a price war with its neighboring pizzerias (there are three, including 2 Bros., within two blocks). Check out “Pizza for $1, 79¢, 75¢ A Slice!” on page A15 of the 31 March 2012 New York edition of The New York Times, or read the article at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/31/nyregion/in-manhattan-pizza-war-price-of-slice-keeps-dropping.html. It’s a fun read.

This article appeared on pages 24–25 of Issue 6 | April 2012.

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