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Long Island's best artisanal pizzerias

The "combo" pizza-calzone, with pepperoni at The Gristmill

The "combo" pizza-calzone, with pepperoni at The Gristmill in East Rockaway. Credit: Daniel Brennan

These days, we’re all giving our local pizzerias a workout. But if you’re looking for a special treat and are inclined to take a drive, here are some of Long Island’s best artisanal pizzerias. By “artisanal” I mean establishments whose ovens are often fueled by wood or coal, whose toothsome crusts are the result of a long, cold fermentation process and whose toppings — fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, imported prosciutto — tend toward the luxe. It’s true these pies are best straight out of the oven. But there’s nothing stopping you from eating them in the car. (Otherwise, a few minutes in a 450-degree oven can restore their crisp bottoms and gooey tops.)

Like everything right now, pizzerias are in flux. Some are working through their traditional days off, some are taking extra days to restock. Call first.

Centro Cucina (43 Glen Cove Rd., Greenvale): This modest little trattoria does pretty much everything well and Centro Cucina's pizza is no exception. The prosciutto pie, 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. More info: 516-484-3880, centrocucinacafe.com

Donatina Pizza Cafe (18 West Ave., Patchogue): They're doing it all at Donatina, John Peragine's new Patchogue pizzeria. In addition to a Neapolitan wood-burning oven, he has a wall of deck ovens for both traditional New York- and Detroit-style pies. (The latter is, essentially, a Sicilian beneath whose toppings is a crust of melted and browned brick and mozzarella cheeses.) Don’t miss the open-faced calzone, whose torpedo shape maximizes the proportion of well-browned crust. It arrives heaving with a molten filling of fresh mozzarella, ricotta, sausage and marinara sauce. More info: 631-730-7002, donatinapizza.com

Grimaldi's Pizzeria (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, 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. More info: 516-294-6565, grimaldisgardencity.com

The Gristmill (144 Main St., East Rockaway): The Gristmill's co-owner and pizzaiolo Jerry Miele has solved the age-old problem of choosing between pizza and calzone with this nifty hybrid, dubbed "the combo." The calzone "handle," filled with ricotta, mozzarella, pecorino and a little roasted red pepper oil, is the perfect counterpoint to his elegant, Neapolitan pie, dotted with coins of piquant pepperoni. Miele and partner John Orphanos opened their casual "brick oven bistro" last year and immediately vaulted into the top echelon of LI pizzerias. New this year is a liquor license, so you can sit at the bar and unwind while Miele plies his trade. More info: 516-792-6104, thegristmillbob.com

King Umberto's (1343 Hempstead Tpke., Elmont): John Cesarano grew up at King Umberto, the iconic Elmont pizzeria established by his father, Ciro Cesarano, and partner Rosario Fuschetto. But young Cesarano (nom de pizza: "Giovanni Chez") was determined to create something on his own and, last year, he settled on a variation of Roman-style pizza that is baked not in a pan but directly on the floor of the oven. His "metro" pie is a puffy, crusty pizza that's about 10 inches wide and 3 feet long (metro is Italian for "meter"). The metro is all about the crust, chewy yet filled with pockets of air, the result of a long, slow fermentation and gentle handling. More info: 516-352-8391, kingumberto.com

La Margherita (1231 Station Rd., Medford): When he opened La Margherita on a bucolic stretch of road in 1991, Giuseppe Illiano recalled that neither the Town of Brookhaven Building Division nor the Suffolk Department of Health had ever seen a restaurant with a wood-burning pizza oven. But he was a proud son of Naples and was determined to make proper pizza Napoletana in his second restaurant. (The first, Tony's, had opened in Medford a decade earlier.) La Margherita also makes traditional American-style pies in a deck oven, but it's the 12-inch pizzas, crafted with housemade mozzarella and canned Italian tomatoes that are closest to Illiano's heart. More Info: 631-924-0048, lamargheritapizza.com

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 La Pala in Glen Cove 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

