Grandma pizza at Corner Slice in Gotham West Market.

Cornering the Market on Grandma Pizza in Hell’s Kitchen at Corner Slice

Ivan Orkin, the brash Jewish guy from Long Island who supposedly had no business opening a wildly successful ramen shop, is now the ramen guy whose brand seemed to have nothing to do with pizza and who has now opened Corner Slice, a grandma pie joint.

“You could say I’m the white guy making ramen, but the white guy went to Japan in 1980 and learned how to make it for 30 years,”Orkin retorts. “My family was Japanese and my heart is Japanese. Pizza is no different. I was born in Lenox Hill Hospital and been here my whole life. The experience of a great pizzeria… it’s who I am. If you listen to my backstory one of the things that reminded me about ramen was New York diners. Your guy was always there. You could get your food pretty quickly. I think pizzerias are really similar.”

The truth, as Orkin and partner David Poran quickly point out, is that Corner Slice, Gotham West Market’s new pizzeria, is the brainchild of chef and partner Mike Bergemann, 29, who Orkin and Poran call “the mastermind of the pizza.”

It’s been asserted that 2017 will be the year of the square pizza in New York City, a declaration Corner Slice will help cement. Bergemann describes the pizza he and his younger brother Pete, 27, are baking in an electric PizzaMaster deck oven from as “a blend of every square-style pie.” Actually, thinking inside the box has been on the rise for years. Prince Street Pizza opened with squares in 2012, when chef Michael White was also testing square pies at his East Village Midwestern riff Nicoletta. Razor-thin edged square icon Rizzo’s opened in 2013, on the Lower East Side after being Queens-bound nearly 55 years, and quadrate aspirations made news in 2015 at beloved Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s and with Matt and Emily Hyland of Emmy Squared.

A topdown view of the pizza at Corner Slice.
Mike Bergemann calls his grandma pizza “a blend of every square-style pie.”

Square-centric pizzerias have been pretty successful recently. Prince Street’s Spicy Spring square now tops many pizza-lovers best-of lists, Rizzo’s soldiers on and Matt and Emily’s Emmy Squared is an Instagram staple bound to amplify the trend when their second Detroit-style spot opens in the former Blue Ribbon Bakery space. (It will be their first Manhattan pizzeria). With 310 Bowery, grandma pizzas (always square) have even entered a New York City bar pie arena dominated by poofy crusted quasi-Neapolitan rounds at Alligator Lounge and Crocodile Lounge in Williamsburg and the East Village. But lackluster “Detroit” squares at the new Bryant Park Whole Foods (not good) are a reminder that it’s quality, not being on-trend, that leads to success.

You’ll find that focus on quality at Corner Slice.

“The pie is special because it’s made properly,” Orkin explains. “I don’t mean to sound like a jerk but we have good flour made with care and fermented the way dough is supposed to be fermented in my opinion. And I think we decided we could make a little less money and buy better ingredients and make it up in volume. We’re really doing that on purpose because we want people to enjoy the pizza and not get caught up in the price of artisanal ingredients. The reason why slice business has fallen off is because they’re not using great ingredients. New York took a bit of a left turn into Neapolitan style and we’ve lost our way a little bit in terms of what New York pizza is. It’s been an international phenomenon and while it’s absolutely delicious when done properly, it’s just not New York pizza. Remember, that’s means going to John’s where they say, ‘No Slices,’ and it’s like, ‘Dude, how many times do I have to tell you we just serve pies.'”

Corner Slice’s signature tomato square calls on New Haven tomato apizza and Jersey tomato pies for inspiration. The crust is airy and light with a pocked, golden-crispy undercarriage and a wide, dark edge reminiscent of a crunchy bread loaf that should eliminate comparisons to focaccia. There’s a thorough slathering of bright tomato — part California sauce, part Jersey chunk — spread across the base and a scattering of garlic confit. It’s garnished with a gentle Di Fara finish of grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil (fresh basil goes on the pie into the oven).

The effect of enjoying Bergemann’s tomato slice and an espresso almost has more in common with the fresh, crusty pan con tomate traditionally served with coffee in Catalonia. And in case it wasn’t obvious, that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a delicious slice.

