Getting back to the topic at hand,
because of the massive scope of last night's experience, it's impossible for me to capture the entire experience in one post. I think the best way is to split it up into styles- first NY, then Neapolitan.
Here's my thoughts on the NY style places we went to, Joe's and Best.
As I've said elsewhere, my last trip to Joe's was probably 10 years ago, and, at the time, the quality had ebbed a bit from recent years. Compared to the nose dive that most slice places have taken in the last 15 years, Joe's is really not that bad. Compared to what it was 15 years ago, it's pretty darn mediocre pizza. Manhattan has always been renowned for crap slices, and if that's still the case, then Joes might still be one of the better options for Manhattanites, but as I told everyone else last night, remember what this tastes like when you go to Best, because the difference will be night and day.
And the difference was night and day. Best was a far superior slice in many ways- not all
I haven't tasted slices from every pizzeria in the area, but, compared to the places I have been, I think I might go as far as to say that Best's crust is the best crust that I've tasted in 15 years (excluding my own
). I was hoping to film an entire bake, but the space was kind of cramped, so I ended up getting the owner (Frank) in the shot and he wasn't too hot on being filmed, so I stopped. No biggie. The most important thing was getting the bake time, which I timed to the second- 3:30.
Best's crust is very thin, crisp, light and tender- I'd almost go as far as to call it delicate. Achieving a crisp crust at 3:30 is no easy task. I gravitate towards softer crusts, so I don't bake crisp, fast baked crusts myself, but I have helped others in this quest and, with that short a time, it's difficult to evaporate just enough moisture to have a tender, somewhat moist crumb with a crisp exterior- and a crisp exterior that stays crisp as the pizza cools to a temperature suitable to eat.
I think the secret here is thickness factor. Best is an extremely thin pizza- definitely no higher than .07, maybe even as low as .065.
As I said, I don't make crisp pizza, but, if I did, this is what I'd have to shoot for, and, after eating this last night, I might need to venture into a crispier territory.
You may notice that I've spent a lot of time talking about the crust. The crust was truly a work of art. The toppings... not so much. I trash Difaras all the time for being so topping centric and ignoring the depth of crust flavor achieved through longer fermentation, but it doesn't belittle the importance of good toppings. I think the most glaring omission is oregano. These pies had no oregano on them or in the sauce. The sauce was, from what I can tell, only tomatoes- a good quality tomato, but no oregano, no basil, no sugar and, if it had salt, it was a very light touch. I know that Neapolitan pizza eaters are extremely comfortable with this type of simplicity, but not us slice guys. I've talked about how strongly I resonate with Frank Pinello's vision of a return to NY style's glory days of decades past, but, in any decade that I'm aware of, oregano was a player.
I find it kind of amusing how at the two pizzerias with the best crusts I've had in the NY metro area, Best and Pizzatown, both dropped the ball on the oregano, with Pizzatown clocking in with an obscene amount and Best having none at all. Nick (Gabaghool) talks quite a bit about New Haven's hate affair with oregano as well. I really don't see how it needs to be that complicated. I mean, come on. A lot of things are up for debate- I know full well that nobody is ever going to 'win' the bromate discussion, but the concept that oregano is good on non Neapolitan pizza shouldn't really be debatable.
Now, in all fairness, I should say that I'm judging this as a slice place. It is baked in a WFO, but, as far as I'm concerned, it's the same kind of crust you'd find in hotter electric and gas deck ovens of the 70s and 80s. If Frank wants to classify this as a coal/vintage slice hybrid (or even NH style), then I might give him a bit more leeway on the sauce. Maybe
I should also say that I got a white slice to go, and, while I'm generally not much of a white slice guy, this, brought home cold and warmed slightly in the microwave, was excellent. From a perspective of toppings, imo, white is much better than red. Lastly, I know everyone raves about the grandma pie, but pickled veggies are a bit too sophisticated for my simpler meat and potatoes kind of palate.
In conclusion, I think that Best's crust makes it a must visit destination for any slice lovers in the NY area, and that I was so impressed with it that it's getting me thinking of venturing into crispy crusts myself, but as a vintage slice obsessive, I think they drop the ball with the toppings.