Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Slice by Slice, Part Two (West Village)

If there's a battleground for the pizza wars in New York, it might be on Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. In the middle of the street, you can find the old standby John's of Bleecker, which has been there since 1929. And directly across the street is the new favorite Neapolitan style pizza at Kesté. The two places both garner a huge line and a devoted fan base. But the owners aren't too worried about the competition since their pizza styles are quite different from each other and it really does come down to a matter of taste.

However, bookending the street are two old slice joints that claim to have some of the best pizza in the city. I'll be the judge of that.

My first stop was Bleecker Street Pizza on Seventh Avenue, which according to Food Network, has the Best Pizza in NYC. I had been here once before with my parents (we went on a one day pizza slice expedition a while back when they were in town) and remember it being a pretty decent slice.

I don't remember if I had their signature Nonna Maria slice then, but that's what I decided to order this time around. The cashier told me it's the best slice they make. It's basically their version of a margherita. I waited a bit for the slice, which means it was baked fresh. The steam was rising so I waited even longer to take my first bite.

The first thing that turned me off was the excessive amount of grease. When I folded the pizza, the oil just slid down the slice like a heart-clogging waterfall.

When the grease drip finally subsided, I took my first unimpressive bite. Sure, the crust was crispy and thin, but the rest of the pizza was pretty flavorless. The tomato sauce was chunky and needed some zing. The basil tasted liked the dried variety rather than the fresh herbs one expects from margheritas.

The cheese was good, but it was a bit sporadic and along with the other ingredients disappeared rather quickly. There wasn't enough of anything on the bread so that toward the end, I was just eating crispy dry bread. I could see right through the tomato sauce to the sad, empty crust. I want my pizza to remain strong and composed until the end of my meal.

Is Bleecker Street Pizza the best pizza in NY? I don't care what Food Network says, their famous Nonna Maria slice's heavy greasiness and bland flavors earn it a 5 out of 10.

I didn't actually finish the Bleecker Street slice because I was saving my calories for my next stop: Famous Joe's Pizza. Joe's is on the Sixth Avenue side of Bleecker and was featured in Spider Man 2.

Unlike my previous stop, this place was not being operated by Italians (at least not at the moment). But I'm sure there is a Joe or a son or daughter of Joe who's calling the shots. This place fared slightly better than Bleecker Street. I went for their regular cheese slice and made my way to sit at the counter.

I could hear people crunching around me. Seriously. The crust was ultra-thin and crispy. The customers were sort of an orchestra without realizing it. Maybe this is how the creators of Stomp came up with their idea.

Besides the almost burnt crust (it tasted like I was eating ash toward the end), nothing really stood out. The cheese and tomato sauce were both pleasant enough and the pizza was not too greasy and rather light. The dough might have been slightly too thin because I was still hungry.

Both these pizzas are still far better than you can get in middle America, but the flavors are not exceptional and the ingredients could be fresher. If you're looking for a spectacular pizza experience, I'd stop between these two spots in the middle of Bleecker Street and get in line for either John's (traditional NY) or Kesté (authentic Neapolitan).

Is Famous Joe's the best pizza in NY? It has the most important of NY pizza characteristics: the ultra-thin crust but the cheese and tomato sauce are really nothing special giving it a 6 out of 10.

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