Last night I ate slice #501 for 2012. It happened at Nicoletta, Michael White’s new pizza spot in the East Village. I had the Carbonara, which like the pasta dish of the same name features pancetta, black pepper and egg. ROCK!
Scott's Pizza Tour Pizza News
Things got intense during a Science of Pizza event at an event in the Bronx!
I’m super excited to be running a series of programs at NYPL branches around the city over the next few months. Every HISTORY program will feature a live interview with a pizza maker local to the host branch. We’ll talk all about the past, present and future of pizza in NYC and beyond! SCIENCE programs involve live demonstrations of pizza from raw materials to ingredients to finished product. HISTORY events are designed for all ages and SCIENCE events are more geared toward younger folk.
I’ll be posting more specifics about each event on Twitter, so be sure to stay in the loop!
Here’s the full schedule:
Thursday, September 27 @ City Island 4 PM – SCIENCE
Thursday, October 4 @ Morningside Heights 5:30 PM - HISTORY
Thursday, October 11 @ 67th Street 5:30 PM (feat. John Arena)
Monday, October 22 @ Inwood 4 PM - SCIENCE
Monday, October 29 @ Richmondtown 6:30 PM - HISTORY
Monday, November 5 @ Yorkville 3:30 PM - SCIENCE
Wednesday, November 7 @ Epiphany 4 PM - SCIENCE
Tuesday, November 13 @ Hunt’s Point 4 PM – SCIENCE
Tuesday, November 20 @ Mulberry Street 4 PM – SCIENCE
Tuesday, November 27 @ Heiksell @ 4 pm – SCIENCE
Saturday, December 8 @ Morris Park 2:30 PM - HISTORY
Wednesday, December 19 @ Mulberry Street 5:30 PM - HISTORY
Kids learn about conduction, convection, radiation and moisture during this demo.
Sal from Pugsley’s Pizza in the Bronx explains his pizza passion by playing the saxophone in the middle of a public library!
These kids are keeping their eyes on the pie as it experiences oven spring!
Interested in having me do a science or history focused pizza demo in your school or library? Just contact me through the Scott’s Pizza Tours website!
Intense moments at a New York slice shop. [Photographs: Omar Qadir]
Remember when pizza wasn’t academic? Most of us entered the fray based solely on simplicity; not an “authentic” Pizza Margherita or anything with kale and green garlic, just a regular old slice that made us happy. There was no talk of fermentation time or rare tomato varieties, only a feeling of comfort within our souls. But the journey took a turn down a rabbit hole and we kept going, leaving every Spartan thought in the past. Every now and again there’s a moment of simplicity that refocuses everything, even if just for a brief time. That moment happened for me behind the counter at a slice shop across the street from Penn Station in Manhattan. For my third and final (for now) mission as an Undercover Pizza Lover, I spent the last week of April slinging slices at one of the busiest pizzerias in New York City.
NY Pizza Suprema is so obvious it may as well be invisible. (You can catch up on past Slice coverage of Suprema here.) The large red lettering outside the place is gaudy enough that locals often walk right by, writing it off as just another average slice shop. Its location across from Madison Square Garden/Penn Station positions Suprema in a culinary dead-zone. Then there’s the name—not even something boring-yet-personal like Joe’s or John’s—it’s about as anonymous as you can get. Employees wear khaki pants and striped shirts so stereotypically “New York pizza” that it must be a gimmick. But it’s not. Every Suprema employee has worn these shirts since the late 1960’s. It’s a statement about honor and integrity that owner Joe Riggio takes very seriously.
Yes, I did actually grow a mustache to fit in with the counter staff.
When I first stepped behind the business side of the counter, I felt an immediate sense of achievement. It was the realization of a dream I never knew I had. As a kid, I always admired the guys behind the pizza counter more than the ones making the pies. We had direct interaction and they were responsible for delivering the slice into my hands. It was strange to be in that position after spending so long on the other side, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The uniform gave me a sense of pride, as if I belonged to a group. I have to admit it was a bit of a power trip to have people lined up for something over which I had control, but I did my best to get everyone what they needed.
Calling all vegans, vegetarians and food explorers:
I’ll be hosting a very special pizza tour on Saturday, June 2 that will visit four pizzerias in Manhattan and Brooklyn for slices of 100% animal-free pizza. Our stops include Neapolitan, Roman and New York style pizzerias. We’ll talk all about pizza history (including how some of the earliest pizzas were actually vegan) as we cruise around in the Big Yellow Pizza Bus. It is going to be insane!!!
