Sunday Food

NY Times’ Joseph Berger writes on a NYC thing (or, more broader, an American thing) – where else can you find a Tibetan making pizza; an Indian making an egg cream that he learned from an Italian who learned from a Jew; and a Hispanic making sushi?

Daily News rates NYC pizzerias. Food writer Irene Sax reports:

At Di Fara in Midwood, Domenico DeMarco has been making pizzas all by himself for 40 years. On the window are pots of fresh rosemary, basil and oregano, in the back are cartons of San Marzano tomatoes, and in no place is there any attempt at decor or even housekeeping. But the pizzas that come out of Dom’s clunky metal oven are sublime: big, charred pies with thin, flexible crusts; a sweet sauce made from canned and fresh tomatoes, and a cheese topping that mixes fresh and buffalo mozzarella with a final toss of freshly grated grana padana. Think of the classic New York pie and then add a halo.

Franny’s on Flatbush Ave., on the other hand, is a New York pizzeria with a yuppie edge, opinions about sustainable agriculture, a romantic back garden and, usually, a line out the door. But despite the glitz, what owner Andrew Feinberg takes from his wood-burning brick oven is a pie that has a chewy, featherlight crust, a thin slick of bright tomato sauce and just enough melted mozzarella to fill your mouth. Although you may dream about that charred and smoky crust, you can’t ignore the beautiful toppings. Order a clam pie, seasoned with parsley and hot peppers, and you’ll know you’re in the presence of greatness.

Which of them makes the best pizza in New York? They both do. Di Fara is the peak of a New York tradition going back to Lombardi’s in 1905. Franny’s is the best of a new wave that blends innovative ingredients with traditional methods. They’re both in the New York style. […]

We sent reporters to all five boroughs with this assignment: Order two pies – one plain, one with toppings. Rate the plain, or margherita, on a scale from one star (edible) to four stars (incredible). And while you’re at it, take note of the quality of the toppings on the other pizzas.

When all the reports were in, we sent a second team to revisit the two places that had rated four stars. What they discovered surprised them. It turns out that New York doesn’t have one best pizza. It has two. And though they’re both in Brooklyn, they couldn’t be less alike. [….]

Think of this the next time you order a slice:

How is the crust? Pale or charred? Thick or thin? Rigid or flexible? Does the point flop over when you pick it up? Can you taste the wheat?

How is the sauce? Are the tomatoes fresh or canned and, if canned, are they from San Marzano? Seasoned with how much salt? How much oregano? Are fresh basil leaves laid on top?

What about cheese? Is it processed or fresh, sliced or grated? Is it even mozzarella? And does it sit in discrete little islands or has it melted all over the pie?

Finally, and trickiest: How is the balance? This turned out to be more important than we expected. Once we were in the field, we discovered that a pie with a perfect crust could be ruined by a dull sauce or a too-heavy blanket of cheese. A pie with world-class toppings could have a leaden, cracker-like crust.

Why no slices? Because slices are a different food. They are twice-cooked, once in their first baking, then when they are reheated. The second blast of heat makes both the crust and the cheese get harder. It’s not a bad thing – Di Fara sells fantastic slices – but not the same thing as a whole pie.

It’s no surprise that both winners are in Brooklyn. Despite stellar places like Nick’s in Queens and Una Pizza Napoletana in Manhattan, we found that Brooklyn’s quality was the highest in the city.

What was surprising was that it’s possible to eat almost endless amounts of pizza and not get sick of it. And, it seems pizza isn’t fattening: On a day when I had it for both lunch and dinner, I lost a pound. (Of course, I didn’t eat anything else.)

But the real surprise was the difference between good, better and best pizza. “I used to grab a slice if I was in a hurry or if I was hungry after a movie,” said one of the reporters. “Now I know how much goes into it. There are people out there who really care about using the best ingredients and doing everything by hand. They are true artists.”

The pizza diet. Hmm. I’m glad they gave Brooklyn’s Grimaldi’s three stars and thought they were a little hard on V&T Pizza (the undergraduate Alma Mater’s local thing up on W110th St in Manhattan; but, the local favorite really is Koronet, for the huge bargain for the big slices; no one may credit the ‘hood for its spectacular palate).

