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Crowning a Pizza King

Clam pie at Motorino in NYC

New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton called the pizza at Motorino the best in New York. Motorino has two locations, one in Brooklyn and one in the East Village. Sifton says both are equally good. So when I visited New York last week, the first place I ate was the East Village Motorino. The margherita pizza was very good, but the clam pizza was a disappointment. Clams in their shells? In red sauce? The clam pie at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven is a white pizza made in a coal oven with fresh shucked clams and lots of garlic. And it is still the best pizza in the world.

Cheese slice at Sal & Carmine's

While I was in New York, I also made it up to Broadway and 102nd St. to sample a pizza at Sal & Carmine’s, the legendary slice joint. Bryan Caswell came with me. The first cheese slice we got was okay. But Caswell pointed out that I had forgotten to get it heated. So we ordered another slice and asked that it be put back in the oven. What a difference! It was a big, floppy extremely crispy slice and it was excellent.

Margherita pie at Ciao Bello in Houston

I wish there was more happening on the Houston pizza front. I tried the margherita pizza at Ciao Bello on San Felipe the other day. It didn’t rival Motorino or anything, but it was surprisingly good. You have to eat it right out of the oven, because the crust doesn’t stay crisp for long. But you could do worse. The coal oven pizza thing seems to have quieted down.

It’s interesting that Motorino, the new king of New York pizza, uses a wood-fired oven. Meanwhile Lombardi’s, New York’s oldest coal oven pizzeria, has fallen off the radar. Seems like the same thing is going on down here. Sadly, we have all come to understand that it is possible to make a mediocre pizza in a coal oven. And “old king coal” has lost his crown.

6 comments to Crowning a Pizza King

  • Ken

    Okay, was going to skip it, but I am now going to Pepe’s next month just for the white clam. I was going to hit Modern Apizza instead, but now I have a craving, and no one does that pie like Pepe’s. Darn you Robb Walsh!!!

  • Jim Washburn

    The white clam pizza pie at Sally’s in New Haven is also great.

  • Brazos

    I fell in love with the white pizza with clams and bacon on a cracker thin crust at “Piece” in Chicago. It’s wonderful award winning brewpub too.

  • I lived at 103rd St and Broadway in the mid-90’s. Ate at Sal & Carmines 2-3 times a week. Sal served me hundreds of slices, and never uttered a word. Every time I visit NYC, I always go back for a slice.

  • John C

    There is a “New Haven style” place called Pete’s that opened about 2 years ago in DC. Great reviews, in case you are up that way but can’t get all the way to New Haven or NYC.

  • Good read. I wish I had the motivation to write such good posts onto my own blog. It is not easy.