Recently, I was standing in line at Brooklyn pie mecca Di Fara Pizza with a guy who had driven all the way from the Bronx. “Just for a slice of pizza?” I asked. He laughed. “This is your first time, right?” When I reached the battered vinyl counter, where 72-year-old Domenico DeMarco snipped fresh basil onto a blistered crust, I learned why: his San Marzano sauce with molten cheese was straight out of Naples.
According to Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana—the Naples, Italy–based trade group that promotes and certifies Neapolitan pizza—there are only two truly authentic styles: marinara and Margherita. Both have to be hand-kneaded and baked in a wood-fired oven. But since these archetypal napoletanas were introduced to our shores by Italian immigrants in the 19th century, pizza has become as American as, well, another type of pie.
And, like the U.S.A., pizza has adapted, with different regions giving their own spin to this Old World staple. Chicago has deep dish; California skews gourmet. Sicilian pies in Detroit (home to the Domino’s and Little Caesars chains) are square. New Haven, CT, has a thin-crust pizza that’s a type all its own. Shrimp, broccoli rabe, pineapple, and sliced deli ham have been added to the more orthodox canon of toppings. And even though no-name pie shops can be rigorous about crispy crust and the right distribution of sauce versus toppings, in the end, everyone agrees that a great pie, no matter what taste preferences dictate, takes time and talent to prepare.
That’s why we hunted from Brooklyn to Berkeley for America’s top pizza maestros. They fall into two groups. One is the old-school guys who toil over hot ovens in obscurity, like DeMarco, who’s been making one pie at a time since 1964. On the other coast, the master is Peppe Miele of Antica Pizzeria, set in a Marina del Rey strip mall. (This being L.A., though, Miele has a major Hollywood fan club.) His classic marinara pies are infused with heaps of garlic and oregano and come out of his wood-fired oven with perfectly charred crusts.
But there’s also a new generation of pizza maestros that takes its “double zero” flour dough seriously (the supersoft dough that’s a required ingredient of any real Neapolitan-style pizza). Mathieu Palombino is one of them—a chef who worked under David Bouley and Laurent Tourondel before opening his pizza place, Motorino, in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. These new stars are equally fanatical about sourcing cured salami and pork sausage from traditional butchers, crushing heirloom tomatoes into secret sauces, and even making buffalo milk mozzarella to shred on top.
While this list has a bit of hometown bias (four favorites are located in the greater New York area), and we skipped over traditional “apizza” parlors in New Haven in favor of a modest two-store chain in Providence, RI, ultimately the pizza makers who made the cut all have one thing in common. Nobody delivers. And yet, they all do.
Here are 11 slices worth the wait.