WHEN: Saturday, June 2
WHERE: Starts and ends in Greenwich Village
HOW: $60 tickets available online through Zerve or by phone at 800-979-3370
WHAT: All pizza and animal-free goody bags are included; 4 pizzeria stops by bus
WHY: Because everybody deserves good pizza
This vegan pizza tour isn’t just about finding places that offer cheese alternatives, it’s about well-made dough topped with deliciousness that doesn’t need cheese to have a good time. I am not personally vegan, so I’m going to take you out for pizza that tastes great without compromising. Some of these pizzas aren’t overtly vegan, they just happen to not have cheese, meat, honey, eggs, etc on the ingredient list. The idea of the tour is for both vegans and non-vegans to share the same pizza because it’s the ultimate communal food!
I started doing it for my vegan brother when he would come for a visit and we found a solid lineup of pizzerias that both of us loved! I run this tour just about every six months, so join us for a special afternoon packed with animal-free flavor.
Here’s a reallyyyyyyy early reference to pizza in the December 6, 1903 edition of the New York Tribune. It’s part of a larger article about how much Italians love hot foods (there’s a section that defines pepperoni as hot peppers rather than the later Americanized cured meat) and includes some rather controversial remnants from our lost pizza past. The article doesn’t mention a restaurant name, so it’s unclear whether this is a bakery, pizzeria or somebody’s house. What is clear is that the author directly compares Italian pizza to American pie, making it the earliest reference to pizza as a pie that I have ever seen. We use this slang in the Northeast, but people outside the area always ask me why I call pizza a pie. Here’s why!
But there’s a lot more mind-blowing info in this tiny paragraph. The article indicates a method of dough stretching that is more or less outlawed in both Naples and New York City pizzerias today: the rolling pin. In Naples, all pizza dough is extended by hand with special care taken to preserve the gases of fermentation. New York pizza makers tend to use more muscle with their dough stretching because American flour is much stronger than its European counterpart. But nobody currently making New York or Neapolitan style pizza even owns a rolling pin.
The instructions also say to roll out the dough to an inch thick. WOW, that’s not thin crust at all! Could it have been a typo? A misunderstanding? Lost in translation? Just the wrong person to interview for the article? We may never know, but what’s certain is that pizza has never been a food with strict definition — that’s what makes it so wonderful!
Sometime last year I started keeping track of how much pizza I was eating. It’s not part of a crazy cleansing diet or anything but I figured it might make sense to limit my intake so I don’t risk burning out. In 2009 alone I visited about 400 different pizzerias and ate over 1300 slices. Probably not the best idea, so now I try to stick to a maximum of 15 slices per week. I chose 15 because there are 16 slices in 2 whole pies, so 15 is less than 2 whole pies. It’s really just a psychological trick to make me think I’m not eating that much pizza.
Until recently, I’ve just been keeping a running tally in my head. That worked pretty well until my homeslice Nick from PizzaRules.com turned me on to Daytum, a sweet data tracking app/website. I use a free version that lets me plug in any data I want and organize it into neat charts and graphs. The data is all public in the free version but you can make it private by upgrading for a small fee.
The above chart shows a a blue graph, which is an enlarged version of the highlighted section of the smaller gray graph below. I only highlighted the last week because I track my slices on a Monday - Friday schedule. You can see a short list of pizzerias I visited with the number of slices consumed to the left. Looks like I ate at 8 pizzerias, logged in the data from each and gobbled 18 total slices. So much for that limit. Keep in mind that I physically enter 15 - 25 pizzerias per week with my New York Pizza Tours so I have to restrain myself all the time. It’s especially hard when I’m going out for extracurricular (ie non-tour) pizza. (5 slices at Speedy Romeo, 4 at Don Antonio, 4 at Roberta’s…. yikes!)
I’ll try to post a weekly slice graph every Monday!
Three great calendars from three extremely different pizzerias.
Of all the trends hitting the pizza scene lately, the buzz word of 2012 thus far seems to be calendar. Three of the city’s most varied pizzerias each decided to welcome the new year with their very own custom-made wall calendars. And these aren’t lame calendars either, they’re extremely well designed with as much personality as the pizzerias themselves. Here’s a look at what’s to come in 2012 through the eyes of John’s of Bleecker Street, L’asso and Two Boots.
