Since the 70s, there’s been a pizzeria at the corner of Perry Street and Seventh Avenue South in the West Village, the only one around for many blocks in the last few years. Occupying a wedge-shaped space in the same building as the famous jazz club Village Vanguard, Rivoli Pizza offers the most predictable menu imaginable, spotlighting pizzas sold by the slice in 10 or so permutations, garlic knots, heroes, and pasta dishes. But suddenly, two more pizzerias have arrived less than a block from Rivoli.
These two pizzerias observe certain modern notions about pizza, which stand in sharp contrast to Rivoli’s approach: in one case that pizza ought to be vegan, and in the other that it must be dirt cheap. One place appeared north of Rivoli at the corner of West 11th with the zippy name of Zazzy Pizza, advertising “plant based” on its awning, selling vegan slices in addition to the usual cheese and meat options.
The other place is located diagonally across the intersection from Rivoli, a NY 99¢ Fresh Pizza belonging to the dollar-slice genre that appeared around 2013. Both new pizzerias present formidable competition for Rivoli, the kind of neighborhood establishment that has been a feature of New York City since the 1950s, when the stacked oven was invented (or so I believe).. I decided to pit the cheese slices at all three against each other within a short span of time (20 minutes), and see how they measured up.
The vegan cheese slice (for which I was charged $4, though the menu says $5) comes from a round pie made with ingredients displayed prominently on a shelf over the glass case: Caputo flour and Datterini tomatoes. The former goes into a crust that tastes and has the texture of good bread, though the circumferential hump on the pie is perhaps too enormous, and the center as thin as can be, much thinner than a conventional slice. But the faux cheese, grated into micro curls, is extremely salty, and melds in a weird way with the sauce, so that the taste makes it impossible to distinguish “cheese” from sauce with your eyes closed, making for a creamy sensation on the tongue but little distinct flavor. Vegan or not, this will probably never be your favorite slice, but it is interesting to contemplate.
Priced at $3, it would be nice to say Rivoli’s plain cheese slice is something of a pizza classic, and it certainly looks that way. The cheese is so profuse it threatens to flow off the wedge, and the sauce is still in perfect proportion to the cheese, not overly generous but not stinting, either. The problem is that this slice has no flavor, unless you reach for the jars of oregano, powdered cheese, and granular dehydrated garlic to give it some oomph. Nevertheless, I would pick this over Zazzy’s vegan cheese slice even though the crust is not as distinguished, if only for its familiarity.
NY 99¢ Fresh Pizza
While Zazzy’s and Rivoli’s both have small real estate footprints and offer some very nice seating outside, the 99¢ space is microscopic, just a door and a floor and a stack of looming pizza ovens, with almost no place to eat, indoors or out. This is not one of those locations where the traffic is so high that you instantly get an unreheated slice fresh off the pan. So my slice ($1, the clerk doesn’t bother giving you back the penny) was reheated, as it had been at the other two pizza parlors. The crust was a bit doughy and thick; the cheese not the best, but profuse enough. The slice seems a little bit smaller than the ones at the previous places, but the heft was heavier than the slice looked, and there seemed to be a trace of garlic somewhere in the mix, which added flavor to a slice that was already more flavorsome than Rivoli’s.
I hate to say it, and will probably get lots of criticism for it, but the 99¢ Fresh Pizza slice was the best, all things considered. Buy two, and a beverage for the $2.75 special, and you’ll still be spending less while eating what amounts to a full meal.