Over a year ago, we reported on the New York Pizza Project, a quest by a team to photograph over 120 of New York City’s last pizza parlors. More than a food documentation, the project was about the stories behind the pizza, covering themes, as one of the members Ian Manheimer told us, such as “coming to America and starting new, the struggles of running a family business, and keeping up with a quickly gentrifying city.”
The New York Pizza Project is now available as a coffee table book and to celebrate the launch, we asked Manheimer to share with us the 10 pizza joints in New York City with the biggest personality.
10. Phil’s Pizza
Rose and Tony constitute one of the only husband-and-wife teams we came across on our journey. They’re in there, together, everyday. Says Rose, “How did I get involved in this mess? In 1982, someone didn’t show up. I got the call and I’ve been here ever since. True story. We met down here. I was from the area. I used to work across the street and I met Tony here.”
Located at: 226 Varick St, New York, NY
9. Brother’s Pizzeria
It’s a family affair at Brother’s. Specifically, Filippo, Bart, and Pietro Giove, who opened the place in Staten Island in 1975 after coming over from Bari. Now the kids are taking over, with Filippo Jr., Giorgio, and George running the ovens. If you ask, you may see an award-winning pizza dough tossing demonstration.
Located at 750 Port Richmond Ave, Staten Island, NY
8. Luigi’s Pizza
When you go to Luigi’s ask for Gio. He’s the guy. He is everything you want to imagine when you conjure the image of a New York pizzaman. Big, Italian, friendly. Within a few minutes of meeting Gio, he was tracing his flour covered hand across his parent’s wedding album, which he keeps under the counter for a special show-and-tell for customers.
Located at 686 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY
7. Best Pizza
There aren’t many young guys doing it like Frank Pinello. Most young chefs getting into pizza today want to make it big, and the fastest way to do that is to make a fancy artisanal Neapolitan-style pie. Not so for Frank. True to his roots in New York City pizza, Frank has a traditional shop with contemporary twists, like caramelized onions and banging hip hop music.
Located at 33 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn, NY.
Buy the book New York Pizza Project.
6. Rizzo’s Fine Pizza
The Rizzo brothers opened in Astoria in 1959. That’s really old, by any standard. Since, they have opened up two shops in the city, where you can find a slice style I am yet to come across in all our pizza travels, the “thin, round Sicilian.”
Located at 30-13 Steinway St, Astoria, NY
5. Pizza Suprema
Most people have no idea that there is good food near Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Not just good food, but maybe the best slice in all of New York. The Riggio family has been in the location even before the current Madison Square Garden was built. They make three different sauces, depending on what slice you get, and have a world famous upside down slice, rivaled only by Prince Street Pizza.
Located at: 413 8th Ave, New York, NY
4. John’s Pizzeria
In all our travels to pizza shops (over 120 in total), John’s in Elmhurst was the only one we found that was all female run. Rose and Susan Bagali are a mother/daughter team that keeps it old school to a T.
Located at 85-02 Grand Ave, Queens, NY
Buy the book New York Pizza Project.
3. Pugsley Pizza
Sal is probably the biggest character we met in our pizza journey. Here’s a taste: “I have an ego. I want to be the best pizza man. But there is a challenge right now. The people rate the best pizza, and the sexiest pizza man. For many, many years I was the number-two best pizza, but the number-one sexiest pizza man. But now, two years in a row, I am very upset, because they say I am the best pizza, but now I am only the second-sexiest pizza man in New York.”
Located at 590 E 191st St, Bronx, NY
2. Di Fara Pizza
Di Fara is the most revered and rewarded pizzeria in New York City. But because of its remote location – in the Jewish community of Midwood, Brooklyn – there are still many who have never had a slice…which only grows its legend. Dom is probably the oldest active pizza maker in New York City and considered by many, the best. He’s old school. He often forgoes a peel and reaches directly into the gas oven with his calloused hands. In 2011, the health department shut the place down for practices like that, and others. In his words, “You have to buy the best stuff. Like with me, when I buy ingredients, I don’t look at the price so much, I just want the best. That’s why I’ve done very good. I don’t try and fool the customer. I won’t cheat them. They know the difference.”
Located at 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY
1. Johnny’s Pizzeria
In Sunset Park you will see a strange thing. Two pizza shops, side by side. Both named after “Johns.” The one on the left is named after John Miniaci, Sr., who started the place in 1968. The one on the right? John Schnatter, better known as Papa John. Two pizzerias, representing two very different New York stories. One about the past, and one, possibly, about the future…but not if John Miniaci, Jr. has a say: “I tell people, if you want frozen pizza, go next door. You want good pizza, come and see me. See, when someone comes in here and tells me they are short a couple bucks, I’ll help them out. That would never happen over there”
Located at 5806 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Buy the book New York Pizza Project. The New York Pizza Project team members are: Ian Manheimer, Tim Reitzes, Nick Johnson, Gabe Zimmer, and Corey Mintz and photographers Gabe Zimmer and Nick Johnson.
Next, check out 7 “Dollar Dumpling” spots in New York City.