The first distinction is that there is no single “NY style” pizza. In a city with a pizzeria to be found on practically every corner. There are the handful of old school coal fired places, and then there are the more common “street slices”. To really complicate matters there is also a boom for traditional Neapolitan places, neo-Neapolitans, neo-coal fired, artisanal, bar pies, and a few other regional American styles.
The very first pizzas on the scene were cooked in intensely hot coal fired ovens, and most are still around today. Coal fired pizza is not a prolific style in the south, so I’m not going to go into intense detail about it in this section which will be devoted to the most common style, the NY slice.
The NY style slice is at least 18", and is usually placed on display for the customer pick their favorite. The quality of the pies can vary greatly as well despite similar appearances.
Dough formulations vary from the most traditional of just flour, water, yeast and salt, to the use of eggs, sugar, milk and oil. Some of the newer places are using sugar and high gluten flour which can give the pizza a very evenly golden overly chewy sweet taste.
Sauce is also widely different ranging from simple to overly sweet with all sorts of herbs and spices, some cooked, and some not. The theory that makes the most sense is that many of the Italian Americans that were starting mid 20th century pizzerias could not access the plentiful high quality canned tomatoes of today, and mediocre product was all that they could get. At any rate, a wide variety of tomato sauces abounds today on all of the city’s loved slices.
So is a slice from Famous Ray’s, or Sbarro, authentic, even if it’s in a Southern mall? Sure,..I guess so, ....sort of. They fit enough technical criteria, and are better than most 99 cent slices, but I still wouldn’t choose to eat there even when hungry. Any local who claims to love pizza will have suggestions, though many may not be familiar with pizzas outside of their neighborhoods. The best spots can be found with a little research and legwork.
The qualities that make a good slice, aren’t going to be the same for everyone, but here are my criteria.
In ideal crust will be baked directly on the stone of the deck oven, and should have little uneven spots of char. It should be easily foldable without a really soggy tip, and have a bit of crunch at first bite, but not be hard and dry. It should yield to a delightful chew, and is thin, but typically not paper thin, and the thickness tapers out from the tip of the slice to a slightly puffed up edge called a cornicione.
As far as cheese, the best quality dry aged mozzarella is what it takes. When all of the elements are combined in a very balanced way, and baked in the proper deck oven, a great slice is made. Joe’s on Carmine, Louie and Earnie’s, and Luigi’s in Park Slope are some of the best examples of my ideal NY slices.