#14 Totonno’s

July 3rd, 2016

Coney Island, NY

Last year, we were on our way back from Connecticut and we were craving some pizza. We decided to stop at Totonno’s, in Coney Island, since it was on our way home (and honestly, it is such a pain toget to Coney Island from Manhattan via the subway). Looking back on it, it was probably a mistake to try and drive to Coney Island on 4th of July weekend. We spent about an hour trying to find a parking space! We were already committed, though, so we had to follow through. Eric ended up dropping me off at the front of Totonno’s (where there was a bit of a line) and he eventually did find a space about a mile away.

Luckily, the line moved quickly and I was able to snag a table before Eric made it back from parking the car. I was getting a little anxious saving his seat given the long line forming out front, but I ordered a large cheese pie for us and he showed up right as it was served.

Totonno’s is another one of the NYC classics. It was opened almost 90 years ago (1924) near Coney Island. The pizzas are still made in the same way that they were then. The founder of Totonno’s came from Naples, and started making pizzas for Lombardi’s on Spring Street when it became the first licensed pizzeria in America. Totonno’s is still family-operated, which makes it the oldest continually-run, family-owned pizzeria in the US (at least, according to their website – I did not fact check this).

The pizzeria has seen plenty of hardships in the past 90 years. It’s had two fires that closed it down, the most recent in 2009, and then Hurricane Sandy, which closed the restaurant for 5 months.

The pizza here is coal-fired using one of the original ovens (see more info about coal fired ovens in NYC in our previous post here). This gives it a crispy, thinner crust that is made from fresh dough every day. The sauce tastes good and the homemade mozzarella is also a plus. This is one of those restaurants where a good cheese pie is all you need, and you really shouldn’t bother ordering anything else. Also, they don’t serve slices, so you’ll have to come hungry.

We actually were going to try and go back to Totonno’s tonight after work, until we realized that it is only open from Thurs-Sunday. We’ll have to pick another night to take the hour long subway ride out to Coney Island. Hopefully still in the middle of winter, when hopefully no one will be there to make us wait in line.

 

To visit:

Totonno’s
1524 Neptune Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11224

#96 Micucci’s Grocery (+ an extra)

June 4th, 2016

Portland, ME

You really don’t know what a “slab” of pizza is until you go up to Portland. When we were on our camping trip last year for Eric’s birthday, we made some day trips into Portland (in between trying to steer our canoe without capsizing and also trying to start a fire with wet wood).

Walking up to Miccuci’s Grocery, we weren’t sure if we were in the right place. The grocery is sort of near the outskirts of downtown and from first glance looks like a regular local Italian market. It sells fresh and dried pastas, homemade sauce, imported olives and specialty goods, and it has a counter for sandwiches and pre-made sides. Everything smelled and looked great, but we didn’t see any pizza.

We walked around the back of the store, though, and we saw these slices. You might think that a “slab” of pizza is the same thing as a “sicilian” slice of pizza (we did). After seeing these slices, though, it is easy to see that they are two totally different types of slice. We think we like “slabs” better.

Micucci’s has a few stools inside to eat your pizza, or else you can take it to go and eat at one of the small tables outside. They generally have only two styles of slab – plain and pepperoni. They don’t take advance orders. The pizzas are made throughout the day, so you always seem to get a fresh slice waiting for you. Sometimes you have to wait a little while for a new pizza to come out of the oven, but we didn’t have to. We got two slabs of cheese, and grabbed seats at the bench.

The crust on these slices is SO fluffy. It is really like a giant slice of freshly baked bread. You’d think that having that much bread would overwhelm the pizza, but that wasn’t the case at all. The sauce steals the show on these slices. So much so that we took home 3 jars of the sauce from the store so that we could use it on our pizza at home. There isn’t too much cheese, either, so the sauce and crust were really the stars here. We loved it.

I was back in Portland this past summer and stopped in again at Micucci’s Grocery, to buy another slab of pizza AND more sauce. While I was in town, I made another stop for another slice at Slab

  

Slab was started by the original baker and creator of the slab at Micucci’s back in 2013.  He was fired from Micucci’s in June of that year, so opened his own restaurant in the Portland Public Market space right downtown. I made it a double-slab day and tried grabbed a slice (a “hand slab”) to take outside.

The two slabs are very similar. This slab was even bigger than the one at Micucci’s and had even more crust, which I actually thought was a bit too much. I didn’t end up finishing it (Eric would have, though). I didn’t think there was enough sauce, and the sauce wasn’t as good as the sauce at Micucci’s.

