Thursday, February 11, 2010


Hi everybody. The blog has moved to:

Please make a note of this and continue following my posts and videos at that site. It's a better look and will enable more food adventures.

See you there,

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Here is the first episode of the web series.

In order to gain credibility for the web series, Brian invites his work friend Anthony (an authentic Italian) along on their search for the best pizza in NYC.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Thin Bread Line

It's really amazing how many places advertise that they have the best pizza in New York. Some signs even proclaim the best pizza in the country or the world. I mean, who are these people? Can a chef decide he has the best pizza in the city and then post it on the window for all to believe?

I need more than just a sign to back this up. An article in NY Magazine works (like Kesté), a write-up on all the NY pizza blogs (like Di Fara) or maybe just a ton of recommendations and a personal facebook endorsement from my best friend's mother (as is the case with Waldy's).

Since its name kept coming up when talking about my pizza search and it has a very prominent sign claiming it New York's Best Pizza, I had to find a lunch time to check out Waldy's Wood Fired Pizza and see for myself.

I arrived around 1pm on a Wednesday and the small little restaurant was slamming. There's a counter and a handful of tables that were all pretty much filled. There were also many people waiting for their take-out orders. I'm not usually in midtown around lunch time, but I imagine this is a typical weekday afternoon.

There's no table service so I ordered my pizza up front. I was impressed by how friendly and helpful the staff were, especially considering how many orders they kept taking. I figured I would have to wait a bit so was very pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a bookshelf full of food books to peruse for just this very moment.

As I waited, I dove into Ed Levine's book on pizza in America, A Slice of Heaven. The guy definitely has me beat on the pizza adventures. I become so engrossed, I almost forgot I was waiting for lunch.

So the deal at Waldy's is that they make ultra-thin pizza. I mean, ultra thin. And they cook it in a wood oven with fresh, unique toppings. Of course, I stuck with the Classic Margherita, the pizza to judge all pizzas by.

I think there's a fine line between NY thin crust and a cracker with cheese and tomato sauce. And Waldy's walks that line. Their crust is amazingly thin. Of course, it was very crispy and had a nice charred flavor. But I do wish there was a bit more substance to the bread.

The mozzarella was incredibly creamy and I think there was some parmesan because it had a nice bite. The tomato sauce itself might have been a bit more flavorful, but the addition of fresh tomatoes helped with that. The basil was shredded very thin, but it was plentiful and added that fresh herby finish.

The pizza here was tasty and I do love a thin crust, but at some point, it blurs the line between pizza and something else. I mean, much thinner and Waldy's would be nothing but toppings. And nobody seems to advertise the best toppings in the city - it's the pizza people want!

Is Waldy's Wood Fired Pizza the best pizza in NY? It comes close to not being pizza at all, but since it stays on this side of the line, I give it a 7 out of 10 for some tasty flavors, good service, and some good reading material.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New York's Finest

You could read the reviews of NY Times food critic Sam Sifton (or, Frank Bruni's web archives), watch Anthony Bourdain, or browse through chowhound. All of those resources will probably steer you to some very good meals. But when it comes to pizza, I think the best judge of whether you should spend your time and money on a slice is who is inside the pizzeria eating it. And if the answer is blue collar workers, police officers, and MTA employees, then you know you've found something good.

Louie & Ernie's in B.F.E. Bronx (Schuylerville to be exact). It seems to be a real pain to get out there via NY Transit, but I was fortunate enough to be on my way back from Connecticut - in a car, no less. So, to me, it seemed like the easiest thing in the world.

When we entered this little pizzeria, which is neatly tucked away in the bottom half of a split-level residential house, all the customers seemed to be wearing abbreviations: MTA, NYPD, FDNY. I'm just glad there wasn't any IRS. These were big guys with big appetites A very good sign.

It was a pretty cold day out so I was surprised to see the pizzaiolo wearing shorts. He must be one of the owners and might even live upstairs. But, hey, if the pizza is good, he could be wearing a thong for all I care.

And the pizza was good. There's wasn't much of a char on the bottom, but the crust wa very thing and flavorful. It was a bit chewier than other NY pizzas, but that's not a bad thing. The cheese was incredibly creamy and the tomato sauce was fresh but a bit light.

