The months-old Emmett’s on Grove specializes in a dish rarely seen in New York City: Chicago-style thin crust pies, better known as tavern pizza, an airy, square-cut speciality that’s sometimes dotted with crumbly Italian sausage and other toppings.
The presence of this Midwestern delicacy surely explains why diners have swarmed this hip West Village spot; on a recent Saturday just before 6 p.m., Emmett’s felt as packed as an Irish bar on game day. A large group of bros, undeterred by the lack of counter seats, found an empty corner to enjoy their pizza while standing up. I don’t blame them. The pies are very tasty and extraordinarily snackable. Patrons can pick up a single crackly slice — sometimes no longer than a stick of chewing gum — wolf it down in one bite, and then plow through three or four more slices without feeling weighed down.
This is very good pizza, even when it’s slicked with ranch dressing.
Chicago thin crust pizza might sound like an oxymoron to some, so let’s clear things up: Deep dish, distinguished by its tall, buttery crust and oozy fillings, is a signature foodstuff of the country’s third most populous city, but it’s just one of myriad pizza variants available there. One can also find stuffed pizza — like deep dish but with a layer of dough on top — as well as regional and national favorites like puffy Neapolitan pies, square Sicilian varieties, and Detroit pizza with its firm frico exterior.
Tavern-style pies constitute yet another Chicago pizza speciality, and one that’s consumed more regularly by Windy City locals than heavier, richer deep dish options. Staffers at Emmett’s ferment the low hydration dough for three days, roll it through a sheeter (versus tossing it, New York-style), and cook it a bit longer than, say, wood-fired Neapolitan pies. The extended baking time — roughly nine minutes in an electric oven — results in a crust that’s distinctly crisp and often not foldable at all. Per tradition, the kitchen cuts the circular pies into squares and rectangles instead of triangles.
Owner Emmett Burke has been trafficking in Chicago-style pizza since he quit his job in finance and opened the original Emmett’s on MacDougal back in 2013. That venue launched with a focus on deep dish, but about six months later Burke more quietly introduced tavern pies, a style he’s focusing on exclusively at the new Grove street outpost. The woodsy and boisterous space — imagine a 1970s suburban rec room with no soundproofing — boasts a dining room in the back and a menu with supper club fare. Think: Caesar salads, shrimp cocktail, and back back ribs. But make no mistake: the action is in the bar room, where folks eat lots of pizza, and where guys in t-shirts grip their beers in such a way that shows off their ample biceps.
Pizzas are steeply priced at $20 to $28, but at 20 inches in diameter they easily feed two. Consider starting with the Peggy O ($22), a mix of mozzarella, grana padano, pecorino, and ultra-garlicky tomato sauce. Interior squares are sometimes soft, yielding wonderfully stretchy cheese pulls, while exterior slices along the rim are crispier, with the mozz all bubbled up, semi-burnt, and chewy. If you were ever to order a New York slice, dump as much allium powder on top as humanly possible, and reheat it in a blazing hot toaster oven, it would taste like this.
The Hot Papi ($28), in turn, is a fine choice for those who want a more topping-heavy pizza with Midwestern flair. The crust almost seems to disappear under the weight of everything: the crunchy jalapenos, the crisp red onions, and the pepperoni that doesn’t so much add porkiness or smoke as it does salt. Think of this as the pizza equivalent of loaded nachos, with paprika ranch tying everything together with a creamy dairy punch. And that’s not a bad thing. You don’t come to Emmett’s, after all, for luxury ingredients (though the kitchen uses DiNapoli tomatoes), or essays on dough. You come for a bunch of delicious stuff piled onto a cracker-like crust. It’s not just snackable but arguably the city’s snackiest pizza. It’s pizza you nibble or inhale over the course of an hour or so almost without thinking about it. I’m rating it a BUY, and I’m excited to return.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).