I don’t know if I’d recommend eating these two slabs back-to-back like I did, but they are both excellent choices if you are in Portland. This was one time when I really wished Eric had been with me because I hated having any part of these two slices go to waste.

To visit:

Micucci’s Grocery
45 India St
Portland, ME 04101

Slab
25 Preble Street Extension
Portland, ME 04101

#88 Sofia Pizza Shoppe

November 13th, 2017

Manhattan, NYC

We have been to Sofia Pizza Shoppe a couple of times now. It is super inconvenient to get to via subway from our offices, but worth it for the slices every time. Our first trip up here was probably around 6 months ago.  The small restaurant just opened in 2016.

It must be hard to open a new slice shop in NYC. For a city that has such ingrained pizza traditions and so many famous slice joints, it is really surprising (and amazing!) that a newcomer like Sofia Pizza Shoppe could open its doors and make it on to the 2017 Daily Meal list while primarily selling no-frills, traditional NY slices. It just goes to show that location is everything – it is really hard to find a decent slice in this area of Midtown.

The other reason that Sofia Pizza Shoppe got so famous? The DoughDici. The best way to get food-famous in NYC is to create something outrageously expensive that everyone will want to instagram. A $38 pizza available only a few days during the week that you have to buy tickets for? I think that fits the bill exactly.

There’s been some debate on if the DoughDici is worth the money. We bet it probably is. It is a style of pizza all its own: a 2 inch, fluffy crust, topped with sauce and cheese, with a crusty edge reminiscent of Detroit-style pizzas. The crust is cold-fermented for 3 days and then risen in the pan for 12 hours to get the super-tall rise. Honestly, we’d love to try it, but after our previous experiences with pizza ticket buying (cough..Margot…cough) we didn’t (and still don’t) feel like trying to fight our way in.

So, while we can’t say how good the DoughDici is, we can talk about the rest of the slices here. The first time we came we tried a variety of slices, including the spinach dip slice, which is a bit more spinach-y than the spinach artichoke slice at Artichoke, and is slightly less filling (although maybe just because it is a little bit smaller).

This time, we tried a classic slice, a Sicilian, and our new favorite slice, the upside down. They were all really solid NY slices. Our favorite upside-down slice is still from NY Pizza Suprema, but this one was really good.

Between the two of us, we had 5 slices. The lady sitting next to us said that she’d be impressed if we could eat all of them. She obviously didn’t know us.

While we won’t usually take the trip up to get slices here, we’d highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Also, if you want to get tickets to try a DoughDici and want to invite company, we’d be thrilled to join you.

To visit:

Sofia Pizza Shoppe
989 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10022

#100 Il Forno

November 4th, 2017

San Antonio, TX

We managed to get a bit of sleep after our first late-night pizza stop in Texas, but we couldn’t sleep too late because we had to make a detour to San Antonio before heading a bit further upstate to the wedding. It took us a little over an hour to drive to San Antonio from Austin and we showed up at Il Forno just after noon.

This restaurant is a newcomer to the 2017 list, and it has only been open for about a year and a half. We were a little skeptical that it would live up to the others (especially since Via 313 was taken off of the list in 2017), but we were really surprised here.

Il Forno is located in a quiet part of San Antonio, a little bit south of downtown and away from the crowds visiting the Alamo. From the outside, you couldn’t tell it was a pizza place because it is painted lime green and has an overgrown looking garden out front. As soon as we walked in, though, we saw the massive wood burning oven and we knew we were in the right place.

Although it has only been open a little over a year, Il Forno already produces their own sage and basil, and will expand the garden as the years go on. They have kumquat trees planted out front that will take a couple more years to produce fruit! All of their ingredients come from local Texas farms, and even more impressively, they cure all of their own meats in-house.

When we heard that, we had to order the Entero, which came with a “chef’s selection” of three meats. There was a spicy sausage, a spicier pepperoni, and a third pepperoni-ish meat as well. Sorry that I am not very good at meat identification – whatever it was, it was tasty! We also ordered a butternut squash salad that was topped with pistachios and goat cheese. We had to balance out that meat with some vegetable!

The crust on this pizza was awesome. Eric commented that it rivals some of the best Neapolitan crusts that we’ve had in NYC or San Fran. The cheese wasn’t loaded on too heavily, so all the flavors really shone through. We really approve of this addition to the 2017 list!

