Monday, July 23, 2007

A real NY slice of pizza

What is the New York slice? For me, it's the pizza of my childhood during the 70's and 80's. I'm talking about the pizza that was in almost every little pizzeria in town. In those years when you went for a slice, you got a wedge cut off a freshly made, usually still-hot pie produced by a master of the craft. As one pie disappeared, a new one would be made and baked in a regular gas-fired pizza oven.

The pies themselves were generally large and very round, thin but chewy (not crisp) with smallish crusts. Abbondanza was the guiding principle behind the application of the sauce and cheese. A thick layer of hot, gooey, cheese covered a tangy, generous ladling of tomato sauce.

Unfortunately, you don't see really good examples of this kind of pizza much anymore in New York. There are terrific artisanal pies of the "no slices" school of thought but in most regular pizzerias, bready pizzas are made en masse, by seemingly semi-skilled labor, smothered with an assortment of bulky toppings and set out in glass cases to await the mealtime rush.

But like my own version of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, I've discovered that on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, Margherita Pizza is still making pizzas the old-school New York way. I'd walked past this little pizzeria on my way to clients at least a half a dozen times with nary a second glance. I'd never seen the name mentioned in any discussion of New York pizza and from the outside, it appeared completely unremarkable. Yesterday however, when I walked by I happened to look inside and was immediately struck by the complete lack of glass display cases on the counters.

After finishing up at my client, I decided to investigate further. When I arrived, only one slice of a pizza pie and about three slices of sicilian were sitting on the back counter awaiting customers. A whole pie, which looked mostly complete was being checked in the oven and the dough for a third pie was just that moment being tossed into the air by obviously expert hands.

I waited about 3 minutes for the fresh pie to emerge and ordered two slices. The Ivory-bill opened its beak and produced a pair of madeleines for me. The slices were just as I remember them, rocket-hot, and delicious. Margherita has been in business for 41 years. The counter guys told me that the owners who are in their 70s come in each morning at 4:00 AM to make the dough and sauce from scratch. This is pizza that is being made with pride and love.

Margherita Pizza
16304 Jamaica Ave
Jamaica, NY

Phone: (718) 657-5780

About 5 blocks from the Jamaica Center - Parsons/Archer E,J,Z station