As we arrived at Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint we got to witness his wood being delivered which I thought was pretty interesting. We crested the huge wooden double doors into one of the most unique and inviting spaces I've encountered in New York.
It definitely had an old rustic feel to it with ambient light provided by quirky lamps lining wooden shelves up near the ceiling.
The bar was probably the nicest bar I've seen but the pièce de résistance had to be Paulie's beautiful Stefano Ferrara custom-made brick oven. Paulie seemed to agree: "Every day I look at it, it gets more beautiful".
While Paulie was showing us around his son Derek starting churning out pies for us, the first up being the Regina Margherita.
I felt very privileged to be able to stand there and watch our pie cook as we chatted away about the pizza-making process. It really was remarkable to watch the dough rise and bubble as our pizza finished cooking after a mere 90 seconds in the oven. This pie was a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, for me at least, the tasting didn't start on a positive note. It was entirely too salty which in turn masked the delicate flavors that make a Margherita great. I was unable to detect the source of the excessive amount of salt (sauce, cheese, crust, or maybe all three?) but it prevented me from enjoying the individual, no doubt impeccably-sourced, ingredients. One positive point I will make is I did enjoy the crust.
Once the initial shock from the salt subsided, I felt the flavor of the crust really opened up, revealing many layers of flavor. It was chewy almost to the point of being doughy, which I really enjoyed, and definitely the softest crust of the day.
The second pie Derek prepared for us was the Moby Grape which is essentially a Filetti with grape tomatoes instead of the usual cherry (thank you PB).
Now this pie, this pie was just great. As I've mentioned before I take notes using the voice recorder on my iphone as opposed to the old-fashioned pen and paper, and I usually retool them to be suitable for the blog. But in this case I think my vocal notes say it all:
"The Moby Grape on the other hand was phe-nom-in-al. The sea salt, the fresh garlic, the basil, the combination of flavors was fantastic. The acidity from grape tomatoes balanced everything out, plus it had a little more char on the crust. It was amazing. Loved it. Loved it. Perfectly balanced pie. An uppercut of flavor. I'm think I'm missing some teeth it hit me so hard. Ridiculous."
If that's not a rave review, I don't know what is. Next up was the Parma d’ Or which had fior-di-latte, arugula, prosciutto, fresh lemon juice, and shaved pecorino.
This was another great pie, the highlight for me being the great combination of flavors and textures.
The nuttiness from the freshly shaved pecorino melded nicely with the peppery notes from the arugula and the bitter lemon juice, which in turn was rounded out nicely by the fior-di-latte. The arugula imparted a wonderful texture resulting in a pretty fantastic pizza.
The final pie Paulie chose to serve us was the Cherry Jones which featured fior-di-latte and gorgonzola with dried, infused Bing cherries and prosciutto.
While this was a very unique pie, you really need to get two or more cherries in every bite in order to off-set the sharpness from the gorgonzola. Also, I felt those two powerful ingredients really overpowered the prosciutto. I tasted the prosciutto on it's own and it had a great cured saltiness to it, but I felt it was lost among the other strong ingredients.
PB and I both agreed that this pizza would really shine if paired with a suitable wine to accent the cherry flavors and further cut the bite of the gorgonzola. PB suggests a Chianti Classico or Anglianico. I also would've preferred a bit more char to the crust on this particular pie.
But wait! We're not through just yet. We still had the Sicilian pie from L&B Spumoni Gardens to sample.
Paulie did encounter a problem as the pie came out severely burned in some areas. But what do you expect when you throw an already cooked gas-fired pizza into a super hot wood-fired oven? Give the guy a break!
While I cannot judge this pie simply due to the fact that we were sampling them second-handedly, I will say that the texture was surprisingly light and fluffy and had a thick chewiness reminiscent of the rectangular slices my grade school would serve on Fridays, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although I will say that even if these pies had been served to us straight from the oven, they didn't come close to the Sicilian masterpiece Dom crafted us earlier that day. Sorry Paulie!
We said our final goodbyes to Paulie and thanked him for the wonderful experience. After sampling a few brews at Brouwery Lane a few doors down, we got back on the train and, after conquering the crowds at rush hour, arrived at our final destination: Motorino East Village.
This space used to be where Una Pizza Napoletana was located but the owner Anthony Mangieri unexpectedly closed up shop with plans to reopen in San Francisco. So Mathieu Palombino, owner of Motorino Brooklyn jumped on the opportunity to expand and opened up Motorino East Village in it's place. Motorino had my least favorite interior of the night. It was akin to your typical Manhattan hipster scene--cramped with very low "mood lighting"--which, unfortunately, is also less than ideal for picture taking. I did, however, really like the pressed tin ceiling and the beautiful pizza oven left behind by Mangieri.