And since we ordered only one pizza here, we still had plenty of stomach space to enjoy an evening full of delicious wedding food 🙂

To visit:

Il Forno
122 Nogalitos St
San Antonio, TX 78204

#74 Via 313

November 4th, 2017

Austin, TX

This past weekend, we took a break from the NYC scene here to spend the weekend down in Texas. Texas has a few pizza places that have made the lists the past three years, and while we had hit a handful of them last August, there were two more additions in 2016 and 2017 that we still hadn’t made it to. Luckily, my cousin was getting married not too far outside of Austin, so we had a good excuse to fly down for the weekend!

We had a late flight into Austin, and landed around midnight. We really wanted to try Via 313, but of course their main restaurants close at 10pm. Lucky for us, they also have food trucks (trailers)! We drove straight to one from the airport.

Usually when a pizza place has more than one location, we try to go to the original one. We happened to be on a tight time frame this weekend, so we were willing to make an exception. Then we found out that the original Via 313 was opened in 2011 in a trailer! So we essentially WERE going to the original. This made us very happy.

The pizza here is Detroit-style inspired. If you read my previous post from our pizza road trip, Detroit style pizza is really unique. The brothers who started Via 313 grew up around Detroit, so they based the pizza here off of the style they were most familiar with. At the main locations, you can get pizzas in 4-slice or 8-slice sizes, just like Buddy’s, but the trailers only serve slices in 4’s. After having been to Buddy’s, we can say that this is pretty close to authentic Detroit-style pizza, even down to the crispy cheese edging.

Four slices was plenty for us, since we had eaten a small dinner before getting on the plane, and one slice was plenty to keep me full. That left three slices for Eric. We ended up ordering the Four Cheese Blend, and it had more cheese on it than almost any other pizza that we’ve had, so it was super filling. The sauce that was globbed on top was delicious. We waited 40 minutes for this pizza to come out of the oven, but we thought it was worth it.

The lines stayed constantly long here the whole time that we were waiting, since the truck is parked right out front of a bar. This was pretty smart planning by the Via 313 folks! It was also highly entertaining for us, as sober people-watchers.

To visit:

Via 313
1111B E 6th St
Austin, TX 78702

 

#80 Otto

June 3rd, 2016

Portland, ME

If you read my last post, we were on our way up to Portland to go camping with our newly acquired canoe. We were slightly worried about driving up to Maine with a canoe on the top of Eric’s little Mazda6 but we made it! The canoe didn’t get stolen when we parked it near Area Four in Cambridge, but then of course, what is a student at MIT going to do with a canoe? It also didn’t fall off or come loose. Probably because we were driving well below 65 mph. We unloaded it at our campsite and set off to explore downtown Portland!

Our first pizza dinner stop was at Otto. Until I saw the logo, I didn’t realize that I had actually been to one of the other locations of the restaurant, in Coolidge Corner, MA. This was a few years before our pizza adventure began, though. We had a short wait (Friday night) but there was a street art fair going on around Portland, so we spent the time wandering around and looking at all of the art that we were definitely not going to buy. We were eventually seated, and the wait paid off because we snagged a great table right by the window.

 

We really loved this place because they have a HUGE selection of great vegetable-based pies. We aren’t vegetarian, but we are pretty healthy eaters, believe it or not. It was really hard to choose a pizza to go with, and we ended up ordering the fresh eggplant, ricotta, and basil. And we also had a slice of the famous mashed potato and bacon while we were waiting.

Question: what are thoughts on eggplant on pizza? We are split on this between the two of us – I will only eat the eggplant if it isn’t breaded. Eric likes it both ways. Usually, when we see eggplant on a pizza as a topping, we assume that it is breaded. Modern is famous for its (breaded) eggplant pizza. In all of my google searching, I couldn’t figure out if this is actually an issue for anyone else? Maybe no one else cares…

In any case, the eggplant on this pizza was fresh, which was unusual. It was delicious because it wasn’t watery and was cooked just the right amount. I imagine this is why people don’t use eggplant much on pizza – because it is hard to get right. The ricotta on this really elevated the pizza to the next level. Anyone who has read this blog before knows how much we love our ricotta. The basil was snipped in strips across the top of the pie, which was also unique but really got the basil flavor in every bite. The crust was slightly salty and the sauce was also very good.

I happened to stop at the slice shop in Cambridge while I was there a few weeks ago with a friend. We tried the mashed potato and bacon slice again, and also a ricotta and basil plain slice. Honestly, the slices didn’t live up to the pizzas at the original location. Maybe because they were reheated. The slices were decently sized for lunch, but the ricotta was a little sparse and the crust didn’t have the same crunch or saltiness that I remembered. We’d recommend just going to one of the sit-down locations and ordering a whole pie.

