There is a lot of contention over the best pizza in NYC. Some say it is relative newcomer Grimaldi’s, with its hour-long lines out the door int he shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Other’s claim one old man at Di Fara’s near Avenue J makes the slice to die for. Then there’s the whole Ray’s conundrum, but there is one thing that pizza perfectionists can agree upon- the first pizzeria in New York was a coal-fired oven joint run out of a grocery in Little Italy, by Gennaro Lombardi in 1905. This is Lombardi’s, now a few numbers down the block on the corner of Spring Street and Mott. (Wait, isn’t that Chinatown?)
The wait wasn’t as long as Grimaldi’s; we waited about 25 minutes, inside at the bar. They have a nice selection of brews on tap, including Six Points Cream Ale, Brooklyn Lager, and standbys like Yuengling. They run the tables efficiently, and we didn’t wait too long for a pie once we ordered. It’s a bit pricier than Grimaldi’s, $19 for a large pie and $3 for the first topping, leaving us a $43 bill for a pie and a pitcher. For a tourist haven like Little Italy has become, that’s really not bad at all for dinner for three. And it’s a bit less snug than our favorite place just over the bridge.
The pie is a fine Napoletano style pizza, with a chewy crust, a thick sauce of San Marzano tomatoes that seemed to have steeped long in the pot to get rich flavors, and some fine slices of fresh mozzarella spotted the pie like a saucy leopardess rising high above the Serengeti. (Apologies to Toto).
The pepperoni was smoky and tasty, not very oily, and the basil was there but shredded and a bit sparse. Overall, it is a fine pie and definitely one of the best in New York. The Firecracker’s bro-in-law had been to Naples and had several pizzas there, and felt this was up there with them, if not better. Now that’s a recommendation of the highest order.
The first isn’t always the best. I must say I prefer Grimaldi’s, but that is entirely a matter of taste. The sauce there is a bit brighter and more acidic, there’s more basil, they make their own mozzarella. Lombardi’s makes a great pie, with its own flavor- and obviously, with their heritage, it’s the original one. There’s more cheese, the crust isn’t bubbly, and has more bite to it. It’s a matter of mood, similar to the battle between Hiram’s Roadstand and Rutt’s Hut. You can’t go wrong with either of them, both are worth a visit, and which you choose should largely depend on where you are when the wuleez hits you.
Whenever I’m in Little Italy, the pizza will be Lombardi’s. Though I should shuffle over to Ray’s and give them a try sometime, but not before I trot out to Coney Island for Totonno’s, or brave the 2 hour line at Di Fara’s… Lombardi’s makes a clam pizza and white ricotta pies as well, so daring explorations of these culinary experiments must be made. So many pizzas, so little time.