It must be hell to be a carbophobe these days, particularly in New York. After all, you can't swing a cat in this town without hitting a delicately crisp, brightly flavored, meticulously crafted pizza. All over the city, you can see these tortured souls muddling through their starch-free lives, battling temptation at every turn.
New York, of course, has been a great pie town and a national pizza trendsetter practically since the day Gennaro Lombardi hauled a charred Margherita out of his coal oven. But never before has there been such a ridiculous wealth, such a mind-boggling abundance, such a belly-busting bounty of good pizza options, here and across the country.
Remember the Great Neapolitan Pizza Craze that rocked the pizza world a few years back? Well, that was merely a light warm-up for what's happening now. Still, it's not too much to say that the Naples Invasion is largely to thank for all the groovy new pies and pizza styles we now have at our disposal: When the Neapolitans and their acolytes saturated the local market with their drippy mozzarella di bufala and their soft and puffy cornicioni, they effectively lit a stick of dynamite underneath the pants of the American pizza-making populace. They roused us out of complacency and into action, spurring us on to step up and celebrate our homegrown pies.
Now, here in New York, for instance, there's Gourmet Stoner pizza at PeteZaaz in Prospect Heights and St. Louisstyle at Speedy Romeo in Clinton Hill. Where once it looked like the New York slice would sadly go the way of, if not the woolly mammoth, then surely the late, lamented New York bagel, now there is a mini slice-joint renaissance. Even Patsy Grimaldi, who can trace his pieman lineage back to Gennaro Lombardi, has come out of retirement to open Juliana's in the Fulton Ferry District and duke it out with his nemesis down the block who holds the rights to the Grimaldi name.
The funny thing is that the Neapolitans themselves with all their purported pizza rules and minimalist-restraint bluster might have been putting us on all along. The weirdest stuff to come out of the oven in recent months might be their own wacked-out Felliniesque concoctions: the deep-fried montanaras at Forcella, the crazy-ass pies at the otherwise super-authentic Don Antonio by Starita in Hell's Kitchen. A stuffed pizza shaped like a tennis racquet? Really? They eat those things in Naples?
We have arrived at a point in American pizza's progress when it's virtually impossible to count and classify the myriad styles. For every appetite, there is a slice, and to loosely paraphrase Brillat-Savarin (not to mention Iron Chef Chairman Kaga), tell me what kind of pizza you eat, and I'll tell you what you are. To illustrate just how diverse and delicious American pie can be, our national network of Grub Street scribes have assembled 101 examples from coast to coast that shock in their audacity, inspire in their creativity, and sometimes merely comfort in their tribute to time-honored tradition.
It's all broken down by category: The retro-futurism of the American new wave; classic deep-dish and thin-crust pies; spartan, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas; New York-style pies from around the country; square Sicilian slabs; satisfyingly floppy triangular slices; pedigreed pies from the country's best chefs; surprisingly above-par frozen pizza; and even weirdo outré pies that defy categorization.
Click on through the slideshow, and, carbophobes, please avert your eyes.
Introduction by Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite
Selections by Grub Street