Pizza in New York City is such a cliché. An easily-available-greasy-cheap-rubbery-must-have cliche. I don’t know about the average New Yorker, but lord knows I have it far too often. Five times a week too often. And it’s bad, but so good. I can’t even begin to explain it: It’s a disgusting fast food Siren Song that just kind of exists. Any tourist’s romantic notions, frankly, are bullshit: It’s just pizza, albeit readily available and addicting.
It fulfills a need. An animal one.
And yes, it’s terrible. I get that. Many places use the cheapest cheeses, the cheapest meats, the cheapest dough. Don’t come at me with the myth that the glory of NYC pizza is because of the water. Ultimately, that myth is probably bs.
My diatribe over, I do love it. I want it constantly, but only from a certain few places, most of which I don’t even remember the name. There’s the place on Stanton and Orchard on the LES, where the guys are nice and the slices are cheap and palatable. There’re the folks down the street from my wine shop at King’s Pizza, whose garlic knots are some of the best I’ve had in Brooklyn (as in, they don’t turn to stone after a few minutes). There’s a weird place in Prospect Heights whose idea of “eggplant and tomato” pizza deep-fries the offending vegetables, so the resulting pie is dripping with vegetable oil and shame.
And then my new neighborhood favorite in–of all places–Queens. Ridgewood, Queens, to be specific, a place I know for a fact many of my more Manhattan-based friends have no clue about and will probably never go to. It’s a quiet little ‘hood off the M train, populated by Mexican and Polish working-class families. The smells, guys, the smells! The bodegas and markets always smell of juicy mango and pineapples, earthy mushrooms and vibrantly green kale. And then the Ukrainian bakery down the street pumps out yeasty, buttery foodstuffs (a particular favorite is a dense croissant-like pastry filled with a heavy, sweet apple jam). Ridgewood is where it’s at if you want to get away from the trendy and just want honestly made ethnic food.
But I digress. My favorite pizza in NYC is probably at Rosa’s, a nondescript, neon-advertised pizza-by-the-slice joint at the corner of Metropolitan and Fresh Pond, a short trek from the M. Nothing fancy, it’s the kind of place teenagers and working class gents hang out for lunch, like during a recent afternoon visit. The pastas look a little congealed, but the pizzas! There are a ton to choose from: standard plain (New Yorker for “cheese”) and pepperoni to the “usual suspects” for New York: buffalo chicken, Sicilian slices and my new favorite (and probably the worst for a celiac [sorry, guys]): the baked ziti slice. It’s just weird: Who needs that much starch? Can you say “overkill?”
I usually just grab a plain slice and doctor it with parmesan, Italian seasonings, garlic powder… Whatever is on offer at the slice joint. At Rosa’s, I decided to try the baked ziti because it just seemed appropriately “too much” that day (read: hangover). And it was! It was the cure for what ailed me: cheesy with some whatever-we’ve-got-cheese blend, the ubiquitous crunchy NY-style crust and a ton of baked ziti. It was like eating garlic bread and my Sbarros-baked ziti at the same time, all in one bite. Brave new world, folks. It’s brave new world.
It’s not like the pizza was transcendent or life changing. It’s pasta on a pizza, after all. But it hits the spot in the only way a carb-laden treat can: it feeds the fat-kid-soul-place.