In my last blog, I spoke in detail about pizza, how much I enjoy pizza, and it’s complicated relationship to crime. In this blog, I will discuss six NYC pizza places that I recently visited, as well as some crime statistics. Because, after all, this is a crime writing blog.
One month ago my son and I visited New York City on the premise that it would be a ‘college trip’ (wink wink). This ‘college trip’ allowed me to indulge my infinite passion for sampling the finest pizzas on the planet. Initially, I figured I’d get to visit, maximum, three pizzerias. But I’m an ambitious guy when it comes to this sort of stuff, a real go-getter, which meant that we would be eating pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. After all, I’m trying to raise my boy the right way.
But first I must indulge you with some interesting crime stats (Come on! I have to somehow justify writing this blog). As I emerged out of the subway station and onto Fordham Road, the first thing I heard was the sound of police sirens blaring everywhere. They seemed ubiquitous, lights flashing as they careened down the wide boulevard we were walking along. It got me to thinking: how many police officers are in NYC. I was amazed to learn that NYC employs over 34,000 officers! Yowza! Portland, Maine, in comparison, employs 163 police officers. And if you’re visiting NYC, you’ll be happy to know that, overall, crime rates are down in that city. Yes, subway crimes have jumped, so be extra careful when riding to your next pizza destination.
Now onto the good stuff. Starting from my least favorite to my fave, I’ll rate the pizzerias I sampled, using police officers as stars.
6. John’s of Bleeker Street. I was seriously looking forward to this legendary joint. The exterior is cool and the interior has that grungy feel that gives it serious character and hipness. The wooden chairs are all scratched with the names of people who’ve eaten there, and the walls are painted with scenic vistas. But the pizza fell flat. The sauce had a tinniness that left an odd taste in my mouth. Althougn they used a coal fired oven to cook their pizzas, the crust lacked that distinct flavor and texture that comes from blazing hot charcoals. The cheese was bit globby and gummy for my tastes, and I thought it might come with a Honus Wagner baseball card. Overall, the sum of this pizza’s parts didn’t do it for this crime writer, as I left a few slices on the plate in order to save my appetite for bigger game. 👮🏽♀️👮🏻♀️hardworking police officers.
5. Lombardi’s. This is supposedly the first pizzeria in New York City. Back in the early days, poor Italian factory workers used to buy wrapped pizzas from there and take them to work, warming them up on the radiators before lunch. Here we have another coal fired joint, and it was quite evident in this pizza. I could actually taste the strong tang of coal in the charred thin crust. It was a good pizza, but it definitely did not live up to its legendary status. The sauce and cheese were adequate at best, and I felt it was dry and could have used more olive oil liberally sprinkled over the top. The restaurant also seemed to be an advertisement for its cultish owner, with glitzy photographs of him hanging on the walls as if he was a third world dictator of North Pizzastan. It spooked me a little, and I hope he doesn’t hunt me down for this review. Maybe expectations got the best of me, but I left slightly disappointed with Lombardi’s. And at thirty bucks a pizza, there’s much better pizza bang for your buck in NYC. 👮♀️👮🏽♀️👮🏿♀️ patrol officers.
4. Famous Ben’s Pizza. This was a happenstance pizzeria we stopped at late one night in Soho. And boy was it good. Again, my expectations were low, and I was hungry like a wolf, so maybe that played into it. This is a classic NYC slice bar that one hits after a late night on the town, Ben’s had all varieties and toppings and stayed open late into the night. And Sicilian pizza too, which they claim is the best in the city. The crust was nice; crispy and chewy. Lots of fresh toppings with a nice tangy sauce. And shamefully, Ben’s hooked me with their life-sized statue of a pizza chef standing in front of their happy establishment. Would certainly go there again after hitting the Soho Room down the street. Next time I’ll try the Sicilian slice despite being a thin cruster. 👮🏻♀️👮🏼♀️👮♀️.5 canine officers.
3. Joe’s Pizza. Everything advertised, Joe’s is a legendary slice bar serving classic New York style, thin crust pizza for those in a hurry. Small and efficient, this place rocks it out of the park with speed and gooey pizza deliciousness. The warming up aspect gives their slices a beautiful, toothsome crispiness, which I love. Everything about it was masterful. Tasty cheese and a rocking, salty sauce. Just the right amount of grease where you have to do the pizza lean-to in order to avoid getting grease all over your brand new shoes. Fantastic! And of course I loved the name of this place. 👮♀️👮🏼♀️👮🏽♀️👮🏿♀️veterans of the NYPD.
