I was so glad to find out last night that I am not the only one in New York City who has “WRITE AN ANGRY LETTER TO LOMBARDI’S PIZZA” on my to do list. I picked up a woman in Park Slope who told me she was going to Allen and Stanton. It was midnight, and she had to leave her friends at the bar so she could head home and go back to work. But first she wanted to stop for a slice to sober up. “Rosario’s?” I asked, judging from her destination. “Yeah, how’d you know?” she said. “Well I’d hope you aren’t going to Ray’s.”
(An L.E.S institution)
We comiserated with each other about how bad Ray’s is. She said she had warned a friend of hers last week not to go in, but the guy was desperately drunk so he bought a slice anyway, even though Rosario’s is only a block away. She said he didn’t even eat half of it before he threw it out. Pizza can get really bad. I’ve found that saying, “sex is like pizza: even if it’s not so great it’s still pretty good” to be untrue on both counts.
As we crossed the Manhattan Bridge we reminisced about the old Rosario’s with the great arches of paper cup stacks leaning out across the sidewalk on Houston, and we both mournfully remembered defiantly signing a petition a few years back to keep Ray’s out. But Ray’s did move in, and so Sal, by far the most beloved pizzaiolo of the Lower East Side, had to move his store off the main thoroughfare. He left his old ovens behind, and his pizza, though still great, suffered.
Joe’s of Carmine Street has not fared as well. It was always one of my favorites, and my fare declared it was her very favorite slice in the entire city. But since Joe’s moved from the corner of Bleeker Street to make room for Abitino’s Pizza (with the truly offensive motto of “The only pizza worth eating” and the even more offensive habit of blasting Fox News loud enough to hear it in Father Demo Square), Joe’s slice has dropped to just about one notch better than mediocre.
(The fresh mozz slice at Joe’s these days, still pretty good) But our blood really began boiling when the topic of Lombardi’s Coal Oven Pizza came up. I thought I was the only one who noticed that they no longer have a crust. For exactly a century (1905 to 2005), Lombardi’s, America’s first pizzeria, made their pies with puffy, chewy crust around the edges. Lifelong friends, tight-knit families, mothers and daughters would bicker over who’d get the piece with the big bubble.
(Me, my friend Nanda, and evidence of a crusty pie just a year ago)
I thought their expansion last year was good news, because I wouldn’t have to wait as long for a table anymore. But last time I went, I noticed there was no beautifully charred crust with which to grip my dream pizza. I asked the waiter, and he told me they now put the dough through a machine to make the pie rather than kneading it by hand. I responded with flabergasted and angry gestures and exclamations until the waiter told me, “hey buddy, all I do is drop the pizza on the table.” It’s an economy of scale I suppose.
I was infuriated. How dare they? Popular religions have been started in less than a century. I had loved my pepperoni and red onion pizza like a son, and now I’ve been stabbed in the back. My fare an I agreed to write our angry letters, and eat at the newly opened (in comparison with Lombardi’s) Una Pizza Napolitana on 12th Street. I’ve been to Napoli, and I ate more than a dozen pizzas during my three days there (you can order little snack size pies from street vendors between meals at the revered institiutions like Brandy’s). And I can tell you, Una Pizza Napolitana is the real deal, though it is exorbitantly expensive. Had I eaten it in Napoli, I would have thought it was in the top five. My fare made the point that the Lombardi’s crust betrayal might not hurt Lombardi’s this year, or next year, but soon and for the rest of its life. In another century or so, no one will even notice that Una Pizza Napolitana isn’t as old as Lombardi’s.
A couple hours later, I hopped out of the cab on Bedford Street and North 7th in Brooklyn not because I was hungry but because I was whistful. Anna Maria’s hasn’t changed a bit since I first tasted their heaping garlic pesto slice five years ago. The place is always packed with ridiculously drunken hipsters, and the pizza guys have always been fun-loving, hard-working Mexicans.
(One of the hardest working men in New York)
They do seem to close earlier than before, but that might be my overdeveloped sense of nostalgia acting up. Anna Maria’s is a unique New York slice. People might call it California style because of all the toppings, but no one in Santa Monica would be caught dead eating a slice that looks like this:
Anna Maria’s serves up nothing but heafty, tasty pizza. With my massive veggie slice still settling into my belly, I cruised around looking for one more fare to finish off my night. Someone out there must know where to find the perfect slice. Anna Maria’s, North 7th Street and Bedford, Williamsburg Brooklyn
Una Pizza Napolitana, East 12th Street btwn 1st and 2nd Ave, East Village, Manhattan
Lombardi’s Pizza, Spring btwn Mulberry and Mott, Little Italy, Manhattan
Joe’s, Carmine btwn Bleeker and 6th Ave, West Village, Manhattan
Rosario’s, corner of Stanton and Orchard, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Check out http://www.famousfatdave.com for a chuckle or to book an eating tour