Apr 18, 2016
Know When to Fold ‘Em: 10 of Brooklyn’s Best Pizza Slices
Pizza is so symbolic of New York City that the New York Times created a rating system measured in slices that determines which presidential candidate is the truest New Yorker. Five slices equals “down to the molecular level,” while one means “has trouble using the subway” and “eats a slice with a fork and a knife.” When a signifier of cultural realness is based on a single product, you know it’s powerful.
Fittingly, there are about as many places to eat baked dough with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella in the city as there are… bars? Rats? (Sorry to bring our city’s official rodent into the conversation, but the pairing of New Yorker plus pizza is just as natural; heck, even our rats love it.) And in the past decade, fantastic wood oven pie-makers have made a mark and multiplied, especially in Brooklyn. But New Yorkers are equally passionate about eating a slice. And though finding a slice is never an issue, getting your hands on an especially excellent one—the perfectly-thin, crispy-yet-chewy crust, moderately sauced, with a tangy, gooey, mozzarella finish—is harder than you might imagine.
So, we set out to find the best of those slices in Brooklyn. Our Hall of Fame list stands—and it should be noted that this list and the last preclude mention of Di Fara because you don’t need us to tell you to eat there—but Brooklyn bakes more than one top-quality slice. So without further ado—and, especially for you, North Brooklyn residents, as you wait for Paulie Gee’s slice heaven to open later this year—here are ten of the borough’s most exceptional slices, ranked from our least to most-favorite. They range from $2.30 to $3.75 per slice (most fall exactly at $2.50); and if you do get to the entire list, you’ll tour parts of Brooklyn that still look today much like they did decades ago—especially inside of these parlors. They’re in neighborhoods like Bay Ridge, Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, and Kensington. So get thee to these slice shops; you’ll be rewarded with incredible pizza, and earn a five-slice rating for Brooklyn pizza realness.
10) Lenny’s Pizzeria 1969 86th Street, Bensonhurst
As this is a list of best-ofs, the lowest slice on here is still one of the best around. But we’ve got to start somewhere, so Lenny’s it is. Open since 1953, Lenny’s currently feels like 1985. When I walked in on a Saturday afternoon, “Take My Breath Away” played on the speakers, and the walls were covered in dandelion yellow paint and brown tile. (Side note—most of these pizza parlors bring you straight back to pre-Internet America. The effect is comforting and fantastic.) Lenny’s, as with almost every other parlor, uses a brand of mozzarella cheese from Wisconsin called Grande. When asked, also almost universally, the response was “because it’s the best.” The Grande mozzarella at Lenny’s was some of the gooiest and stretchiest of all I tried. But there were two things that left me slightly unsatisfied: the cheese wasn’t very well integrated into the whole slice—it sat, more like a loose sheet on top—and the bread was a little too airy; not enough to sink your teeth into. It was was also the only slice that left cornmeal dust on my fingers, which is not my favorite. But in the end, this slice will absolutely satisfy a craving for still good plain slice.
Roma Pizza 85 7th Avenue, Park Slope
Roma, established in 1982, is a rare exceptions of parlor that does not use Grande mozzarella. Instead, they use a skim and whole milk blend. But that blend translates well to a tangy cheese, applied liberally in this case, and baked to a very stretchy finish. The crust is nice and thin in the middle, and its underside has a lovely crunch. Around the edges, the crust becomes downright hearty and thick. If you like a hearty base, this slice is for you. It’s also yours if you like your slices herby and extra savory. Unlike almost every other sauce, Roma’s was especially savory and flavorful. It is interesting, but also, I found, distracting. A cheese slice is a gloriously simple thing. No single element should necessarily speak louder than the whole, and the sauce did do that a little here. Still, if extra flavorful sauce is your thing, you’ll leave Roma’s a very happy customer.
