America's Best Pizza
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.
New York (Manhattan):Co.
Pizza with a pedigree. Breadmaker Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery installed an EarthStone oven at his upscale Chelsea eatery, where patrons pay a premium for a sparely decorated white oak dining space and extensive wine list. However, the artisanal dough here is scorched (sometimes too much) authentically, and slightly radical ingredients range from zucchini blossoms to béchamel with caramelized onions.
Don’t Miss: The minimalist Pizza Bianca for one.
Stowe, VT: PiecassoPizzeria & Lounge
Pizza has always been the carb of choice for the Burton board set, and this groovy branch of a Sicilian family pizzeria chain earns black diamond status for its righteous pies. The young pie masters here can toss a round of dough as expertly as they carve runs on Mount Mansfield. Pair hearth-baked personal pies (four slices) with locally brewed Switchback Ale on tap in the bar, or strip off your downhill gear for table service in the dining room.
Best Toppings: Order the Tree Hugger, with fresh spinach, garlic, and red onions.
Marina del Rey, CA: AnticaPizzeria
Another master toiling in a low-rent location. Even weight-conscious Hollywood flocks to this strip mall where the other tenants include a fitness club, Victoria’s Secret, and the Gap, because owner Peppe Miele crafts perfect Neapolitan-style charred-crust pizza in a wood-fired oven at this second-floor branch of his original L.A. shop.
Best Toppings: The Pizza Siciliana has eggplant, smoked mozzarella, basil, and chopped tomato.
Arlington, VA: The LibertyTavern
For the Beltway crowd ready to loosen their belts, this all-American comfort food hangout is where chef Liam LaCivita keeps two wood-fired ovens roaring hot. Conservatives may be horrified by the Granny Smith apples, white Vermont cheddar, fried eggs, and pickled squash that grace his thin-crust pies, but the Classico will make a lobbyist on either side of the aisle happy.
Cheesiest Pie: The Four Cheese includes mozzarella, fontina, provolone, and Cabot white cheddar.
New York (Brooklyn): Di Fara
Be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Since 1964, Domenico DeMarco has been making one pizza at a time at his shop in the melting pot of Midwood, Brooklyn. (Glatt kosher meets masala meets veal marsala.) Cognoscenti—ravenous single males—know to arrive prior to noon for lunch or again in the evening before six o’clock. Hover until you hear DeMarco’s daughter Margaret, who takes orders at the counter, yell at the old man: “Pop! Make a square one next.” The square Margherita is a chewy slice of heaven.
Best Toppings: Freshly cut basil and grated Grana Padano cheese.
Chicago: Great Lake
At a tiny storefront in Andersonville, owner Nick Lessins is another slowpoke when it comes to the pie craft. His mortadella (Italian-style bologna) pizza is certainly unique and has earned numerous accolades, but it’s worth standing in line to watch him make every crusty number. You’d never guess he’s actually of Polish-Czech descent.
This enoteca on Lincoln Road employs a Morello Forni rotary stone hearth gas oven. Chefs Nicola and Fabrizio Carro hail from Alessandria in the Piedmont, and they make a wide variety of bella pies, including 10 different bianche (white) with cheeses such as Brie, Gorgonzola, stracchino, and smoked scamorza.
Don’t Miss: The Capricciosa with mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, artichokes, black olives, wurstel, and spicy salami.
New York (Manhattan): FamousJoe’s
In a neighborhood where pizza joints crowd every other block, this storefront parlor dishes up the best “street” slice in the West Village. The crust is crisp, the mozzarella is molten, and the turnover is fast enough that a pie hot out of the oven never sits on the counter getting soggy.
Best Toppings: Stick with the plain cheese. Toppings just load this slice down.
Deep-dish pies are a Chicago phenomenon, and Burt Katz is quite possibly the master of this bready variation. For the past 20 years, kitschy Burt’s Place has been a mecca for caramelized crust and market-fresh toppings, although some sticklers may flinch at the funky, cluttered interior. But that’s why takeout was invented.
San Francisco: Flour + Water
In a city where slow food and seasonal ingredients are revered, this Italian eatery has only four different pies, all baked in a wood-fired 900 degree Valoriani oven. There is a classic Margherita, but toppings are far from traditional on the Verzada (braised savoy cabbage), Topinambur (sunchokes), and Baccala (salt cod).
Best Toppings: Wild arugula.
New York (Brooklyn): Motorino
Out in Williamsburg, Motorino’s owner, Mathieu Palombino, brings a serious résumé to the dough game. After working under culinary stars David Bouley and Laurent Tourondel, he shifted from Gallic to garlic and olive oil while learning to bake pizza certified by Verace Pizza Napoletana Americas. This chef also makes his own fior di latte mozzarella daily; the San Marzano red sauce is just as authentic. Last summer, Palombino snapped up the East Village’s famous Una Pizza Napoletana, so now it’s possible to eat his pies in Manhattan as well.
Best Toppings: Try the pork sausage from a neighborhood butcher shop called Emily’s Pork Store.