Long Island's best pizza: 10 pies worth the drive
It’s been four years since I first put together a list of my Top 10 pizzas on Long Island. Or, to put it another way, it’s been four years since I antagonized scores of pizza partisans in Nassau and Suffolk. When the list was published, there were calls and emails questioning my judgment and sanity, and online comments whose number and tenor are usually reserved for articles about Obamacare.
Most Long Islanders, I’ve discovered, have a favorite local pizzeria whose honor they are prepared to defend to the death. In fact, there is not a slice of Long Island that is more than a short drive from a fine pizza. Every town has its own favorite dispensary of Neapolitan, Sicilian and grandma pies, and no one needs to tell you that if you live in New Hyde Park you should be patronizing Umberto’s — or Emilio’s if you live in Commack, Cugini in Mineola, Mamma Lombardi’s in Holbrook.
But this list is composed of “destination pies.” I am focusing on artisanal pizzas made with small-batch dough, fresh mozzarella (not “pizza cheese”), carefully sourced toppings. These pies are made to be ordered whole, not by the slice. Many hark back to the traditions of old New York (large, blistered pies baked in coal-burning ovens) or, further back, to the puffy, wood-fired pies of the Neapolitan pizzaioli who came up with the idea of pizza in the first place.
To me, the soul of a pizza is its crust. The crust is not merely a vehicle for the toppings, it is the most crucial element of the pie. Otherwise, you might as well have your tomatoes and cheese and what-have-you on an English muffin. A good crust is the product of good flour, long fermentation and little else. It has tender-chewy texture and a distinct flavor and is good enough to be enjoyed on its own.
This year, the list welcomes three new pizzerias, all of which make pies in the classic Neapolitan tradition: Naples Street Food in Franklin Square, Vulcano 081 in Rockville Centre and Wild Side Organic Bistro in Oakdale.
Here, in order of preference, are my picks:
10. Margherita pizza at Grimaldi’s(Credit: Alessandro Vecchi)
Margherita pizza at Grimaldi's (980 Franklin Ave., Garden City): When Frank Ciolli bought Grimaldi's coal-fired pizzeria in Brooklyn in 2001, a dynasty was born. Ciolli and his partners have gone on to open Grimaldi's all over the country, but the one in Garden City, opened by Ciolli's late son, Russell, and now owned by his widow, Jennifer Ciolli, was the first East Coast location opened outside of New York City. As befits its parentage, the Margherita pizza here is classic New York, almost lavishly topped with chopped tomato and fresh mozzarella that would sink a lesser crust. But Grimaldi's rises to the challenge. More info: 516-294-6565, grimaldisgardencity.com
9. Pizza No. 3 at Massa’s Pizzeria(Credit: Bruce Gilbert)
Pizza No. 3 at Massa's Pizzeria (345 Main St., Huntington): The nephew of Brooklyn's Patsy Grimaldi, Bill Massa is one of Long Island's coal-oven purists (no slices), but it's the inventive Pizza No. 3 that's the star of his Huntington pizzeria. It's topped with fresh mozzarella, scallions, pancetta, scamorza, cheese and truffle oil -- though I prefer it without the truffle oil. More info: 631-923-3473, massaspizzeria.com. For GPS directions, use 80 Gerard St. as address.
