Thursday, October 28, 2010

If You Can Have One Pizza In New York...

I had a major crisis on my hands: I would only be in New York City, the Vatican of pizzianity, for a mere 24 hours. Thus, I only had time for one pizza stop. ONE PIZZA STOP IN NEW YORK CITY? That's like going to the zoo and not making it past the exotic bird exhibit.

This was my predicament though -- and I decided I needed to make the best of it. To do so I went straight to the 'za experts, my buddies over at the Slice blog. These guys know their pizza better than anybody and they threw out a bunch of great recommendations. Ultimately, although I preferred a "New York slice shop"-vibe, I decided to hit up the joint my college friends keep clamoring about... the Neapolitan-styled Motorino.

I got off the bus at Port Authority from New Jersey full of pizza energy. Fuck, I'm going to walk this shit! How far could it be? Apparently, it could be 2.2 miles:

The walk took a good hour, but along the way, I really got to inhale New York. You know, New York. The Manhattan we all adore. The Big Apple Macaulay Culkin paraded through in the "Home Alone" sequel. The New York with millions of people simultaneously heading in millions of directions, both literally and figuratively. The New York with street vendors trying to sell you a "real" version of the watch you're already wearing on your wrist. The one with beautiful autumnal foliage, two homeless men discussing the coffee quality on their block, long lines for Malaysian food trucks, a Hispanic lady yelling expletives at a Japanese tourist, a cop gulping down a generously sized donut for lunch. You know what I'm talking about (in thick New Yorker accent).

This atmosphere simply does not exist in Los Angeles. At least not to the same degree. And this sort of scenery plays into the New York pizza experience. In LA, when I drive to Larchmont's Village Pizza my drive is traffic and Vampire Weekend-riddled. It's a totally, totally different experience when you stroll 35 blocks on a majestic New York fall day to the East Village's Motorino.

Motorino is not big. It's about the size of a Venice beachfront "bachelor" apartment actually. But within that small space comes a lot of joy. First, the staff is friendly. I mean, stupidly friendly. Like Chick-Fil-A friendly. Definitely not what one expects when they walk into a seemingly pretentious Neapolitan pizza joint in the East Village. Motorino also features a $12 lunch special -- a nice sized fresh green salad and a choice of one of four pizzas. Now, that really surprised me. You would never (NEVER) see a lunch special at Mozza.

I order the Brussels Sprouts & Pancetta because it sounds interesting. And it certainly is. The perfect combination of sprouts, pancetta, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and pecorino and mozzarella cheeses. Honestly, it's funny to think anything could be good with Brussels sprouts, but the Motorino pizza masterminds have done a great job of combining my favorite thing (pizza) with one of my least favorite things (b.s.). Can't get a child to eat his vegetables? Put that shit on pizza!

How does it compare to its top Neapolitan pizza contemporaries? Well, it's very similar to Phoenix's Pizzeria Bianco, widely-regarded as one of the country's top pizza places. The crust is slightly charred (at Motorino they bake their pies at 950 degrees), but still chewy and delicious. The toppings are fresh and flavorful, but not overwhelming. The pizzas themselves are rather large (compared to say, Mozza) -- and possibly too sizable for one person (although that didn't stop me at either Motorino or Bianco). Also both places use sauce sparingly. In fact, my pizza has none. Which is fine because it doesn't need any... it is that good.

Overall, a great New York pizza experience. Maybe not the floppy wonderfulness one expects when they come to Manhattan, but still a very special experience. Don't believe me? Ask the two Italian businessmen scarfing down their pies at an adjacent table. If those dudes like it, Motorino must be doing something right.

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