Thank you for all the pictures Norma. I won't be able to upload any until I get back tomorrow. Until then here are a few thoughts on the places we visited.
Artichoke - we had their square pie which had lots of flavor and character. A bit on the salty side but it didn't bother me. Thick flavorful sauce, buttery cheese, crunchy fried crust. Not too thick of a crust. Crust could have been a bit more tender but I enjoyed it.
Totonno's - I know Kelly and Dave said it has been better, but for me this was a decent pie. The crust had good texture and was done right. Nice crispiness to the rim and bottom, crumb had good texture and wasn't too dry or overly moist. Sauce and cheese combo could use a bit more salt and flavor. The mildness of this pie was accentuated and contrasted bye Artichoke's bold salty flavor. Overall, a very decent slice IMO.
Nathans - I didn't know better and chose the chili cheese dog. Good dog, but you need 2 for a decent size meal. One is more like a Scooby snack. Dogs had good flavor but should be a bit bigger.
L&B - square pie but quite different from Artichoke. Thicker crust, but softer and a bit lighter in texture. Good sauce, but cheese was lost in the sauce somewhere. Not too oily. Well balance flavor, with slightly less character than Artichoke's pie. Bottom crust not as dark. Dough slightly thick for me with the slightest layer of slightly underbaked dough under the sauce, but it wasn't offensive. I would prefer a slightly thinner pie to bring more balance, but I was told that Sicillian pies can be even thicker. Overall, very good. I favored this square slightly over Artichoke's square pie.
I was impress with how many pies they were pumping out in the small space they had. Very little sitting room and the place was packed on a Friday afternoon, but I like the feel of these small busy places. It's a high volume place. Get in, get your pie, and get out!
New Park - good slice pie. Frank, Nick, and I got lost and showed up a bit late. I had a reheated slice which added a bit more crisp to an already well done pie. I like an extra crispy pie so it didn't bother me. Most memorable thing here is they toss a handful of sea salt into the oven and bake on top of the salt. The bottom crusts gets impregnated by the salt and adds a nice flavor and texture to a good NY slice. Very good and I will play around with salting my peel for this affect. Salted bottom aside, I liked this slice more than Totonno's for it's improved texture, crisp, overall flavor. Slightly thick for a NY slice, but it was good NY pizza.
Roberta's - very cool garage atmosphere. Looks more like a college watering hole than a pizzeria. Cool place to bring friends. Great pizza with a worthy crust. Strays off the traditional NP path a bit by mixing 00 and KASG (Sir Galahad) flour, but their crust is still very NP. Interesting topping combinations. My first introduction to honey on a pie and i loved it, goes well with salty toppings. Craig and I enjoyed the kale pie more than the others in the group. They paired capers with sausage which I don't think anyone cared for. Capers, perhaps shouldn't be placed on a pie. They also sent out a few calzonnes on the house, which were also good. The crust had a nice puff and texture, but despite the flour mix, it was closer to the Amano pie in texture and thinness than the Forcella classic NP pies.
Barboncino - nice atmosphere and packed on a Friday night. Beautiful SF oven. Crust was okay, could be more tender if I am being picky. I enjoyed the fresh toppings. Clam pie was pretty good. On the thinner side for NP, but decent. Not half bad, but could be better.
Forcella - nice classy place as well. Pizzaiolo came out and talked with us. We had not been there 5 min, when I looked towards the oven and see John, slapping out a pie! Nice fresh ingredients. They sent out pies with the crust folded over and stuffed with arugula, prosuitto, cheese, and truffle oil. Good stuff. I also like the fried pizza. Good representation of NP pies with a soft puffy rim and slightly thicker center than Amano's. Very classic NP IMO.
Best - very thin NY slice. Almost too thin and meager for me. Cheese was a bit scarce, but this small hole in the wall was crowded. I spoke with some locals eating pizza outside, and asked why they eat here. Best local pizza was the response they gave me. I think they would probably change their minds if they went on the pizza tour. Just okay for me and not memorable.