Bergemann has a ton of ideas and he’s been involved in every part of the design and process. (He did all the branding and design with his girlfriend Courtney Inge.) There are 10 to 20 baked goods in the mornings until pizza starts being made at 11:30 am, including a delicious lard bread. I caught up with Mike Bergemann the day before he opened Corner Slice to learn more about the philosophy behind what he and his partners are doing at Corner Slice.

How did you and Ivan hook up originally?
I met Ivan because a guy I had worked with was working with him. Ivan had signed leases for two places and he was looking for a chef. I had taken time off and was in Mexico. I was trying to figure out my next move. I had my phone off because it doesn’t work down there. Somehow his text came through. I had heard about him because his press was insane. Twelve hours after I landed in New York, I met Ivan at his house with David. I did a couple of interviews and helped him with an event before I got hired. I thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had mainly cooked American food, Mexican food, a bunch of different stuff. I really wanted to get into another thing to push my cooking. Although he’s fluent in Japanese flavors and techniques, he’s still just a New York guy. We bonded on that.

You guys are all pretty tight.
David’s from North Jersey too and Ivan’s from Long Island so we all speak the same language. They’re twice my age but we’re all like 80-year-olds. We enjoy ranting. I think that’s an important thing. Ranting is like … Some people are confused. They don’t get it. They think you’re yelling at them or complaining or something and it’s really just a conversation style.

How did Corner Slice come about?
I was doing consulting work after I worked with Ivan and David and I was trying to figure out my thing. But we would meet regularly. I had a picture of this in my mind. I knew kind of what I wanted to do. This space came up. Ivan and David had access to it. We wanted to do a breakfast thing. This had been a coffee thing. We all loved the market and wanted to do something that could help it and be really good for the neighborhood.

Ivan has been quoted as saying, “High-quality by-the-slice pizza was once a rule, not the exception, in New York.” What would you attribute the falling off of the average slice quality?
It’s a combination of factors. I think it’s the state of food in America now. You have to work harder to use quality stuff. The other half of it is, there’s a giant industry around the pizza business. It’s easy to do the math, right? One case of tomatoes, one case of Grande cheese, one bag of flour… if you sell it for this much, it makes this many pies. It keeps just getting trimmed until you’re at the most common kind of style with the most common ingredients. It’s harder to do the work to source better flour. It costs more to make cheese. It’s more work. And it costs way more. Three times more to use the right tomatoes. And then finishing pies with real Pecorino Romano with Grana Padano, doing fresh basil. All that stuff I think is really important. People get carried away with the margins. We have a proper margin here and we’re still doing nice stuff. It’s a volume business so I’m counting on that.

The name “Corner Slice,” because you’re on the corner but also because that’s the best part of the pie?
That’s always been my favorite for square pies and I just thought it really worked. Any name with corner in it kind of … I had the name before we had the space.

What are your favorite New York City slices?
My favorite slice place ever is Patsy’s, the slice spot. It’s super cheap. You just get a whole pie by yourself. I love that there’s the coin-operated soda machine in there. I love the whole vibe. I love how insane it is. It’s like a version of what I’m trying to do. We’re in this market that’s obviously new but this design is made to look like we cut a hole in the side of the building and built this thing into it at any point in time. I feel like Patsy’s is its own world even though it’s so small. That’s a big inspiration. Then Totonno’s as far as a whole pie goes. Plus, you’re down in Coney Island. If you don’t have good memories of doing stuff down there, you’ve got to go make them right away. You’re missing out.

The view of the counter at Corner Slice before it opened in Gotham West Market.
“This design is made to look like we cut a hole in the side of the building and built this thing into it at any point in time,” Bergemann explained.

How did you guys settle on your focus of making a quality slice?
Once I left working for Ivan and David and doing Ivan’s food, I wanted to figure out what mine was. I’m from this area. I grew up eating this kind of stuff. I feel like you’re most successful once you figure out your own food. It really ends up being what I grew up with. That’s really the main thing we’re trying to do.

