New York wouldn’t truly be New York without a good pizza war. One recalls the Ray’s franchise feud of the 1980s, the tale of two Patsy’s in the aughts, or, more recently, the Joe’s vs. Joe’s spate over, among other things, the use of celebrity endorsements. “Not unlike the city-states of 16th century Europe, the pizza men of New York City have been at war for decades,” a Times reporter quipped last March.
And so the story goes that with a new year, a new pizza battle begins anew. This one concerns the perennially-packed Prince Street Pizza in Soho, home to the spicy pepperoni square slice, and Made in New York Pizza on the Upper West Side, where an ex-Prince Street staffer is making spicy pepperoni slices of his own. The two main guys involved are named Frank. (Of course they are.)
I can’t opine on the legality of the situation, but as a restaurant critic who eats way too much pizza, I can confirm that the slices (and the shops) are indeed quite different.
And one is markedly better than the other.
Around 9:30 p.m. on a recent Monday, Made in New York pizza was filled with a few guys, owner Eytan Sugarman included. At another table sat Gary Vaynerchuk, the celebrity oenophile turned hashtag entrepreneur. (He picked out the inaugural wine selections for Sugarman’s other restaurant, Southern Hospitality, in 2011.)
The slice, called “spicy pepperoni” here, looked almost exactly like the Prince Street version: a simple square covered with enough ’roni to virtually hide the cheese and sauce underneath. The sausage was expertly crisped and cupped, with ample meat oil collecting in the ad hoc ramekins. With each bite, the oil spilled out over the milky mozz, staining the white curd, and fortifying the ferric-hued, chile-laced tomato sauce with rich fats. So far, so good.
And then there was the crust. It had all the depth of toasted supermarket Italian loaf; I can describe the flavor with a single word: bland. As a result, there was no compelling counterpoint to all the unbridled salt and fat. It wasn’t so much an error of execution as it was a problem with the recipe itself. No, people don’t typically expect artisanal boulangerie from every new pie joint, but slices that cost nearly $5 should have at least some character to it. This did not.
Another visit to Prince Street Pizza confirmed that it remains the spicy square of choice. It’s version is a slice that requires patience. The queue was ten minutes on a Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m. Later at night, the line can stretch out into the winter cold. For weekend revelers, this is penance for time spent drinking cheap gin and tonic, while the salt bomb of a slice is redemption. (Made in New York, by contrast, does not have a line so far.)
Picking up the “Spicy Spring Pie” required sloughing of some of the pepperoni; my slice buckled under the weight of the charcuterie. The bread was softer here than at Made in New York, but not unwelcomely so. Prince Street’s dough recalled a soft, dense, oily slab of focaccia, with a gentle pan-crisped burnishing on the underskirt.
Each bite of crust exhibited a round, umami-rich sweetness, a much needed counterpoint to the saline pepperoni. And the slice was spicier than its uptown counterpart, imparting a lingering heat when chomped. Was it still a salt bomb? Probably. But it was a balanced salt bomb. It was a pizza with personality.
The space, which reeks of burnt dough, and which lacks any form of seating, is still one of my favorite communal places to be in our classist city. Everyone queues up in the freezing cold. Everyone gets aggravated when patrons have too many questions. Everyone eats standing up.
Sugarman will open another Made in New York in just a few weeks in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a heck of a thing, expansion before quality control.
But even though there will be more of these pizzerias, for now there is only one Prince Street. And that’s where you go when you’re in the mood to experience the art of professional pepperoni cupping.
Both venues charge $4.50 for their spicy slices. But I’m rating Made in New York a HOLD while it gets its act together, and I’m rating Prince Street a BUY!
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).