I spent a year eating a thousand slices of pizza in 20 states and three foreign countries while researching a book. You think that's an easy job? I've eaten pizza in places where Hamburger Helper-style ground beef is the preferred topping. I've eaten pizza in places where cubed pig blood is the snack of choice. But I've also eaten pizza so fine that I could have written a sonnet about it. These pies, baked by discerning pizzaioli across the country, are the ones I want to tell you about: pizza with crisp but tender crusts, fresh (white, not yellow) mozzarella, high-quality tomatoes, and perhaps a touch of salt (table or sea).
623 East Adams Street, Phoenix,
Chris Bianco, whose shop is in Heritage Square, describes his artistry in quasi-Buddhist terms: "Great pizza, like anything else, is all about balance." Of course, if it were simple, anyone could do what Bianco does, which is make the best pizza in the world. His mozzarella-which he and his staff turn out twice a day using a recipe he learned while working at a Bronx deli-is creamy and slightly tart. The sauce tastes like a distillation of the ripest tomatoes.
1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn,
In the 42 years since this unassuming slice joint opened, only one person has made pizza here: Domenico DeMarco. (His daughters sometimes take the orders.) From the fresh herbs DeMarco gathers from his windowsill to the imported buffala mozzarella to the fresh baby artichokes offered as a topping (when they're in season), a Di Fara slice has a one-of-a-kind flavor. But be patient-it can take a few hours to get a pie.
1524 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn
Lawrence Ciminieri and his mother, Cookie, don't order customers out onto the sidewalk whenever there's a family argument, the way Cookie's late father, Jerry Pero, once did. And they never run out of dough like he did, either. But everything else at this Coney Island storefront is the same: the coal-fired oven, the local mozzarella and sweet sausage, and the sassy service. Order the white pie, made with ricotta, mozzarella, and enough fresh garlic to ward off a roomful of vampires.
UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA
349 East 12th Street, New York,
Thirtysomething Anthony Mangieri, who has shoulder-to-wrist tattoos on both arms, learned to make pizza on family trips to Naples. Today, he has an unchanging menu of four pies: a marinara, with sauce only; a margherita, with basil and fresh buffala mozzarella; an al fileto, with buffala and cherry tomatoes; and a bianca, with buffala and garlic. (You want pepperoni or mushrooms? Go somewhere else.) The magic lies in the puffy dough, made without packaged yeast; the premium extra-virgin olive oil; and the Sicilian sea salt.
FRANK PEPE PIZZERIA NAPOLETANA
157 Wooster Street, New Haven, Connecticut,
The internecine disputes among the nine Pepe descendants who inherited this shop are more compelling than any episode of Desperate Housewives. But thankfully, such struggles haven't gotten in the way of the pizza. Frank Pepe has a beautiful white igloo-shaped brick oven, an awe-inspiring clam pie befitting the local shellfish, and, naturally, interminable weekend waits.