Ahem, heh. [Taps mic] Is this thing on? I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I got a lot on my plate these days. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Adam Kuban, and I kinda love pizza. The rest of you may remember me from such posts as 8 Pizzas That Haunt My Dreams 2009–2013 or from the early days of Serious Eats, or even from the Slice days. This list was kind of an annual thing back in those days, and SE editor Max Falkowitz was kind enough to give me space here to continue the tradition.
ANYWAY. Every year I drop a list of the eight pizzas that I ate in the previous 12 months that still stick with me, that... yes, haunt my dreams. Do I need say more before we get into it? No? ... Well, I'm going to.
Here is my standard disclaimer: This is not necessarily a list of THE END-ALL BE-ALL BEST PIZZAS EVER. It is highly personal and idiosyncratic. It's not "America's 100 Best Pizzas" or even "NYC's Top 23." It is simply a list of eight pizzas that I have eaten and that grabbed my attention in the last 12 months and would not let go of it. Sometimes it aligns that 8PTHMD is a list of best-in-class pizza, but often it has as much to do with sentimentality and the overall experience as it does with the pizza itself. Without further ado, here is this year's 8PTHMD:
Prince Street Pizza, New York City: Spicy Spring Slice
If I were to make this whole post into a running metaphor about dreams (which I won't, so don't worry ... you're welcome), Prince Street Pizza's Spicy Spring square slice with its pan-fried crust and perfect pepperoni grease cups would be the equivalent of lucid dreaming. You've heard of that, right? Like where you realize you're dreaming and then take control of your dream. That's because I can get this slice almost any time I want. And I often do.
No need to really dream about it, my pizza destiny with respect to this slice is completely under my control. The only reason to leave Prince Street Pizza without a slice (or two) of Spicy Spring in your stomach is that you're vegetarian. The squares are the thing to get (easily one of the best squares in the New York pizza game right now), but a slice of the round Margherita pie ain't bad either.
Casey's Pizza, San Francisco
I'm not designating one single pizza from Casey's Pizza as the one that haunts my dreams, because there's more to it than that. Casey Crynes's trajectory from pop-up to pizza truck directly inspired my own pizza path, so it was incredibly meaningful to visit him along with my daughter, the eponym of my own Margot's Pizza. The kid and I enjoyed a pie with sausage and onion (my favorite combo), and Margot appreciated the snack of "red meat" (pepperoni) that Casey implored us to try (Zoe's pepperoni is fantastic).
Casey's pizza would be great without these extenuating circumstances, though. It's got the kind of full-flavored, crisp-chewy, foldable well-developed crust that you want in a sort of East Coast-style pizza. He's got the crust down, the sauce is simply good-quality crushed tomatoes with salt added, and the toppings are impeccable. I won't even make a big deal of the fact he's doing all this in a truck parked on the streets of San Francisco. I look forward to visiting again and actually trying that pepperoni, cooked, on a pizza.
Ragazza, San Francisco: Wild Nettles Pizza
Would you believe I'd never had a wild nettles pizza until this visit to Ragazza? It's kind of what I think of as one of Ragazza and its sister pizzeria Gialina's signature pizzas. The peppery bite of the nettles goes well with the pizza's portobello mushroom, pancetta, red onion, and aged provolone; it's like a fancy meat-and-mushroom pizza. I loved the crust here, too. It's almost uniformly crisp, which means it stands up well to the toppings, but it's still puffy and light and not overly chewy—a rare combination of textures and a welcome change from my usual routine of pizza-eating. Ragazza has a beautiful garden and such a hospitable atmosphere, made all the more so by chef-owner Sharon Ardiana and her wife, Alisha, who have been remarkably gracious and forthcoming with pizza/pizzeria advice. This dinner was a highlight of a summer trip to San Francisco.
Kinchley's Tavern, Ramsey NJ: Bar Pie
Given that I've effectively devoted what's left of my life to bar-style pizza, it's crazy that Kinchley's is the only bar pie on this list. But what can you do? I don't have as much time these days to wander all over tarnation for a good thin-crust pizza like this, even if tarnation is only an hour's drive away from me. Slice's Tim Kang covered Kinchley's in 2011 and I'd known about it even longer than that, but wow, I wish I would have visited sooner. This place is the quintessential "bar pizza" pizzeria.
Red vinyl booths, wood paneling, red checked tablecloths, wagon wheel chandeliers. Why is there a horse above the door? These are questions we do not ask. Submit to the quirky, charming timewarp that is Kinchley's and don't overthink it. This is the kinda place that doesn't have specialty pizzas, so just order your favorite topping combo or whatever calls to you. I keep thinking about going back and trying the pepperoni without the hot sliced peppers (which gave me heartburn) or the fra diavolo (pictured above).
Wheated, Brooklyn: East Williamsburg With Jalapenos and Sausage
Longtime Serious Eats readers may recognize Wheated from past coverage here. Owner-pizzaman David Sheridan's trajectory was somewhat similar to Paulie Gee's in that Sheridan built himself a backyard wood-fired oven, honed his craft, and then went and opened a Brooklyn pizzeria. Despite setbacks thrown at him by Hurricane Sandy (he lost his ovens, which were in storage in Coney Island), he and his wife Kim McAdam opened late last year.