So, the downturn is not the only reason why. You guys weren’t like, “We have to set out to reinvent the New York City slice because it’s in a downturn.”
That’s part of it. We’re all into the history. We’re into examining the reasons behind stuff. I don’t think any of us do stuff just because. But part of the interest in this location is its proximity to Times Square, where the tourists come, where people come in from Jersey almost more easily than from Brooklyn and have a really nice experience with us. A lot of the old-school pizza spots are harder to get to. If I’m going to Patsy’s in Harlem for a slice, it’s a bit of a trek. Going to Totonno’s is a bit of a trek. It’s not like it’s insane but going to Di Fara is a trek. I wanted to be close and give people a real New York City pizza experience that’s not touristy and makes them feel good. So they can go home and be like, “Yeah we had really good pizza there.” I don’t want them to accidentally go to a 99-cent slice place.

How did you settle on Gotham West Market for Corner Slice?
I opened Slurp Shop in the market with Ivan three and a half years ago. I opened it and then we opened the other restaurants. But I’ve been involved in this place for a long time and we knew what it needed. We were trying to fill a void in the market and for the neighborhood and we’re trying to make it be a place that’s a real resource. So we’re not just selling pizza. Pizza is the big conversation. It’s the thing we’re going to do volume with but we’re treating the coffee, pastries and baked goods with an equal amount of effort. It’s a well-rounded place. We want it to fill a gap. There used to be Market Diner one block away that’s now a giant hole in the ground.

So you’re looking for Corner Slice to become a neighborhood stalwart?
You’re missing those kinds of places where you come at 11:00 PM and get a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. We want to be the resource that the diner was where whether it’s you work really early, or you work really late, whether you’re drunk or you’re sober or you’re with a group or whatever, we’ve got you. To me, that’s what Gotham West is. It’s a giant place where you can come at any time without a reservation with a bunch of people. We want to make sure we can take care of you, no matter the time of day.

What’s your pizza background?
My pizza background is entirely self-taught. My brother is my lead baker. He’d been living down in Austin, Texas, baking at Easy Tiger. It’s a pretty well-known wholesale bakery and beer hall.

Was the plan always to do this together?
While I was developing this recipe over the past year in my home kitchen, he was working on it in his bakery. We had never talked about actually having him come up here until the last minute. It was just in December when I was like, “Why don’t you come up and do this with me? It makes the most sense.” You only get to open a business with your brother one time. Three weeks later he was up here.

So what’s Pete working on?
He’s helped me develop a lot of stuff. He’s the real pro. My only baking experience was maybe my third kitchen job. I washed dishes, then I was a line cook, then I worked in a bakery in Portland, Oregon called Ken’s for a year. Ken Forkish has a pizzeria too. I didn’t bake though. I put together sandwiches, I did wholesale deliveries. I was 20 years old. That really set the tone for me. I grew up in this area with a great tradition of Italian bakeries.

In North Jersey, in Bergen County. To me, Italian-American is the food of New Jersey. It doesn’t matter what your background is. If you’re from there, that’s what you know and love. Our family background is Italian, Sicilian, but my only formal bakery experience was at Ken’s. Our total amount of bread being made at that point was like 350 pieces for wholesale and everything. It’s small. There are two baker shifts a day. Understanding why that was special and being able to handle and eat that bread and work with it and make stuff on it and feed people… that made a big impact.

The plain cheese grandma pie at Corner Slice.
“There aren’t a lot of places that finish the pies,” Bergemann says. “I guess that’s more of a chef kind of thing, that you have that little garnish or extra touch. It makes a big difference.”

What specific places helped form your and your brother’s pizza philosophy?
Our pizza is a blend of every square style pie. I try to take the best qualities of each and we’re doing something pretty unique between all of them. So, the Roman style, like pizza al metro is a big thing for our style of dough.

We use a blend of flours no one else is using. We have a super long fermentation, the way we treat it is only similar to that style. It’s a 60-hour ferment. It spends a lot of time as a cold fermentation too, which is atypical of a normal pizzeria. We use pre-ferments and it’s a blend of spelt and durum flours to allow that to actually happen with the higher protein. If you just did it with white flour it would just be dead. You can’t ferment it for that long.

Okay, so that’s a style. What about places?
The Di Fara square is amazing. Artichoke makes a really nice square. J & V.

