Midtown Manhattan Finally Gets a Great Slice Joint
Slice aficionados who’ve bemoaned the lack of a good slice in Midtown New York can rejoice. A new sliceria called Sofia Pizza Shoppe in Sutton Place is serving a crispy-bottomed thin pizza that inspires faith that the art of the quality New York City slice joint may yet persevere in the face of average reheats and the $1 slice. But this kind of quality doesn’t usually pop up out of nowhere. No wonder then Sofia’s family pedigree is linked to one of Brooklyn’s longstanding, unheralded neighborhood pizza institutions, Bensonhurst’s J&V Pizzeria.
Sofia opened last July on the west side of 1st Avenue between 54th and 55th streets in a space last occupied eight years ago by a pet groomer. Founders and friends Tom Degrezia (left) and Matthew Porter have both directing and acting credits (Porter had a role on “30 Rock”) and a passion for pizza. But it’s Degrezia with the sauce in his veins. His grandfather Vincent Degrezia opened J&V Pizzeria in 1955. And Sofia isn’t his first restaurant. Tom and his dad opened Sofia Wine Bar & Cafe on 50th near Second Avenue in 2008, where they serve a limited pizza menu.
“We live in the area, so we knew there weren’t any great slice places around, but when we started getting pizza delivery requests at the wine bar, we knew it wasn’t just us that felt the neighborhood needed a go-to ‘sliceria,’” Tom explained.
In fact, Degrezia and the New Hampshire-born Porter (who name Staten Island’s Joe and Pat’s and Rocco’s Pizza Joint in Chelsea as their respective favorite slices after theirs and J&V’s), said until Sofia opened, they had to go downtown or Brooklyn to get a good slice. They weren’t alone.
Ten years ago, bewildered by the dearth of quality slices in Midtown, I spent a week systematically seeking good pizza. River to river, 25 blocks deep, America’s supposed pizza capital was dominated by Bravo, Little Italy Pizza, Sbarro, and Papa John’s. Neapolitan joints PizzArte NY and Don Antonio by Starita (by Roberto Caporuscio of Kesté renown) have made inroads, but when it came to New York slices, it was a disgrace. (For the record, Pizza Supremaon 31st and 8th is technically in Chelsea.)
The wait is over.
Sofia has an old-school feel and new-era look. Outside, there’s a lit sign with a cursive logo Tom designed. The tiny spot is bright and clean with the modern touch of HD screen menus above the display. Brick walls add a lived-in touch but feel brushed and new. There’s a huge, open picture window reminiscent of one of New York’s old-school slicerias, Patsy’s in East Harlem, and three red stools at its window counter that make a great place to crunch into its three signatures and watch folks walking home from work, delivery guys hopping on and off bikes and people walking their dogs.
A plain slice fresh from one of their Marsal & Sons gas ovens is more saucy than cheesy, its crust fully brown and the combination of those three ingredients no thicker than a No. 2 pencil. It folds sharply with few cracks and leaves a fingertip and thumb-print worth of grease on the plate.
Beyond the plain cheese baseline, they offer 10 toppings: Italian Gaeta olives, roasted eggplant, cherry peppers, mushrooms, sliced onions, roasted peppers, garlic, pepperoni, sweet fennel sausage, and grass-fed beef meatballs.
There’s also a very precise grandma slice with fresh mozzarella. It’s garlicky like the one at J&V but with more cheese and less sauce. It’s a strong addition, but what you really want to do is try to catch them in the summer when they do a juicy summer heirloom tomato pie that tastes like a ray of sunshine.
The spinach pizza has a brown bubble surface with nutty, buttery patches between creamy bites of spinach-artichoke blend. It’s not a cheap at $5, but it’s a more nuanced, less salty take on the classic made famous on 14th Street by the Artichoke Basille guys (“artichoke” isn’t in the name of the slice, but is noted in the description).
Degrezia and Porter don’t believe in sugaring their sauce, they use sausage from Faicco’s on Bleecker (bravo), they sell pizza by the slice at $3 and charge $21 for an 18-inch pie, and when it comes to pepperoni, they note “It HAS to be little spicy cup-and-char slices, period.” Sofia? Tommy great, great grandmother (on his father’s side).
Well done, guys. New York thanks you.