I have always been intrigued by the evolution of NY pizza to the point where I found myself researching the invention of the planetary mixer (Hobart), deck ovens and refrigeration, and when they were commercialized on a fairly wide scale, and also the evolution of flours, from the early all-purpose flours, bread flours, and finally high-gluten flours. I doubt that that there are many pizza operators today in the metro NYC area who are making their doughs by hand but I would imagine that there are many who are still using same day doughs made with all-purpose flours (scott123 may be able to comment on this). It was also interesting to read about when sugar and oil were added to the NY doughs, after deck ovens were commercialized for baking pizzas.
Peter, I have been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of months and maybe you could shed some light based on your previous studies.
One of the biggest sea changes, as far as I can tell, in the New York pizza scene was the creation and wide spread use of the commercial gas fired deck oven (Hobart was rocking mixers before 1920). It seems there may be a combination of events involved here:
1.Several sources have cited one of the drivers for increased pizzeria demand was the return of soldiers stationed in Italy after World War II. US troops were in and around the Campania region and Naples beginning around March ’43 and remained in Italy for a couple of years. So that means war veterans were returning home in ’45 onward and wanting some of that pizza action.
I know Baker’s Pride had the first deck oven in 1945, but when exactly did their use become widespread?
One of the earlier surviving examples of a NY-Style gas deck oven pizzeria is Ray’s on Prince Street, which opened in 1959. Surely there were other places which were operating gas deck ovens before Ray’s? Eddie’s in Long Island was.
2.The coal oven “ban” in New York City. I have heard several different versions of what this actually is, but as of yet have not been able to determine when this went into effect.
Was the “coal oven ban (COB)” instituted before or around the time gas fired deck ovens became available? If so, the increased demand for pizza from Southern Italian based WWII soldiers (if this is in fact true), coupled with a real challenge in opening up the more traditional coal oven pizzerias, would have paved the way for deck ovens with little to no competition.
About the CBO. Some have said certain pizzerias are grandfathered in...meaning a coal fired pizzeria in existance before the CBO is allowed to continue using their ovens and open new restaurants. I do not subscribe to this.
From what I can tell from asking various NY pizza enthusiasts and some shop owners, the CBO “grandfathering” issue surrounds the actual coal oven itself. For example, if an old bakery had a coal-fired oven, which is still in the space, but is either not functioning any longer or was converted to another fuel source (gas, oil, etc), the oven itself is grandfathered and can be refurbished to use coal. If a person renovating an old building discovered that there is an old coal-fired oven hidden behind newer walls, etc, that oven is grandfathered in and could be put back into service as a coal fired oven. Still, I have never confirmed if this is the case (although this very thing happened in the Village years ago...a person renovated an old bakery space and refurbished the coal oven for pizza making).
I still may call the NY Department of Health or the NY Dept of Environment (or applicable legislative body) to find out more about this. There is even some confusion as to what parts of the city the CBO applies to....with some citing Manhattan as the only affected borough.
Long story short, such a ban would certainly have sky rocketed the demand for gas fired deck ovens if it was in effect before the availability of the deck oven (the relative slow rate of opening coal oven pizzerias in NYC in the earlier days may hint that the CBO was implemented earlier on???). The cheapening of the process
From books like Ed Levine’s A Slice of Heaven and from me asking Domenico DeMarco some questions when I first visited him (eating literally with only one other person in the shop with the doors locked for the end of lunch break) and again during subsequent visits (all during off-peak non crowded hours), the pizzerias “back in the day” used ingredients much more like what the original New York-Neapolitan coal fired joints (Lombardi’s, Totonno’s, John’s and Patsy’s were all open by 1933) were using. ...whole milk mozzarella, uncooked sauce made from good tomatoes, olive oil, house made or locally produced sausage, etc. It makes sense earlier deck-oven joints likely started down this path as well, being that is what the best thought of pizzerias in NYC at the time were already doing.
DeMarco has been in Brooklyn since 1959 and making pies at DiFara since 1964. He mentioned pretty much any corner pizzeria in Brooklyn back then was likely to be making their own sauce, not using sugar, whole milk cheese, etc. And these pizzerias were using deck ovens. He mentioned the change in generations from original immigrants to younger family removed from tradition may have been a factor.
So somewhere along the way the whole process devolved into the NY-Style (street slice) horsecrap it is today. Often too much sugar in the dough, darker tasting marinara-ish sauces or sauces with a noticeable sugar note to it in many parts of the country and the use of just bad tasting, rubbery cheese. Even in NYC the use of pre-shredded part-skim mozzarella in many instances....which is just quite frankly an inferior product I cannot stand.
NYC is so lucky. Pizza enthusiasts get into the nitty-gritty over which of the coal-oven pizzerias is “the best” (always ultimately a subjective endeavor). That Lombardi’s is a “tourist trap” (it is) making over-hyped pizza (it does), Grimaldi’s has “slipped” (it has), Patsy’s “blows away” Totonno’s (actually a coin flip on a given day) etc, etc. This has especially accelerated with the focus and growth (and somewhat waning of popularity of coal oven joints) of high quality Neapolitan or Neapolitan-inspired pizzerias, with Franny’s in Brooklyn and Una Pizza Napoletana being two of the earlier examples that really pushed the envelope just before the whole Neapolitan boom exploded.
Yet when I eat a slice or pizza from Lombardi’s, or Totonno’s, etc....often I laugh at myself and the sometimes heated arguments I have had with friends in NYC about such places. Because say what you want, the original New York-Neapolitan coal-oven pizzerias are making a product that is still better than what 95% (if not higher than that)of the pizzerias in America are cranking out.
So I am always intrigued about this type of history and know people like Pete-zza, ScottR, Scott123, etc have much more knowledge about this than I do.
And I get very excited when I see people like Chau and others here making pies more influeced by the New York-Neapolitan style pizzas. Pizzas in this style reflect the birthplace of pizza in this country, the grit and pride of the earliest trendsetters and earliest pie-men
(not pizzaiolos)we have to reflect on in America. I love dearly Neapolitan style pizza.....I make pizzas in that vein and crave visiting retail establishments selling that style more than any other. And yet I have always had an itch in the back of my throat....to see more people take the techniques and passion displayed on this forum and re-envigorate this style (NY-Neapolitan) to new heights.
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