Chicago vs. New York is one of the nation’s greatest rivalries. I’m not talking Bulls-Knicks , Bears-Giants, or Cubs-Mets. The true battlefront, the place where the mid-west and east square off in dirty slobberknockers, is in cheese, sauce, and dough.
Pizza. But you knew this from the title.
New York City is my home, but I’m a pizza agnostic. I love deep dish, classic New York-style slice, and Sicilian. Good pizza is just good pizza. But I can say without hesitation that New York pizza has transformed into a bland concoction of disappointment. It wasn’t always this way.
The Big Apple once overflowed with pizza goodness. Not that long ago, say the late-1990s to the mid-2000s, you could buy a slice for $1 and enjoy a fatty, flavorful, world-renowned plain slice. A large plain slice. One so voluminous that you could use it to tarp Yankee Stadium during a rain delay. A slice so mighty that you’d be required to fold it, so that “you can pour the grease directly into your mouth,” as my colleague Max Eddy described it (albeit in derogatory fashion).
Your buck bought a mouthful of magic that came courtesy of significant amounts of well-flavored sauce and tasty, stretchy cheese. New York City pizza was once the perfect between-meal snack that you could enjoy upon strolling into any old school Italian pie joint.
Now, we’ve got to put up with heinous $1 pizza. A small slice. Barely any sauce. A smattering of cheese. It resembles a dough-tomato sauce-cheese combo that would look at home emerging from an Easy-Bake Oven. Unfortunately, this hideous mockery of a $1 slice is the current face of New York City pizza and has ruined this great city’s pizza reputation.
It’s not as though there are just a handful of these places—they’re everywhere. Near the Port Authority. On the outskirts of Chinatown. On 125th St. A shop that sells solid pizza, on the other hand, is a bit harder to find, and will set you back between $3 to $5 per slice; a truly delicious, premium bite that caters to discerning palettes pushes the price closer to $5 or more.
Unfortunately, as The Wall Street Journal points out, mid-range pizza shops, mainly in Manhattan, have slashed their prices in order to compete with the bargain basement shops. Naturally, that means ingredients are the first victims in the Great Pizza War. Some of my favorite places have suffered noticeable quality dips. The bottom end is booming, while the upper-tier is raking in profits. The dependable middle-class slice is vanishing. New York City’s pizza situation couldn’t be any more American.
Brigham Barnes believes that there some gold nuggets lodged in the $1 pizza muck. Barnes’s quest to find the city’s “most adequate dollar slice” has led the writer to several places I’ve frequented in the past, but have no desire to return to in the future. Though, I must admit that the author’s write-up about $1 Pizza Slice (yes, that’s the actual name!) makes the East Harlem shop sound like it sells pizza that embodies the heart of the one-buck slice that I used to love back in the day.
So, until I visit $1 Pizza Slice, I will stick to my usual joints that make delicious pizza, but at high price. The current pizza landscape demands opening your wallet so that you make enjoy the bread, sauce, and cheese combo that has somehow become incredibly simple to muck up in recent years. Desperate times, it seems, call for premium tastes.
Image courtesy of Serious Eats.