A few months ago, no less a respected publication than New York Magazine declared that the Neapolitan pizza “revolution” that was sweeping New York City had taken New York City pizza to its zenith in terms of authenticity and greatness. Ed Levine, author of the pizza bible, A Slice of Heaven, bemoaned the sorry state to which the traditional New York City slice had devolved while hailing Una Pizza Napoletana as the new king of New York City pizza. Well, I’m beginning to think that in our quest for “authenticity” we’re losing the great tradition of New York City pizza (and of its New Haven cousin).
I’m here to shout that the Emperor of Napoli has no clothes. The Neapolitan pizza “invasion” is a fad, like frozen yogurt. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for authenticity. I’ll take the latest influx of Szechuan restaurants over the chow mein of my youth any day. But pizza is different. New York City has more than 100 years of developing a style of pizza. Are there lousy slices out there? Of course. But changing ingredients to conform to Neapolitan style is not necessarily the best thing for New York City pizza.
Fresh mozzarella di bufala doesn’t melt like aged mozzarella fior di latte (cow’s milk). Its creamy taste, while delicious, is literally a different animal from the gooey, oily cheese that we grew up on. I’ve enjoyed the city’s new Neapolitan pizzerias (Co., Una Pizza Napoletana, Motorino, La Pizza Fresca, Franny’s, La Tonda, Kesté) and I appreciate that they care about their products. But I keep returning to the pizza of my youth: John’s of Bleecker Street, Patsy’s of Harlem, Joe’s Pizza, or the corner slice joint.
The puffy, charred Neapolitan-style doughs can’t hold up to the watery, fresh mozzarella on them. Folding a slice and eating it while walking down the street is an act that defines New York City pizza. It also defines what it means to be a New Yorker. Neapolitan-style makes that act impossible. The very concept of a “slice” would be rendered extinct if individually sized Neapolitan pizza were to proliferate unchecked (and for the record, Keste’s pizza wallet is no slice substitution for purists).
Call me “old school” but a gloppy, oily slice of Famous Ray’s of Greenwich Village at W. 11th Street is starting to sound really good right about now.