Somewhere between the dollar slice and the splurgy artisanal pie, a new type of pizza is on the rise in New York City: the fast-casual ’za.
Not quite fast food and a few white napkins away from fine dining, this new category of pizza melds high-quality ingredients with trendy interior design, quick service and (arguably) affordable prices.
In the year of “fast casual” being a buzzword for restaurants eager to branch off into a cheaper demographic — see former Del Posto chef Mark Ladner’s Pasta Flyer ($9.99 for a meal deal) or the Eleven Madison Park team’s Made Nice ($11 and up for a grain bowl) — the pie is now getting the treatment. But since pizza is the epitome of fast and casual, what does fast-casual pizza even mean?
“New Yorkers in general are craving good food at a reasonable price and in a reasonable time frame,” says Martina chef Nick Anderer. “Not everyone has two hours and $25 for a pie.”
Martina, a casual spinoff of the Union Square Hospitality Group’s reservation-taking, table-service restaurant Marta, serves Roman-style thin crust pizzas fired to order within a matter of minutes, all for $11 or less.
“We pay attention to sourcing and details when it comes to food, but it’s let-your-hair-down casual,” Anderer says of the four-month-old East Village spot.
Just a few blocks away is &pizza’s second New York location, which quickly followed the opening of its first, in NoMad, this year. While stylishly decorated in solely black and white, it functions more like a Chipotle or Potbelly than a traditional New York pizza joint. Guests line up and pick from a slew of ingredients to customize a skateboard-shaped pizza to be fired in two minutes — all for $10.10.
On the more traditional slice of the pizza spectrum, Rossopomodoro, a Neapolitan pizza chain imported from Italy, has served its signature thin-crust pies in Eataly and its stand-alone West Village restaurant for several years. Chef and owner Simone Falco believes this style of pizza is fast casual, as each pie uses high-quality ingredients and can be cooked in 90 seconds. Still, the West Village restaurant, with reservations, table service and personal pies starting at $16, doesn’t quite fit into the cheap, grab-and-go definition of today’s fast-casual scene. So in 2018, Falco will be opening a spinoff concept, Simò Pizza.
“I believe the prices of Neapolitan-style pizza are getting a bit high in NYC,” Falco says. “I plan to keep the prices somewhat low — $10 or less — without compromising on the size of pizza or quality of ingredients.”
The first Simò Pizza location is slated to open in early 2018 at 90-92 Gansevoort St. in Manhattan, with a second location to follow in Downtown Brooklyn in the summer.
Also opening in 2018 is New England import Oath Pizza, which serves pizza crusts grilled and seared in avocado oil for something “totally nontraditional and guilt-free,” CEO Patrik Hellstrand says.
This rush to fill the pizza market with high-end yet affordable options may be a response to the enduring opulence of exclusive, wholly unaffordable spots in NYC, especially Manhattan.
“Pizza definitely seems to be having a moment in New York right now, but I think that’s really part of the macro-trend toward people wanting great food at all levels,” Hellstrand says.
In our age of inclusivity, a $1,000 gold-and-caviar-topped pizza may be fun to look at on Instagram, but what the people really want is good, cheesy pizza. Fast and cheap — the way it should be.
KNOW YOUR FAST-CASUAL PIZZA
- Martina: Union Square Hospitality Group’s East Village counter-service pizza joint serves pies for $11, along with wine, antipasti and soft-serve gelato.
- &pizza: This D.C. import slings out “pizza, turnt,” i.e. oval-shaped, customizable pizzas with toppings like baked eggs or spicy honey at two Manhattan locations.
- Blaze: One of the first so-called “Chipotles of pizza,” this LeBron James-backed chain has locations across the U.S., including on Staten Island. Vegan cheeses and gluten-free crusts are just a few of the many customizable options for “BYO” pizzas.
- Oath Pizza: This pizzeria, whose claim to fame is serving sustainable, humanely sourced ingredients, launched in Nantucket and plans to open on the Upper East Side in 2018 with its “highly decorated” pizzas and “selfie” options.
- Simò Pizza: Rossopomodoro’s more casual spinoff, planned for Manhattan and Brooklyn in 2018, will offer a rotation of different pies for $10, all fired in 90 seconds, to take eaters’ taste buds to Napoli and back in a rush.
- Pieology: This pizza franchise offering “billions” of topping combinations has both West Village and Brooklyn restaurants planned for 2018.