Long Island's best pizza: 10 pies worth the drive
Yes, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of terrific local pizzerias in Nassau and Suffolk counties. I am not concerning myself with them. Instead, I am focusing on what I'll call Long Island's destination pies: great artisanal pizzas made with small-batch dough, fresh mozzarella (not "pizza cheese"), carefully chosen toppings. Here are my rankings for Long Island's top 10 pizzas.
10. St. Rocco's Bakery's breakfast pizza(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
St. Rocco?s Bakery in Glen Cove is a Nassau destination for rustic breads and refined cakes and pastries, but the bakery also has a wood-fired oven just for making pizza. The sparely topped Margherita ($12) is a classic, but my favorite is the breakfast pizza ($14). When it is about half baked, the pizzaiolo pulls it out of the oven and cracks two eggs onto it, and puts it back so the crust starts to blister, the cheese becomes molten and the eggs are perfectly sunny-side up.
9. Red Tomato's quattro stagioni(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
This spiffy, stylish Red Tomato was opened a couple of years ago in East Norwich by the Messina family (of Dortoni and La Bonne Boulangerie bakery fame), along with partner Chuck Berg. The flour and tomatoes are imported from Italy and a standout pie is the Quattro Stagioni (four seasons, $16), in which each quadrant is graced with its own topping: ham, olives, mushrooms, artichokes.
8. San Marzano's caprino(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
I'm usually dismayed by non-Italian elements on my pizza but was won over by the caprino pie ($14) at San Marzano in Merrick. Drawing on French and California traditions, this surprisingly harmonious assemblage brings together fontina, goat cheese, caramelized onions, shiitake and button mushrooms, garlic and truffle oil. What really puts it over the top is the excellent crust, tender but toothsome and full of good, wheaty flavor.
7. Centro Cucina's proscuitto(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
This modest little Greenvale trattoria does pretty much everything well, and Centro Cucina's pizza is no exception. The prosciutto pie ($16), topped with an abundance of prosciutto, arugula, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and shaved Parmesan, is my pick, although a customer favorite is the white pie (not on the menu), laden with mozzarella, ricotta and truffle oil.
6. Grimaldi's Margherita(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
When Frank Ciolli bought Grimaldi's coal-fired pizzeria in Brooklyn in 2001, a dynasty was born. Ciolli, his son Russell and daughter-in-law Jennifer opened Grimaldi's in Garden City in 2004. As befits its parentage, the Margherita pizza ($14, $16) 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.
5. The Pie's Margherita(Credit: John Griffin)
Here's a crust with real integrity, puffy but substantial and not too tender. You can see from the big air holes that the dough is treated with respect. There are some complicated pies on the menu at Port Jefferson's The Pie -- including Buffalo and barbecue chicken(?!) -- but you'd be advised to stick to the simplest, the textbook Margherita ($8, $14, $16).
4. Grana's rosa bianca(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
In the summer of 2010, the North Fork finally got the artisanal, wood-fired pizzeria it deserved. It's the custom out here to use as many local ingredients as possible, and Grana in Jamesport does not disappoint. The supernal rosa bianca ($11) is made with thinly sliced local potatoes, local red onions and rosemary (when they're in season) and Parmesan cheese. A locavore-pizzavore dream.
3. Piccolo's baci(Credit: Barbara Alper)
The back wall of this otherwise unassuming-looking deli is dominated by a wood-burning oven producing superb pizza. The baci ($8.95, $16.95) at Piccolo's in New Hyde Park is a genius amalgam of smoked mozzarella, pancetta and thinly sliced red onions. No frills here: Grab a soda from the case and a seat at one of the small tables.
2. Pizzetteria Brunetti's vongole bianca(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
Westhampton's Pizzetteria Brunetti probably makes the most authentic Neapolitan-style pie on LI: puffy around the edges, thin in the center and not overly crisp. The simplest toppings tend to be the best, and the absolute pinnacle is the vongole bianca (white clam, $19) topped with nothing more than fresh-shucked local clams, garlic butter and herbs. This is the very definition of a pizza worth the drive. In traffic, even.
1. Salvatore's Coal Oven Pizzeria's sausage(Credit: Newsday / Erica Marcus)
If I were limited to one LI pizza for the rest of my life, it would be the sausage pie ($17.25, $19.25) at 1. Salvatore's, in Port Washington, owned by Fred Lacagnina. 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? Like all great pies, this one starts with its crust.
Salvatore's makes its own mozzarella and uses canned plum tomatoes from California along with grated Pecorino Romano, dried oregano, fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil. The sausage is bought in bulk (not in casings) so it can be judiciously strewn over the pie. Then, the pizza goes into Salvatore's coal-fired oven, where the temperature hovers around 900 degrees.