 

To visit:

Otto
576 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101

#79 Area Four

June 3rd, 2016

Cambridge, MA

We usually try to take a camping trip every summer. Last year, we tied our camping trip into a birthday/pizza weekend for Eric and drove up to Maine. We found a nice campsite right outside of Portland, brought our canoe, and spent the whole weekend eating pizza and making s’mores. It was awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We planned to get up to our campsite by dark to set up our tent, but this left us plenty of time to stop just outside of Boston for some pizza for lunch. We decided to stop at Area Four, in Cambridge. The weather was beautiful, and we grabbed a table right out front of the restaurant.

The pizza at Area Four seems a bit out of place in Boston and feels like it belongs somewhere in Brooklyn or California. The dough is made from a 15-year old starter that rises for 36 hours. They use local ingredients, and the pizzas change seasonally. Nothing on the menu, from the bread and butter pickles appetizer to the Hawaiian pizza with roasted pineapple salsa, is traditional, but everything we’ve tried is delicious. One of the pizzas (the Carnivore) has been featured on the Food Network’s best pizza ever.

We went for the seasonal spring pie, which had arugula, peas, pickled red onion, mozzarella, and asparagus, and it tasted just like spring. We also tasted the more traditional Marinara pizza, which was topped with a decent amount of basil and roasted garlic. Both were fresh and tasty, and the crust here is perfectly bouncy and light from the wood fired oven. We may have liked the marinara pizza the best.

I was recently back in Cambridge for a work trip, and made a stop for dinner at Area Four again. I was reminded how good this pizza was, even though I opted for the simple Margherita pizza. The fall seasonal special was topped with corn and fresh tomatoes, which made me wish Eric was with me so that we could try that one too.

 

To visit:

Area Four
500 Technology Square
Cambridge, MA 02139

#25 Lou Malnati’s

May 28th, 2016

Chicago, IL

We’ve got one more place to talk about in Chicago that we hit on our road trip last year. Our previous stop was at Coalfire, which was one of our favorites of the trip. We saved Lou Malnati’s for last, partly because the original location is slightly outside of town and we could hit it as we started our long drive back East.

The first Lou Malnati’s pizza was opened in Lincolnwood in 1971. Today, there are several locations for Lou Malnati’s, 49 to be exact, and it is probably one of the most well-known deep dish locations in the city, if not in the country. They also randomly have a couple of new locations in Arizona.

We were expecting the restaurant to only serve deep dish, but they actually serve thin crust pizza as well. We aren’t sure why people would try the thin crust, as the deep dish is obviously what they are famous for, but we understand that sometimes you need to switch it up. We went with a personal size cheese pie because we had a long drive ahead of us and more pizza to eat in a couple of hours.

The crust on this pizza wasn’t anything special, although it was still very different from the crusts on the pies at Pequod’s, Gino’s East, and Uno’s. It was probably most similar to Uno’s, because it didn’t have that yellow cornmeal flavor of Gino’s, or the cheese-y crust like Pequod’s. It was a thinner crust than Uno’s, though, and was less bland. We’d say it was probably our second favorite crust.

The crust is layered with  a heavy coating of cheese, mozzarella of course, and then topped with a generous portion of sauce. We really liked the sauce here because it had a great flavor and maybe a touch more salt than the others. Overall, the combination of the sauce and the decent crust made this our second favorite deep dish in Chicago.

If we learned one thing from our time in Chicago, it’s that people have very strong opinions about which deep dish they think it is the best. When we mentioned the deep dish pizzas that we tried, about half of the time someone mentions another pizzeria that wasn’t on the 2015 list. We’re happy to see that most of these other pizzerias have made the subsequent lists, so we’ll be making a trip back to Chicago to try them all out.

 

We also learned on this road trip that one deep dish pizza per day is probably our limit. Even with our massive pizza stomachs. So in a way it was good that all of those other pizza places didn’t make it on to the 2015 list. We wouldn’t have been able to squeeze them all into this trip!

I’ll finish out our road trip posts in my second post this week. Then we’ll dive back in to some of the places we’ve been visiting lately that have made the new 2017 list.

To visit:
Lou Malnati’s

#46 Razza

September 16th

Jersey City, NJ

So, funny story: One day about three years ago I was preparing to leave New Haven and move down to Princeton, NJ. My friend in New Haven, knowing how much I liked pizza, told me about this restaurant, Razza, and said that he heard that it was very good. I saved the website in my bookmarks, but we never ended up going. Partly because we didn’t feel like driving to Jersey City, and partly because we started exploring the New York pizza scene instead.