2. Lucali’s. When we arrived at this pizzeria, located in a beautiful, affluent Brooklyn neighborhood, I wondered if this would be another disappointment. Yuppie pizza. Beastie Boy wannabes. Do The Right Thing. Crooklyn Brooklyn. But boy, was I ever wrong. There really is no sleep till Brooklyn when this place is rocking the Za. A relative newcomer to NYC pizzeria’s, Lucali’s has made its indelible–and highly edible–mark on the scene. Mark Iacono, a man clinically obsessed with pizza, has opened up a remarkable temple to pizza worshippers everywhere. A star on The Pizza Show, Mark takes his newfound celebrity in stride, and was more than happy to take a pic with yours truly. We strolled up to the storefront and were told that it was an hour wait to get in. Huh? The host then informed us that we were very lucky because it’s usually a two or three hour wait, and we came on a slow night. So me and Dan-the-Pizza-Man walked around the corner to the local store. My boy got a soda pop and I got a few cold ones, and we sat down outside, at the picnic table, and waited the long wait (you can bring your own wine and beer inside!). Was it worth it? Yes! Si, señorita! Oui! Ja! Dimly lit inside, and with the brick oven glowing like some sort of ancient tribal pyre, we waited impatiently for our pies to come out of that oven. The pizza, when it came to our table, was a thing of beauty. I nearly didn’t take a picture, I was so eager to feed my inner pizza troll. An amazing crust cooked golden by the wonderful wood Mark uses, the pizza comes out bubbling like molten lava. What a sauce! And the cheese he uses was top quality mootz. Then he finishes it off with a healthy heaping of fresh green basil, which practically melts onto the surface of the pie. God will look kindly on Mark when he reaches the pearly gates of heaven. Bravo! 👮🏿♀️👮♀️👮🏼♀️👮🏽♀️👮🏿♀️lieutenants!
Here’s me and my new pizza celebrity/friend Mark Iacono.
1. Di Fara’s. An eighty-three year old Italian dude named Don DeMarco who still makes da pizzas? Huh? The only Italian store in a predominantly orthodox Jewish neighborhood? Say what? Next to the overhead subway that causes the ground to rumble? A rundown building that looks like something Travis Bickle might lean against after a bad day of taxi driving? “You talking to me?” I’ve seen better interiors in abandoned, condemned buildings. Crappy wooden tables sit haphazardly across the small, stifling hot waiting room. Crowded. Long lines. Long waits. Sweat dripping down the pizza maker’s forehead. But when I bit into that hot pizza something magical happened–this is where the angels’ harps come in. All my problems in life melted away and crime ceased to exist in this cruel cruel world. Despite using traditional ovens, the crust that emerges is something bordering on mystical. Then you taste the sauce. How can tomato sauce be so good, you ask? It’s unctuous. I think the Japanese have a specific word for it: umami. Then the mootz and olive oil enter in like French horns joining the entire symphony. The pepperonis were the hard-to-find variety that curl up like saucer cups so they can hold all that wonderful, delicious pork grease. This is hardcore stuff, folks, and if you’ve managed to read this far into my blog you’re as sick as I am and in serious need of help. The people I talked to inside Di Fara’s came from all corners of the country to try this legendary pizza, and they were as obsessed as I was. In fact, I struck up a conversation with one fellow and we talked pizza nonstop while Dan-the-Pizza-Man watched on in stunned silence. Di Fara’s ranks up there as one of the best I’ve ever eaten. In fact, I liked it so much it almost caused me to miss my flight, and I ended up at LaGuardia instead of JFK, my mind back in Brooklyn, and ended up having to spend an extra fifty buck to catch a cab back to JFK during rush hour traffic. But no matter, it was worth it to eat that slice of heaven. Di Fara’s is straight outta Brooklyn! 👮👮🏻👮🏼👮🏽captains and 1👮🏿♀️commissioner!
How does this relate to crime? I don’t really know. It there were pizzas worth commiting a crime for, Lucali’s and Di Fara’s were it.
Don’t forget to pre-order my psychological suspense thriller, THE NEIGHBOR, coming in hardback April, 2018. https://www.amazon.com/Neighbor-Joseph-Souza-ebook/dp/B074DGFKS8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1503365997&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Neighbor%2C+joseph+souza