I heard that the topping to order here is the sausage, so we also ordered a slice loaded with the crumbly stuff. While it was well-seasoned and not too salty, it was a bit of an overload for me. There was so much meat that it just rolled off my slice. I wish it had been incorporated rather than just thrown on top.

The atmosphere was fun and cozy, the pizza was well-prepared and tasty, and thanks to the clientele, I felt safe from a fire, crime, and any possible subway delays. And I also felt safe from the possibility of crappy pizza.

Is Louie & Ernie's the best pizza in NY? It gets a 7 out of 10 because it's a great example of NY style pizza. It may not be worth the trek all the way out the ends of the Bronx, but if you happen to be passing through, you could do a lot worse.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Take A Number

When I walk into a restaurant and it smells like Subway (the sandwich shop - not the transit system), the only menu appears in a big bright marquee above, and the cashier gives me a number when I order, I expect the food to be fast food. And I think we can all agree that the word fast is integral to this agreement. Otherwise, it's just food.

And I generally think pizza should be one of the great fast foods. I mean, Neapolitan style pizzas are supposed to only cook for two minutes in a wood oven. And coal ovens burn incredibly hot, so it doesn't take too long to get that perfect char. Now, granted certain places are so popular they have garnered a long wait and others are more of a family sit-down stop. Those are fine, but when I have all the smells, signs, and sights screaming fast food, like I did at Singas, I want my food and I want it fast.

And on one hand, I had that experience at the original Elmhurst location. But the problem was the food took too damn long.

Singas is a Queens chain that has expanded very quietly in the last few years but you can find locations in Manhattan, the Bronx, upstate, and soon to be Pennsylvania. This leads me to believe that the quality isn't as good as it should be and the experience won't be all that special.

The place was empty when I arrived around 2:30, well after the lunch crowd. There were a few customers lingering, but I'd say it was pretty slow. I ordered my personal 10' pizza (that's the only option), watched the prepared pie slip into a pan and inserted into the oven. I was then handed a number and quoted a five minute wait.

After browsing the calorie listing on the menu (a very bad idea, believe me) and making a rather lengthy phone call, I realized the wait was much closer to 15 minutes. I know for sure because I checked the call length on my trusty I-phone. Ah, modern technology!

But seriously, when this place is this dead and resembles a fast food chain, 15 minutes is too long to wait for my personal pizza.

The fact that the pizza was extremely hot was both good and bad. Good because I knew it was fresh, bad because I had to wait even longer!!! Well, I do have to say the first bite exceeded my incredibly low expectations. The pizza looked like a dirty fast food roller skating rink pizza, but tasted a bit more refined.

Just a bit. This was still cheap, buttery, and crispy. I definitely could taste all those calories. But I was impressed that the tomato sauce had flavor and the cheese wasn't too greasy. The crust was very crunchy (there was no discernible char) without being dried out. I did worry that the ingredients are full of artificial flavors and crap that tastes great but will kill you if you indulge too much. But that's fast food and I certainly had all the warning signs. And I certainly had plenty of time to turn around and back out before it was too late.

Is Singas the best pizza in NY? The flavors are good and the crunchy, cheesy personal pie was tasty. But I give it a 6 out of 10 because it still had that cheap fast food feel to it. And because it took way too long.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Forkin' Pizza

Comfort foods are dishes that bring us back to our childhood and make us feel safe and warm. And usually have at least 500-1000 calories per serving. Macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, and middle school sloppy joes are all examples of comfort food. And just for kicks, let's add pizza to the mix.

And since pizza is not only comforting, but Italian as well, it is fitting that chef Sara Jenkins recently opened up her own pizza restaurant. Jenkins is the mastermind behind Porhcetta, which is a tiny take-out spot in the East Village that specializes in the namesake hearty Italian pork sandwiches. I've had these sandwiches and they are quite an investment (in appetite more than finance) but incredibly complex and delicious. So I had high hopes for her pizza.

At Veloce, a very sleek pizza and wine bar in the East Village, Jenkins has crafted a unique and comforting take on Sicilian square pizza. The big secret here is that she adds a little potato to her dough (don't tell anybody). This fluffs the pizza up while giving it a crispy crunchy texture.

