Arthur Bovino, the Executive Editor for The Daily Meal, announces the names of the '101 Best Pizzas in America' for 2015.
This is our fourth annual attempt to seek out America’s best pizza, and our third 101 (our first list covered a mere 35 — what were we thinking?). You know the expression, “It’s a hard job, but somebody has to do it”? Well, we love pizza, but we make this list as hard on ourselves as we can. It’s one of The Daily Meal’s most compulsively tracked rankings. Why? Because Americans love pizza. It’s a truly democratic food, an inexorable part of American life, something everyone knows (or thinks they know). People take pizza very seriously. So we do too.
Have you had a stranger tweet that he wants to take you on a pizza tour of Queens, drive you around in a truck for a classic Flushing slice, then pull out a med kit filled with fresh basil, oregano, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to “Dom DeMarco” it up? Have you ever collected a year’s worth of pizza suggestions drenched in love and vitriol from hundreds and hundreds of readers? Tried to locate and make sense of every single national and local media list of America’s best pizzas to ensure you haven’t missed a pie? Arranged and rearranged travel schedules in an attempt to personally sample the purported best pizzas in as many American cities as possible? We’ve ridden in that truck. We've done all that, and more, since compiling last year’s 101.
No list is perfect. And we have to remind ourselves at least once a year that other people are allowed to write about pizza, even when they’re wrong (especially when they’re wrong) — even when, as TripAdvisor did this year (two years after naming San Diego America's Top 10 Cities For Pizza... San Diego?), they name Brooklyn’s Juliana's (No. 41 on our list last year) the best pizza in America (tasty for sure, but really?) and round out the top three with places in St. Augustine, Florida, and Anchorage, Alaska. No such thing as bad press, right? (OK, we’ll say it: Some people really should have their pizza-writing licenses revoked.)
So unlike many arbitrary lists, rankings diversified for the purpose of geographical engagement, and “expert” listicles chosen by a handful of New York’s food writers, we approached our rankings methodically and comprehensively, starting with our own definition of the perfect pizza.
What makes the perfect pie? Considering the varied pizza styles (Neapolitan, New York, bar pie, deep-dish, Detroit, St. Louis, Sicilian, Grandma, we’ll stop ourselves there), that’s a loaded question. Suffice it to say, no matter your pizza denomination, the following is true about the Platonic pie: a nuanced sauce, neither too sweet nor salty (assuming that it has sauce); quality, well-distributed cheese (assuming that it has cheese); quality and well-paired toppings; a flavorful, savory crust; and perhaps most important (after quality ingredients), a judicious, well-balanced, and (most importantly) pleasing ratio of sauce, cheese, toppings, and crust that maintains a structural integrity no matter the style.
(Speaking of crust, what is this fancy-pants term “cornicione” that figures in many of our captions? Cornicione, pronounced "cor-nee-CHO-neh," is Italian for cornice or moulding, and in pizza terms means the edge crust or rim on a pizza.)
From defining the perfect pizza we went big, ordering extra-large, extra-cheese, considering 800 spots in every corner of the country — about 100 more than last year. How did we narrow this number down to just 101? To begin with, we eat at as many pizzerias as we can ourselves. This editor has personally visited nearly half the places that made the list this year. The Daily Meal’s in-house pizza experts — including eight-time James Beard award winner and editorial director for The Daily Meal Colman Andrews, Eat/Dine editor Dan Myers, and Restaurant editor Kate Kolenda — along with our city editors, Culinary Council experts, and Culinary Content Network bloggers, pitched in.
But we also called upon a blue-chip, geographically diverse list of pizza panelists — chefs, restaurant critics, bloggers, writers, and pizza authorities — asking them to share their considerable pizza experience with us, and to vote only for places where they’ve actually eaten. (If you’re in food media or are a recognized pizza expert and you disagree with this list and didn’t vote for it, send us an email with your pizza cred and we'll consider you for our panel in 2016.)
We’re going out on a thin-crust slice to say there’s never before been such a comprehensive list of pizzas voted on by such a large and qualified group of experts. Certainly, this year’s 109-member panel is The Daily Meal’s longest, most impressive, most star-studded pizza-expert roster ever, including 31 more pizza mavens from across America than we had last year.
So who says the 101 pizzas on this list are the country’s best? How about "The Pizza King" Dan Janssen, for starters, the owner of an artisanal Maryland woodshop who last year revealed that he has survived on a diet of pizza alone for the last 25 years? Other panelists included television personality, chef, food writer, and lover of gas-station pizza Andrew Zimmern; restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times S. Irene Virbila; 2012 Classic Italian first-prize winner at the World Pizza Championships in Naples (Italy) Elizabeth Falkner; New York City pizza tour impresario, Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box author, and Guinness World Record holder for his pizza box collection Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours; New York City’s modernist cuisine pioneer chef Wylie Dufresne of Alder (chef of The Daily Meal’s 2014 Restaurant of the Year); New Haven culinary walking tour expert Colin M. Caplan; Broward Palm Beach New Times food critic Nicole Danna; James Beard Award-nominated author of How Italian Food Conquered the World, How Italian Food Conquered the World author John Mariani of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet; lead senior content strategist and managing editor at MSN Ilana Bergen; USA Today's "Great American Bites" regional cuisine columnist Larry Olmsted; and other experts from HuffPost, The Detroit News, Food Network, Thrillist, the Miami Herald, The Virginian-Pilot, and numerous pizza blogs across America. (Read on for this year's full panelist list.)
