(Photo Modified: flickr/oliverbruchez)
Every New Yorker has a slice joint, a place they personally identify with the quintessential New York City slice. This isn't the place they'd necessarily go for a pie, mind you. But the place that drunk or sober, famished or full, they'd seek — the place they'd say you have to go when asked where to get the premier New York City slice.
For many, that place is Joe's Pizza in Greenwich Village where it was founded by Pino "Joe" Pozzuoli in 1975. The tiny slice joint on Carmine Street is hardly bigger than one of the pizza boxes you'd take a few slices to go in and is still owned by Joe, now 73, though it's been managed by his grandson Savatore Vitale for some time.
In this interivew, part of a series attempting to solve the mystery of pizza and pepper flakes, Vitale discusses how he prefers to eat a slice, whether there's a truer New York City slice experience (with red pepper flakes or without), how his grandfather eats his pizza, and how real New Yorkers eat a slice.
Do you use red pepper flakes and what's your feeling about them and how they contribute to the experience of eating pizza?
I don’t put anything on my pizza. I don’t put on the red pepper flakes because it spices it up, which isn’t for me. But some people like it. Red pepper flakes, Parmesan, and oregano — those are the only three things we put out there at Joe’s.
Which is a truer experience?
I never put anything on there. I like the way the pizza tastes by itself, the sauce, the cheese — for me, pizza isn’t supposed to be spicy. It’s like when you see people put Tabasco on their pizza. I don’t get it. It’s a truer experience to taste it the way we made it. And when you’re tasting our pizza for the first time, you should not put anything on it. The red pepper flakes, that’s for if you want to change it up a little bit. You taste it with nothing on it first. Or sometimes, if you’re using them, [it means] the pizza doesn’t taste as good as it should and you want to make it taste better, you know?
What about your grandfather, what does he think?
I’ve never seen my grandfather put anything on a pizza in my life. He won’t even reheat a pizza. There’s no reason for him to put anything on his pizza. He’d rather make fresh pies for people.
Do you have any feelings about people who don't use them?
To each his own I guess, but normally, you can tell the real New Yorker by how he comes in and gets his pizza. A regular slice on a plate with nothing else on it, folded in half and out the door… that’s a New Yorker on his way to work.
Read more from this series of interviews with prominent pizzaiolos and experts on the question of the origins of the use of red pepper flakes on pizza: When Did Pizza Meet Red Pepper Flakes?