And I think the potato is what contributed to the slices being so incredibly heavy - literally. I almost had to use both hands to lift the first slice. It felt very full and loaded - even though I only ordered the margherita pie and basil can't weigh more than an ounce or two. It was also cut very large (the 12-inch personal pie was cut into four gigantic squares) so it was awkward to pick up.

After struggling a bit, I resigned to using a knife and fork. I've heard tales that certain people use silverware to cut and eat their pizza. But I'm not a baby anymore who has to take small bites at a time (maybe I should try that), so I like to eat my pizza the New York way: pick it up, fold it, and put it in my mouth.

I looked around to make sure nobody was watching and I cut the pizza into pieces. This formal pizza dining was one of many contradictions at Veloce. The atmosphere felt very romantic and classy, but yet there were parts of the bar that could have been mistaken for a sports bar (except the televisions were not showing football but rather classic black and white movies in closed caption). The soundtrack was a very strange mix of Madonna, Led Zeppelin, and the Beastie Boys. And I was using a friggin' fork to eat pizza!!!

The dough of the pizza was incredibly interesting. The corners were crunchy and charred, but the middle got soggy rather quickly. And it felt and tasted like a giant savory pancake with pizza toppings on it. The cheese, tomato sauce, and basil were all rather weak and bland. It's clear more attention was paid to the ingenuity of the crust. Maybe one of the specialized pies (ie, white clam, porchetta sausage, or five onion) could have brought more flavor to the meal.

I also found it telling that the pizza was served with a side of pickled hot peppers. Are all the pies served with this? Or were they offering it only for the margherita since it definitely needed something to spicen it up?

I was quite disappointed because that dough was really interesting and I enjoyed savoring it. But in order for the pizza to truly work, all the elements have to come into play together. And unlike her incredible porchetta sandwich, Jenkins' pizza caused me more stress than comfort.

Is Veloce the best pizza in NY? I bet their Italian meat heavy pies would be delicious - it smelled great in that wine bar. But the margherita pie (which to measure all pizzas by) was bland and flavorless. The interesting potato-filled crust is the only thing that earns this place a 5 out of 10.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Way South of Houston Street

One of the newer pizzerias that gets talked about a lot in the press lately is Salvatore of Soho. Look as hard as you'd like in that fancy neighborhood downtown among boutique clothing stores and high end restaurants. But you won't find this pizzeria on Prince or Spring Street or anywhere in the general vicinity of the area formally known as South of Houston Street. Because this pizzeria is not where it's supposed to be. It's not in Soho at all, but rather in the middle of suburban Staten Island.

The pizzaiolo, Salvatore Ganci (at least half of the name is correct) trained and worked at both Lombardi's and Ben's Pizza. So finally, we come to it. Those pizzerias are both in the Manhattan neighborhood of Soho.

Sal installed a custom-built coal/gas oven to make classic New York style pizza in his old-fashioned pizzeria. Now wait a minute. I thought coal ovens were illegal in this city unless you were grandfathered in. Turns out the reason they're illegal is because of the black pollution released from the flume. Well, Sal's oven uses a rotating floor and somehow prevents the coals from being released, making the oven hotter and the air cleaner.

We walked through the parking lot (I have a hard time getting used to parking lots in New York City) and made our way inside the pizzeria. It was so cute with lots of '50's nostalgia and kitschy decor - old rock and roll looped on the sound system and the waitresses wore very short skirts that resembled poodle skirts. I felt like I was at one of those theme restaurants on vacation. Well, I was on an island for the day after all.

The pizza arrived after taking more time than I had anticipated and they looked beautiful. They were incredibly crispy and charred (the menu warned that they would be cooked well-done). My fingers even turned black from holding a slice. I looked like a construction worker or something. Well, my hands did at least. I still looked like a bearded wimp who could lift no more than a loaded potato skin.

But I was lifting pizza today and this looked and smelled like classic New York pizza. And the taste exceeded my expectations. The Neapolitan was close to perfection. It was reminiscent of Lombardi's pie, but with a bit more cheese. It had so much flavor - tangy and slightly sweet tomato sauce, rich buttery mozzarella, a very generous sprinkling of fresh basil. And let's not forget that smokey char from the crust.

