When I think of pizza in 2010 it’s my visit to New York City that stands out above everything else, so this might turn into a belated What I Did On My Holidays. It’s just on another level over there. You get a fair amount of average places, but what really amazed me was the number of crappy looking places that, upon further inspection, were churning out incredible looking pizzas from wood burning ovens. I walked down one street near where we were staying in the East Village, and there was a wood delivery truck stopping at regular spots all down the street to deliver fuel to the humble looking pizzerias.
It wasn’t wood-fired pizza that won the day however, but old king coal. Grimaldi’s was a name I’d encountered whilst googling ‘best pizza new york’ and it had also been recommended by a work colleague. A friend of friend, resident in NYC, had also heard good things about it. The ‘good things’ have made it a bit of a tourist trap, and we had to queue for roughly an hour just to get a table. Eventually we were called in (we even got to jump the queue slightly) and the 5 of us were squeezed around a tiny table. The walls were covered in Frank Sinatra memorabilia (apparently he was a big fan), the waiter asked me what my ‘secret’ was - I was the only male in our party. Best of all though were the chefs. They worked as a chain. One passed the dough to the next, who effortlessly stretched it into a base, then another would apply the toppings, give it a drizzle of sauce, and fling it into the roaring hot coal burning oven. The cooked pizzas were then brought to the tables and perched on stands. We shared 2 between the five of us. They were easily the best pizzas I have ever eaten.
The most surprisingly nice though was a slice I had in Central Park’s Summer Stage whilst waiting for Pavement to come on. Despite some great food at Green Man and Latitude festivals, my expectations for food bought at outdoor music events are still coloured by the Reading Festival, but New York again excelled itself. One stall had a car trailer which had been converted into a wood-burning oven*! I had a great big slice of margherita and it was great.
Everything pretty much pales into comparison.
* For the record, I don’t think a wood burning oven is an essential of good pizza making. I’ve had plenty of great pizzas from places with more 'modern' ovens. It’s just that a wood burner is a bit of a badge, highlighting the chef as someone who cares about the pizza they’re producing. A Pizza Hut pizza cooked in a wood burning oven is still going to be pretty crap.