People don’t talk about J & V as much they should.
Yeah. And L&B. People love L&B, but that’s a different thing. That’s a Sicilian. It was important to me that we had this mixed influence, but to present it in a way that’s a straightforward, New York slice spot. I want people to come in and just take it for what it is. If you want to nerd out on it sure, we have all that info. But we’re not doing wacky stuff.

Okay, but for the pizza nerds you just mentioned, what from each one of these places would you say you’ve taken?
I’d liken our cheese pie to the Di Fara square. The thing that is interesting with his square is the heavy amount of cheese. We use a heavy amount of hard cheese. It’s a blend of Pecorino and Grana Padano. That’s one of the unique things about his style: the fresh basil, a mix of fresh cheese, the overall simplicity. I respect places that crank out quality pies. One of my favorite places is Frank Pepe. The original Frank Pepe, on the weekends, they run three sixteen by sixteen-foot ovens. They’re just cranking pizzas out. They can fit 15 or 20 in there at a time. That’s insane.

And they’re always great.
I’ve been there, seven or eight times, and it’s always consistent. To have that consistency and that volume is impressive. That’s important. I really like L&B for that. They stick to their thing. It’s simple. They’re always the same. You look at photos online from the past 15 years and they look the same. Part of being a slice place is you just have to pick your style, then just go with that and you’ll find your fans. Some people may not love it. It might not be their thing, but you gotta just stick with that and be consistent.

What makes for a perfect slice?
When it comes to your New York street slice, it’s really about the crust being even, the blend of the cheese and sauce coming together so they become one.

The white pie at Corner Slice.
“I want it to all work together and for the sum to be greater than the parts, but I also want you to be able to taste each part,” says Bergemann.

What makes for a perfect Corner Slice slice?
Ours is the opposite. It’s best when there’s variation in the crust, where you have a really nice fried bottom that’s crispy and the interior is open and soft. You have the crusty top where you have that little bit of gumminess underneath the sauce and cheese. For this style, I don’t really want the sauce and cheese to blend. I want there to be pockets where it’s just a chunk of tomato that’s seasoned and just a chunk of cheese where it piles up and you get that milkiness. I want it to all work together and for the sum to be greater than the parts, but I also want you to be able to taste each part. I want you to be able to eat a couple of slices and feel good. That’s the key too.

Fresh pies and volume are key to a great experience. How are you planning on providing fresh pies at Corner Slice? And are you going to be doing reheats?
We have a small display. One problem with a lot of places is that they end up with 16-foot displays with a ton of pies and you’re always getting a reheat. We’re only going to be at four or five pies max in the display. So you’ll be getting something fresh.

And reheats?
If it just came out, there’s no need for a reheat. But it’s a slice place so it’s designed to work well for that. And sometimes that’s better — you want that extra little crisp. That re-crisp. It depends on the time of day. If they’re straight up, hot out of the oven, no need for it. If they’ve been sitting for even 15 minutes or so, we may flash it in the oven really quick.

What’s the ideal amount of time for a reheat to get it exactly right?
Not very long. Because it’s not from cold. Ideally, they’re still warm. Fifteen seconds, 15 to 30 seconds.

How many different kinds of pies will Corner Slice have?
We’re probably going to start with just four. So, one of each of our regular styles. The tomato. That’s the standard if you go to New Haven and Upstate. Somehow it never migrated to slice places. We wanted to do that because it shows off the quality of the ingredients. It’s the simplest and it’s my favorite. I think people will get into it. I really love it. Honestly, I don’t think people gravitate towards it at first because you wouldn’t think it would be as complex and satisfying as it is but I find it to be the most satisfying.

What goes into the tomato pie?
It’s just our tomato sauce. It’s garlic, garlic oil, Sicilian oregano, and the hard cheese blend — the Pecorino and Grana Padano. It does have a little bit of cheese, but just hard cheese, no mozzarella, and just on the finish.

And the cheese pie?
Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and the same hard cheese blend with olive oil.

Are you a Grande guy?
We actually use Polly-O curd.

To make your own cheese?
It’s not a huge deal, but to me, it’s what makes this special. Fresh mozzarella has the best flavor, it’s the milkiest. It melts in a different way. And we’re doing some sandwiches. To do the simplest food you have to have the right ingredients. You can’t do simple and have okay stuff. So, in order to have two-ingredient sandwiches you have to make the bread. You have to make everything. I wanted to be able to do that and have that food stand on its own too.

