I used Roma Sausage—Utica’s most famous tomato pie—as my template when I set out to make a facsimile. In my opinion, what makes Roma’s pies so special is the sauce. The sauce is laid down in a thick layer, and one gets lots of that deliciousness in each bite. The sauce is simple and tomato forward. Its balance of salt and sweetness is nearly perfect.
Utica tomato pie is working-class fare. It’s supposed to be cheap eats. This is not gentrified fare we’re creating. I used inexpensive crushed tomatoes.
I added nothing to the tomatoes except some tomato paste for body, salt, and a little sugar to get the salty/sweet balance just right. I cooked it just long enough to thicken it up a bit.
I didn’t want the sauce to cook in the oven. I wanted a light, bright sauce, not one that’s concentrated and cooked down like an Italian gravy. The pizza will spend a reasonable amount of time in the oven, and the sauce will further cook during that time. When I baked the pie, I put only a very thin layer of sauce to prevent the crust from browning. I added most of the sauce post-bake.
I was delighted with the result. The eating experience and flavor profile were very similar to Roma’s.
My tomato pie is on the left. On the right is Roma’s tomato pie.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Joe Rosenthal for helping me to make true NY style pizza. Before one can make something, one has to know what one is making, and to make it well, one has to understand the details and nuances of said thing. Joe Rosenthal goes into detail about NY style pizza, what it is and how to make it, and he leaves no stone unturned. Thanks to his tips, procedures, and dough formulation I’ve been making excellent NY style pizza at home.
Here are two recent examples of my homemade NY style pies.
I discovered a very good NY style pizza dough recipe a little while back for use in a home oven with a steel. This has become my go to dough for pizzas made in my home oven at 550F, and it’s also worked well when I’ve used it in my Roccbox at about 850F.
I’ve fallen in love with pepperoni. I have half-a-dozen different brands in my fridge at any one time, and I’m constantly trying different brands. I’m not sure if this is an original idea, it likely isn’t, but I thought it’d be fun to put three different styles of pepperoni on one pie.
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.
I’ve eaten pizza in four of the top ten pizzerias in America. Soon, I’ll be making the trip to NYC to check the fifth and possibly a sixth off that list.
I have plans to spend a weekend in Brooklyn, and a weekend in Boston to eat pizza. I hope to make the trek to New Haven again and explore more of the pizza there. (I have eaten at Pepe’s.)
I’ve driven as far as 2 1/2 hours one way just to eat pizza at a single pizzeria, and then I turned around and came right back.
I’ve eaten at every single Neapolitan style pizza joint within a 2-hour radius of Albany. Every. Single. One.
I’ve eaten at 95% of pizzerias that have a wood oven in the area (that I’m aware of), and at most of the wood-fired pizza trucks. If I discover a pizzeria that has a wood oven and I haven’t been, I usually go immediately.
I’ve eaten pizza at well more than 100 local places and counting.
I just spent a weekend in Buffalo, the primary impetus to go there was to eat the pizza at Jay’s Artisan, a fantastic Neapolitan style pizza joint.
I once talked my wife into spending a weekend in Syracuse to go shopping at its giant mall, but I secretly wanted to go to eat pizza.
I put all of that out there not to toot my own horn, but to list my credentials. My opinions are based on a fair amount of experience. One can disagree with me (and you should!), but my opinions are not born out of ignorance.
I had a good friend who worked at Domino’s Pizza in the mid-’90s. He worked the late shift and was left in charge. On occasion, he’d invite me to hang out with him. I got to spend time behind the counter watching the delivery drivers come and go, watch my buddy make the pizzas, and he’d also let me make my own pizza. I’ll never forget the contraption they used that would apply the cheese pellets (and they were indeed pellets). You’d load the proper amount of cheese into an elevated cone, then slide the pizza under, press the release button, and bam! A perfectly cheesed pizza.
At the time, I ate Domino’s pizza and would order a pie for delivery now and then.
But that was more than 20 years ago, and it wasn’t too long after that I met my wife, who was instrumental in nudging me toward learning to appreciate better food. She loathes Domino’s, and I haven’t eaten it since.
Recently, I decided it was time to revisit the chain. Admittedly, I fell victim to their marketing, and the idea of eating a pizza with a soft doughy crust, that’s sweetly sauced, and with a generous amount of cheese appealed to me.
Have you seen the video series Upstate Old School Vic Christopher is doing for Two Buttons Deep? In the first episode, he visits O’Scugnizzo’s Pizzeria in Utica. O’Scug’s makes a form of Utica tomato pie, and the place is the second oldest continually operating pizzeria in the US. The video is less than four minutes long. It’s worth a watch.
Barely one week after Vic’s video was posted, Daniel B. and I had some business together in Central NY (more about that at a later date), and after seeing the video, both of us were curious to visit O’Scug’s and experience the pizza.
Notice the title of this post is not “The Best Pizza in the 518.” “Best” is subjective, and when it comes to pizza, everyone has their favorite style or favorite pizza joint. I’m willing to accept that my favorites are not necessarily the best, but instead, merely those I like most. I’m sure it won’t be hard for anyone to take issue with my favorites, and that’s fine. You are welcome to disagree with me.
With one exception, my favorite pizzas are all cooked in a wood oven. To produce the light, tender, and chared crusts I prefer, requires temps of 800 degrees or higher, temperatures a wood oven has no problem reaching. Wood also imparts some flavor into the crust. Wood oven = more flavor.
So, without further ado, my favorite pizza in the Greater Capital Region:
NY style pizza. It’s a thing. It’s also a particular thing. I think the average pizza eater is confused as to what it is. NY Style pizza is not just round thinner pizza, and I’m probably guilty of making that incorrect assumption in the past as well.
NY slices are another thing altogether. The pizza is cooked ahead of time, then when ordered the triangle is thrown back into the oven to be reheated. The bottom of the pizza crisps up, making for a crunchy crust. Eating a reheated slice is not quite the same as eating one fresh out of the oven.
Having participated in FUSSYlittleBLOG’s Tour de Slice Schenectady, I’ve come to realize that NY style slices don’t get me excited. Not that they aren’t tasty, they are, and their popularity is a testament to that, but given my druthers, they wouldn’t be my first choice.