Daily News’ Lisa Amand profiles this guy
who will be giving tours of Brooklyn’s best pizzerias:

To Tony Muia, a slice of pizza is like a vitamin: nourishing and an essential part of every day.

The 41-year-old Brooklyn-born Muia is so into pizza he gave up a career as a respiratory therapist to dedicate his life to preaching pie to the masses.

When his Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour begins tomorrow, he’ll be spreading the gospel about the borough’s prowess when it comes to tossing around dough. He’ll also be following in the footsteps of his favorite matinee idol, another Brooklyn Tony who devoured slices two at a time while strutting down a Bensonhurst block in “Saturday Night Fever.”

Muia, who grew up in that very neighborhood, got the idea for the tours after years of showing out-of-town friends hidden spots throughout Brooklyn that serve out-of-this-world pizza.

The first stop on his four-hour tour will be at the legendary Grimaldi’s, where the ancient coal ovens keep the Neapolitan pies coming.

They’ll also get a little history between slices.

The tour weaves through Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge, checking out Diamond Jim Brady’s former home, a “really cool” tiny Revolutionary War cemetery and the Army terminal where Elvis shipped out to Germany. It also hits Brooklyn landmarks, movie locations and lesser-known nabes (like Bath Beach and Gravesend).

The bus will also cruise down Bensonhurst’s main drag. As they pass the famous Lenny’s Pizza, the opening scene of “Saturday Night Fever” will play on the bus’ screen, showing John Travolta bopping down 86th St., stopping at the sidewalk window to tell the pizzaiola: “Two, two. Gimme two.”

Muia will be taking his tour to one of his favorites, L&B Spumoni Gardens, again on 86th St., for two Sicilian squares. Muia has frequented L&B for more than 30 years.

“All you do is come here and people-watch,” he says on a sunny Saturday, surveying the al fresco scene where extended families fill the picnic tables, feasting on tomato-red rectangles, heaping plates of pasta and baked clams. [….]

Muia knows it’s not just tourists but even New Yorkers who need help navigating deep Brooklyn instead of focusing merely on trendy neighborhoods; though Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tours will pass through Dumbo to point out locales from “Scent of a Woman” and “Once Upon a Time in America.”

Could he do a similar tour in Manhattan? “Fuhgeddaboudit. Everyone knows the best pizzerias are in Brooklyn!”

Movies and A Book

“Must See Dogs” – cute movie. An alternative from the usual summer blockbusters of blow-’em-up stuff and superheroes. Diane Lane and John Cusack playing cute. Some cute dogs. A moment of wondering if Cusack will act in other stuff than romantic comedies (I’m sure he has, because I enjoyed him in “Runaway Jury” – he just does romantic comedies very well). A fluffy nice movie. Very much a chick flick, with heavy doses of reminding me of “When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve Got Mail” (well, for the latter’s Internet factor). Nothing brain taxing or Oscar nominating though.

“Wedding Crashers” – also not brain taxing. I mean, seriously not a thoughtful movie. Unless you come out of it thinking about weddings in a different way, as in “Geez, this ain’t boring if you just mingle by making up stories about yourself and lie to the men and women here for kicks. Oh, and accept that weddings are fun. And love your wingman.” Vince Vaughn – funny. Owen Wilson – umm, yeah, funny, but it’s weird to be reminded that the leading man is indeed getting in on years to be still doing the hijinks. And Christopher Walken not acting like a total weirdo.

“The Tao of Pooh” – by Benjamin Hoff – I took a class on Taoism in college, and it amazes me that this little book, using Pooh as the allegory of all allegories, captured everything about Taoism (well, with the exception of how sex and other consumptions may come into play, but basically getting the point about the Way). I read it in one sitting yesterday. Kind of hard on Confucianism (I doubt that Lao-tzu really cared about being in competition with Confucius, and Confucius probably cared less about the guy who was the equivalence of his Oscar or a happy-go-lucky hippie weirdo), but I’d highly recommend “The Tao of Pooh.”