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The best slice of pizza

| Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I’ve been obsessed with finding the best slice of pizza in the country for as long as I can remember. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, just a short ferry ride from New York. Over the years, I’ve been to every famous pizza place — good and bad — across the City and North Jersey. Long before Dave Portnoy and his one bite revolution, I was rating every slice that came in my vicinity. I had my list of personal favorites, but I could not definitively say I had found the best slice in America.

So, during break, I decided to settle the score once and for all. I visited a like-minded pizza friend at Fordham University, and we went to our three favorite places in New York: Di Fara, Joe’s and John’s. We’d been to dozens of others before, but these were the three icons from which we would choose. After this day, we said, we would finally have the answer to our question.

We first went to Di Fara. Though easily missed from the outside, hard at work in the restaurant’s interior is Domenico De Marco, the king of New York City pizza. Dom has made every single pie in the Brooklyn eatery since the 1960s, earning over 50 years of experience, and burning himself so badly he can now pull pies out of an 800 degree oven with his bare hands. He moves slower than he once did, but the same effort that earned him his rightful place in New York pizza lore remains. It took forty minutes to get a single slice. And it was worth every second.

Next was Joe’s Pizza in Greenwich Village. There’s no famous proprietor here. There’s no lauded list of high-quality artisanal ingredients. Joe’s, however, remains an iconic institution. It is perhaps the quintessential New York City slice. Greasy, crispy and delicious, no trip downtown is complete without a late night stop at Joe’s. The experience (and the pizza) isn’t nearly as polished as that of Di Fara — but for my money, it was just as good.

Finally, we arrived at our old staple. John’s of Bleecker Street is one of the City’s most famous establishments. Its wood-panel walls have the carved names of countless other pizza connoisseurs; its brick coal-fire stands proudly in the back of the restaurant at nearly 100 years old. We sat down to what was certainly my favorite slice of the day — but was it, objectively, the best? I couldn’t say. In fact, I was less sure than I ever was of what the best pizza in New York was. I walked back onto the ferry (some leftover John’s in a box) dejected.

But then I got lucky. In an unmistakably strong Queens accent, the man in the row behind me asked “Is that John’s in the West Village?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “do you want a slice?”

The man sat next to me. He told me that John’s had been a major part of his childhood. He told me stories about how it had been there since the 20s. I couldn’t believe my luck. If anyone could help me pick the best pizza in New York, I thought it would be this guy.

But he didn’t bite when I asked. He swallowed some crust and shook his head. “That’s like asking what the best religion is. They’re all good. Maybe for different reasons, but they’re all good.”

He’s right. I realized I probably shouldn’t be taking pizza this seriously (not that I plan on stopping). I realized this didn’t have to be a contest. It wasn’t about ovens or owners or icons. It wasn’t about Italy vs. New York vs. Chicago deep dish. Sometimes you need a high quality, Neapolitan style slice. Sometimes Rocco’s in downtown South Bend does the trick. I didn’t have to make this competitive anymore. The best slice — in New York or anywhere else — is whichever one I’m eating right now.

Patrick McKelvey splits his time between being a college sophomore and a grumpy old man. A New Jersey native and American Studies major, he is interested in a legal career after graduating Notre Dame. If you can’t find him at the movies, he can be reached for comment at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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