Why this place doesn't get as much press as it should is beyond me. The crust here is fantastic, the sauce bright and well-balanced, and the toppings well thought-out. While the pizzas are reminiscent in size of Neapolitan, they're more akin to something you'd get from New York City's coal-oven greats—with the very notable exception that they are naturally leavened, which gives them ample flavor. Not overly sour, but just the right amount of tanginess. I loved the "East Williamsburg" (crimini mushrooms, fresh and aged mozzarella, olive oil, truffle salt) with the addition of sausage and jalapeños. David and Kim's careful planning and perseverance in opening have been an inspiration to me as well. I'll be back in 2015 to try more pizzas—and the impressive bourbon selection.
Lazzara's, New York City: Pepperoni With Vodka Sauce
Pull up a chair, kiddos, and listen to Old Man Slicemeister, 'cause he's got a story for ya. Back in the day—oh, the early aughts this was—Lazzara's was considered one of the greats. If there was a best-of list gettin' compiled and printed with the ink-on-paper technology of the day, Lazzara's likely had a spot on it. But then them darn wood-fired-oven places come along in the mid-aughts and Lazzara's was left there sittin' in its walk-up townhouse in a very uncool part of Manhattan while all the digerati started talkin' about Brooklyn. Brooklyn? HAH! Who goes there?
But don't feel sorry for ol' Lazzara's, because it wasn't sittin' up there alone, folks. There were plenty a people comin' to pay a visit because the pizza is unique, and also 'cause the space feels like some sort of old–New York secret pizza den in a city whose history is being overwritten faster than you can say Dunkin' Donuts. You could probably call these grandma pizzas, but even that doesn't seem quite right. The thin crust is more dense and crunchy than a typical grandma pizza. It almost seems like something someone came up with on an island—which, considering the Manhattan, I guess they did.
Rosario's Deli, Astoria, New York: The 'Rare Square'
I don't know if I should even count this one, because it appears only on rare occasions, but my local sandwich/Italian-goods purveyor, Rosario's Deli, makes a KILLER square pie. I've only ever seen it on Fridays, and Rosario only seems to make it when he feels like it, but there you go. It's topped with good-quality San Marzano tomatoes and Rosario's house-made fresh-mozzarella. The crust is airy and light and greasy crisp in the best way.
This one is probably only good for locals, who should keep an eye out for what I'm coining as the "Rare Square," but the plain slice is pretty dang good, too, and the sandwiches are fantastic. Fun fact: Rosario's appears as Dimitri's Market in Orange Is the New Black. You can see the prop sign above the swinging doors that lead to the back.
GG's NYC, New York City: The Grandma
This one just squeaked by. I'd been reading the accolades for GG's square pizza since shortly after the place opened, but only had a chance to get there a couple days ago. It's a fantastic pizza, though in truth, its thickness puts it more in the realm of a New York Sicilian pizza than a "grandma" or "nonna" pie in my book. But, you can't eat semantics, so just go with it and go eat this pizza.
Marta, New York City: Funghi
It's the holiday season and I am feeling generous, so here's a NINTH pizza for you. There's a lot I liked about the Funghi pizza at Danny Meyer's new Roman-style pizzeria, Marta. It's a white pizza (no sauce) with chanterelle and hen of the woods mushrooms, red onion, a bit of thyme, and a squirt of lemon juice. The flavors work well together, and it's anything but one-dimensional. I've really taken to mushroom pizzas as of late, and I may crib a trick or two from this pie to use on my own ;)
I probably ate more pizza from Paulie Gee's this year than anywhere else, thanks to the time I spent working in front of the pizza oven there. And I've literally had dreams set in that place, so it has haunted my dreams for real. But I didn't want to add it to the actual list because I am not exactly unbiased. It's hard to pick a pizza there as a favorite, because there are a handful that I love almost equally, but I keep coming back to the simple Brian DeParma, with its sauce and shaved Parmesan—that's it, nothing more. And even though my time in the kitchen there has come to an end, Paulie's got some new pizzas on the menu that look like they may haunt future pizza dreams.
The other place that would have made my list this year is Emily in Clinton Hill, but I cannot recommend it without a huge amount of bias either. It's the host restaurant for my once-a-month pizza pop-up, and I couldn't have asked for a better place to do pop-up in. Owners Matt and Emily Hyland have been incredibly generous with their time and space and knowledge, knowledge that I quickly ganked and used on my own pizza! The namesake Emily pie is minimalistic augmented with a hit of genius. It's simply mozzarella on dough, with a post-oven scattering of pistachios, honey, and ... here's the genius ... a handful of sottocenere, a truffled cheese from Italy. The treatment is reminiscent of the cold cheese slices of Little Vincent's on Long Island, and it gives the pizza an extra layer of oomph. Emily is the first pizzeria I've seen doing this, and it's a great touch.
Well, that's that. I guess I'll see you in another year or so!
HEY, WAIT! You didn't mention MY favorite pizzeria, which is totally better than any of these you've listed.
Did you read my disclaimer?