Midtown is not exactly known as a dining destination. But that doesn't mean you can't find a quality slice of New York's most classic food -- pizza.
Enter Slice: a new app aimed at helping you discover, and then stick with, your favorite local pizza place. It harkens back to a simpler time, when Seamless was merely an adjective and you had to actually pick up a telephone to order pizza -- usually from the same place.
"The idea is that we are a loyalty-first platform," creator Ilir Sela, a Staten Islander, said. "It’s all about what is your home slice, as we call it."
To help amNY.com find its home slice, Slice ordered up pies from five local pizzerias -- a range that included everything from fancy Neopolitan style slices to a chain slice from Famous Famiglia. All of them delivered to our midtown address, and all were cheese slices.
"A lot of people prefer to call it plain," Sela said. "I call it classic cheese."
In the interest of service journalism, the amNY.com staff sampled the pizzas to help guide those who might be trapped in midtown and in need of a nice slice delivered to your door. Here are our findings.
Bella Napoli: The cheesiest
If you love cheesy pizza, this is for you. It was so cheesy that it reminded one of us, not in a bad way, of the pizza from the animated Disney classic, "A Goofy Movie."
There is, of course, a price to pay for that much cheese, and while one of our taste-testers noted a "good, solid, flakey crust," others noted it did not quite stand up to the amount of cheese placed on it. Another wanted a more balanced sauce-to-cheese ratio.
(Bella Napoli, locations at 130 Madison Ave. and 257 Seventh Ave., Manhattan, www.bellanapoli.com/)
Rocco's Pizza Joint: The most New York
A "pizza joint" is the kind of place you go for a solid New York slice, the local ideal, and Rocco's lives up to the promise in its name. The pizza is well-balanced, with a more toothsome crust that is chewy but retains its crispiness, a well-balanced sauce and a heavy sprinkling of cheese that leaves the pizza pleasingly greasy -- just greasy enough.
"I think the flavor is nicer, overall," one taste-tester observed.
It was well-composed enough to have us wagering that it would even hold up well as cold leftovers the next day... if it can last that long without being eaten.
(Rocco's Pizza Joint, 162 Seventh Ave., Manhattan, www.roccospizzany.com)
Waldy's Wood-Fired Pizza: The crispiest
Waldy's was the first departure from the standard New York slice in our taste-test -- a paper-thin Roman-style pie that takes a mere 90 seconds to cook. Unsurprisingly, that thin crust is the star of this show: cracker-y and pleasingly charred. But the sauce also stood out for its big flavor.
"It almost feels like snack pizza," one amNY.com taster observed.
"Or like a bar pie," another added.
"It's like a totally acceptable snack," the first taster added.
The next time someone criticizes you for "ruining your appetite" with a pre-meal slice, just remind them that pizza can definitely be a snack -- amNewYork says so.
(Waldy's Wood-Fired Pizza, 800 Sixth Ave., Manhattan http://www.waldyspizza.com)
Famous Famiglia: The standby
It was next time to face the elephant in the room: chain pizza. But Sela, Slice's founder, reminded us his company only works with smaller chains.
Perhaps compared to Domino's and Pizza Hut, Famous Famiglia is still a pretty big chain -- chances are you've seen it in an airport, or a casino, or a shopping mall. Despite the preponderance of local pizza joints in New York City, there are also plenty of Famous Famiglia's here -- Donald Trump was once lambasted for bringing Sarah Palin there for a New York slice.
All of this set-up is to say: Famous Famiglia is a bit like an inexperienced politician in his or her first debate -- it benefits from the expectations game. Any self-respecting New Yorker takes their first bite of a chain pizza expecting not to enjoy it. And against those expectations, Famous Famiglia emerges better than you think it will be.
It was a "sturdy slice," one taster noted. Another called it a "classic American/New York slice." The crust was crisp -- less doughy than Rocco's -- and there was plenty of sauce.
There was also plenty of cheese. That led one taster to blot the grease from the slice.
"That's the most un-New York thing I've ever seen," another taster reacted in disgust. So it seemed Famous Famiglia wasn't the only one facing skepticism about its New York street cred.
(Famous Famiglia, 488 Eighth Ave., Manhattan, and many other locations in the city, http://www.famousfamiglia.com)
Don Antonio: The old world authentic
And now, for something completely different.
Where Famous Famiglia's pie was perfectly round and huge, Don Antonio's is about half the size and rustically shaped. It's made in the Neopolitan tradition -- with a super thin but soft crust, adorned with just enough char marks to impart the flavor of the wood-fired oven where it was baked. It featured the first hint of green we'd seen in our tasting: a few basil leaves, lovingly wilted and blanketed in fresh mozzarella. At the edge of the pizza, the crust thickens up into a beautiful, chewy bite.
"It reminds me of the pizza I had in Italy," one taster observed.
In the world of pizza, is there any higher compliment?
(Don Antonio Pizza, 309 W 50th St., Manhattan, http://www.donantoniopizza.com)