8. Marinara Pie at Wild Side Organic Bistro(Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)
Marinara Pie at Wild Side Organic Bistro (1551 Montauk Hwy., Oakdale): When Jay Jadeja and Raquel Wolf moved their restaurant from Hicksville to Oakdale, they installed a wood-burning brick oven in the new space. Jadeja, whose fusion cooking style stems from his Indian heritage, spent the first few months mastering the Neapolitan art of pizza making, and he has proved an apt pupil. There are fusion pies here, one topped with his mother's chicken curry, but the classics rule. For his vegan customers, he has perfected the marinara pie, topped only with San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, oregano, olive oil and crushed red pepper. More info: 631-791-1800, wildside-cafe.com
7. Rosa Bianca at Grana(Credit: Randee Daddona)
Rosa Bianca at Grana (1556 Main Rd., Jamesport): In the summer of 2010, the North Fork finally got the artisanal, wood-fired pizzeria it deserved. It's the custom out there to use as many local ingredients as possible, and Grana in Jamesport does not disappoint. The supernal rosa bianca is made with thinly sliced local potatoes, local red onions and rosemary (when they're in season) and Parmesan cheese. A locavore-pizzavore's dream. More info: 631-779-2844, granajamesport.com
6. Mom’s pizza at Saverio’s(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
Mom's pizza at Saverio's (929 Broadway, Massapequa): Saverio's is a tiny pizzeria carved out of A S Pork Store in Massapequa, where Sam Cataldo, one of the store's owners, started making pizzas in 2015 and hasn't stopped since. You'd never know from his pies that he's a relative latecomer to the pizzaiolo's art. All the pies are recommended, but the simpler pizzas put the spotlight where it belongs: on an elegant crust that has the well-developed flavor of rustic bread. "Mom's pizza" has no cheese, only a thin layer of sweet, onion-rich tomato sauce, made according to the recipe of Cataldo's late mother-in-law, Enza Giammarino. More info: 516-799-0091, saveriospizza.com
5. Margherita Napoletana at La Pala(Credit: Ryan C. Jones)
Margherita Napoletana at La Pala (246 Glen St., Glen Cove): When New Yorkers travel to Naples, they invariably find fault with the pizza there: the crust is too floppy and soft, they say, the topping is too soupy. But at La Pala in Glen Cove, Sal Apetino makes pizza the way it's made in Naples. The crust is puffy and light, the mozzarella and tomatoes meld beautifully -- if a bit soupily. Go ahead, eat it with a knife and fork. La Pala takes its name from the paddle used to get pizza in and out of the oven. You can see a lovely old "pala" hanging next to the wood-burning oven. More info: 516-399-2255, lapalany.com
4. Margherita at Vulcano 081(Credit: Daniel Brennan)
Margherita at Vulcano 081 (43 N. Village Ave., Rockville Centre): When partners Michael DeSena and Michael Vigliotti opened Vulcano 081 in January, they named the restaurant after Naples' area code. DeSena presides over the dining room with a big smile and a natty suit. Vigliotti, who was one of the founding pizzaioli at Red Tomato in East Norwich, runs the gold-tiled oven that was imported from Italy. Unlike a lot of wood-burning ovens on Long Island, it has no "gas assist" and runs solely on wood. From a roster of almost 20 pies whose toppings range from spicy salami to bacon marmalade, my favorite is the classic Margherita. More info: 516-442-5858, vulcano081.com
3. Capricciosa at Naples Street Food(Credit: Daniel Brennan)
Capricciosa at Naples Street Food (970 Hempstead Tpke., Franklin Square): You wouldn't expect to find authentic Neapolitan pizza in a tiny storefront on Hempstead Turnpike in Franklin Square, but Naples Street Food specializes in confounding expectations. Gianluca Chiarolanza, born and trained as a pizzaiolo in Italy, actually managed to ship his wood-burning oven from Naples to Franklin Square, and it assumes pride of place at the front of the store he owns with Aurora Pagnozzi. It translates to "capricious," but the pizza capricciosa here is a complex yet harmonious assemblage of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, artichokes, olives, prosciutto cotto, mushrooms and basil. More info: 516-673-4630
2. Vongole Bianca at Pizzetteria Brunetti(Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)
Vongole Bianca at Pizzetteria Brunetti (103 Main St., Westhampton Beach): Little more than a wood-burning oven and two counters, Westhampton's Pizzetteria Brunetti may be the most modest pizzeria on Long Island. The pies are anything but. Lofty toppings abound, but simplest tend to be the best. The absolute pinnacle is the Vongole Bianca, "white clam" pie, topped with nothing more than fresh-shucked local clams, garlic butter and herbs. Ocean, meet pizza. More info: 631-288-3003, pizzetteriabrunetti.com
1. Sausage pizza at Salvatoré’s(Credit: Michael Falco)
Sausage pizza at Salvatoré's (124 Shore Rd., Port Washington): When it opened in 1996, Salvatore’s was Long Island's first coal-fired pizzeria. Founding brothers Fred and Marco Lacagnina are descended from New York pizza royalty -- the family tree includes both Patsy Lancieri (the original Patsy's pizzeria in East Harlem) and Patsy Grimaldi (the original Grimaldi's in Brooklyn Heights). In 2007, Fred opened The Pie at Salvatore's in Bay Shore to spread the gospel of coal to the South Shore. (Marco now operates two coal-oven pizzerias in Asheville, North Carolina.) At both the Port Washington and Bay Shore locations, the pizzaioli use an unorthodox technique for stretching the dough -- rolling pins instead of hand-spinning -- but what comes out of the 900-degree oven is my idea of a perfect pie. The crust is a dream, crisp but pliant, the topping is a balanced meld of fresh, milky mozzarella and chunky chopped tomatoes punctuated with blobs of crumbled sausage. Grains, dairy, vegetables, meat. Is there a more delicious balanced meal? More info: 516-883-8457, salvatorescoalfiredpizza.com