Sofia’s New “DoughDici” Pizza Soufflé Is New York’s Most Inventive Pizza in Years

There’s a unique, new pizza in town. It’s called the “DoughDici,” and it’s a poofy play on a Detroit-style pie, a purposefully fallen pizza soufflé with a thin frico edge and an airy interior that resembles the inside of the Platonic ideal of a garlic knot. The DoughDici, a play on “dodici,” Italian for “12” (a nod to its dough’s 12-hour rise), is the creation of pizza tinkerer Tom Degrezia of Sofia Pizz Shoppe on 1st Avenue between 54th and 55th. Because of the time that goes into tending them, each DoughDici will be sold by appointment (link below) in limited quantities (two to three a day) just a few days a week.

If you’re a pizza fanatic looking for the next new thing: this is it.

There’s an ever-so-slight oil crisp-brown and golden undercarriage, a frico, Detroit-esque crust that’s slightly chewy and salty from the cheese, but without the Motor City overflow.

Degrezia has been tinkering with the DoughDici in his Sutton Place sliceria for seven months (he’s still looking for someone to make pans with the slightly angled effect he’s striving for), giving lucky regulars a slice if they happened to be there when a pie came out. Meanwhile, Degrezia’s partner Matthew Porter has trademarked the name. They were inspired by the Detroit-style pizzas popularized at Emmy Squared in Williamsburg but wanted to take their own approach.

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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.

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

California Slice Renaissance? Tony Gemignani Leads the Way

What’s the state of San Francisco slice culture? What are the worst reheat sins a sliceria can commit? What’s the future of pizza? Tony Gemignani has become synonymous with great pizza in California since opening his first shop, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, in North Beach in 2009. He hasn’t looked back, opening 12 other restaurants in California and Nevada, and three slice stands in the Giants AT&T Park! So, with the opening of his newest San Francisco slice joint on Haight Street, who better to ask the questions above?

For the uninitiated, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana and Gemignani’s Pizza Rock routinely make lists published by national publications that rank America’s best pies. This pizza maven grew up in Fremont, and got his start as a teenager at his brother Frank’s spot Pyzano’s, and has spent more than a quarter century perfecting and “respecting the craft” (his motto).

Tony’s dexterity in pizza-throwing, his pizza making skills and bragging rights for having spun the world’s largest pizza (a Guinness World Record) make him a great character study. But one of the most interesting things about him as a pizzaiolo is his expertise in different pizza styles. Where many struggle to do one style well, several of Tony’s restaurants do many expertly. You’re just as likely to find a great cracker-thin Chicago pie as a classic American pizza, or pizza pies done with Roman flair, Detroit panache and according to traditional Neapolitan rules.

So, it’s interesting to see him take on what one might argue is a dying art: the quality slice joint.

Slice House opened in the lot that housed Haight Street’s famous Psychedelic Shop.

Tony’s 25-seat Slice House takes over 1535 Haight Street, which before housing a pizzeria called Fast Slice, was once home to the Psychedelic Shop, often cited as the world’s first headshop. Inside, portraits of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon pays homage to icons of the 60s. Tony uses an old Blodgett oven to fire up 10 different 13-inch and 20-inch pies, and reheat five different slice styles: cheese, pepperoni, grandma, Sicilian, Love Me Two Times (pesto, mozz, double garlic and “sun-bathed tomato”) and the Purple Haze, which he discusses below. Going beyond the traditional definition of a sliceria, Tony’s Haight Street menu also offers sides, salads, pastas, sandwiches and burgers (you won’t guess his secret burger ingredients). Sausages are homemade, patties hand-formed and burger buns baked daily.

What’s the state of San Francisco slice culture? What are the worst reheat sins a sliceria can commit? What’s the future of pizza? Who better to ask than Tony Gemignani?

In this interview, Tony talks about how the Haight Street slice joint has been received, whether he’d ever franchise, the travesty that is putting pepperoni on a pizza post-bake and what’s going on with the quality of the average slice in New York City.

What oven are you using?
It’s an old double-stack Blodgett and the stones in it are like 20 years old on the upper deck. They never changed it and it’s still cracked. The bottom deck they re-did maybe five or six years ago. It has no markings on it. Once I opened it up, I was like, “Oh, this is a fucking old Blodgett!” It cooks great. I won’t ever change it.

What’s the signature slice?
Purple Haze or the grandma. You don’t see grandma on the West Coast. It’s a little bit thinner than my Sicilian. We sell a ton of both of those all day.

How did you decide on the location for your new slice joint and what’s different about this one compared with your other ones?
It had to be a special place, not only with the look of it and the artists that we brought in. The menu had to change for the clientele: more vegetarian pizzas, more pesto on the menu, and a lot of burgers. People don’t know, but I serve great burgers.

