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.