Paulie Gees - what can I say? Paulie is a very generous host. I was honored that we had 3 restaurant owners and pizza makers hang out with us during the tour. Paulie, Frank, and Nick. Paulie's place was packed, very busy, and he still made room for our large group next to the oven. Loved the topping combinations. Mike's hot honey was a hit with the group. I suspect many on the tour will add honey on their pies if they aren't doing it already. I know I will. Very fresh, creative topping combinations. Crust could be lighter for me, but again you guys know how picky I am. Very lively and comfortable atmosphere with a beautiful SF oven. I would definitely go out of my way to come say hi and eat at Paulie's. Paulie was so kind to give the group so much attention. He is a true gentleman. Thank you so much Paulie!
Amano - we were the first ones there when they opened. Very spacious restaurant with a contemporary feel to it. Beautiful twin Acunto ovens. Knowledgeable staff as I was able to chat pizza with a few of the guys before we sat and ate. Along with keste, they claim a very authentic and true NP experience. One of my aims for this trip was to experience true NP. We order 2 pies, buffala and one with house made mozz and soprasetta. Both were excellent pies. Ovens were definitely up to temps, and the crust was very good, but quite different from Forcella's crust. Lighter crust (slightly more open crumb) and thinner in the center compared to Forcella. I think I prefer a slightly thicker center, slightly... I think Forcella's was probably more true to a classic pie, but I enjoyed this one more. It was very well balanced between the crust, sauce, and cheese. Everything was well balanced. I wanted a bit more flavor in the sauce or for it to have more pop. The bufala was good with a nice tang to it. The soprasetta was also very good. I was happy to have this experience and could easily recommend Amano for a true NP experience.
Pizzatown - what can I say? Easily my favorite of the slice joints. Scott was excited to show me this place and I am glad he did. I'm not sure if it was so so for the others or not, but this pie was very good for me. Proper thinness factor, nice crispy bottom and crust with a soft crumb. Not dry and not overly moist. Good balance of sauce and cheese. Decent cheese. Sauce perhaps could be a bit more flavorful, but it worked well with the rest of the pie none the less. This is a definite must try to make it out to eat again. I was very jealous to hear that Frank lives about a mile away and grew up on this pizza.
The guy behind the counter was a bit of a pizza nazi and razzed me in true NY fashion which I got a kick out of. Scott got an order of the fried zeppolies which were good albeit a bit doughy.
Vesta - what can I say? To reiterate Gene's post, Frank rolled out the red carpet for us. It was like being guests in his home. Frank trucked some of us around and took part in the tour, then graciously opened up his restaurant to the lot of us pizza nerds. There was no hesitation on his part. Showed us the dough, the mixer, the ovens, the mozz, ingredients, the works. Taught a few of us how to do Paulie's Egyptian technique. Let us bake pies if we wanted. Who does that seriously? Frank, that's who. Again, the restaurant is beautiful and spacious. Nice warm, clean, comfortable atmosphere. Beautiful twin SF ovens, very cool place. The pizza - good pizza. Very good topping combinations. Fresh, fresh ingredients. Great house made pepperoni and cheese. Frank served us some killer pies. One had vodka sauce and blackened shrimp - awesome! The pistachio pesto pie with onions was also really good. Dessert was fried pizza balls stuffed with strawberries and served with a side of gelatto. Very good. I had a few and loved the gelatto. I think Bob had the rest of the first plate!
. Gene also got behind the peel and baked up a wonderul looking pie. Thank you so much Frank.
Mr. Bruno's - Vesta's did us in. We ate so much at Vesta, the remaining few of us collectively decided to forego Mr. Bruno's square pie. Had Artichoke's and L&B's squares been lackluster, I would have pushed for visiting Mr. Bruno's. But I opted out at the end, as I was literally stuffed beyond decency.
All in all, this trip was really more than I could hope for. A huge thanks to all the folks that made it possible and a phenomenal tour. To Scott, for all the time and effort he put into organizing such an awesome tour. For driving us around and being such a knowledgeable and caring guide. Scott made sure everyone knew where they were going and got there safely. Thanks to all the heavy hitters that showed up, including Paulie, Frank, and Nick. Thank you Bob for my pizza tour T-shirt. It was really fantastic to meet everyone (and in no particular order) Craig, Bob, Scott, Steve & Norma, Gene & John C. (both had me laughing a lot), Kelly, Dave, Adam, John W., Nick, Frank, and Paulie. I was lucky to be a part of this tour and felt as though I was among long time friends. A definite must for those who like pizza. We ate a ton of great pizza and food, were in the company of friends, and I learned a lot. Thank you all!