Now, three years later, we read this article, which made the very bold claim that the best pizza in New York is actually in New  Jersey. Well, we knew that we had to try it as soon as possible to see what all the hype was.

We drove out to Jersey City on a Friday night last month. The restaurant was packed. It was right after the review came out, so I guess everyone wanted to see what the big deal was. There were certainly some locals who stopped by and were a little annoyed that all of these people from New York City had come and taken over their restaurant.

Eric dropped me off and I put our name in. It was a 2 hour wait.

A cautious note to anyone thinking of driving to check Razza out: parking is near impossible to find on a weekend or evening here. We spent over an hour driving around trying to find a spot. Luckily, we had plenty of time to kill before we were going to get to try the pizza.

We were finally seated at the bar and ordered our pizza and also the bread and butter appetizer, because we were quite hungry at this point. The bread is homemade, and the butter is cultured from “grass-fed Pennsylvania cows”.  For pizza, we tried the Bosco, with mushrooms, and the Garden State Margherita. The food took a while to come out, probably because they were so busy and weren’t used to the large number of customers.

The pizzas were OK, really. After all the hype, we were slightly disappointed. You can hopefully see in the photo (sorry about the horrible lighting!) that the crust was a little bit burnt and there wasn’t much sauce OR cheese on the margherita. I’m not sure if the pies are usually this toasty, and we generally do like a little char, but this was a bit too much.

Also, while it was great that the restaurant stresses local, in-season ingredients, they really sell this hard on the menu. We LOVE to see local ingredients being used, but also appreciate when restaurants do it in an unpretentious way. That being said, though, the ingredients did taste fresh and the bread and butter was actually very good.

Overall, we don’t think that this pizza is better than many pizzas in NYC. If you are looking for a Neapolitan pizza, we could list several that we liked better than this one. I mean, the pizza was good, for sure, but didn’t live up to the review. It is also completely possible that the night we tried Razza, the chefs were overwhelmed by the high volume of people. So, maybe the pizza wasn’t the best they’ve ever made. We’d be willing to try it again to see (after we get through the rest of the new list, of course!).

To visit:

Razza Pizza Artigianale
275 Grove Street
Jersey City, NJ 07302

 

 

#69 Caserta Pizzeria

September 23rd, 2017

Providence, RI

This weekend we went to another pizza place from the 101 list from 2016. I know, it has been a while since we’ve crossed another pizza off of the list! Now that the 2017 list is due out any day now, we thought that we should try to go to some of the remaining ones from 2016. We took the opportunity of a free weekend to drive out to Rhode Island and go to Caserta Pizzeria in Providence.

We parked in Federal Hill in Providence, and spent a little time walking around Little Italy. Caserta Pizzeria is tucked back from the main street, where it has been for the last 60+ years.

The pizza is Sicilian style, but you can’t get slices here. You can order a small pizza (which is what we did), which comes in a circular shape cut into 6 slices. Or, you can go for the large pizza, which has 12 traditional rectangular slices. We really wanted to order one of the large pizzas, but we knew that we wouldn’t have been able to eat it all, even with our big pizza appetites.

We ended up ordering the small pizza with cheese. They have some toppings here too, but we wanted to go with the traditional. The crust on the pizza is doughy, but sturdy. It holds up to the massive amount of cheese that was loaded on top of the pie. There was a decent amount of sauce, too, but the ratio was heavy on the cheese. The cheese also left a crispy crust around the outside of the pie, similar to the deep dish pizza at Pequod’s.

If you come here, don’t be expecting a lot from this pizza place. The pizza itself is good, but nothing spectacular. It does have a serious following of locals, though. In our opinion, it was heavy on the cheese and grease. They don’t serve many toppings and prefer to stick with the classics: pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, and anchovies.

Caserta’s is also famous for their “Wimpy Skippy”, which is a pie (more like a calzone) loaded with spinach, mozzarella, and pepperoni. We didn’t think that this qualified exactly  as pizza, so we went with the traditional pizza instead. “Wimpy” and “Skippy” were actually real people who used to make this in their free time at the restaurant, and one day the owner made it a special and it stuck.

There are a lot of Italian restaurants in Federal Hill, many that are newer looking and have fun happy hour menus. Some look like they also serve pizza. We think this one made it to the list because it is one of the originals. If we were to come back, we’d probably skip this one in favor of Providence Coal Fired Pizza. But if a good, thick, cheesy, Sicilian is your favorite slice, you should make a trip up to Providence.

To visit:

Caserta Pizzeria
121 Spruce Street
Providence, RI 02903