Each month features a still from a famous New York City movie with one major modification: main characters faces have been replaced with those of the pizzeria staff! There’s even a caption with ever page that ties John’s Pizzeria into the film’s plot. It’s pretty goofy but hilarious, especially if you go there often enough to recognize the staff. A company called Three Room Press has made the calendars for John’s Pizzeria since 2011 and it looks like it’s becoming a tradition.
This caption says: “If only The Warriors had made it back to Coney Island without stopping to eat some John’s of Bleecker Street, they might have had a chance. But on the other hand, what a way to go!”
Hopes were not high as Jeff and I approached the pizzeria. Jeff is a food lover, food blogger, food hunter and recently converted tour guide (check him out at his awesome food website). He created the Real Pizza of New York mobile app, which helps users find the standout pizzerias on NYC. It’s legit. As we are cut from the same cloth, Jeff and I sometimes check out pizzerias together. Last month, Jeff and I met on Arthur Ave in the Bronx to check out a recently-converted coal-fired bakery to see how the pizza-o-meter registered. After our main course, Jeff mentioned another place in the neighborhood that might be worth a visit. The name Pugsley’s didn’t ring a bell, but somebody had apparently told me about it because it was right there on my hit list. It was right there at the bottom — lowest priority possible.
When we turned onto 191st Street there was not a single business in site. I started to doubt Jeff’s sense of direction (even though it’s thousands of times better than mine) when we stumbled upon a sign from the heavens. Well, it was technically on the ground but it most certainly was a sign. The image of a slice within a circle was carved into the sidewalk cement. Either this was the place or someone was dealing illegal slices nearby.
The building is set back several meters and looks nothing like any pizzeria in the city; it felt like the Fratelli’s restaurant from the Goonies. We crept up the stairs, afraid of an imagined alarm system set to warn Bronxonians when a couple of pizza junkies were snooping about. But no alarm went off by the time we opened the front door. Instead, we were welcomed by the most beautiful site I’ve ever seen in a pizzeria.
The interior was like nothing I had ever seen. There weren’t any checkered tablecloths. No statuettes of mustachioed Italian men. No typical signage or menus. I don’t even remember seeing an oven in there. It’s more like an interactive piece of folk art than an eatery, but several indicators revealed that there was indeed some food to be had. Handmade signage adorns all walls, surfaces, empty spaces, crowded spaces, etc. But instead of offering combos and food deals, the signage merely uses food as a subplot to the main concern of this pizzeria: happiness.
That’s right kiddies, I’m doing another vegan pizza tour on December 10 starting at 11:45am on the Bowery in NYC. We’ll be hitting three pizzerias around the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village, each of which features a different animal-free pizza style. We’ll make our way to each stop on foot and everybody gets a slice per stop PLUS a sweet vegan-friendly goody bag, all included with your $35 ticket.
Tickets must be purchased in advance through our online ticketing agent, so please sign up if you’d like to join us. I’m keeping the group pretty small, so grab your ticket fast!
Saturday, December 10
11:45am - approximately 2:30pm
$35 ticket fee (includes pizza and Pizza Tour Survival Kit)
Most of my Ray’s menu collection.
At the end of the day today, a pizzeria will close in New York City. This kind of thing happens all the time, but today’s closing is a bit more significant than most others. It isn’t one of the ancient brick oven joints or a stand-on-line-for-six-hours kind of place, but a slice shop with a very familiar name. To anyone who has lived in New York or expressed any curiosity in the pizza landscape of this fine city, today’s closing will elicit both sadness and confusion. For today marks the closing of New York’s oldest Ray’s Pizzeria.
I knew I would get questions about Ray’s from day one of running tours of significant New York pizzerias, so I made it my mission to learn as much as possible about the history of Ray. Plenty has already been written about the confusing ownership of the various Ray’s locations, so I’m going to give as quick a summary as possible by tracing the lineage through a collection of business licenses and phone books I have collected over the years.
First Ray’s in 1960 Manhattan phone book.
Ralph Cuomo and his partners opened Ray’s Pizzeria on Prince Street in 1959. Not only does the restaurant’s awning say so, but so do the phone book and original business license. At this time, there was no other pizzeria in Manhattan with the name Ray. When asked why not call his restaurant Ralph’s, he is said to have replied that the name Ralph was too feminine. (Yeah, I don’t exactly get it either.) Considering a future where Ray would appear on pizzeria awnings all over the city, it’s truly ironic that Cuomo may have avoided using his own name because there was already a place in Manhattan called Ralph’s Pizzeria Restaurant (862 9th Ave). And so, the restaurant at 27 Prince Street was simply called Ray’s.
