Pizza loving artist pays homage to Queens’ iconic pizzerias

Manhattan-based illustrator and pizza lover, Joel Holland, makes cheesy pies in his kitchen. The artist’s 50 pizza parlor portraits include several pizzerias in Queens that he loves. (Photo courtesy of Joel Holland)

They say you can’t get great-tasting pizza anywhere but in New York City.

Living here, it’s easy to take your favorite neighborhood pizzeria for granted and to forget that like other small businesses, pizza parlors have been struggling to stay open during the pandemic. But thousands of pizza lovers across every borough — like professional illustrator and dad Joel Holland — have practically ensured their survival. After all, no one can resist a hot, cheesy slice of oven-baked goodness.

Combining his two passions, Holland, 45, would turn a hobby into a “saucy” obsession. As COVID-19 reared its ugly head back in March 2020, the Manhattan-based artist found himself needing a creative outlet more than ever before. Feeling motivated by a desire to support local businesses, he started sketching illustrations of Gotham’s pizzerias that caught his eye, looking for shops that had character and interesting architecture.

Brother’s Pizzeria located at Horace Harding Expressway in Fresh Meadows. Family-owned business. Friendly people, good food, good prices. (Illustration by Joel Holland)

“Pizza shops were a natural,” Holland noted. “My drawings were an advertisement the businesses didn’t ask for but hopefully could’ve helped out in some way. We rely on our local businesses so much; they are essential to our quality of life and existence.”

At that time, many shops and restaurants had closed their doors and Holland said that drawing those storefronts helped him deal with the sense of loss and sadness he was feeling.

“I love the aesthetics of NYC pizza parlors: the booths, the lighting, the trays of slices waiting there, fountain Coke …perfection,” Holland said, adding that his usual order is “two plain slices, not too hot.”

Mano’s Pizzeria on Forest Avenue in Ridgewood. Specializes in high-quality pizza and homemade sauces that have been in the family for decades. (Illustration by Joel Holland)

During that two-year creative, culinary journey, the curious pizza connoisseur decided to venture to the outer boroughs and made his way to some of Queens’ most popular and iconic pizzerias, where he captured several unique storefronts through striking illustrations. Holland recalled sampling a variety of the pizza shops’ tasty offerings, with toppings as diverse as the borough itself. Of course, part of the fun was schmoozing with the hard-working pizza makers, who made those places even more special.

The artist’s 50 pizza parlor portraits include a handful of Queens spots that he loves: Mano’s Pizzeria in Ridgewood and Levante in Long Island City. While each had eye-catching storefronts, both also served up tasty pizza and more, according to Holland, who emphasized that they represented “delicious, exquisite examples of what New York pizza is all about.”

In addition to those shops, Holland also sketched other Queens pie joints that intrigued him including Brother’s Pizzeria in Fresh Meadows, Rizzo’s Fine Pizza in Astoria and Tommy’s Pizza in Jamaica. Mostly drawing with ballpoint pen on paper and occasionally some other materials, Holland explained that his work was always made “with lots of love.”

Levante on Jackson Avenue. A pizza-centric Italian restaurant and bar, located in the heart of Long Island City. (Illustration by Joel Holland)

The multi-talented artist, who can also make a mean thick-crusted pie for family and friends right in his own kitchen, first posted his work on Instagram, to the delight of his many followers. Eventually, those popular illustrations led to a book titled “NYC Storefronts,” which is set to hit shelves in the fall of this year and features about 280 Manhattan storefront illustrations. Another book of London storefronts will be out the following year.

While sketching his way around Manhattan in early 2020 in search of popular mom-and-pop pizza shops, the wandering creative was also drawn to other small businesses that piqued his interest, like corner stores, cafes, bakeries, florists, book shops, galleries and even laundromats. Many of those storefronts are also featured in the book.

Holland’s entire collection consists of 400-plus drawings, including 50 NYC pizza parlor masterpieces, and he said he may consider creating a Brooklyn and Queens edition in the future.

Rizzo’s Fine Pizza on Steinway Street. Family-owned and operated in Astoria since 1959. Known for its thin-crust Sicilian. (Illustration by Joel Holland)

He described his hometown of  Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, as “a town so small, that it only had two pizzerias.” The creative said that pizza is both a perfect food and “also makes for great conversation.”

Holland said that his perfect slice is “all in the basics — the freshest ingredients, the heart of the pizza maker. It’s also very personal,” the artist noted, adding, “I like circle pies, triangle slices and classic NYC-style, with red pepper flakes or Mike’s Hot Honey.”

Some of his favorite pizzerias in other boroughs include Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop and L’industrie Pizzeria in Brooklyn, along with Manero’s Pizza — the first and only authentic New York slice shop in Little Italy.

Tommy’s Pizza on Liberty Avenue in Jamaica. Family-owned and operated since 1967. (Illustration by Joel Holland)

“My go-to local is Frank’s Trattoria on First Avenue and 22nd Street. The original Joe & Pat’s on Staten Island is great as well. Oh, and Luigi’s Pizza in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is phenomenal.”

When he’s not pursuing his current side hustle, Holland said he really enjoys “soaking up everything in the city” while doing additional illustrating and hand lettering. His work had appeared on book jackets, in advertisements and in magazines. He has also worked for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Apple, McDonald’s and numerous publishers and his art has been exhibited in New York and London.

“I don’t anticipate stopping the storefronts drawings, though. There are so many great places to share,” said Holland, who mentioned that he got occasional messages from pizza shop owners and workers, via his Instagram. “The responses have been really warm and appreciative. If I tell them what I’m up to, they usually try to give me a slice on the house but I prefer to just support them with my work. It’s the least I can do.”

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