New York Slices
Joe's and NYPD
by Lee Lawrence
From the March, 2020 issue
"Why am I eating this?" my husband asked, looking down dubiously at the pizza slices I'd brought home for his lunch.
"It's for my next review," I said.
"Um," he muttered. "I hope I don't have to eat it again."
I decided it wasn't the time to reveal an actual site visit was on the horizon, along with another to the new pizzeria's competitor across the Diag.
I had already eaten my slices at Joe's Pizza NYC. A direct transplant from Manhattan to South U, the shop opened last fall, the first out-of-city outpost of the New York institution. According to a friend who works nearby, Joe's has become enormously popular with students, both for its slices and its whole pies. My visit was on the last day before U-M's Christmas break, and when I arrived, soon after opening, the counter was devoid of slices and employees were busy packing stacks of boxed pizzas (forty, fifty?) into two cars, clearly a holiday lunch delivery. It didn't take long for the pizza makers to catch up, though, and slide a few hot pies onto the counter for me and the few sad stragglers who hadn't yet left town.
Created by Neapolitan immigrants, New York pizza begins with a thin crust. Pizza makers spin the dough into extra-large rounds that bake up crispy but pliable and slice them into broad portions. Tomato sauce just films the dough--unless the pie is white--and grated dry mozzarella follows. Any toppings go on after the cheese. With the simple slices--cheese, pepperoni--the individual components of the pizza meld into a foldable alliance of goodness, easily consumed on the go. (A few stools at high-top tables and bars and a short, stand-up counter are the only accommodations for people eating in.) And it's cheap!
Joe's crust really is tasty--charred, light, and crispy but flavorful, chewy near the slices' pointed ends. The tomato sauce is also light and it tastes like, well, tomato--unadulterated by onion, garlic, herbs, or olive
oil. Topping options are kept to about a dozen simple choices, and a salad and soft drinks round out the menu.
But simple is where Joe's shines--with its cheese or pepperoni pizzas. The toppings-on-top strategy means there's no cheese "glue" to hold more ingredients in place. Piled slices become clothing hazards, something I found out with the supreme--a slice heaped with canned (!) mushrooms, red onions, and sliced sausage and pepperoni that kept leaping onto my shirt as I ate. (Hold that paper plate directly under your chin!) I paid a buck extra for Zingerman's Creamery cheese on my fresh mozzarella slice, only to have entire rounds slide off to hang from my chin. Next time I'll ante up instead for the garlicky spinach addition to the white pizza, alleviating the constipating dullness of plain ricotta and mozzarella. The Sicilian, a rectangle of thick (one-inch-plus) but airy crust topped with tomato sauce and cheese, provides a thin crust foil you know you shouldn't eat--too much white bread, you keep scolding yourself--but still tempts you to twist off another corner. Can a Diet Coke offset the indulgence?
Over on E. William, NYPD--New York Pizza Depot--has been offering slices for more than twenty years. It, too, was started by Italian immigrants who reached Ann Arbor via New York City. Unlike Joe's, NYPD's pizzas highlight dozens of toppings (mac-n-cheese on crust, anyone?), and its menu goes way beyond pizza to include salads, soups, sandwiches, burgers, pastas, and Mexican options, as well as alcohol. Seating is ample, with booths and tables filling two rooms. For purposes of this review we stuck to pizza, and during two lunches that was most of what we saw come out of the kitchen.
So how does the local pizzeria compare? The crust on NYPD's plain and pepperoni slices was nicely crispy after a few minutes in the oven (both places reheat and recrisp their slices before handing them over), but it had little flavor, and the tomato sauce lacked any taste. While my husband thought the Caprese--just fresh tomato slices, hunks of fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, and dried spices--a bit odd, I didn't mind the cheese-on-a-cracker quality. Better was the gooey mushroom slice--no tomato sauce, just a generous mix of fresh, sauteed fungi, dried herbs (NYPD uses a lot of dried herbs and spices), and a blanket of cheese holding it all together. For Midwesterners tried-and-true, NYPD also bakes Chicago-style pizzas, but they reheat those slices in the microwave. I imagine the thick, overstuffed wedges would take forever to reheat in the oven, but the microwave treatment does no favors to the thick crust.
Over our second lunch at NYPD, I once again explained part of the rationale of the New York slice--cheap, decent sustenance for those on the go. My husband, gazing up at the restaurant's logo, declared, "I'm glad I don't live in New York."
I laughed, because he's not a pizza-hater, but he is unable to eat standing up or to drink coffee while walking. Why settle when, with patience and time and maybe a bit more money, you might have something better? Sometimes our response to food isn't just about the food, but also about the moment or the person.
Years ago, straight out of college, my boyfriend and I lived in New Haven, Connecticut. We'd often flee the town's Ivy League stodginess to visit friends in New York, who'd crow about their cooler, big-city credentials and introduce us to the city's iconic cheap eats. Pizza slices were one of those things, but if they were Ray's or Joe's, I don't remember.
What I do remember is that when our friends came to New Haven, they always wanted to go for pizza, home then and still to Pepe's and Sally's. Makers of Neapolitan pizza (oblong wholes, never slices), closer to the original and redolent of olive oil and toppings that entice, not just satisfy, these were pizzerias where you might stand in a long line to get in but where you ate sitting down. If my husband had been there then, I'm sure he would've preferred New Haven pizza, just as he would now. He wants pizza that's a meal, not a snack.
Me? Ask me that day, in that moment, and I'll let you know. But those on the go will always find their way to the slice.
Joe's Pizza NYC
1107 South University
Mon. 11 a.m-midnight, Tues.-Wed. 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Thurs.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 a.m., Sat. noon-3 a.m., Sun. noon-midnight.
Slices $3-$4.75, whole pizzas $20-$28
NYPD--New York Pizza Depot
605 E. William
Daily 10 a.m.-4 a.m.
Slices $3-$4.11, whole pizzas $10.27-$30.89
[Originally published in March, 2020.]
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