Williamsburg Pizza 265 Union Avenue, Williamsburg
Unlike the preceding two selections, one of the things that makes a plain slice at Williamsburg Pizza wonderful is that each component is wonderfully and seamlessly integrated into the whole. Williamsburg Pizza uses Grande mozzarella, and a nicely salted tomato sauce. The sauce, cheese, and crust were present in pleasant and equal proportion. The crust is baked thin, and every bite is clean—no cheese bridges are created when you pull it from your mouth. As you work your way toward the pie’s crispy edge, there remains a pleasing yet still moderate amount of sauce. It was the most expensive of all the slices (at $3.75) but it was straight forward, satisfying, and not at all heavy. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself inhaling two.
Krispy Pizza 7112 13th Avenue, Dyker Heights
Krispy Pizza is a 40-year-old Brooklyn pizza institution, begun by brothers Vinny, Tony, Freddy, and Al. Given its age, it is one of the few that has given itself aesthetic upgrades. Inside Krispy, all is light, well-kept, and new. Krispy used Grande mozzarella, and—while the crust is still thin—it’s thicker than at Williamsburg pizza. You can sink your teeth into this one. At Krispy (differentiated from a place like Williamsburg Pizza) slices come with a good deal of cheese, but it doesn’t distract from the experience of eating it. You more note it, and think: that’s nice. On this slice—something I started to notice on almost all slices, the sauce is fairly neutral (Roma is the outstanding exception). I like a neutral sauce, but it could have used a pinch more sauce. Still, as you eat, the cheese is stretchy, and no note is too loud or quiet. It’s just a fluid, delicious slice.
Elegante Pizzeria 6922 5th Avenue, Bay Ridge
Let me begin this entry by proclaiming: Wow, Elegante packs in a seriously savory, weighty punch in their plain slice. Also, the parlor itself is flooded in beige and orange, and transports you straight to the 70s (there are fantastic decades-old Grande cheese ads as well). But Elegante doesn’t use just any Grande cheese. The man behind the counter told me Elegante slices use super-deluxe Grande mozzarella—which is to say, “there is no getting skinny with this cheese; it’s all buttered up.” In addition to the fact that the cheese is full fat, there is also a lot of it. Contrary to many of its peers here, this is also an herbier, more flavorful sauce; bits of basil are mixed in and it’s spiced up with onions. An Elegante slice makes a statement, both on your tastebuds and in your nose as you eat. This slice carried by far the greatest amount of cheese, and you feel it as you go. You’ll still down it all, but you’ll stop yourself from getting seconds.
Luigi’s Pizzeria 326 Dekalb Avenue, Clinton Hill
Luigi’s opened in Clinton Hill in 1983 to throngs of very happy Pratt students. The neighborhood has changed a lot since then, but this weekend when I stopped in the owner said—due to its built in client base—business has been busy from the start, and has remained so since. Luigi’s is bare-bones: no seating, just a window that opens to the sidewalk, where you can order, and a small order space inside. Pies are made in close quarters right in front of you: clumps of mozzarella are spread thickly and evenly around the entirety of the dough, though in this case the mozzarella isn’t Grande, but another brand called F&A. Luigi’s crust is really nice and thin, and a bit more crunchy than most. The overall effect falls more in line with a Roberta’s whole pie—it has similar irregularities in crust shape, and thinner edges—than the other perfectly round pies with thicker crusts. The sauce is perfectly light; the mozzarella stretches really pleasingly as you eat it. And somehow, while the crust is thin, it’s also gummy in a way that you want it to be. Go to Luigi’s, and eat this slice as you stroll in lovely spring weather. There is no seating so you have to, but because it’s Brooklyn no one will look twice.
Pizza Wagon 8610 5th Avenue, Bay Ridge
Pizza Wagon, from the street, looks like a mini carnival from the 80s, so I fell in love even before I walked inside. There are festive lights, lots of red, and a vibe that reads: Sit down, eat pizza, don’t think about anything except how straight-up great our pies are. Forget about your phone! Just eat pizza and drink a Diet Coke from our soda fountain, just as the pizza slice gods intended. At the counter I was told Pizza Wagon dough was “the best; we don’t make it fast, we make it with love.” It was mildly thick but not too much so, and very good. Then the cheese—they wouldn’t let on if it was Grande mozzarella or not—but it tasted creamier than most and had great stretch. The sauce is simple and there’s a nice amount of it. Pizza Wagon produced another great example of a slice whose elements are mixed seamlessly together. And while there’s a good amount of grease here, you don’t mind it—it integrates itself nicely into the same experience.
