Eating my way across Sunnyside, Queens this weekend, I popped in the flatiron-shaped Lenny’s Pizza, founded in 2010. In the glass case in front of a bevy of pizza ovens were several interesting items, including pepperoni pinwheels, a carbonara slice, and a chicken cutlet sandwich made from what looked like a split and sauceless Sicilian slice.
But then I saw it. A big round pie covered with sliced beef and onions, the top of which had been crudely thatched with yellow American cheese. Priced at only $3.50 per slice, it was the first Philly cheesesteak pizza I’d ever seen. The counter attendant saw me do a double take, and immediately removed the pie from the case for closer inspection. I asked for a slice, and it was placed on a peel and put far back in the oven. “Warming it will take a while,” she warned, presumably because of the extreme thickness of the toppings.
It’s generally not acknowledged how innovative neighborhood pizzerias are. Sure, they make great pies in the Neapolitan or Sicilian styles with classic toppings like pepperoni, olives, onions, Italian sausage, mushrooms, and anchovies. But starting sometime late in the last century, these places caught the foodie zeitgeist, and began serving faddish pies that included lettuce-topped Caesar salad, Hawaiian with ham and pineapple, and Buffalo chicken drizzled with blue cheese dressing.
From there, pizza got progressively weirder. One pizza appeared covered with baked ziti floundering in cheese, while another channeled a cheeseburger, covered with ground beef and yellow cheese. Pizza eaters were startled when a fried chicken slice appeared soon thereafter, dotted with little squares of waffle. It really wasn’t bad, even though pancake syrup was dribbled on, too. In fact, merging pizza with other forms of street food has become a leitmotif — or in this case a heavy motif — of the neighborhood pizza business.
As for the cheesesteak slice: It was great, of course, because the Neapolitan crust absorbed some of the grease, so when it was reheated, the bottom became crunchy — a perfect platform for the oniony meat and salty cheese-food product.
I immediately tweeted a picture, like a religious figure who’d just unearthed some holy tablets — which is when the real action started. Apart from retweets and likes, there were lots of responses, of which the negative ones made the most enjoyable reading, possibly from Philadelphians who resented Gothamites poaching on their territory. A choice selection of the responses makes for some entertaining Friday reading: