The Summer of Pizzcapades – Part 5: “La Regina” & Concluding Words


Pizzetteria Brunetti: Margherita Più (San Marzano tomatoes, imported mozzarella di bufala, cherry tomatoes, basil, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil)

Margherita Più – Pizzetteria Brunetti

After having the Asparagus pizza, I was set on coming back to Brunetti the next day. Although I didn’t know it my first time there with the Funghi e Cipolle pizza, that crust was my favorite. Top-notch ratio of crunch-to-chew, with density and char to boot. I needed to try a traditional grouping of toppings on this base, and lucky for me, Brunetti had an even better option: the upgraded Margherita Più, ditching your average mozzarella and tomato sauce for buffalo mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce. And from my first bite, I could tell that I was eating the best pizza I had ever eaten on this side of the world, maybe ever, and that I would never have another that pales in comparison. The crust was absolutely perfect. The buffalo mozzarella was sweet, just about putting me in a state of euphoria. The basil was more plentiful than I’ve seen on a pie before. The cherry tomatoes didn’t do much for me (and I can confirm that the pie is just as good without them after having this a second time), but that San Marzano tomato sauce had a bit more pungency and freshness  than the typical tomato sauce, and paired beautifully with the buffalo mozzarella. The juices from the cheese, the red sauce, and the olive oil all combined into more of a pink sauce as I was devouring the pie. Uber-flavorful. I was savoring every last bite, knowing that I would never again get the same reaction from having a pizza. And when I finished, I was absolutely sure that, if I were to make a ranking of all the pizzas I ate over the summer, Pizzetteria Brunetti’s Margherita Più was deserving of the title “La Regina” – the queen.La Regina

And that wraps up all 17 of the “Pizzcapades” I went on over Summer 2015. With that all out of the way, I want to answer some questions regarding the feature.

Did I always intend to post this feature after finding all the pizzerias?

Surprisingly, no. I put together the original list of pizza places very casually in my spare time. I’ll do that a lot with restaurants of certain cuisines or in particular areas, but never have I actually done it with the intention of going to as many as possible. When I went to Motorino in late May, I came up with the idea to write down notes on the pizzas I was having. Sure enough, by the sixth or seventh pie, this note on my phone evolved into a substantial document, and one that I became more and more comfortable with sharing. And so, here we are.

If you could only have pizza or sneakers for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Thank you David for the on-point question. I’d say sneakers, and it’s not close. There are infinite possibilities with food, and you can find the flavors on pizzas in other areas of Italian cuisine, even if they may taste better on crust. Unbelievable as it may be, I can imagine a life without pizza. On the other hand, though I don’t buy that many sneakers anymore (I’ve only bought one pair in the last ten months), I couldn’t imagine my life without going into my closet and pulling out fresh kicks on the daily. It’s the only way to be.

(Don’t even bother asking me how I’m gonna feel come the real world and proper attire…)

Why not try the Margherita at each of these pizzerias? Aren’t you getting an unbalanced perspective?

Let me repeat: this pizza journey started as something casual. I could get a Margherita anywhere, but at the end of the day, some pizzerias caught my eye because of particularly inventive pies. So as a casual fan of food, and not a professional blogger with a task at hand, I ordered what sounded the most appetizing to me. Plus, the Margherita isn’t the be all, end all of pizzas. The creative leaps and bounds with pizza that I discovered in Italy inspired me to find pizzerias in the local area. That being said, if any food blog editor with a budget is looking for someone to scour the NYC area and beyond for the best Margherita, let’s talk.

Is pizza even your favorite food? Why do this kind of scavenger hunt for pizza, of all things?

I really don’t have a favorite food. I have dishes and food experiences that were particularly memorable, but only preferences for one thing over another when it comes to general foods. The inspiration for this really came from the amazement over the gap between our typical conception of pizza, and the masterful work of pizzaiolos in Italy and beyond. Plus, even the best quality pizzas are cheap compared to the best of other major food categories. Maybe one day I’ll have the funds to go on a “Steak-Out”, but certainly not now.

Will there ever be a sequel to “The Summer of Pizzcapades”?

Not sure. Obviously, I now have a lot of pizzerias to go back to, and presumably more pies to try at those pizzerias and others I never made it to. So there’s potential, but at the same time, I may want to switch up any more food features I do. After all, there’s more to dish on than just pizza in this world of amazing food. And if you didn’t know, I cook some mean stuff as well. So, a full-on pizza feature? Perhaps. More food to feast your eyes on? Absolutely.

You may have to wait for me to return with more full-fledged food coverage here, but you can still follow what I’m eating on Instagram. Until my next full-length feature on the blog, I bid you adieu, hopefully with some bangin’ pizzas in your near future.

The Summer of Pizzcapades – Part 4: The “Just Damn Good” Category

Pizzcapades Part 4

As I said, the next four pizzas are on the same level as yesterday’s collection of egg and vegetable-adorned pies. However, in the case of these four, simplicity won me over, as one or two particular toppings stole the show on each pie.

Roberta’s Takeout: Cheesus Christ (Mozzarella, taleggio, parmesan, cream, black pepper)

Cheesus Christ – Roberta's Takeout

Cheesus Christ – Roberta’s Takeout

When I initially looked at the selection of pizzas that Roberta’s offers, this one caught my eye with creamy, sweet potential. Unfortunately, the Cheesus Christ wasn’t on the lunch menu, so I settled on the Four Emperors pie, and dealt with the spice-show. After my meal, mouth still burning, I decided to walk further down in the opposite direction of my car, and by doing so, discovered that Roberta’s had a takeout space that served the Cheesus Christ, among other pies, all the time. Curious to see how this pizza was and eager to get a taste of something other than spice, I ordered one Cheesus Christ to go. Right away, I tasted the distinctive taleggio, which went very well with the other cheeses, especially the parmesan. Sweetness and nuttiness – the same combination that made the Elena pie from Pizzeria Spera so good. Fresh black pepper gave the pie a nice kick, and the cream only added to the lusciousness. Add the same chewy and blistered crust I previously mentioned into the mix, and this was one bangin’ pizza.

Roberta’s Penn Plates: Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil)

Margherita – Roberta's Penn Plates

Margherita – Roberta’s Penn Plates

When I went to Roberta’s for the Famous Original, I was able to get a bit of my brother Dylan’s Margherita pie, which tasted blissful. And although I haven’t made it back to the Bushwick location since, I was able to snag a smaller 9″ pie at Roberta’s Penn Plates outpost. If I had to compare Roberta’s Margherita to anything in the word, it’d be the dependable best friend that always brings the same admirable qualities to the table. The sauce wasn’t strong, but packed flavor. The crust wasn’t too high or massive, but rather, had the right amount of chew and crunch. And the mozzarella was great as well. Not stringy, but soft enough to bite into without getting globs of it at once. Basil didn’t have an overstated presence. The qualities of a go-to pie. If only the Penn Plates rendition was bigger than 9″.

Croissant Garlic KnotSide note: The croissant garlic knot that Roberta’s serves at Penn Plates is bomb. Flaky, garlicky, buttery goodness.

Rubirosa: Vodka (vodka sauce, fresh mozzarella)

Vodka – Rubirosa

Vodka – Rubirosa

Yes, I know. Breaking the mold. Rubirosa doesn’t serve Neapolitan, individual-sized pies, but I felt the need to try it with all the rave reviews I had read. And let me tell you…it holds up. The thing is, with a super-thin crust as there is on this Neo-Neapolitan pizza, all the flavors present themselves with much more sharpness. And while the mozzarella wasn’t overly flavorful, the vodka sauce…Jesus. It’s just like the sauce for Penne alla Vodka, but all in your face at once without loops of pasta minimizing the taste. Creamy, pungent, tomato-y goodness. And that’s another thing. Rubirosa has plenty of other options, but their Vodka pie is highly touted because of its simplicity and fine ingredients. This SoHo pizzeria is definitely on my list of places to return to, and though I currently have my eye set on the Tie-Dye pizza with vodka sauce, tomato sauce, and pesto, I may very well relent to have the Vodka pizza once again.

SRO: Uptown (Black truffle cream, buffalo mozzarella, sliced summer truffles)

Uptown – SRO

Uptown – SRO

You’d be hard-pressed to find SRO just casually strolling on Bowery. When you eventually do, you’re in store for some fine pizza, a couple pies of which have Urbani truffles, including the off-menu Uptown. Let’s put it this way: I described the sensation I got from this pizza to Dylan as a feeling, not even a taste. The combo of the sliced summer truffles and truffle cream hit me like nothing I have ever experienced. My senses weren’t just heightened. They were at the same level as frantic alarm wake-up. What’s odd is that, at least to me, the truffle didn’t have an overly strong flavor on its own, but the euphoric sensation just hit me. And as advertised, the pizza itself was great. The dough wasn’t super-crunchy, but it had a nice yeast undertone to it, and I’d put it up there as one of my favorites. As for the flavors, lots of funk and lots of cheesy, creamy goodness. That’s what the combo of truffle cream and the ultra-satisfying buffalo mozzarella will do. SRO also has a Montanara that I may have to take a stab at on my next trip, but this pie was a great move.

Well, we’re at the home stretch. As I said, I had 17 pies to cover. I have taken you all through 16 thus far, but only one can come out on top. In addition to revealing my favorite, I’ll be dishing on my process, some pizza-related opinions, and more. If there’s anything that you would like me to answer, either comment on this post or send the question to me in some form, and I’ll be sure to include an answer come tomorrow’s post.

Part 5 and Concluding Words – Friday, August 14th

The Summer of Pizzcapades – Part 3: The “I’ll Gladly Eat My Vegetables” Category

Pizzcapades Part 3
In terms of how much I enjoyed them, the next two days’ worth of pizzas are all on the same tier: pies that I enjoyed very much and would have again sometime soon. Of course, though, I had to divide them up somehow. So for today, I’ll dish on the vegetable-topped pies that made it this far.

Motorino East Village: Pizza al Uovo (fior di latte mozzarella, fried farm egg, smoked pancetta, chili oil, basil, Pecorino), smoked pancetta removed, Brussels sprouts added
Pizza al Uovo – Motorino East Village

Pizza al Uovo – Motorino East Village

Being that this is the first egg pizza I tried, it holds a special place. Not to mention it had everything going for it. I’ve already established that Motorino has quite the plentiful crust. That gave the pie a very present base in unison with the mozzarella. Tinges of the right flavors in the chili, basil, and Pecorino, along with just enough of a veggie crunch from the Brussels sprouts, added some complexity to the pie. And if the other components seemed to go astray in the scheme of things, the sunny-side egg melded it all together. Plus, getting the remnants of the runny yolk on the bottom of the plate with the crust…delectable, and wouldn’t be my last time doing that. Looking back now, the only thing I’m puzzled by is why the egg on the pizza is placed on top after cooking, as opposed to being cooked with the pizza like so many others I ate.

Kesté: Noci e Zucchini (imported smoked buffalo mozzarella, cream of walnut, zucchini, basil, extra virgin olive oil)
Noci e Zucchini – Kesté

Noci e Zucchini – Kesté

Remember Starita a Materdei and the Noci e Fiorilli pie? Well luckily for me, Roberto Caporuscio, an apprentice of pizza chef Antonio Starita, opened his own NYC pizzeria in 2009, transplanting many of the flavors from the Starita menu. This one isn’t a direct copy, but still so delicious. There was a great mix of flavors going on, between the pronounced presence of cheese, the more yeasty (but not too much higher) dough made from “00” Caputo flour, the finest milled of them all, the freshness of the zucchini and slight tinge of basil, and then the creamy nuttiness of the walnuts. Maybe not as other-worldly as when I had the Noci e Fiorilli at Starita a Martedei, but much more so than any other pizza you’ll find around the area. And being a traditional Neapolitan pie, it was wetter than the other pies I ate, but not too much so. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the cheese was smoked beforehand. Smart call, among others I’m sure, by Caporuscio and the folks at Kesté.

Pizzetteria Brunetti: Asparagus (fresh shaved asparagus, leeks, egg, burrata, truffle oil)
Asparagus – Pizzetteria Brunetti

Asparagus – Pizzetteria Brunetti

You may not know this little gem of a place packed in the back of the Westhampton Beach Haagen-Dazs. No, it’s not New York City (though they do have a West Village location now), but you have to trust me when I say that Brunetti’s crust packs the perfect crunch/chew combo. It’s just dense enough to be flavorful, has a bit of air, and a wonderful crispiness only achievable in an authentic Neapolitan pizza oven. As for the flavor of this summer special, it translates pretty well from paper to pie. The shredded asparagus and leeks provide a fresh crunchiness. The burrata and egg combination, in addition to the oils (both olive and truffle) made the pizza ultra-creamy, though without as strong of a flavor in that regard, perhaps due to an understated presence of egg. And of course, the truffle oil added an aromatic funk. A bit messy (thanks to the loosely packed on vegetables and the slip-n-slide quality of the burrata, but regardless, a pie deserving of this category.

Milkflower: Van Dammer (Brussels sprouts, egg, mozzarella, black pepper, truffle oil)
Van Dammer – Milkflower

Van Dammer – Milkflower

After a decent trek to get here while dressed in work clothes in 90-degree weather, I was hoping for a damn good pizza, and Milkflower didn’t disappoint. First thing, that crust…you get the taste of the oven with how toasty it is, but with the right density, pretty good crunch, airiness, and a tinge of salt that keeps it apart from other crusts. And the flavors…man. Similar to the last pie, there’s luscious cheese (this time in fuller fior di latte form), plenty egg, which I made sure to ask for runny, and truffle oil to heighten the senses. And Brussels sprouts seemed to fit better here than other vegetables, thanks to their smaller size and texture. Even on the last bite, the pizza wasn’t warm, but all those flavors coming together was kind of magical. For anyone here looking for a reason to head to Astoria, this is absolutely a good one, and the Van Dammer is only one of plenty pizzas on the menu.

Come back tomorrow for another four pizzas that I’d go back for sooner than later. No eggs, and no vegetables…just pure pizza goodness.

Part 4 – Thursday, August 14th

Part 5 & Concluding Words – Friday, August 15th

The Summer of Pizzcapades – Part 2: The “Down the Line” Category

Pizzcapades Part 2

Yesterday’s pizzas covered some ordering mistakes that I made over the summer. That wasn’t the case with today’s featured pies, but having eaten so many pizzas over the summer, these were the bottom four of the ones that I felt that I would have again at some point. Hence, down the line.

Motorino East Village: Margherita (Tomato sauce, fior di latte, basil, pecorino, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt)

Margherita – Motorino East Village

The Margherita…what most people use as the benchmark of a Neapolitan-style pizzeria. Every place has a Margherita, and it’s so simple with four main components: tomato, mozzarella, basil, and the crust. While I didn’t actually have that many Margherita pies, I had some. And this one definitely captured the simplicity, but it wasn’t that flavorful. The main punch from a Margherita comes from the tomato sauce, but this one seemed plain. Smooth, but nothing unique in the scheme of things. With the abundance of Margheritas out there, I would have put this with the last category, but that Motorino super-heavy, plentiful crust is indulgent, and a definite reason to come back.

Roberta’s: Famous Original (tomato, mozzarella, caciocavallo, oregano, chili)

Famous Original – Roberta's

Famous Original – Roberta’s

Like most of the pizzerias here, Roberta’s touts itself as an American pizzeria, not a straight transplant from Naples. Even if some Neapolitan influence seeps into their pizza, the combinations found at Roberta’s lean heavily on the stars and stripes. So although most Neapolitan pizzerias would consider the Margherita as the original, plain pie, Roberta’s has it’s own “Famous Original” with toppings more akin to a New York slice than what you’ll find in Naples. The cheeses (fresh house-made mozzarella and the sweeter caciocavallo) and tomato sauce melted together into a savory topping. Oregano added a nice herb flavor, but the real kick came from that chili oil. It’s pretty strong. Again…I’m into spice, but it should be a complementary component of a pizza, and not an overpowering factor. In this case, it was more of the latter. Would like to get this pie again sometime, just light on the chili.

Franny’s: Squash Blossoms, Garlic, Basil, Buffalo Mozzarella

Squash blossoms, buffalo mozzarella, basil, sea salt

Squash blossoms, garlic, basil, buffalo mozzarella – Franny’s

If I had to give Franny’s pizza one word, it would be intriguing. It comes out looking absolutely huge, but barely even feels that way. Somehow, even with the appearance, this was still the most light pizza out of any I had. Incredibly airy. As for the flavor on this pie itself, it was very simple, with grated Parmesan and the buffalo mozzarella taking center stage on flavor, the bits of garlic and basil helping out, and the squash blossoms providing an addition to the texture and flavor (more on the former though…definitely no strong taste coming from the blossoms, for those who have never tried one). And the pizza was doused in extra virgin olive oil, which made it kind of fun to eat, dousing the crust in pools of oil. My thing, though, is that while I enjoyed this pie, the characteristics of the crust aren’t exactly what I think of when I imagine great pizza. Regardless, I enjoyed it, and they switch up the pies at Franny’s, so I’ll hopefully be back sometime in the future to try something new.

Speedy Romeo: The Kind Brother (wild mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, farm egg, sage), kale added on 1/2

Mozzarella crostini with watermelon gazpacho – Speedy Romeo

Mozzarella crostini with watermelon gazpacho – Speedy Romeo

First of all, I also had a Mozzarella crostini appetizer with watermelon gazpacho, as a part of the $20 lunch special. Unreal. The mozzarella was the perfect warm temperature (not melted) and luscious quality. The bread was crisp, and the crust held firm even in the gazpacho. And the soup itself, drizzled with oil, was refreshing, pungent, and sweet all in one.

The Kind Brother – Speedy Romeo

The Kind Brother – Speedy Romeo

But anyways, the pizza. Man, at first bite…wow. The cheese mix, which also includes Provel (the easily melted cheddar-Swiss-provolone hybrid product) is tangy, the egg makes it even creamier, the mushrooms are meaty and marinated well to hide the major funk, and the crust is crispy, and doesn’t overpower anything on the pie. Though this is probably the least enthusiastic about a crust I’ll be, apart from the fact that it’s lightness helped on the later end of finishing the super-rich pie. Kale is a nice add-on, but at the end of the day, is just an add-on. They do theirs nicely though, putting it in the over for some time to crisp up. And there’s no skimping out on that end. They put a ton of kale, even for just half the pie. So not exactly what I think of in regards to Neapolitan-style pizza, but a welcome addition…that is, when you’re not feeling the after-effects of the pie’s strong cheesy flavor.

Stay tuned for more cheesy, doughy goodness as I continue into the primary category of pizzas that I enjoyed over the summertime. You can be sure to find some eggs and truffle in the next couple posts.

Part 3 – Wednesday, August 13th

Part 4 – Thursday, August 14th

Part 5 & Concluding Words – Friday, August 15th

The Summer of Pizzcapades – Part 1: The “I’ll Pass Next Time” Category

Pizzcapades Part 1
And so the pizza coverage begins. To start us off, I’ll go through some pies that I probably wouldn’t order again as I did in those instances. Be it because of adding on an inappropriate ingredient, not keeping in mind how much one ingredient you take out can affect a pie, or due to simplicity, I’d have a few other pies before these ones again. And that’s not to say the pizzerias or pies themselves were terrible. Obviously, this beats fast-food and dollar pizza, and most of the establishments in this feature will pop up again on my list.

Motorino Williamsburg: Stracciatella (stracciatella, basil, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil), ramps added

Stracciatella – Motorino Williamsburg

This was the first pizza I had after coming up with my list. For most of my experiences after this one, I had either one or two pies in mind before arriving. This time, I picked on the fly. My trip to Motorino in Williamsburg was near the end of May, and I knew that ramps, a “buzz” vegetable on restaurant menus for the month prior, wouldn’t be around for much longer. So, I decided on a Stracciatella pie and added ramps on top. The pizza on its own was great, but the ramps, with their spring onion flavor and texture, didn’t really fit on the pie. Outside of that, the pie had one of the sweetest, creamiest cheeses out there, subtle flavors with the other ingredients, and some massively dense, thick, great crust. To me, this was a sign that some pizzas are meant to be left as the chefs intended.

Pizzetteria Brunetti: Funghi e Cipolle (Shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, thyme, goat cheese, honey truffle oil), honey truffle oil removed, kale and taleggio added
Funghi e Cipolla (Shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, thyme, goat cheese), kale and taleggio added – Pizzetteria Brunetti

Funghi e Cipolle – Pizzetteria Brunetti

There are lots of pizzas out there that sound really interesting. Unfortunately, in some cases, that’s for the wrong reasons. Like my last experience, I went into Pizzetteria Brunetti not exactly having an idea of what I wanted, and decided to go with what I saw as the most buzz-worthy pie, the goat cheese-based Funghi e Cipolla, but taking off the truffle honey it comes with, and adding kale and taleggio cheese, two welcome additions to add even more crunch and richness to the pie. Regardless, I realized my mistake in ordering the pie upon first bite. Again, it was one ingredient that ruined the pie for me: the incredibly tangy and off-putting goat cheese. Didn’t expect it to have that strong of a taste, but that’s what happens when you take a sweet ingredient like truffle honey off a pie. I couldn’t even focus as much as I did later on the main part of the pizza, the crust. And what a shame that was, as I would find out later how much I liked Brunetti’s crust, the product of a 1000-degree oven nicknamed Bella.

Roberta’s: Four Emperors (arrabiata, mozzarella, ricotta, young pepato, Asiago, sesame seeds)
Four Emperors – Roberta's

Four Emperors – Roberta’s

Coming into my first experience at Roberta’s, I was expecting greatness, but didn’t exactly have a pie in mind going in. I ended up looking for the pie with the most ingredients that I liked, without needing to adjust. I settled on the Four Emperors pie, thinking that something with a lot of flavors and the spice would be cool to try. Well, turns out Roberta’s makes their arrabbiata sauce incredibly spicy, and those of you who know me know that I can really handle spice. The second I downed a bit of the sauce, which is placed in little dollops atop the combination of cheeses, my taste buds were kicked. Luckily, I got some impressions before the arrabbiata really took over. The crust was chewy and light, keeping its form, but also packing some serious blisters. And the cheese combo tasted balanced, but also had a subtle complexity to it. And the crust and sesame seeds imparted a toasty flavor. It was just that arrabbiata that ruined it for me.

Paulie Gee’s: The Mootz (mozzarella, fresh garlic, Pecorino Romano, basil, olive oil)
The Mootz – Paulie Gee's

The Mootz – Paulie Gee’s

For those of you who don’t know, Paulie Gee’s is a Greenpoint pizzeria known very much for their absurd toppings, ranging from a Greenpoint Benedict pie with spinach, Canadian bacon, and Hollandaise, to their famed Hellboy with Berkshire sopressata piccante and Mike’s Hot Honey. Unfortunately for me, many of the delicately put-together pies at Paulie Gee’s revolve around meat, be it pork varieties or even Hometown BBQ’s incredible brisket. So when I made it there, I decided it would be best to go simple, and ordered a “secret pizza” called The Mootz, a standard, simple white pie with mild tinges of flavor. They melded together nicely, with pungent garlic, smoothing Pecorino and basil, and creamy mozzarella. And the Paulie Gee’s crust was a different animal from much of what I had. It’s big, oblong, very yeasty, and pretty charred – definitely distinctive for those who aren’t into those flavors. It was almost like two totally different profiles from the cheese-topped base and the charcoal-heavy, blistered crust. So in those respects, the pizza was fine, but after I finished, I was left yearning for more. It’s the struggle of figuring out what’s too complicated, and at the same time, what might be too simple. While The Mootz was good, I can’t say it was worth the trip all the way to Paulie Gee’s.

These experiences should be a lesson on what not to do when ordering specialty pizza like this. After all, you’re paying premium prices because you really want to enjoy what you have. And this is not to say these pizzerias are the worst of the bunch either. These just happened to be the least enjoyable out of my many experiences. Continue keeping track all week, as from here on out, the pizzas get better and better.

Part 2 – Tuesday, August 12th

Part 3 – Wednesday, August 13th

Part 4 – Thursday, August 14th

Part 5 & Concluding Words – Friday, August 15th

The Summer of Pizzcapades – Introduction

Starita a Martedei

If, for some inconceivable reason, I haven’t made you aware prior, I ate my heart out while studying in Florence, Italy for the Fall 2014 semester. And though much of what I appreciated from the various regional cuisines I sampled was more than the typical gelato, pasta, and pizza, I indulged in a few very memorable pies during my time abroad.

Left: Elena; Right: Boia Dé – Pizzeria Spera

Left: Elena; Right: Boia Dé – Pizzeria Spera

Florence was home to Pizzeria Spera, the work base of pizzaiola Elena Spera, who won an award for best pizza in the world in 2002. Her pies showed me truly how creative one could get with pizza. An enchanting special was the “Boia Dé”, made with mozzarella, onions, and chickpea cream, but my absolute go-to was her namesake “Elena”, with a mystical combination of mozzarella, taleggio, radicchio, and walnuts. Rome’s Dar Poeta also showcased the range of pizzas possible to me, as I had a salmon and squash blossom-adorned “Fiordisalmone” pie there.

Fiordisalmone – Dar Poeta

Before those, though, it was my visit to Naples pizza haven Starita a Materdei that changed my perception of what pizza could be. After hearing much about the inventive pizzeria, I went in knowing exactly what I would have. The “Noci e Fiorilli” pie, topped with zucchini, squash blossoms, provola (a sweeter variation of Provolone), and walnut cream, was a total flip from anything pizza that I knew. And then the crown jewel of the place, the Montanara Starita, with it’s crispy, almost gooey crust and fresh toppings, blew my mind.

Left: Noci e Fiorilli; Right: Montanara – Starita a Martedei

Left: Noci e Fiorilli; Right: Montanara – Starita a Materdei

Thinking initially that I couldn’t possibly match any pizza from Italy back in the States, I let my pizza intrigue sit by the wayside. But then, one day early into the summer break, something clicked, and I decided to look into the best Neapolitan-style pizza in the NYC area. I was not after “slice joints”, but rather, places where I could have a pie to myself, indulge, and come out more than satisfied, just as I did in Italy. After scouring around the web, I came up with a selection to try out. And over the course of the summer, try them I did. I totaled out to 10 pizzerias, with several pies tried at some. The biggest lesson learned? Surely you can find amazing pizza in NYC, and it doesn’t have to be New York-style.

Before we begin, I will put one thing out there. Because I partly observe kashrut, I don’t eat pork or mix milk and meat. And I’m not big on eating anything sweet. So there are certain pies that I’ve seen rave after rave about that you won’t see on my list. In terms of my own taste preferences, you can expect lots of white pies, lots of vegetables, and a few pizzas blessed by runny, sunny-side up eggs.

BellaSo come along with me for a journey, as I take you through each and every pizza pie I had over the summer. This will be a five-part series, going through the pies in tiers, from ones I probably wouldn’t have again, to the queen of them all. And that one won’t be so obvious, even to the pizza aficionados reading. While the reviews will reflect on the institutions doling out the pies, more than anything, they are evaluations of the pies themselves. Even in the first post, you’ll see a few pizzerias that I would absolutely go to again, just not for the pies I chose on those occasions.

Anyways, time for the pizzcapades!

(Remember, you’re here for pizza, not humor…)

Part 1 – Monday, August 11th

Part 2 – Tuesday, August 12th

Part 3 – Wednesday, August 13th

Part 4 – Thursday, August 14th

Part 5 & Concluding Words – Friday, August 15th

On the History and Future of My Second-Favorite NBA Team


Everyone knows I’m a Knicks fan, ride or die. Many of you know that I go nuts for everything NBA. Pretty sure I couldn’t host a weekly hour-long NBA talk show otherwise. What not many people know, however, is that I have another favorite team in the league. No, I’m not a front-runner rooting for the Cavs, Warriors, Thunder, or Spurs. My team is the Portland Trailblazers.


Going back to my first season of NBA obsession, 2010-11, I always saw something to like about the Blazers. Brandon Roy, before his knees buckled, was a polarizing player with incredible handles and range. Nicholas Batum emerged as a versatile wing. Gerald Wallace provided a mid-season injection of toughness in 2011 that continued into 2012. Marcus Camby was the defensive old-man glue. Wesley Matthews was 3-and-D’ing before it became a huge thing. Even the thought of watching Raymond Felton after he was traded there was enticing. And of course, the rock during it all, LaMarcus Aldridge, playing his way into All-Star fame as a fundamentalistic, mid-range shooting big that could pack a punch in the paint.

They may have lacked in considerable depth, but the Trailblazers’ lineup just made sense, basketball-wise. Each guy brought something different to the team. And Aldridge was really the go-to key cog that made everything work. He was the undisputed cornerstone of the team.

And then came Damian Lillard.


Out of any time of the NBA year, draft season is probably my least knowledgeable. 2012 was no different. Even better, I had won a contest through Foot Locker to attend SLAM Magazine’s NBA Draft Suite, where I would meet all these prospects about whom I hadn’t much a clue, outside the big names. And hailing out of DIII Weber State University, Damian Lillard was no big name. So, as I sat in the Draft Suite early on, waiting for the prospects to show, I read insights and watched highlight video after highlight video, trying to get a feel for what each player brought to the table.

Man, did I admire those videos of Lillard. What’s not to like about a dynamic, scoring point guard like that? And with him, it seemed like it wasn’t about putting on a show. Basketball was business, and he was about getting it done. The small-school background certainly helped. And meeting him was cool, but more than anything, it was those videos that cemented my Lillard fandom.


You couldn’t have picked a better team for him to go to than the Blazers, either. Coming off the Felton massacre, they desperately needed production at the point. And he sure as hell delivered. Summer League that year validated my fandom, as Lillard took co-MVP  honors. When Fantasy season rolled around, I took him fourth or fifth, and reaped the benefits. Over the course of the 2012-13 season, he showed himself to be more than a viable player for the Blazers, with toughness, a no-nonsense attitude, and the early signs of a clutch gene that enamored the nation a year later.

I was certainly happy when Lillard took home Rookie of the Year honors, but my fandom for him and the Blazers held no candle to my #knickstape repping during the 2012-13 campaign. At that point, the Blazers didn’t reach the postseason, while the Knicks were outperforming expectations under Mike Woodson. Regardless, a special liking for the Blazers kindled that season, between watching Lillard and Aldridge, and playing lots of NBA 2K13.


By far and away, the Blazers were my favorite team to use in that game. Especially with the core four of Lillard, Aldridge, Wes, and Batum. It wasn’t necessarily the kingpin of Aldridge’s game, but I was so good with the Blazers’ power forward in the post. Every time down, I’d either run through the defense with Lillard and figure out a play from there, or throw it to Aldridge in the post, and end in a post score or a pass out to the three-point line. I had one very memorable game against a friend where I tied the game with an Aldridge three, and then won in overtime with a Lillard buzzer-beating three. Then, in January 2013, I helped organize an NBA 2K13 tournament at Extra Butter in Rockville Centre. Not shy of the competition (all picking front-runner teams), I went with my gut and picked the Blazers. Sure enough, my calculated, far-from-rushed play won me the tournament, though me now would have given me then a stern talking-to about keeping the difficulty on Pro. I think, if anything, that victory as the Blazers served as my pledge of allegiance to the team.


From that point on, things have been on the up for the Blazers. On my show, I was hopeful that Portland would make a jump, but wary to put them in the playoff picture. Then, in the 2013-14 season, the Blazers shocked the NBA, going 54-28, becoming this incredible feel-good story, and even leading the West at points. Lillard’s dominance and clutch were really starting to show themselves, Aldridge was playing consistent All-Star basketball, and Terry Stotts’ system had the Blazers running in high-gear. It was incredible to see: a team marred by injury problems and bad luck for God knows how long finally coming to fruition. When Lillard was named an All-Star, I was even happier. And though they didn’t end up positioned as high as the overachieving Knicks the year before, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see how much internal improvement the Blazers had.

I bet you’re wondering how I felt when Lillard sinked that three over Parsons to clinch the series win against the Rockets. I’m sure wondering what my live reaction would have been. In my biggest sports regret yet (and this’ll take the cake for a while), I slept through the last six minutes of that game. I woke up in the middle of the night and registered that the Blazers won the series when I looked at my phone, but when I heard how it went down, I was taken aback. Lillard was really really real. I wouldn’t be shocked if I had run from end to end in my dorm out of sheer excitement.

PortlandThe Blazers may have lost in the second round to the Spurs, but it was great to see a team like that beat the bitch-made Rockets. And hopes were now high for this group, so much so that Aldridge declared that he wanted to be “the greatest Blazer ever.” At that point, I was ready to see them go all the way. And with Lillard’s buzzer-beater against the Thunder on their opening night of the 2014-15 year, it was as if things kicked right back off from where they were. The Blazers went on to torch through the start of the season, with Wes Matthews especially emerging as a high-performing 3 & D wing. Iron Man was starting to get national recognition.

Though as the season dragged on, the Blazers ran into some awful luck. Just on the cusp of trading for Arron Afflalo, who would have served as a glorified sixth man, Matthews tore his ACL. Then, Afflalo got injured. They were already dealing with a slightly affected LaMarcus Aldridge, who was playing through a thumb injury. And sure enough, after having a 40-19 record previously, they went 11-12 to finish the season post-Matthews injury, much lower than Western Conference playoff standards. Nobody had the Blazers pegged to do some post-season damage, and sure enough, they were swiftly eliminated by the Grizzlies in the first round.


As the NBA Playoffs rolled on, I didn’t think much about what could happen to the Blazers. I knew Aldridge, Matthews, and Lopez were free agents, but it didn’t quite register how different the Blazers could end up looking after the offseason. That is, until reports came out that it was highly unlikely for Aldridge to return. Throughout all of the changes and commitments of the core (Batum trade to the Hornets, Matthews signing with the Mavs, Lopez and Afflalo signing with the Knicks, and Aldridge to the Spurs), I could only help but feel pity for the Blazers franchise. It seemed like they had something special going on, and once again, a major injury killed those chances. Plus, it’s likely that this caused them to look in the mirror and consider the new direction.

But there’s hope.

First things first, I’m excited to have Robin Lopez on the New York Knicks. Dude is humble, but has a loud personality. Plus, he contributes to “the little things,” like boxing out opposing players so that the team can secure rebounds. Our last major defensive center did damage in the blue and orange, and I expect a similar impact from our newest big man. Arron Afflalo, especially on his deal, is a nice pickup too, and hopefully someone who can lead the Knicks to higher respect, or even a playoff berth. And it’ll be interesting to see how Batum and Matthews fit in on their new teams.

Of course, the most interesting new team story will be that of LaMarcus Aldridge, who will be trying to do the impossible in succeeding Tim Duncan in San Antonio. While the task is huge, it’s amazing that Aldridge, not a shy Duncan admirer by any means, will be the one to do so. As a fan, it’s unfortunate to hear some of the ego-related issues that came out, and I really wanted the old core to achieve high, but I’m looking forward to seeing how Pop and Duncan refine Aldridge’s game, and how a star player like that adjusts to the Spurs’ system.


And that leaves Damian Lillard, my favorite player in the league, and the linchpin of the Portland Trailblazers’ future. I’ve been thinking in general how I feel about the breakup. In the immediate, I was dismayed to see the group that I’ve followed for the past few seasons separated, and Lillard on an island with a five-year extension in Portland. But then I thought again, and realized that, at the point where Lillard is now, stars either make themselves or succumb to the pressure. Lillard made the All-Star Game by the skin of his teeth last year. With undisputed pole position in Portland now, his game could very well take that leap to the next level, and he wouldn’t have to worry about an All-Star fringe appearance again in that case. I’m beyond excited for Lillard’s next chapter with the Blazers. I’m hopeful that he becomes the next all-time great point guard of the current era. He’s right about there currently, but can take it up a notch even further. I know it.

So, Blazers fans, NBA fans, and seemingly random onlookers, just know that though the Blazers have taken a step way back in the present, they have a bright future with the kid out of Weber State University. I know it. Barring injuries, which is hard to say when talking about the Portland Trailblazers, we may see the team competing again sooner than later.