We also have a special expert this year: America's foremost authority on pizzaology (says it right there on the July 8th comic strip), “Blondie’s” Dagwood Bumstead. That’s right, Dagwood weighed in. Can’t top that.
How about his take on what makes for the perfect pie? “An outer crust that is crispy but still bread-like and bubbly, not too much sauce but definitely homemade,” advised Mr. Bumstead. “An emphasis on cheese, (lots of cheese!). It must have cheese dripping off the sides of the slice, so it makes a stretchy mess when you pull your slice away from the whole pizza. Last but not least, only the freshest ingredients to top it with! And how about some jalapeños to spice it up a little!” You knew there was a reason you always liked that guy, right?What makes for the perfect pizza? Considering the varied pizza styles (Neapolitan, New York, bar pie, deep-dish, Detroit, St. Louis, Sicilian, Grandma, we’ll stop ourselves there), that’s a loaded question. Suffice it to say, no matter your pizza denomination, the following is true about the Platonic pie: a nuanced sauce, neither too sweet nor salty (assuming that it has sauce); quality, well-distributed cheese (assuming that it has cheese); quality and well-paired toppings; a flavorful, savory crust; and perhaps most important (after quality ingredients), a judicious, well-balanced, and (most importantly) pleasing ratio of sauce, cheese, toppings, and crust that maintains a structural integrity no matter the style.
This year, Dagwood and his fellow panelists finalized a list that spanned 24 states. The top 10 states for pizza (nine, technically, plus the District of Columbia — “Pizza Without Representation”) included New York (27); California (11); Connecticut (nine); Pennsylvania (seven); Illinois (six); Massachusetts (six); Washington, D.C. (four); New Jersey (four); Oregon (three); and Texas (three).
For the third year, the birthplace of American pizza, New York, featured the most pizzas. But for the first time, the Empire State's share of the pie diminished, with only 27 spots (it scored 30 spots in 2013 and 35 last year). And within the state, the percentage of places from New York City’s five boroughs was also less than last year (85 percent in 2015 versus almost 90 percent in 2014). In 2014, Brooklyn reigned with 13 spots, leading Manhattan (11), Queens (four), Staten Island (three), and the Bronx (one). Those 31 spots fell to 23, with Brooklyn and Manhattan tied at nine, Staten Island and Queens ranking two spots, and the Bronx's tried-and-true Louie and Ernie's representing it once more.
After New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia tied for second, featuring six spots each, with Boston and New Haven, Connecticut, not far behind with five apiece. Portland (Oregon), San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., also tied with four spots each, and then seven cities tied with two pizzas per: Atlanta, Austin, Vegas, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Providence, and yes, Robbinsville, New Jersey (population 3,041).
Among out honorees, you'll find old standbys like Joe’s in New York's West Village, Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, and Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, and a few surprise climbs up through the ranks: Buddy’s in Detroit and Chicago’s Coalfire made it into the top 10. But you’ll have to check out the full list below, then read the gallery captions to learn why each place landed where it did. We will say that the top two pies were separated by just one vote (this is a big year for both of the pizzerias that produced them: one 90 this year and the other is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary).
One last thing: We know who we and our many panelists think serves the best pizzas in America, but we'd also like to know who you think does. That’s right, we’d like you to vote too. Check out the list, then click into our survey (learn more about the popular vote) and weigh in with the places we missed or that you think should have been ranked higher (or lower). We’ll publish the results in a few weeks.
#101 Ghigiarelli's, Old Forge, Pa. (Red: Tomato, brick cheese)
You have to credit a town that calls itself the "Pizza Capital of the World," especially if no one would have heard of it otherwise. Not Naples, Italy. Not New York City or Brooklyn, not Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New Haven. Nope, Old Forge, Pennsylvania, claims this distinction, and on placards for the town, no less.
Some six places — Anthony's, Arcaro & Genell, Brutico's, Revello's, Rinaldi's, and Ghigiarelli’s — make up the pizzerias that constitute this gutsy claim. This Twilight Zone of pizza, this pizza capital of its own fashioning, might as well be a different country, too — they even have their own pizza language. Order by color (red or white) or by the cut or by the tray.
The mysterious cheese combination that covers the pizza in Old Forge is an enigmatic brick that coats your teeth and tongue in a curiously comforting yet puzzling way. The white pizza is calzone-like in that it has crust on top and bottom, but the way to go is the red pizza.
#100 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, Los Angeles, Calif. (Margherita)
New Yorkers are still waiting for the planned five New York City locations of the West Coast-based Chipotle of pizza that co-creator and former Michael Mina corporate chef Anthony Carron and Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman announced in late 2013, promising they would start “opening within the next year.”
Anyone doubtful of the possibility of quality, personalized, 60-second-cooked Neapolitan pies cooked by 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria and showing up next to the Starbucks in every neighborhood can nurture their chain-pizza skepticism, but they can’t ignore the seven locations in California, two in Nevada, one in Illinois, and international offshoots in Dubai and Japan (where seven more are slated to open over the next decade).
If you'd prefer not to view the gallery, check out the full list on page 2.