New York City Pizza Lore: Fiore's Pizza
The square thin grandma slice, with fresh basil, was one of the finest examples I have ever sampled
New York Magazine recaps the history of New York City pizza every ten years or so, particularly when something noteworthy occurs at one of the bastions of New York Pizzadom: say, a fire at Totonno's, an anniversary at Patsy's or the fight between Grimaldi's and Grimaldi. But there's so much more to pizza in New York City that garners less attention or, even worse, goes undocumented. The stories behind the pizza are often as fascinating as the particular pizza is delicious.
For instance, I remember 25 years ago in 1987 when Two Boots opened on Avenue A. The funky unique Cajun Italian concept for families was created to finance the owner's film production career. Located on a block and at a time where you might literally have to steer your kids around the unconscious junkies to get access to the restaurant, it's now a huge chain. Although the original is gone, I still drop in to the location across the street on the now gentrified Avenue A for a corn flour crusted jalapeño, andouille and crawfish covered slice.
I was also there in 2008, when the Artichoke Basille Staten Island boys opened up on 14th street and the line snaked all the way to 2nd Avenue and the slices, both square and round, made me forget about Di Fara's. Artichoke is also now a thriving chain. Speaking of DiFara's, I used to literally camp out in the undiscovered and short-lived DeMarco's Pizza on West Houston, operated by Don DeMarco's family which on a good night was easily worthy of being called DiFara's Manhattan branch.
I equally mourned the departure of Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana and still hold out hope that he misses New York City at his new pizzeria in San Francisco as much as we miss him. I did not have the guts to ask Sarah Jenkins to bring back (maybe at Porsena?) her square fennel pollen sausage pies that I loved at the now also defunct Veloce.
My Twitter avatar is a gorgeous photo of a perfect slice of pizza crafted by another unknown pizzaiolo master, Giacomo Lattaruli, who was laboring in anonymity at the East Village branch of South Brooklyn Pizza before leaving to pursue his still unfulfilled dream of opening his own place and who has returned to churn out dollar slices at Percy's, the South Brooklyn Pizza owner's attempt to compete with 2 Bros., on Bleecker. Even with cheap ingredients, the NY Post recognized Giacomo's as the best $1 slices among an ocean of buck a slice joints.
So imagine my surprise when I saw yet another grand opening sign for a pizzeria on Bleecker up the block from Percy's between Sullivan and Thompson, in the old Pizza Booth space which was itself a long-time blatant Cajun Italian pizza knock-off of Two Boots. Fiore's Pizza has no sign, no menu, no business cards. Just a few photographs of Michael Fiore, a Staten Island firefighter from Rescue 5 who made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11. I had to look that up on Google as the connection between the brave Fiore and the pizzeria is shrouded in mystery.
There's only one sign pasted to the walls and the door. Entitled "How To Eat Fiore's Pizza" it appears at first blush to be an instruction guide for out of town tourists on the art of eating New York City-style pizza. Indeed, it starts out by telling it's patrons that with Fiore's thin crust they can dispense with knife and fork which are only required by Chicago deep dish pizza consumers. Couldn't agree more. But then the sign goes on to dis die hard New York City pizza fans by admonishing us to "NEVER fold a Fiore's slice." What's that?! Folding a slice in half is the very act which defines the art of New York City slice enjoyment. But if you keep reading, the author explains that the thin crust at Fiore's is made with a self-proclaimed yeast starter brought over from the island of Ischia and used to bake breads there for hundreds of years. One should merely take one's thumb and crease the snappy crust at the bottom in the middle and to eat slowly from the tip so as not to miss the taste of the "finest Italian mozzarella and the imported hand crushed tomatoes" with which Fiore's pizza is made.
The sign certainly has pizza dough balls but the pizza lives up to it. The square thin grandma slice, with fresh basil, was one of the finest examples I have ever sampled. The regular round slice reminded me of Joe's Pizza, just down the block across Sixth Avenue, which is often cited by NY pizza cognescenti as the uncontested best slice joint in the entire city. Except for one small thing. Fiore's slice was even better. Hopefully someone else will have better luck than me in writing the story behind what makes Fiore's so good.