John Travolta Eats a “DOUBLE DECKER”
One Slice of New York PIZZA on Top of Another
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
The origin story of New York pizza starts with large waves of Italian immigrants settling in the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 1920, roughly a quarter of the 1.6 million Italian immigrants in the United States were living in New York, establishing enclaves in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Such neighborhoods were home to the first pizzerias, like Lombardi’s in Little Italy, which opened on Spring Street in 1905. The namesake of the Neapolitan immigrant Gennaro Lombardi, the restaurant used a coal-fired oven to create pizzas with puffy, charred crusts and a bubbling layer of tomato sauce and cheese that made it one of the most popular restaurants in Little Italy. As if in biblical succession, as apprentices left to start their own pizza operations, Lombardi’s begat Totonno’s in Coney Island, John’s in Greenwich Village and Patsy’s in what is now Spanish Harlem. These are the four acknowledged prewar pizza pillars in the city. (Though none of them was a slice joint in the current sense.)
The Great PIZZAIOLO Mark Iacono
Shows us The Proper Tecnique of Eating a NEW YORK SLICE
Hot, filling and eaten with the hands, pizza elicited breathless coverage from The Times fairly early on, as food writers marveled at the appealing combination of ingredients and convenience. By 1947, the paper was fully sold. “A round of dough is baked with tomatoes and anchovies and cheese atop, cut into wedges, then eaten with the fingers between gulps of wine,” the food editor Jane Nickerson enthused. “The pizza could be as popular a snack as the hamburger if Americans only knew more about it.”
Nine years later, The Times’s Herbert Mitgang contemplated the reasons for pizza’s popularity, writing, “The guess is that a number of Americans of Italian origin, aided by advertising and refrigeration, have made pizza as delectable as such other postwar imports as Lollobrigida” — referring to Gina, the saucy Roman film star. The Neapolitan-style pie became a chic dinner-party staple that could also be supplemented with a salad for a filling, family meal. But one innovation would change how New Yorkers enjoyed pizza forever.
Frank Mastro, an Italian immigrant and businessman, saw the potential for pizza to be as popular in America as the hot dog. He just had to figure out a way to make it quicker and cheaper for both restaurant owners and diners. So in the mid-1930s, he devised a gas pizza oven that maintained optimal temperatures even as the door was opened over and over.
Although it is hard to pinpoint when pizza was first sold by the slice, the introduction of the gas oven with multiple decks gave New Yorkers the option of enjoying a crisp-bottomed slice either as a full meal or a substantial snack between meals as they moved around the city. Pizza shop owners no longer needed to learn how to operate a coal-fired oven, meaning pizza could be made quicker and with less training. By the 1960s, the slice joint boom was on. And it is the slice joint that really turned pizza from an Italian food in New York City into a New York City food — a meal shared across neighborhoods, ethnicities and age groups, equally at home in the Bay Ridge of “Saturday Night Fever” as in the Bedford-Stuyvesant of “Do the Right Thing.”
My Favorite Slice in Town is Not a SLICE but a SQUARE
The SOHO SQUARE at PRINCE STREET PIZZA is The Best Dam piece of PIZZA
in MANHATTAN , NY
This proliferation was also helped along by the same thing that brought pizza to this country in the first place: immigration. In the ’60s and ’70s, waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America began joining the work force and landing in food service roles, where the barrier to entry was much lower than in other fields.
As one of the standard-bearers of the current slice-joint renaissance, Scarr Pimentel remembers his spot on 138th Street and Broadway. “Kids like me pretty much grew up in pizza shops,” said Mr. Pimentel, whose family moved to New York from the Dominican Republic. “If you had five bucks you could have a slice, a soda and some ice cream. It was a full meal and sometimes the owner would slip us an extra slice or something.” Mr. Pimentel opened his own pizza shop in 2016, the sleek and retro Scarr’s Pizza on the Lower East Side. His slices and pies are made with organic flour, high-quality tomatoes and cheese and carefully sourced (often organic) toppings, but the slice-joint spirit holds true. “Who would’ve thought a kid like me from the Dominican Republic would own a pizza shop in New York City one day?” he added.
The Great DOM DeMARCO Finishing Up one of His Masterful Pies
BROOKLYN , NY
John Kambouris immigrated to Washington Heights in 1965 from a small Greek island about 200 miles east of Athens. “I had $10 in my pocket,” he said from behind the counter of Pizza Palace on Dyckman Street, which he has owned since 1979, when he bought the business from an Italian couple he knew from the neighborhood. “They say the Italians bring the pizza here, but we put our culture on it.” In the 1960s this area was Irish and Jewish, he explained. Today, the neighborhood is home to a large Caribbean population, including a large concentration of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. “I love what I’m doing … we’re making pizza that people want and I don’t have to be Italian to make good pizza,” Mr. Kambouris said, before noting, “I’ve put three kids through college off of this shop.”
It’s in hundreds of shops like his around the city, many no bigger than subway cars, where you’ll find New Yorkers shoulder to shoulder, eating slices in near silence. “Teens, Wall Street guys, guys camped out with a shopping cart, a pizza place is the most diverse space in the city,” said Colin Atrophy Hagendorf, author of “Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza” and host of the Radio Harvester podcast. “Inside a pizzeria that dream of diverse New York City is a reality. I think that’s such a beautiful thing.”
No PIZZA RECIPE HERE
But The BEST DAM MEATBALLS
And SUNDAY SAUCE ITALIAN GRAVY
You’ll Ever Have in Your Life
HOTELS in NEW YORK