1. Great Lake (CHICAGO)
[Nick Lessins's] cheese pie, prepared with fresh mozzarella made in-house, grated Wisconsin sheep’s-and-cow’s-milk cheese, and aromatic fresh marjoram instead of basil, was slightly shy of unbelievable. The next day I returned to try the same pie topped with fresh garlic and mortadella, the dirigible-sized Italian sausage that looks like bologna, tastes like salami, and is usually cut into chunks. He sliced the meat very thin and laid slices of it over the pie the moment it came out of the oven. The mortadella, with its combination of burliness and creaminess, was a meaty addition to the earthy, bready crust. This pie—creative, original, and somewhat local—represents everything irresistible about the new American style of pizza-making.
1477 West Balmoral Avenue, Chicago, IL; 773-334-9270
2. Lucali (BROOKLYN)
Lucali, around since 2006, is an old candy store done up to look like an old pizzeria, and there’s an eerie glow about it. I’m not getting spiritual. There really is. Owner and pizzamaker Mark Iacono stands behind a candlelit counter, wearing a white T-shirt, looking mysterious and troubled, our first poster-boy pizzaiolo. I picked the simplest of his creations, in essence a Margherita, although there’s no menu and none of the pies have names. When I asked what to call it, I was told “plain pie.” It has tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella, and a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, enormously satisfying for a pie so simple. The crust stands firm. The mozzarella melts exquisitely. The basil is wildly fresh. Should you need additional toppings, go for thinly shaved porcini mushrooms, so good I was tempted to put a second Lucali pie on my list.
575 Henry Street, Brooklyn, NY; 718-858-4086
3. Pizzeria Delfina (SAN FRANCISCO)
Delfina has easily the best crust in San Francisco, an unusually successful fusion of Neapolitan and American styles. The pie placed before me looked slightly pale, but it had a yeasty aroma and a lovely sweetness. It was unlike any other I found, prepared with tomato sauce, heavy cream, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and olive oil—and priced at a remarkable $10. Indeed, heavy cream does seem peculiar, but if you think about the Italian evolution of cheese for pizza—mozzarella becoming fresh mozzarella and then becoming fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella, each one richer and milkier than the one before—heavy cream is the natural expression of where Italians intend to go. The final addition, shavings of tangy, salty Parmigiano-Reggiano, is a brilliant step in the creation of an extraordinarily well-balanced pie.
3611 18th Street, San Francisco, CA; 415-437-6800;
4. Pizzeria Bianco (PHOENIX)
Margherita with prosciutto
…Waiting outside is like a big communal party, and had I not become chummy with one regular, I would never have ordered a Margherita pie topped with prosciutto. This fellow had three of them on his table, and he said it was all he ate. Chris Bianco’s fabled Margherita has a smoky and slightly scorched crust, too delicate to handle most toppings, but the uncommonly subtle, tender, and porky Italian prosciutto was a superlative option. Prosciutto is usually not one of my preferred toppings, because it’s often tough, but here it was icing on the crust.
623 East Adams Street, Phoenix, AZ; 602-258-8300
5. Bob & Timmy's (PROVIDENCE)
The menu is vast, but I stuck to simple variations, and every one was expertly prepared. The pies came in standard grilled-pizza format, irregularly round but cut into squares. The crust appeared too skinny to be interesting, but it seemed about the best flatbread I’d ever eaten. The vegetable toppings were remarkably fresh, and it occurred to me that freshness is something we rarely think about when contemplating what pizza we admire. The pie I loved most had three cheeses, the dominant one being feta, which adds tang and saltiness. Now I understand what every Greek must already know: Feta, spinach, and mushrooms are an astonishingly compatible combination.
32 Spruce Street, Providence, RI; 401-453-2221; www.bobandtimmys.com
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