Q: What’s with all this artisanal pizza everywhere—whatever happened to a plain old slice?
The hunger for artisanal pizza—a Neapolitan-style, thin-crust number made with locally sourced, in-season products—has reached fever pitch. And it has found its most ravenous fans and creators in New York and San Francisco. (Some of my personal favorites are NYC’s Kesté Pizza & Vino and Veloce Pizzeria, and San Francisco’s Gialina and Beretta.) There’s an intense rivalry brewing, one that’s rapidly heating up as chefs cut back and forth between coasts on their quest to make the perfect pie.
Take New York–born pizzaolo Jon Darsky, for example, who last summer opened Flour + Water, in San Francisco’s Mission District. The Bay Area’s fresh produce is what called him west; sunchokes delivered by a local farmer led to his creation of the Topinambur, a new pie that pairs the vegetable with fresh anchovies. And nearby, at the four-month-old Pi Bar, Queens native Richard Rosen has adopted a very Golden State of mind, using salvaged wood in the interior, serving California microbrews, and making his own pork-shoulder sausage. He still has a soft spot for home, though, joking his pizza is “almost as good as something you can get in Penn Station.”
Back in New York, pizza purists were dealt a bad blow when uncompromising upstart Anthony Mangieri shuttered his much-loved Una Pizza Napoletana in July. Adding insult to injury: Word is that Mangieri will move operations out west—to San Francisco.The good news is that a branch of Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s artisanal joint Motorino took over Mangieri’s old East Village space. The brussels sprouts, mozzarella, and smoky speck combo is a must. Not too far from there, on the Bowery, master restaurateur Keith McNally (aka Mr. Balthazar, Pastis, and Minetta Tavern), unleashes Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria this month, signing on chef Nate Appleman—formerly of San Francisco’s A16, where pizza is a menu fixture. At Pulino’s, the young James Beard Award winner makes thin and crispy pies topped with simple ingredients like mozzarella, tomatoes, garlic, and anchovies.
But the real ace up New York’s sleeve might be an assist from Connecticut. Last fall a branch of New Haven’s Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, which some say makes the country’s best pizza, opened just north of the city, in Yonkers, bringing its famed clam-topped white pie—and long, long lines for a table—with it.
Which means: San Francisco, it’s your move.
Behold the Amatriciana, one of my all-time favorite pies from Gialina, in San Francisco. It’s topped with locally produced Boccalone pancetta, oregano (fresh from nearby Mariquita Farms and dried in-house), chiles, Pecorino Romano cheese, and a farm-raised egg from not-too-far-away Rancho Elias.