Continue reading California Slice Renaissance? Tony Gemignani Leads the Way

New Slice Joint Sofia Pizza Shoppe, an Oasis in Midtown’s Pizza Wasteland

Slice aficionados who’ve bemoaned the lack of a good slice in Midtown 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 Suprema on 31st and 8th is technically in Chelsea.)

The wait is over.

Continue reading New Slice Joint Sofia Pizza Shoppe, an Oasis in Midtown’s Pizza Wasteland

That Time I Spent $86 for Pizza and Learned the Sicilians Are “Masters of Food”

This essay was written September 11, 2007 during a four-month eating odyssey across Europe.

“Shit!” I cursed with a heaving breath as I ran down the dark, empty street parallel to the Calata Piliero in the Porto di Napoli.

I was halfway through three months of eating my way across Europe using my last shiny dimes saved during five years of an unfulfilling office job in New York City. This was the last ferry to Sicily. I was trying to run from the ticket office to the pier by ten o’clock. With each asphalt-slamming stride the thirty kilos strapped to my back and chest lofted up and crashed down, knocking the air out of my lungs. If someone was to jump from behind a cargo container or shadowed doorway at least I was running. I had eight minutes to catch the ferry and no accommodations in Naples.

It was the pizza’s fault.

Continue reading That Time I Spent $86 for Pizza and Learned the Sicilians Are “Masters of Food”

Da Michele Opens in Rome

When you think about it, it’s hard to understand how one of Italy’s most storied pizzerias hadn’t opened a second location. And so it happened in November, the first offshoot of the Naples icon L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele opened its first location outside of Naples, in Rome.

The Local reported that the Rome location was a surprise. Apparently, the restaurant had already announced plans for a London branch (London!), but there was no word of expanding within Italy until it actually happened.

There’s some poetry (and irony) in the Rome location. If you start digging into the history of pizza, you find pretty quickly that it was a Neapolitan dish popularized by the poor — something that didn’t migrate north to cities like Rome because, well, it wasn’t regarded as worth the north’s attention. And yet here it is now.

Rarely even do the truest things stay pure, some say. Perhaps. And it’s easier to say this without having a financial stake in Da Micheles popping up in Rome, London, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Tokyo, Brooklyn and Los Angeles but there was something beautiful about Da Michele having one location.

Having not been to the Rome joint on Via Flaminia 80 (a short walk from the Piazza del Popolo) and not planning on visiting soon, I’d recommend anyone visiting Italy interested in pizza to visit the original.

Recalling my first experience at Da Michele nearly a decade ago, here’s a travel essay I wrote during a four-month food tour of Europe that details a visit: That Time I Spent $86 for Pizza and Learned the Sicilians Are “Masters of Food”

“Portafoglio” Pizza Lands In New York City (Again)

Not that you needed a food day to celebrate America’s favorite comfort food (is there even really any doubt that pizza wears that crown?), but today is National Pizza With Everything Day, and West Village Neapolitan upstart Rossopomodoro is making it the obligation of New Yorkers with good sense to pay respects. Rosso is slinging free pies out of the back of their kitchen on 118 Greenwich Avenue for two hours on Saturday afternoon between 4 pm and 6 pm. And not any old slices, but “portafoglio” pies, a style that has landed before in Gotham but never quite taken hold. That’s right, New York pizza-style hounds, if you haven’t had the Naples fold yet, here’s your chance.

“The literal meaning of ‘portafoglio’ is ‘wallet,” explained chef-owner Simon Falco. “It is the best you can get for your money. In Italy, pizzas are about the size of our small version and are eaten by one person. In Naples, portafoglio is their ‘fast food’ version of pizza in which an entire Neapolitan pizza folded in a particular way.”

Think Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever’s eating-a-slice-while-walking sequence but Naples style.

“We make the portafoglio a tad smaller, so you can eat it on the street and it is truly for one person,” Falco said.

The fold? A half-moon then a quarter-moon. According to Falco, it’s usually only made with Margherita pies because the double-fold doesn’t allow much room for toppings. That doesn’t quite jibe with the food holiday, but makes sense from a practical standpoint.

This isn’t the first time eating pizza “al portafoglio” has appeared in New York City. Not long after Kesté first opened on Bleecker Street, there were reports of it being served there (New York Magazine’s “Folding Manifesto” features a great diagram). But for all the new Neapolitan places, the folding method has never really seemed to have taken off. Falco thinks he knows why.

“Whenever portafoglios have popped up in New York City, the restaurants have tried to serve them at a sit-down table. But this pizza is meant to be eaten on the street and not at a seated meal. We will be able to showcase the dish in an authentic way by serving it through the back of our kitchen on the street.”

