A guide to New York City's upper crust

Short Hop

Where you can find 10 great pizzas in the Big Apple

December 28, 2003|By Sherri Eisenberg | Sherri Eisenberg,Special to the Sun

New York has always been a world leader in finance, business, publishing and art. But one of the things that New York does better than anybody -- at least according to New Yorkers -- is pizza.

When New Yorkers talk about their pizza, they are downright devotional. Out in the hinterlands, which is anywhere beyond the five boroughs, transplanted New Yorkers may have praise for some upstart pie, but it's never, ever as good as New York pizza.

What makes New York pizza so good is a combination of thin crusts, coal ovens, slightly sweet, slow-cooked fresh sauce, and an unknown ingredient that can only be described as Gotham magic.

If you're in town to celebrate New Year's Eve or to take advantage of the post-Christmas sales and you feel the urge for a slice, here's an insider's guide to 10 great pies, from downtown to uptown:

(If you don't want to look like a tourist, take note: New Yorkers like their pizza by the slice, eaten standing up, with the pizza folded over so that the grease drips onto the white paper plate, rather than, say, your shirt.)

Totonno's Pizzeria

Although it has other locations, it's the original Coney Island Totonno's that's legendary. This out-of-the-way Brooklyn pizza parlor serves coal-oven pizza that's as famous as the place is old-fashioned. (Think pressed-tin walls and faded, signed photos of celebs like Danny DeVito and Rudy Giuliani.)

The white pizza has fresh garlic and grated Pecorino Romano cheese, but otherwise the toppings are secondary. Of course, locals say that nothing can compete with the Totonno's pizza of decades ago. But what could? If you're in the neighborhood, this is the place to go.

Getting there: 1524 Neptune Ave., Coney Island (between West 15th and West 16th streets).

Call: 718-372-8606.

Cost: $15.75 for a large pizza, $2 per topping.

Subway: From Midtown Manhattan, take the W train to Coney Island.

After dinner: A ride on Coney Island's Cyclone roller coaster.

Grimaldi's

With Dean Martin and fellow Brat Packers on the stereo, red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and a great location near the Brooklyn Bridge, Grimaldi's is the real deal.

What could be better than the setting and the location? The pizza.

These fabulous coal-oven pies are perfect plain -- maybe that's why Grimaldi's charges $4 for toppings such as roasted peppers or creamy ricotta. One bite and you'll agree that putting anything on top of mozzarella this fresh is gilding the lily.

Getting there: 19 Old Fulton St. (between Water and Front).

Call: 718-858-4300.

Cost: $14 for a large pizza, $2-4 per topping.

Subway: From Midtown, take the A or C train to High Street or the No. 2 or No. 3 to Borough Hall.

After dinner: Walk over to Brooklyn Heights Promenade, four blocks away, and you'll get a great view of downtown from across the water. It's the perfect photo op of the city skyline.

Lombardi's

Founded in 1905, Lombardi's, just north of Little Italy, claims to be the city's first pizza joint. Its standout pies are thin and crispy, and you'll find those telltale blackish burn marks around the crusts that tell you it's been coal-fired.

The whole-milk mozzarella is made in Brooklyn, and the tasty meatballs are house-made. The zingy red peppers? Those are roasted in-house, as are the fresh mushrooms. Try a clam pizza -- it's an Italian Christmas specialty.

Expect to wait in line. In this trendy neighborhood, the locals line up along with the tourists.

Getting there: 32 Spring St. (between Mulberry and Mott).

Call: 212-941-7994.

Cost: $14.50 for a large pizza, $3 per topping.

Subway: From Midtown, take the No. 6 train to Spring Street or the N or R to Prince Street.

After dinner: Walk up Mulberry to Ciao Bella Gelato Cafe -- one of the city's best gelaterias. Try the malted milk ball gelato. (285 Mott St.; 212-431-3591).

John's Pizzeria

There are four John's locations, but the original West Village place near New York University is still the best. The owners claim it's the secret sauce recipe and the cheese; village residents say it's the crisp crust that keeps them coming back. And while the 1940s ambience at the original location (think comfy booths and dim lighting) feels the most authentic, if you're looking for a place to eat before a Broadway show, the John's in Times Square is convenient.

Getting there: 278 Bleecker St. (between 6th and 7th avenues).

Call: 212-243-1680.

Cost: $15.25 for a large pizza, $2.50 per topping.

Subway: From Midtown, take the A, C or E train to West 4th or the No. 1 or No. 9 train to Christopher Street.

After dinner: Pick up a frosted cupcake at Magnolia Bakery, a few blocks west at 401 Bleecker St. (212-462-2572). They were popular even before the Sex and the City TV series filmed there several years ago, but now tourists come by the busload.

Otto Enoteca Pizzeria

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