So how much cheese do you figure you’re going to be making a day?
We already have 80 pounds in-house. It depends on how many pies we sell. Hopefully 200 pounds a day!

What’s going into your sauce?
The sauce is a blend. It’s the California tomatoes and then we use Jersey Fresh, the ground stuff. It’s very minimally seasoned. It’s a raw sauce. I like the combo. The California tomatoes taste like literal summertime sunshine, super acidic, sweet, ripe. The Jersey Fresh, the ground ones on their own, I don’t think they’re the best thing ever. But in a combo, they taste to me more like the earthen tomato flavor. That viney flavor. They give it that base. That combo really spoke to me. Plus, having the Jersey Fresh, representing New Jersey is a little bit is fun.

The white pizza at Corner Slice.
The white pie is a mix of fresh Calabro ricotta, fresh mozzarella and a blend of hard cheese.

What are you doing with the white pie?
The white pie is a ricotta pie, fresh Calabro ricotta, fresh mozzarella, the hard cheese blends, a little bit of garlic oil, black pepper — that’s it. We finish it with a little more hard cheese.

The hard cheese finish is a Corner Slice standard?
I try to finish everything a little. It grooms it, gets that aroma going. There aren’t a lot of places that finish the pies. I guess that’s more of a chef kind of thing, that you have that little garnish or extra touch. It makes a big difference.

What are the toppings you’ve settled on?
The only thing we’re doing that’s slightly controversial is a no pepperoni thing. We have hot soppressata instead. For me, it’s an easy choice. There isn’t a pepperoni on the market that I really love. All of our other meats are all-natural, no-antibiotic, from Fleisher’s. And all the salami, I want it to be real. The soppressata’s from Esposito, a hundred-year-old, Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood spot. I’d much rather support those guys and give people a product that I can stand behind 100%.

But you’re not anti-pepperoni?
It’s not to be fancy. I just believe it’s better. I love the other stuff too. I love Prince Street. The crazy, spicy spring. It’s great. I eat that stuff. I have no problem with any of it and anyone else doing it at all. I just think for us to be consistent, it would be weird to do all of this other stuff the way we’re doing it and then bring in a Hormel product.

We make the sausage. We use Fleisher’s meat. It’s simple: fennel seed, Calabrian chili, pepper, garlic and salt. The meatballs we make. Fleisher’s also, 100% grass-fed beef. Really simple. Just parsley, garlic, some ricotta.

What else?
Everything else is pretty simple. The dried tomatoes will be a little unique. They’re just cherry tomatoes that we marinate and then slow roast. I’ve never been that big of a fan of sun dried tomatoes. They’re kind of sweet. I wanted to do something that’s similar and has that flavor. At Di Fara, they have a semi-dried cherry tomato that you can get. I wanted to do a fresh version of that. Cherry tomatoes are always good. They’re one of the few things that, fresh tomato-wise, are consistent year-round.

What are you gonna have in the display at Corner Slice?
Tomato, cheese and white in the display, and then we’ll do a cheese with the soppressata. That’s your pepperoni. Those are your most popular pies. After that, I want to get into special stuff. We want to introduce a list of specialty pies, our signature pies that we’ll launch. I want to test them out. Throw them in there.

You’re not quite ready for those to come out yet?
I want to keep it simple to start. I feel like what we’re doing is ambitious. We’re open at 7:30 in the morning, doing all these baked goods and being open until 11:00 or 12:00 at night. We’ve got enough to start with. I’m also just kind of secretly wishing that tomato pie is the one. If we can get that to be our signature thing… I have one called the Original Tomato Pie. It’s the tomato pie with anchovies. This is the true Italian flavor of how pizza was 100 years ago.

We’re seeing lots of different styles in New York City these days (Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, etc.). While Jersey-style tomato pies are something right next door, people don’t really seem to know them very much.
I wouldn’t say I’m repping a Jersey tomato pie. What we’re doing is the most common slice you’re gonna get at a Roman bakery. It’s your pizza bianca with sauce on it and a little oregano. I love that because that’s exactly what it would have been 100 years ago or 200 years ago. It’s the one that’s the least messed with. I like all of our stuff but if we could look essentially timeless, you don’t know when it’s from, that would be ideal.

