I recently spent a week in NYC, which gave me ample time to check out a few dozen “street” pizza establishments to get a better sense of what the “true” NY street pizza style is, particularly in relation to the Lehmann NY style that I have been working with for over two years on this thread.
For the most part, the pizzas I examined were 14”-18”, with a predominance in the 16”-18” size. The doughs for these pizzas were shaped into skins on a marble or similar low-friction surface and transferred to a lightly floured peel and then sauced, cheesed, topped and baked in a deck oven. In one instance, I saw a pizza maker use a screen. In that case, he used a large amount of oil on the bottom of the skin (it was very shiny and highly visible) before transferring it onto the screen, possibly to prevent sticking to the screen and/or to get better bottom crust browning due to the high heat transfer characteristics of the oil. The pizza was baked in a deck oven. I did not see any conveyor ovens used by any of the establishments I checked out.
Somewhat surprisingly, I did not see a lot of dough tossing and spinning. The doughs almost never left the hands of the pizza makers. The dough balls were dusted in bench flour, pressed flat using the fingers, turned and stretched on the work surface to about 12”, and then draped over both hands or closed fists and turned until stretched to the final size. It was clear from watching this that the doughs had a better quality from a manageability standpoint than those made in a standard home KitchenAid mixer. Yet, for the most part, the skins looked to be far more extensible than elastic, much as many of us have experienced with the Lehmann NY style doughs.
In most cases, there was no attempt to form a well-defined rim, although I did see a few pizza makers make a concerted effort to define a rim, or “lip”, at the perimeter of their skins. The lips were formed by either a "pinching" process or by placing an outstretched hand at the perimeter while pressing outwardly with the other hand at the edges while turning the skin. In the past, I have been told by members Canadave and ghost, and possibly others, that NY street pizzas have small rims. I found this to be true for the pizza establishments whose pizzas I examined. As a consequence, I also did not detect significant oven spring at the rims.
I think one of the biggest surprises was how light the finished crusts were. There were a few with a fair amount of browning, but most were fairly light and in some cases almost white. I suspect that this may be fairly common for slices that are to be reheated, but some of the crusts were so light that I wondered whether the crusts could be browned enough at the rim through the reheating process. From what I saw, it is fairly clear to me that most of our members seem to prefer much darker crusts, along with more pronounced rims and very good oven spring.
The biggest surprise was how uninspiring many of the pizzas looked, particularly in relation to the many pizzas that our members have made and reported on in this thread and in other NY threads on this forum. I didn’t have time to delve into flours and other ingredients used by the street pizza operators I visited but it is quite possible that our members are using better ingredients than most of the places I visited, and producing pizzas that have a much more artisanal quality to them. On a future visit to NYC, I plan to sample a few street slices to round out my analysis.