“Sagra” means “festival” in Italian. I might suggest renaming the event next year La “Sacra” Slices, meaning “sacred,” as the pizza and meatballs served by some 30 culinary artisans can only be described as “heavenly.” After climbing the stairway, er, escalator, to heaven at Pier 92’s rooftop event space, you’re greeted by a constellation of twinkling lights from the surrounding skyscrapers and cruise ships. In contrast to this heavenly scene on a beautiful night last Thursday to officially open the NYCWFF activities with temperatures in the mid-60s, the air itself became distorted by waves of smoke and heat from at least 10 separate wood burning furnaces representing the gates of hell with temperatures approaching 1000 degrees.
I was drawn first to familiar faces, both human and “pie faced.” Man vs. Food’s Adam Richman had not yet been thronged by the crowd and was sampling Luzzo’s homemade Nutella filled zeppoles. Iron Chef judge Donatella Arpia was stunning as always, as were her 100% veal meatballs in spicy arrabiata sauce. Salumeria Rosi’s Cesare Casella was handing out a variety of salami, prosciutto and cold porchetta slices to drape over focaccia. I asked if he had any contraband culatello di Zibello and he joked that he only had limited room in his luggage to “import” it and that he had just “run out.” I had always thought his trademark gigantic sprig of rosemary that he carried in his shirt breast pocket was a gimmick, but now I’m convinced that he actually grows an entire plant in there.
As for the pizza, La Sagra Slices' reigning champion Luzzo’s did not disappoint with its classic Italian flag tri-colored Margherita. Luzzo’s sister pizzerias went black and white with truffle pate and fresh mozzarella. Rubirosa was slinging their Staten Island style thin crust while Michael White’s Nicoletta countered with its NYC defiant St. Louis style thick cut pepperoni, fennel and onion slice. SoHo’s Isola Trattoria was the only pizzeria to break from Neopolitan thin crust tradition with thick doughy sweet tomato topped square Sicilians.
Cheese and toppings also were the subject of much experimentation. Westchester’s Fortina got all soft and creamy with a combination of burrata and robiolina. Pizzateria Brunetti mixed burrata and gorgonzola dolce underneath a blanket of prosciutto, arugula and truffle oil. Don Antonio by Starita piled on stracchino, white truffle cream, speck, mushrooms and basil with a coup de grace of real black Urbani sliced truffles. Ribalta remained traditional with San Marzano tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella di bufala.
Stand-out slices included The EMILY from Brooklyn, which had a wonderful texture comprised of mozzarella, pistachio, truffle, and honey. The master baker Jim Lahey of Co. did a beautifully blistered crust with corn, kale, basil, garlic, and heirloom golden sunburst yellow orange cherry tomatoes which looked like egg yolks when sliced in half on top of the pure white mozzarella.
Taking a break from pizza (can’t believe I said that), there were duck meatballs from Fresco by Scotto. Charlie Bird’s porchetta sandwich with red pepper mostarda was sinfully good. Robicelli’s Italian walnut chocolate brownies and apple pie tiramisu satisfied my sweet tooth. Union Square made me feel less guilty about dessert by serving a health food (which, to quote Calvin Trillin, usually makes me sick) version of a cannoli with a granola baked shell stuffed with ricotta yogurt cream and dried blueberries and pistachios.
I hoped an illy cappuccino would aid in my digestion while I took in the entertainment. The food lines shortened by half as the females in the audience went to see Jon Bon Jovi promote his family’s pasta sauce while “ Livin’ on a Prayer” blared from the PA. Adam Richman then MC’ed the pizza dough tossing competition. A good time was had by all.
There were many more pizzas, meatballs, arancini and desserts left to sample. Just as I thought I might be getting my second wind, another pizzaiola tried to seduce me with a slice. Tragically, I waved him off with the three words I would have sworn I’d never utter in my life: “No more pizza.”