You’re a slice joint but if we were to put you in a box, what style of pizza would you call Corner Slice?
It’s a grandma pie. It’s square. It’s not thick like Sicilian. It doesn’t groove that way. It’s got that crispy bottom you want.

The undercarriage of the grandma pizza at Corner Slice.
“It’s a grandma pie,” says Bergemann. “It’s square. It’s not thick like Sicilian. It doesn’t groove that way. It’s got that crispy bottom you want.”

You cook it in a pan?
We cook it in a pan the whole way. We make it upside down. For the cheese pie, the cheese goes down first, tomato, sauce on top. So, to me it’s a grandma pie. Other than that, I don’t want to be anything besides just a New York pizzeria. It’s a weird time to open a slice place. What is a truer New York slice place at this point? Is it the place selling a Buffalo chicken pizza? Or is it something like this, that’s back to the bare bones? I don’t know if it even matters. But that’s why I wanted to do something different enough that people don’t come in expecting to have that type of stuff. I don’t have chicken Parm because we only have an oven but I don’t have a lot of those other things you may expect. Porchetta isn’t normally on a slice place menu but for me, it’s like why wouldn’t you? It’s one of the best, simplest things you can make. If you’re going to make homemade bread, it’s a great excuse to make a two-ingredient sandwich.

You said you’re Italian-American?
My mother’s side of the family is Italian. I guess I would be the fourth generation. My great-grandparents came from Sicily, from outside of Palermo. They came through Ellis Island. My grandfather was born on Henry Street in Manhattan. My grandmother was born in Brooklyn. They grew up in Bensonhurst. They had that dream. They moved to the suburbs in New Jersey in the ’50s, where my great-uncle, my grandmother’s brother, was a contractor and built subdivisions. They got one of the houses. They had the family, three kids, a dog. That stuff I grew up with, that’s what we were trying to do: Italian-American food. It’s its own thing. It’s not true Italian. It’s all through this lens. So, we’re doing some of that. Like our breakfast sandwich, it’s not a bacon, egg, and cheese, like a bodega thing. We’re doing peppers and eggs. So, peppers, and eggs, fresh mozzarella, a seeded semolina roll that we make every day. Doing stuff like that makes sense to me. That’s classic Italian deli. The way I’m looking at it is, if you go to Defonte’s

I nearly cried when they closed in Manhattan.
I never made it to the one in Manhattan. I lived a couple blocks from them in Red Hook and I would just make a weekly Monday visit. I have two go-to sandwiches. You have to have enough of a walk to and from it to make it make sense, but I’m a peppers and eggs guy or I would get the roast beef, mozzarella and gravy.

So good.
Over time, those kinds of sandwiches got supersized. I wanted to do some of the same things but cut down the portion size and invest in quality ingredients so that you have something that’s just as satisfying and is basically the same flavors but really wholesome and you can feel good about it. We only use European butter. We only use organic eggs. We make all the bread. We make the mozzarella. The peppers are roasted here. This isn’t stuff from Cash & Carry restaurant depot. Everything is legit.

What’s your favorite non-pizza thing that you’re doing at Corner Slice?
We do a lard bread. That’s something you only get at maybe five bakeries in the city anymore. Mazzola makes my favorite. I just love that. It’s this classic thing. It came over from Italy as a holiday bread. It’s more like an Easter thing. Then over time, all the other food that was holiday food has just all of a sudden with the bounty here, you can have it all the time. So now, we make it every day. Over time, the quality went down with cheaper flour or whatever. We wanted to make a version of that here that you could feel good about eating just the right amount with your coffee. If you want one for your whole family, you can buy four of them instead of one giant one. I always end up eating the whole thing.

Is that on the menu?
There’s a lot of stuff we’re doing that’s just in the display. What I learned at Ken’s, French bakery style, we’re gonna make 20 or so things a day. We’re starting with about 10 different baked goods. We’ll make a certain amount and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

The pistachio muffin at Corner Slice.
Morning pastries like the pistachio muffin (pictured) will be available while supplies last before pizza starts being served at 11:30 am.