We also ordered their clam pie, which is a favorite of mine from Lombardi's. I don't think Sal's was quite as good, but it was very close. It needed a little more cheese for me, but the plump clams and garlicky sauce tasted like a great pasta dish. And when you throw in their perfectly charred crust, it doesn't get much better.

In addition to great old-fashioned New York style pizza, Salvatore of Soho also offers some unusual options (like a fried calamari and hot pepper pie) and traditional Italian dishes. It's clear they know what they're doing and have learned from the best. Would I say it's worth the trek out to Staten Island? Probably. But you can get pizza this good in Brooklyn and Manhattan - at Lombardi's in Soho, no less. Now if Salvatore of Soho opened a location in Soho, then we might have a real pizza war.

Is Salvatore of Soho the best pizza in NY? They make really delicious pizza with an amazing char and fresh ingredients in a comfortable, family-friendly environment. It's everything you could want from NY style pizza. If you're in Staten Island, I'd say go. I give them a 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ferry Good Pizza

There are so many pizzerias in this city and there's just no way I can get to them all. Unless I plan on eating nothing but pizza for the next few years. And as tempting as that sounds, I've got other plans.

But I can hit up all five boroughs and seek out the most popular options in each. So my last untouched borough was Staten Island. It's certainly the most difficult one to get to and really seems like its own little world. People don't go to Staten Island and the ones that are there don't leave it. That's not exactly true, of course, since there is quite a commuter crowd every day on the Staten Island ferry. But it does seem self-contained and a bit idyllic in parts.

I hadn't been on the Staten Island ferry (or in the borough itself) in quite a few years so this was a true adventure. The ride itself is a free twenty-five minute tourist-laden boat ride with beautiful views of both the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. There's also a concession stand where you can order dirt cheap beer. Oh, if only they opened one of those on my daily commute, the R train.

We docked and took the ghost train of a subway to Grant City. There were nice houses, busy suburban streets and parking lots. I guess people don't walk too far in this borough. This didn't seem like New York at all. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. But the one reassurance I had that I hadn't strayed too far from home was the overabundance of pizzerias

The first one I discovered was Nunzio's, which is both a sit-down restaurant and a slice joint. The exterior seemed like it could be in one of those shopping centers surrounding a mall. It really felt like I had stumbled upon suburbia.

Adam, the guy who helped us, was sarcastic, friendly, and snarky all at the same time. He had a lot to say about pizza and living in Brooklyn and commuting to Staten Island (why the hell he does that, I have no idea!!) He was amusing and fun (he must have come up with all those jokes over beers on his ferry commute) and kept us entertained.

But he couldn't distract me too much from the pizza. The slice has to stand on its own without all this witty banter. I admit, I was a bit turned off at first by the regular slice because part of the cornicione (end crust) had been torn up a little. It looked like somebody left a big thumbprint. Not sure what happened there, but Nunzio's wins no points on presentation.

The dough was very tender, but didn't have much of a char. The tomato sauce was flavorful and well-proportioned. The cheese tasted a bit sharp (I learned that it was thanks to seemingly invisible pecorino romano) and was overly melty (reminded me of a grilled cheese).

It wasn't the best I've tasted, but it had some great qualities (the dough in particular). We were ready to head on our way since we had another pizza stop today, but Adam refused to let us leave without tasting the Sicilian slice. He swore to me it would be better than whatever pizza I would be tasting at my next destination. Well, the kid sure knows how to make a sale. He earned the company another 2 bucks.

And he also earned my gratitude. I'm not sure it was better than our next stop, but it was damn good. Probably the best Sicilian slice I've had on my entire journey so far. The dough was heavenly - both buttery and fluffy with a bit of a crunch. The tomato sauce and cheese were great and I was frustrated with myself for not having ordered this slice first. I couldn't have two slices since there was more pizza to be had today. I have to maintain my girlish figure somehow, you know. Wait a minute. I mean, my manly figure. My manly figure.

So I finally crossed the bay and ended up on another island full of delicious pizza. They seem to be everywhere in this part of the world. And I'll tell you what, they taste better than any pizzeria surrounding your local shopping mall (unless you happen to be a resident of that suburban heaven known as Staten Island).

Is Nunzio's the best pizza in NY? The Sicilian slice was truly outstanding with lots of flavors and along with their hospitable employee wins this place a few extra points giving it a 7 out of 10.