While other members of our group were about ready to throw in the towel (you know who you are...) I was still in the mindset for trying as much pizza as possible so when the question of what to order was raised I suggested that since there were five of us we should order five pies. And we did just that. Two margheritas, one marinara, one cockle, and finally one brussels sprout. Oh, and to top it all off a nice bottle of Gragnano. I want to take this opportunity to say that due to the sheer volume of pizza we had consumed up to this point, the subtleties of the pies at Motorino tend to get a bit muddled. Can you blame us? We had already sampled 8 pizzas with another 5 on the way. Plus the acoustics here were terrible and I'm having trouble deciphering my voice memos. Nonetheless, I'll do the best that I can.
First up was the margherita. This was definitely the best margherita of the day as I loved the super creamy mozzarella and the tart sauce and the charred crust really popped. The gragnano paired wonderfully with this pie, the light fruity bubble cutting the rich fattiness of the cheese.
The crust had a smokiness to it which I thoroughly enjoyed. It persisted throughout the undercarriage and was definitely a unique quality of the pies served at Motorino.
The marinara pie was the first of it's kind that I've had and I really enjoyed it. The great thing about a marinara pie is that there aren't any fancy toppings to hide behind so you really get a raw look at the basic skills of the pizzaiolo.
Luckily, Motorino puts out a damn good crust and spikes it's marinara sauce with ample amounts of oregano and paper thin slivers of garlic, a la Goodfellas. I also felt this pie went wonderfully with the gragnano, the sweet bubbly bite helped reign in the heavily seasoned pie.
Before I go on let me say this: I hate brussels sprouts. My mom used to force feed them to me as a kid and I couldn't stand them. I've tried them again as an adult and still don't like them. That being said, the brussels sprout pancetta pie served at Motorino is nothing short of a revelation. The second of the day now that I think about it.
Somehow this pie achieved a smoky flavor that permeated throughout every nuance of every bite. It must've been due to the caramelization of the brussels sprouts. Combined with the bitterness from the leaves, the resulting flavor profile was nothing short of sublime.
My mouth is watering and my stomach is grumbling just thinking about it. I want it right now. They need to sell this flavor in a can. I'd guzzle it by the case. Where's the brussels sprout pancetta flavored lip balm? Someone go develop that... NOW! Of all the pies we tried on this trip, this is the one I have since craved the most. This is one of the few times that something I've eaten has lived up to all of the internet hype. Hell, I think it surpassed what I've read online. Along with the Sicilian from Difara this was the highlight of the trip for me.
Unfortunately, the final pie of the day was a miss for me. The cockles pie, while pretty to look at, didn't add any flavor whatsoever to the pizza.
It tasted like an unseasoned marinara pie with topped with chewy flavorless clams. None of us could figure out whether we were supposed to shell the clams and top the pie with them or eat the clams by themselves then take a bite of the pie.
Either way, it didn't work for me. This pie will forever live in the shadow of the almighty BS&P (I'm getting tired of typing that out) pie. Speaking of which, I spied one slice of the BS&P left on the opposite end of the table so I politely asked if I could have it. Since I had been raving about it so much, my gracious associates happily sent it my way. A fitting end to an amazing culinary adventure.
If I could emphasize one thing I learned from this trip it would be how absurd the question "What's the best pizza in New York City?" truly is. It's like asking what the best fruit in the world is. You'd hear replies like "Apples!", "Mangoes are truly the best because they're so complex!", "If you don't love bananas then you don't know sh*t about fruit!", and "Apples and oranges are for tourists, real fruit-eaters know pomegranates are the best fruit." Search any discussion board or forum for the best pizza in New York and you will see many of the same types of responses. You simply cannot compare pizzerias when they're dishing out so many different styles of pie. You think all pizza is the same? Well think again. Sorry to burst your bubble, but there just can't be an overall best. The proper way to rephrase the question to get a more constructive response would be: "What's your favorite (insert pizza style here) pizza in New York City?" That will generate a lot more useful opinion-based content.
Every single pizzeria we visited on this trip served a worthy candidate for the best pizza I've ever had. But, as you can probably guess from reading these two posts, my favorite pies of the day were the Difara Sicilian, the Moby Grape, and the Brussels Sprout and Pancetta pie, with honerable mention going to the plain slice at Totonno's. What a great experience and I can't thank PB enough for including me in this fantastic pizza-eating adventure.
For more intel on our trip please check out Pizzablogger.org where you can find higher quality pictures and even a few videos of our glorious day of pizza eating. Until next time, as always, thanks for reading.