The best way to consume pizza is vertically: standing on a street, a thin paper plate the only protection from burnt fingers, grease pooling, dribbling a bit. Or maybe at the standing counter of the slice joint, searching for one of the parmesan shakers of which there never seem to be enough. The second best way to consume pizza is at home, on the couch, in front of the TV, preferably with friends. Or maybe after a long night of partying, like the sacred late-night pizza that the protagonists carry home like it’s the Olympic torch in the NYC-set romantic comedy Set It Up. The absolute worst way to eat pizza is in a sit-down pizza restaurant.
Yes, even at Roberta’s.
It’s not that restaurant pizzas are inherently bad; some of them are quite good! But it’s frankly a boring way to eat pizza. Even at the casual spots — like the beloved Roberta’s, Speedy Romeo, or Emmy Squared — the experience can be stuffy. It can easily devolve into a fork-and-knife meal, which is downright offensive. The inherent trendiness of these restaurants also forces diners to defy spontaneity, a cornerstone of the ideal pizza experience. Danny Meyer’s Marta, for instance, serves an excellent pie, but in a glam setting that tries to be “upscale” in its approach. People make reservations to go. Reservations! For pizza! Nolita’s Pasquale Jones had 60 to 90 minute wait times when it opened, and people similarly waited an hour or more to get into West Village’s location of Emily after its debut. Pizza should be impulsive; pizza should be unfussy and able to move with you, not force you to sit in one place.
Understandably, people may want to share pizza with friends, which can be difficult at slice joints. But the communal experience of sharing a thin-crust pizza at a restaurant with friends can’t compare to the familiar, nostalgic feeling of sharing pizza at home — a ritual that evokes memories of slumber parties or family pizza nights.
Yes, pizza with a solid glass of wine is a match made in heaven, but you know what’s even better? Pizza with an entire bottle of wine that costs one-fourth what it would in a restaurant, enjoyed, again, on the couch or even on the floor of a friend’s apartment.
Eating artisanal pizza in a restaurant is a simulacrum of the real pizza experience. The pizza itself is real, but the setting is dulled, like watching a baseball game on television instead of in the stadium.
It might sound like I’m shaking my fist at the entire notion of eating out, but I assure you that I am not. Restaurants can elevate a lot of dining experiences, and sometimes formal takes on “street food” can be exciting and fresh, like the outstanding tacos and tostadas at Claro or the fried oysters at Pearl Oyster Bar. But ask yourself: Does pizza need to be elevated? Does pizza need the pomp and circumstance of table service? Let pizza be its simple, mobile, easy-to-love self. Let pizza live.
Artisanal pizza in NYC isn’t new, but it’s still on the rise with no sign of going anywhere anytime soon. Restaurants like Rosemary’s Pizza, Beebe’s, a new Emmy Squared, Woodpecker by David Burke, Black Square, and a reborn Una Pizza Napoletana all opened just in the last five months. Some allow for takeout or delivery, but that’s not really what they’re going for. Paulie Gee’s popular fancy pizza restaurant in Greenpoint even famously forbids takeout, deliberately enforcing stationary pizza with its dine-in only policy.
Thankfully, ambitious pizzamakers seem to be catching on. The anti-takeout Paulie Gee’s is expanding with a new casual slice shop that strips pizza back down to its simplest form. Roberta’s has a separate takeout spot, which is the right move when it comes to its admittedly great pies. Famed Roman pizzaiolo Angelo Iezzi made his New York debut with a slice shop, and when hot-shot chef Ivan Orkin opened a pizza spot, his partner Michael Bergemann made takeaway slices the focus.
This is not to say I’m opposed to the occasional fancy pie topped with exquisite toppings. But the reality is this: It never tastes superior or yields a better, more memorable experience than a slice in the street.