For as many tourists that visit the Great White Way, Times Square has long been a wasteland for good pizza. I don’t know what’s worse, bedbug Elmos or that tourists grabbing a slice at La Famiglia or Little Italy Pizza (God forbid, 2 Bros), think they’ve tasted the legit pizza New York is known for. Sure there’s the Midtown John’s outpost, but as far as good slicerias go, you used to have to walk down to New York Pizza Suprema across from the Garden. Things have improved. You can walk over to Corner Slice on 11th Avenue or crosstown to Sofia Pizza Shoppebut until recently, if you wanted a great slice right there in Times Square… fuggedaboutit. No longer. Today, Joe’s Pizza opened at 1435 Broadway just two blocks south of where the ball drops. It immediately took the mantle of Times Square’s best pizza.
“You’re always nervous when you move into a new neighborhood,” Joey Vitale told me. Joey is the grandson of the original Pino ‘Joe’ Pozzuoli, famed pizza operator of Joe’s Pizza in the West Village.
By the looks of things, he’s got nothing to worry about. The new Joe’s Pizza on 1435 Broadway literally a block from Bryant Park and just a few steps up and out of the Times Square NQR station has the look and feel of the 14th Street East Village expansion. Unlike the West Village original, it’s roomy with stools and counters on either side of the pizza counter, behind which, three new deck ovens are being broken in.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
You do your best every day to realize your dreams. But how many people get to see their dreams come true? And if and when they come true, how does what was dreamed measure up to reality? There’s man in Brooklyn making pizza who may be best suited to answer these questions, Paul Giannone. Or as New Yorkers are starting to know him, Paulie Gee.
As recently as February 2009, Paulie was profiled by MyCentralJersey.com talking about a pizzeria as a ways off. Last week he broke from making Neapolitan pies to discuss Paulie Gee’s, his pizzeria in Greenpoint.
Paulie, you’re living a dream here, aren’t you? How did this come to be?
: I always loved to cook, I’d invite people over my house just so I could cook for them. You know, for the past 25 years, people have been encouraging me to open a restaurant. What I did for a living wasn’t what I really enjoyed. But opening a real restaurant always seemed daunting.
About 15 years ago I become a pizza enthusiast after visiting Totonno’s. Me and my sons started going on quests for good coal-oven pizza. You know, pizza is very challenging to make, but it’s also very simple. And I started to realize that serving it to people could be very simple.
How did you go from pizza-questing to pizza-making?
Up until about three years ago, I didn’t take it very seriously. Then I built an oven. I started in September 2007, I was going to buy one, and then I saw that I could build one for one-tenth the cost, and I went out and took one of the steps that was the point of no return: I bought a couple of hundred dollars worth of bricks.
K! Pizzacone is getting the kind of opening day publicity that most restaurants would kill for. We almost ended up on Japanese television this morning just by stopping in for a Breakfast Pizza. Cone-steria indeed. In anticipation of getting a first taste this morning, we visited Rio Bonito last night to have their Pizza in the Cone fresh in our minds. Let the battle of the Pizza Cones commence!
We visited Rio Bonito (the fantastic Brazilian grocery in Astoria), with the same spirit of discovery that I Dream of Pizza visited with last August. We also wanted to love the Pizza Cone! And while the cheese wasn’t rancid, we did notice similar issues.
Frank Ciminieri filled the fridge with small bottles of wine while talking about how much he loves Cash Cab, “I watch it for two hours in the morning when I wake up and two hours at night.”
His sister, Cookie, bemoaned the lack of mirrors in the restaurant and said, “We need some music in here.” So a customer obliged by singing Louis Prima in between taking pictures on his iPhone. Eleven months after a fire shut it down, Totonno’s is back.
The large cheese pie ($19.50) was delicious. The center crust was as thin as the styrofoam plate it sat on, the edge’s crust was light, airy, and delicate, and the upskirt was covered with wonderful, large raised flecks. That thinness created a ratio of cheese and sauce that even makes sauce-monkeys happy. And with the opening, making New Yorkers happy with pizza will be routine once again in Coney Island.
Good luck, Totonno’s. Welcome back.
Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitana
1524 Neptune Ave.,
Brooklyn, NY, 11224 Phone: (718) 372-8606 totonnosconeyisland.com Subway: F, Q (W 8 St – NY Aquarium)
This post was originally published February 12th, 2010, on the now-defunct, James-Beard Award-nominated blog AlwaysHungryNY.com.