Just a Slice
The now legendary Di Fara was, in my childhood and adolescence, a basic, solid pizzeria. That was before Dom DeMarco became an "artisan." Just a few blocks down Avenue J was Pizza Center, equally good in those days. Anybody over fifty who grew up in New York can tell you about the great neighborhood pizzerias of yore. Other favorites of my Brooklyn youth included Armando's on King's Highway, which made a square that eclipsed any on Avenue J. Another great one was Bay Pizza, in Sheepshead Bay, which I first learned about from a poet who has since become a chiropractor. De Sica's, on Newkirk Plaza, close to my grade school, P.S. 217, couldn't compare to those others, but by today's standards I'd say it was pretty good, if memory serves. What I do remember for certain is that I went there several times with classmate Warren Plitt. Warren Plitt is the kind of name you remember.
When I moved to the East Village, in 1979, Stromboli, at St. Mark's and First Avenue, had quite a following. Their signature attribute was a very sweet tomato sauce that I found cloying, and pizza that was very heavy on the cheese. The guys at Stromboli claimed the sweetness was from sweet basil, but I'd lay odds the culprit was corn syrup. Freakishly cheesy, mediocre pizza seems to have become the norm in the 'eighties, due to the influence of the various, competing, unrelated "Original" and/or "Famous" Ray's. What's the plural of Ray's, by the way, Ray'ses?
There are still a few places where you can get a decent, old-style, stand-up slice, but they're few and far between. The other day I decided to try Vinci's, in the East 60s, on a tip from a coworker. I'd read in several places that the "grandma" slices were supposed to be particularly good. Well, I was unimpressed. The cheese wasn't fresh mozzarella, and I found the crust too chewy. In addition, I ordered a regular slice, a benchmark item, as it were. I'd say it was a respectable slice, better than most, but ultimately it was far too oily and the crust was too limp.
Until I discover otherwise, I'd say the prize for the classic old-style, stand-up slice goes to Joe's in the West Village. For many years, Joe's occupied the corner of Bleecker and Carmine. Now it's confined to a smaller space at 7 Carmine Street, a few doors down. At Joe's, the crust is thin and crisp, and the cheese and sauce balance quite nicely. There's a lot of turnover and there's even a chance you'll get a hot slice from a fresh pie. Once I was there a bit before noon. It was pretty quiet until a tour group entered. A woman was leading one of those New York nosh tours, and Joe's was chosen as the place for a quintessential slice. She told them, "In New York you never ask for a slice of pizza--just a slice."