After just five years, Ralph Cuomo and his partners opened a second Ray’s Pizza location at 1073 First Ave, which they quickly sold to Frances Giaimo. Cuomo continued to run the Prince Street location, cutting any connection to the First Ave store, which Giaimo sold to Rosolino Mangano in 1968. With the entrance of Rosolino Mangano, Ray’s jumps into the forefront with an explosion of pizzerias across town. He gave ambitious family members and immigrants the opportunity to run his stores, resulting in the creation of a mini-chain.
Name recognition grew for Ray’s, which some former employees used to their advantage. Mario and Lamberto Di Rienzo formed a partnership in 1973 to open a pizzeria called The Famous Ray’s Pizza at the corner of 6th Ave and 11th Street. In response, Mangano changed the name on his restaurants to Original Ray’s Pizza in 1976 (this may have happened sooner, but the earliest “Original” business license I have is from 1976). Meanwhile, the pizzeria at 27 Prince Street was still just called Ray’s.
Tensions escalated as more pizzerias started calling themselves Ray’s. It’s a common name, easy to fit on signage, and cheap to write in neon. In fact, Ralph Cuomo was getting so miffed by the hullabaloo over his name that he added a comment on a 1982 business certificate that states, “Ray is my nickname.” By this point, every Ray’s pizzeria was either “famous,” “original,” “real” or “world famous,” so Rosolino Mangano upped the ante when he combined the most popular adjectives and renamed his location at 204 Ninth Ave "Famous Original Ray’s". He registered for a trademarked two years later and started bringing on the lawsuits. To this day, more unaffiliated Ray’s pizzerias open every year in New York, Arizona, California, London, Australia and beyond. The grand sum of these pizzerias does not constitute a single chain or franchise. It’s a real mess for pizza lovers and lawyers alike.
It’s very likely that other pizzerias used the name Ray before Ralph Cuomo (I found evidence of at least two), but none lasted long enough to be affiliated with the current situation. The pizzeria at 27 Prince Street truly is Patient Zero for the Ray’s epidemic. After Cuomo passed away in 2008, the business fell into disarray. The family’s internal battle over the building’s ownership led to last week’s announcement to either close or relocate the pizzeria.
My friends and family know how interested I am in the whole Ray’s story, so I got quite a few calls and emails when the news hit last week. It seemed like everybody had heard about it, even if they didn’t know what it meant. But one person hadn’t heard the news until I told him a few days ago. Frank Spatola made pizza at Ray’s on Prince Street for 32 years before exiting three months ago. Perhaps he just needed a change of scenery, or maybe he saw the writing on the wall. But fear not, Spatola hasn’t retired. You can find him slinging pies above the West 4th Street subway station at Cafe Amore’s Pizza (6th Ave and West 3rd Street). The pizza may not be identical to that of Ray’s on Prince Street, but at least you know there’s a qualified pair of hands behind the counter.
Like Ray’s, Amore’s is a slice shop. In fact, Amore’s was once a Ray’s! Slice shops entered the scene as a way for young entrepreneurs to enter the food business without spending much on rent, equipment or personnel. In the late 1950’s, one could purchase all the necessary equipment for a few thousand dollars. A small place like Ray’s could serve just as many take-out customers as any dine-in restaurant with a fraction of the space. Few slice shops of that age remain, leaving just a handful to carry the torch.
It will be a real shame if the legacy of Ray’s on Prince Street is in name alone. The Ray’s name is so garbled at this point that most people will likely think of the controversy before considering the food. I had a pretty killer square there last month and I hope folks get a chance to stop by before the final slice is served. This pizzeria floats alone in a sea of confusion, as it isn’t part of a chain or franchise. It stood before all the others and will remain independent until the final day. The awning doesn’t need to make bold claims; this place has true fame and originality in a way few eateries will ever attain.
Just after the 27 Prince St announcement came, The Famous Ray’s Pizza on the corner of Sixth Ave and 11th Street mysteriously shuttered. The windows are covered up, a FOR RENT sign hangs on the door and every instance of the letters R, A and Y are missing from the store’s signage. I personally didn’t like their pizza very much over the past few years, but this Ray’s is said to have been the shining beacon among NYC pizzerias. It was sort of a landmark, even if it clearly wasn’t the first of the bunch.
** A version of this piece originally appeared on the pizza blog Slice.