Why does NY City have the largest concentration of the most famous pizzerias anywhere outside of Italy? Why does NYC have so many fantastic pizzerias, compared to the rest of the country?
I have heard it said over and over, “It’s the water!” as though NYC water had some magical properties to it. But that myth is easy to debunk. If New York’s water were the secret to its great pizza, there would not be great pizza elsewhere, and we all know that is not true. Not only is there great pizza all over the USA (just not in the numbers NY has), but there’s also great pizza everywhere in the world—especially in the pizza capital of the world, Naples.
There are two reasons why NY has so many great pizzerias compared to other parts of the country.
1) It’s a numbers game.
NYC has a population of 8.4 million, more than double the second-largest US city. I saw an article stating there are 62,000 registered pizzerias in the five boroughs.
That’s a lot of pizza joints.
If only 1% of those are making fantastic pizza, that would mean there are 620 fantastic pizzerias in NY. That’s a lot, and far more than any other city.
Now, if only one-tenth of one percent (or 10% of the 620) were truly outstanding and world-class, we’d expect around 62 ‘best of the best’ pizzerias in NY.
And guess what? The number of world-class, famous, worth-driving-hours-for pizzerias in NY is right around 50 or 60, and most of those are only known to pizza geeks and locals.
That’s right, less than one-tenth of one percent of NY’s lauded pizzerias are known outside of NY and are worth the trouble to visit.
There are probably around 1,000 making very, very good pizza, with the remaining 61,000 ranging from average to poor.
The numbers also suggest there are a lot of places selling crappy pizza in NY. It’s impossible for the majority of those 62,000 to be above average. And that’s indeed the case; there’s no shortage of crappy pizza in NY. Crappy pizza is everywhere there, and plenty of NYers don’t care about great pizza, they’re happy to eat their dollar slice or the pizza from their local place where the pizza is ‘good enough,’ and convenience is paramount.
2) It’s the culture.
The comparatively small city of New Haven, Connecticut, has eight or nine genuinely fantastic pizzerias and more that are very good. Is the water there special too?
New Haven has a culture of great pizza. Greatness breeds and encourages greatness. You can’t make great pizza if you don’t know what great pizza is. In New Haven, just as in NY, they know great pizza. Culture plays a crucial role in any food scene, and culture generally dictates the quality of the food.
The availability of ingredients does play a role. The best seafood is, of course, found near large bodies of water, but that’s not the case with many other pockets of culinary greatness. Buffalo-style wings, for example, are best in Buffalo, and it’s not because they grow better chickens there. It’s not the case with pizza either.
Even in NY itself, there are pockets of great pizza, and areas where there is none. I know of one highly lauded pizzeria in the Bronx, and one in Harlem. The vast majority of the city’s great pizzerias are concentrated below 14th street in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. Brooklyn especially has a culture that demands great pizza.
There’s no magic to NY’s great pizza, and NY is no different than other culinary destinations. NY’s great pizza is a result of the sheer number of places making it, and the culture.