What about Corner Slice’s coffee program?
We’re really invested in this coffee thing. We’ve spent a ton of time on training, and a ton of money on equipment. I have people with almost 40 hours of training just on coffee to get them to the level we want. This had been Blue Bottle. We really want to offer nice stuff. And we’re making crumb cake. Entenmann’s is the king of crumb cake. If you grew up around here, you know that and you love that stuff. I just want to make it without hydrogenated oil. I want to make it a little nicer. We’re also doing a pistachio muffin. I grew up eating pistachio muffins that have the shock of bright green. I love those, but I wanted to do them without food coloring and filled with pistachios. Make them really wholesome and nice. I’m trying to create a newer look on those foods that are central to being an Italian-American from this area.

Sounds like you’re planning on doing a lot!
I’m trying to do what makes sense for having just one oven and just this much space. I want to do stuff that I really love and can explain and be passionate about and not force.

The chocolate babka at Corner Slice.
“Everything is grab-and-go so people can spend 30 seconds here and grab their coffee and their pastry or sandwich,” Bergemann says.

Let’s talk about the pizza-coffee connection.
We’re not trying to make anyone eat pizza and drink coffee at the same time. It’s really about all of these other baked goods we spend time making. We’re open from 7:30 in the morning. We have a bunch of baked goods. There’s no pizza until 11:30. From 7:30 to 11:30, it’s a normal coffee shop that happens to have a bigger pastry display case than normal. Everything is grab-and-go so people can spend 30 seconds here and grab their coffee and their pastry or sandwich. I want things to feel indulgent but not over the top.

Speaking of indulgent… you also make a cinnamon roll?
We make a cinnamon roll out of a semolina dough. It’s really simple. It’s not a thing that you need to split with four people. It’s something you can eat five days a week and feel okay about. It’s a wholesome product. Does it have a good calorie count? Sure, but it’s not bad for you. I wanted to make things that people felt were a little indulgent, and make them available all day. Growing up in this area, that’s what every time I go to a diner feels like. Whatever I get, it always feels like this special treat even though it’s a simple thing. I don’t know what that is, I just love it. A good Greek diner, if you don’t have one in your neighborhood, it’s questionable if you have a neighborhood.

Let’s talk about the signs.
We had a great sign painter. Her name’s Summer Santora. She did all the sign painting. It was like four days of work. All the design stuff is what works best. It’s not necessarily just aesthetic choices. So, next to this oven that’s brand new, I have a 30-year-old mixer. It’s what works best.

And the neon?
I wanted to work with a neon guy. So I got this dude in Queens who’s been doing it his whole life. His dad started the business in the ’50s so it’s a real craftsmen thing. I learned a lot about neon. This is the straight neon. We left it all out in the open. It’s mechanical looking. When you see colored neon, that’s not like this, that’s because of the glass. So this is clear glass and with the actual neon gas electrified and that’s the color it makes. This is the same neon that you would have seen 80 years ago. It was important to me that it felt real. I wanted to be able to see the hangers and the brackets, where they black out the light so doesn’t come through. He could have painted that but I wanted it to feel real. We’re a bakery with only windows as walls. All the machines are out. This whole design has the beauty of a diner, which is the beauty of a functional space. I would love a diner company to build me places in the future. I thought about doing that but instead, I did it piecemeal. I had the counter made by a stainless shop I’ve been working with for years. We tiled it. Really, it’s just like the most equipment you could possibly fit in a space. That’s our aesthetic. So, like a bakery or a diner, a lot of stainless steel. Everything out in the open.

Will Corner Slice deliver?
No delivery to start but we’ll get that going. The pizza shop dream is that you don’t have to deliver. All the best ones really do it minimally. But I really want to. My ideal would be that we just have some guys that run around and we just deliver to one block. We don’t want to have to mess with cars. This zone, it’s useless for most of the day. Bikes are okay but with all the buildings they’re doing over here, and the crazy density, I don’t really need to go past 42nd Street.

Corner Slice
600 11th Ave,
New York, NY 10036
Phone: (212) 956-9339
Subway: A, C, E (42 St)

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