The Ultimate Guide to New York’s Favorite Food
by Peter Genovese
Rutgers University Press
200 pages, Illustrated
Book Review by Kam Williams
“I love pizza. Who doesn’t? The idea of this book started to form after I completed a six-month journey into true pizza obsessiveness…
From the beginning, I decided this book was not going to be simply a Zagat-like guide to New York pizzerias… It was going to be two books in one--profiles of at least twenty pizza personalities, then honest reviews of as many pizzerias as I could visit.
You’ll learn a lot in this book [like] what kinds of cheese and tomatoes and ovens pizzerias use… If it opens your eyes to the great big pizza world out there, makes you suddenly crave a couple slices, or leads you to embark on your own sleepless search for the city’s best pizza, then I did my job.”
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pgs. 1-3)
I was lucky enough to be born and raised in New York City, home to some of the best pizzerias around. I’ve loved pizza for as long as I can remember, but have admittedly been bitterly disappointed on many an occasion upon impulsively trying an unfamiliar joint.
. Trouble is, as any connoisseur could tell you, all pizza is not created equal. In fact there is a tremendous range to be found around the Big Apple, with an uninformed patron as likely to be left feeling ripped-off as satisfied after purchasing a slice or two.
I have a couple of personal favorite pizzerias in Manhattan, with Joe’s on Carmine Street in the Village being the best by far, provided money is no object. The other is 99 Cent Fresh Pizza on 9th Avenue, which still serves slices for under a buck for folks on a tight budget.
Before deciding whether to review this book, I perused its list of restaurants covered to see whether those faves had made the cut. So, when I saw that Peter Genovese had not only included both but recommended them as well, I figured that this was definitely an author who had taken his mission seriously.
You might be surprised to learn that this is the first guide ever devoted solely to New York pizza. Fortunately, it is well worth the wait. Besides assessing the quality of the offerings at hundreds of eateries, Pizza City is chock full of intriguing trivia.
For example, did you know that the first pizzeria opened in Naples, Italy in 1830? Or that Lombardi’s, the initial in the U.S., opened in Greenwich Village in 1905?
Or that Massachusetts has the largest number of pizzerias, per capita, followed by New Hampshire and Connecticut? New York isn’t even in the top ten. Guess it’s very much a New England delicacy, given how high on the list Rhode Island (5) and Maine (7) sit, too.
Genovese takes the time to explain the dough, sauce and cheese on different styles of pizza, which range from the traditional, Neapolitan, to the most popular, New York, to Sicilian to Chicago to Trenton to New Haven to California and beyond. He even talks about the Top Ten pizza movies (including Home Alone, Do the Right Thing and Mystic Pizza) and the Top Ten pizza chains (including Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s and Little Caesar’s).
Still, the author is at his best when eliciting insights from discerning devotees and chefs as to what makes a great pie and why first-rate places like Ray’s, John’s and Joe’s have endured and earn so much respect. The definitive pizza bible deserving to be consulted before you sample your next slice anywhere in New York City.