The restaurant will also be collecting signatures to advocate for the addition of Neapolitan pizza-making to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Falco hopes that could lead to more training of chefs in how to make pizza like a true Neapolitan pizzaioli.

Time Stands Still In Brooklyn At Bensonhurst’s J&V Pizzeria

Beyond the chess tables lining Ocean Parkway, past the rabbinically-overseen pizzerias in nearby Borough Park (one of the largest orthodox Jewish populations outside Israel), you’d be forgiven on any given Saturday for thinking the area surrounding classic Bensonhurst slice joint J & V Pizzeria is a ghost town. But across from a 7-Eleven and the old-school Italian Bari Pork Store on the corner of 64th Street and 18th Avenue, the smell of cheese grease and dough drifts out the doors of “The Home of the Jojo.”

JVOutsideBP
J & V stands for John and Vinny — John Mortillaro and Vincent DeGrezia.

J & V stands for John and Vinny — John Mortillaro and Vincent DeGrezia — two friends who founded it when this was a much more Italian Bensonhurst in 1950. These days, you’re more likely to hear Chinese and Polish, but more than 60 years of pizza tradition continues. Its namesakes were from Sicily (John) and Naples (Vincent), geography responsible for its square and round pies. J & V also claims to be among the first pizzerias to sell by the slice.

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Introducing Best Pizza NYC: An Adventure in Pizza

New York City’s best pizza. I’m obsessed with it. There’s tremendous pizza in the city and yet, also some poor slices mucking up the bunch. With Best Pizza NYC I want to document great pizzerias, talk with pizza masters, get leads on pizza palaces and unheralded gems, and hopefully, help handicap others’ pizza adventures too.

Like most Americans, I’ve been in love with pizza as long as I can remember: eating it at Formica tables in booths as a kid in the 70s on Long Island, learning to live with substitutes for the real thing at Pizza Hut while living in Hong Kong in the 80s, settling for jumbo slices while attending Georgetown University in D.C. in the 90s, seeking out the best New York City has to offer in the 00s, and pizza-spelunking America’s icons, sleepers and of-the-moment meccas for the past eight years.

I’m truly happy when I’m seeking out a great slice, talking with pizza people, and burning the roof of my mouth. Walking down into the subway, lifting a leg over my bike and pedaling off down the block, turning a key in the ignition, and heading to the airport for storied pizza always gives me a little chill of excitement about the greatness I might be about to find.

What’s my pizza cred? I’ve written about pizza for The New York Times, Tasting Table, TimeOut New York, First We Feast, and for five years, I spearheaded The Daily Meal’s quest to determine America’s 101 best pizzas, an effort, I’m proud to say, to my knowledge canvassed more pizza experts than any publication ever.

I’ve tried to personally eat as many of America’s best pizzas as possible. All that pizza needs a place. Best Pizza NYC is that place.

Lists are a fact of life. TripAdvisor’s best this, Thrillist’s best that… Some are worth trusting. Many are easily dismissed. My gripe with most is lack of methodology. There’s a 50-word intro featuring clichés and little more when it comes to the how and why of the places chosen. That’s not good enough. Restaurant folks work hard. And pizza people are no different. The ones doing God’s work deserve as thorough an approach as any other great restaurant in America. Agree with the results of the lists I’ve curated or not, I’ve always made it my business to explain how they were created and made sure there was a how beyond, “there’s a place down my street,” even when there was a place down my street ;).

New York City is pizza’s birthplace. It’s also my home, and fortunately for me, home to some of the country’s best pizza and most talented pizzaiolos. Thus the name of the site. But New Yorkers shouldn’t get too cocky. There’s great pizza all across the country, often in unexpected places. And the scope of my pizza adventures isn’t limited by the borders of New York City.

While curating, I’ve tried to personally eat as many of America’s best pizzas as possible. All that pizza needs a place. Best Pizza NYC is that place.

— Arthur Bovino, 7/21/2016

New(er) Haven Pizza: Bru Room at Bar

When it comes to pizza in New Haven there are the classics and local favorites: Frank Pepe, Sally’s Apizza, and Modern Apizza. Not as well-known is the pizzeria across the street from the city’s other famed food institution, Louis’ Lunch. Bar’s Bru Room is much younger (since 1996) than New Haven’s storied pizzerias, but it’s another place to sample the city’s signature style. There are no less than 24 topping options. The most intriguing, the reason for a Bru Room visit, is mashed potatoes.

Before getting to the main event, there are a few requisite New Haven inspired pizza topping combinations to put up against renditions previously sampled at Pepe’s, Sally’s and Modern: the clam pie, the clam and bacon, and a red pie with shrimp.

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