New York City’s most diverse borough offers a wealth of different pizza styles, from old-school pizza parlors that hark back to the days of “Saturday Night Fever” and restaurants where Italian chefs insist on only using ingredients from back home to ethnic mashups and wood-fired creations.
Here, in no particular order — I’d eat ’em all in one day if I could — are seven of my favorites:
1. Salciccia e Vongole from Whit’s End
Whitney Aycock serves up a dozen top-notch, wood-fired pizzas with a healthy dose of attitude at his namesake restaurant that’s just a five-minute walk from the surf and sand of Rockaway Beach. My favorite pie at Whit’s is the salciccia e vongole, which combines house-made sausage and clams. He uses Little Neck clams seeded in Rockaway and finished out East. The crumbled sausage is seasoned with spezzaforte an aromatic blend of clove, star, anise, juniper and allspice that Aycock calls “Tuscan grandmother spices.”
Pepperoncini, garlic, fior di latte mozzarella and Parmigianno Regianno combine with the other toppings to make for a superb surf-and-turf pizza. On my next visit, I’m going to take it to go and eat on the beach.
97-14 Rockaway Beach Blvd., 718-634-1300
2. Falafel slice from Benjy’s
Benjy’s is not the type of place where one would ask about the provenance of the cheese on one’s slice, nor, presumably the provenance of the sushi chef. The establishment’s full name is Benjy’s Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar, and it serves one of the strangest, tastiest novelty pies in Queens: falafel pizza.
Six golden falafel balls sit atop an otherwise an unremarkable slice. I like to eat it with tahini and hot sauce. It is messy, salty, nutty, crunchy, cheesy and spicy: exactly what a mashup of Middle Eastern and New York City street food should be. It’s a slice that could only happen in Queens.
Benjy’s Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar
72-72 Main St., Flushing, 718-268-0791
3. Pizza Margherita from Rosario’s
Most people know Rosario’s as an Italian deli, but it’s also home to one of Astoria’s tastiest traditional pizzas. Sicilian-born owner Rosario Di Marco has been making pies for decades and his craft shows in the crust of his Margherita slice. Di Marco takes his time with the dough made from Italian flour. He lets sit over night.
Rosario isn’t in a rush to take his pies out his gas-fired oven either; they take eight minutes to cook. He uses homemade mozzarella and tomato sauce, and the result is one of the lightest slices around. “Pizza shouldn’t weigh on your stomach; you should be able to eat three or four slices,” Di Marco says with a knowing smile.
22-55 31st St., Astoria, 718-728-2920
4. Pesto slice from Dani’s House of Pizza
The sauce on the regular slice at this Kew Gardens establishment skews far too sweet for my taste, but the pesto slice is a thing of beauty. The garlicky herbal sauce stains the pie a verdant green and marries perfectly with the salty cheese. Best of all, the basil-scented oil in the pesto fries the crust in certain parts, creating little patches of crunchiness. Be prepared for a wait on a Saturday night, but it’s well worth it for this taste of pizza heaven.
Dani’s House of Pizza
81-28 Lefferts Blvd., Kew Gardens,718-846-2849
5. Caprese Pizza, Tutti Matti
Giovanni Vittorio Tagliafierro hails from the Amalfi Coast, and so does his pizza. Tagliaferro has been cooking this unique style of pizza in his family’s 600-year-old oven since he was 6 years old and brought it to his Long Island City restaurant, Tutti Matti, back in January. The light dough sits for 36 hours and cooks for a long time in a wood-fired oven, resulting in an airy, crunchy crust.
I’m no fan of the salad slice found at some pizzerias, but Tutti Matti’s Caprese pie, named for the salad of mozzarella and tomatoes, is lovely. Fresh cherry tomatoes, arugula and a clouds of buffalo mozzarella make it my favorite pie in LIC.
47-30 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, 718-937-2900
6. Goat cheese and shaved fennel pizza from Nonna Gina
“When I came to this country I noticed the pizza here was completely different pizza than in Italy,” Simon Appolonia told me over one of Nonna Gina’s signature oblong pies. “For us it would be a disgrace to call it pizza.”
Thus was born Nonna Gina Pizzeria, where the Brescia-born Appolonia and his crew make their pizza using Italian flour and tomatoes and freshly made mozzarella. The Margherita slice, or what we New Yorkers would call a plain slice, is lovely, but the daily specials like a pizza with goat cheese, shaved fennel and sun-dried tomatoes are really spectacular.
In case you’re wondering, Nonna Gina’s does make round pizza, but only for personal pies.
Nonna Gina Pizzeria
43-24 Greenpoint Ave., Long Island City, 718-361-5503
7. Regular slice from Lucia Pizza
My favorite old-school slice can be found at Lucia Pizza in downtown Flushing, a neighborhood better known for regional Chinese than Italian-American comfort food. As you can tell from a streetscape photo above the counter, Lucia has been making pizzas for more than 40 years.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to grab a seat at the sparkly blue vinyl stools that line one wall. And if not, you’ll still be lucky to enjoy a taste of New York City’s past in the heart of America’s greatest Chinatown.
136-55 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, 718-445-1313