Tony’s Pizzeria & Restaurant 443 Knickerbocker Avenue, Bushwick
On the board above the counter inside Tony’s Pizzeria—which is very festive with a green-and-white faux-tile finish—it reads, “Brooklyn’s Best Pizza.” And they’re not exaggerating too much. Behind the counter, Salvatore told me Tony’s has been cooking the same top-notch pizza recipe for forty years, and it’s for good reason: it tastes fantastic. On Friday, after school, the joint was hopping. Kids and families zipping in, eating, and zipping happily out. Tony’s cheese stands apart from the crowd—a blend of their own house-made mozzarella and Pecorino Romano. Indeed, the finished, baked product does have the taste and texture of a blend—a little more granular—and without Grande’s signature stretch. You note and taste this homemade quality, and it’s nice. The sauce is San Marzano. In sum, it’s approach is “old school, we don’t mess around here,” Salvatore told me. The crust is thin but chewy at the same time, and the underside has a pleasant crunch. Salvatore insisted I try a Grandma’s slice, too. Tony’s is known for it he said. Fresh mozzarella is plopped on top with fresh basil and a complex, aromatic sauce. I found out it is known for a good reason. Go to Tony’s, feel the love of the pizza pie in the air, and then eat it.
N&D Pizza East 2823 Avenue U, Sheepshead Bay
This spot, opened for more than 30 years in Sheepshead Bay, is the ultimate in creating a pie that is so much greater than the sum of its parts, because each part is perfectly integrated into the whole. This crust—this crust! It is that magical combination of pliant but, miraculously, crispy, too; it makes a nice crack when you bite it. It is, more than most slices, quite thin, but its crust still contains a good amount of cheese. It’s Grande mozzarella and it stretches nicely as you go. The sauce doesn’t stand in the way of this perfectly matched cheese and crust pairing: it acts more as a subtle, perfectly tangy and subtly cohesive binding agent. I could easily eat two N&D slices and I didn’t only because I had more pizza to eat at more parlors. For many, it’s a hike to get out to Sheepshead Bay; but going to N&D makes for a worthwhile trip. It’s a traditional pizza parlor experience, at its finest.
Korner Pizza 226 Church Avenue, Kensington
Korner Pizza was established in 1966. This weekend, I found it has stuck around for 50 years for very good reason: In my humble opinion, it serves up the best pizza slice in Brooklyn. This cheery and light-filled floor plan with retro red booths, and walls covered with maps and images of Sicily, is everything a pizza parlor should be. It’s a mini vacation that lasts the length of a slice. The chefs would not tell me what cheese is used—top secret, they said—though they added it’s better than Grande. And the tasting note that stood out with this cheese was tang. Delicious, zingy, delightful tanginess. Now, a slice with a lot of cheese does not necessarily give it a leg up. But Korner Pizza slices are served with a generous amount of that tangy cheese, so it is a fantastic reality to bite into; a mile-long cheese bridge forms when it happens. Then, the crust: Honestly, it’s incredible. It is very thin in the center, yet crispy on the bottom. It is almost flaky too—call me crazy, but it’s almost like a croissant. It has that same light and flaky yet almost buttery rich texture. But just as I started to fixate on that, my mind turned rapturously back to the flavor of that cheese. It just kept killing me. It was finished with a perfect amount of light sauce that inconspicuously yet perfectly binds the top of the pie to the bottom. You’ll only need one of these slices (at three dollars, it was one of the most expensive), but that’s as it should be. Something that perfect should not be replicated. At least not until the next day, when you return for more. The customer service was a peach, too. Go to Korner, and eat the best pizza in Brooklyn.
Photos by Chris Trigaux
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