Una Pizza Napoletana is unquestionably the biggest pizza opening of the year. Anthony Mangieri closed up shop in San Francisco, teamed up with the Contra guys, and moved his famed establishment to the Lower East Side. He sells individual pies for $25 apiece. And for those who don’t think there’s demand for such extravagance, consider that the quoted wait on recent Monday was 105 minutes for three diners.
Now here’s a related piece of intelligence: That same Monday there was zero wait at an East Village spot that sprung with decidedly less fanfare: Joe & Pat’s. The 10-inch vodka pie, a hypnotic blend of tomatoes, cream, and mozzarella on a cracker-like crust, costs just $15.
I’ll have more to say about Una Pizza soon, but for now, New Yorkers looking for something different from the wonderfully doughy Neapolitan mainstream might consider the thin-crust wonders of Joe & Pat’s. The restaurant is a spinoff of Giuseppe and Pasquale Pappalardo’s original Staten Island spot, which has been tossing pies in Castleton Corners since 1960.
The daily festivities take place in the old Lanza’s space on First Avenue; partners Casey and Ciro Pappalardo kept the old stained glass frontage and and paintings, including one of an erupting Mount Vesuvius hanging near the bar. Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” pipes through the soundsystem; a bell announces when gas-fired pies are ready for ferrying to the dining room; and patrons nibble at prosciutto slices in t-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps. You can get an Aperol spritz if you really want to, but the appropriate beverage in these parts is an ice cold glass of Peroni, all the better for washing down a handful of crispy fried squid.
In the mood for flounder oreganata? There’s that too, as well as lasagna, shrimp scampi, eggplant rollatini, Chicken Francese, and too many other items to list. Joe & Pat’s firmly falls into the category of traditional Italian-American restaurant, as opposed to the Modern New York Pie Joint, a leaner style of venue where there’s not a whole lot less on the menu except for pizza, save a few starters and desserts (see: Ops, Paulie Gee’s, Una).
And make no mistake, pizza is why you’re here at Joe & Pat’s. The margherita flaunts a gently fragrant tomato sauce, mozzarella that’s been gently dessicated by the oven, and a stunningly brittle crust. The “1960 Original,” in turn, blends cheese and sauce in a way that evokes the typical New York slice, which is to say with a restrained sweetness and gooeyness.
Skip the clam pie, which incorrectly contains a layer of mozzarella cheese.
The snappy texture of the pizzas is similar the Rubirosa experience, which is no coincidence because that restaurant was founded by AJ Pappalardo, son of Giuseppe (see above, and start taking notes!). This brings up what will likely be the cardinal debate: Whether Joe & Pat’s or Rubirosa has a better vodka pie. And the answer is: It depends!
At Rubirosa, the (faintly dry) gobs of mozzarella are fully distinct from the swaths of vodka sauce, while at Joe & Pat’s there’s more sublime intermingling between the two. The vodka sauce itself is just a touch higher on tomato fruitiness at Rubirosa, while the Joe & Pat’s version employs more luscious cream, adding necessary moisture to the mozzarella. And the crispiness factor is decidedly higher at Rubirosa; the Joe & Pat’s vodka pie, by contrast, is more comfortably soft (but never soggy) outside of the outer rim.
Really, one could build a complex series of charts here for a stricter comparison, though perhaps the most important factors are the wait and the portion sizes. It’s currently easier to get into Joe & Pat’s, and Rubirosa doesn’t offer the smaller 10-inch personal pies, a setback for solo diners. Alas, these are all good pizza problems to have; New York is lucky to have a pie scene that continues to grow in diversity and price, with regional styles from Naples, Detroit, New Haven, Rome and elsewhere well represented.
One last note: While inter-borough geopolitics are normally beyond the scope of this column, I should point out that the Joe & Pat’s website refers to the First Avenue outpost as the New York City location, which is perfectly acceptable because I haven’t been to the original “Jersey” location.