Naples Street Food (Franklin Square and Oceanside): Naples Street Food's pie is unapologetically Neapolitan. It is bordered by a puffy rim ("cornicione" in Italian) whose texture — pillowy but chewy — is the result of a long, cold fermentation and superfine "tipo 00" flour. Since 2016, when he opened his tiny pizzeria in Franklin Square, Naples-born pizzaiolo Gianluca Chiarolanza has tightened up his pies, making the crust crisper and the toppings less soupy than is traditional in Italy. The original Naples Street Food has a wood-burning oven imported from Italy and, as of December, a macaroni menu overseen by pasta savant Gigi Sachetti, formerly of Da Gigi in Lynbrook. The the new Oceanside location, which opened last year, uses an Italian-made electric oven that mimics and possibly (dare I say) improves upon its wood-burning cousin. More info: 970 Hempstead Tpke., Franklin Square, 516-673-4630, naplesstreetfoodmenu.com; 2905 Long Beach Rd., Oceanside; 516-442-1692

Pazzo (6278 Route 25A, Wading River): Dean Sackos is a recent convert to the cult of wood. The Lake Ronkonkoma native started working the gas-fired deck oven (standard equipment at Long Island pizzerias) across the street at Cara Mia when he was 14. Two years later, he bought the pizzeria and ran it for the next 16 years. When he teamed up with Pazzo’s owner, Maria Tranchina, in 2017 the two decided to install a wood-burning oven right next to the deck ovens, and Sackos enrolled in a course to learn how to use it. He was smitten at once. “Pazzo” means crazy, and the toppings there do not disappoint. Pies are topped with braised short ribs and portobellos in a Cognac cream sauce; rosemary-fig jam with Gorgonzola, Fontina and prosciutto; spinach, artichokes and bacon in a cream sauce. This is also the rare wood-burning pizzeria that makes vegan pies with dairy-free cheese. More info: 631-929-3939, pazzorestaurantwadingriver.com

The Pie at Salvatore’s (120 E. Main St., Bay Shore): When Fred Lacagnia opened this Bay Shore pizzeria, it was a collaboration between the original Port Washington location and The Pie, another coal-oven operation in Port Jefferson. But by the end of the first year, the Port Jefferson restaurant relinquished its partnership and, in 2017, Lacagnina sold the Port Washington store. More information: 631-206-1060, salvatorescoalfiredpizza.com

Pizza Rita (55 Middle Rd., Mattituck): Last year, Jeff Marrone's Pizza Rita graduated from mobile catering truck to bricks-and-mortar store, taking over a workaday slice joint that had never seen this level of artistry. Marrone, who named his pizzeria after his grandmother, is pretty much a one-man show, making the pies, bussing the tables, answering the phones, making his own gelato. All the pies display chewy, leopard-spotted rims and just-this-side-of-lavish toppings; the cannolo (randomly named; bearing no relationship to the dessert) is a symphony of mozzarella (made by the chef), ricotta, sausage, oyster and button mushrooms, finished with pecorino, and extra-virgin olive oil. More info: 631-315-5557. Open Thursday to Sunday.

Pomodorino Rosso (47 Franklin Ave., Valley Stream): At Pomodorino Rosso, Sal Apetino has modified the Neapolitan pie to suit his gas-powered oven. The Naples-born pizzaiolo started learning his craft at Angelo’s in Flushing, one of the first wood-burning pizzerias in the city. He went on to work at Il Forno and La Pala in Glen Cove before teaming up with Antonio Bove, the chef-owner of Pomodorino Rosso. Apetino has modified the traditional cornicione — he forms a rim, but it’s not as high or puffy. Instead of the traditional leopard spots of char, his crust has a more uniformly golden hue, and the pie is altogether crisper and less floppy than you’d find in Naples. More info: 516-812-6171, pomodorinorosso.com

Salvatore's (124 Shore Rd., Port Washington): Only a coal-burning oven can make an eight-slice pie with this soulful combination of char and creaminess and Salvatore's, which opened in 1996, was the first Long Island pizzeria to use the method pioneered by New York's very first pizzerias, Lombardi's, John's, Totonno's and Patsy's (from which Salvatore's is descended). The pizzaioli here use an unorthodox technique for stretching the dough — rolling pins instead of hand-spinning — but what comes out of the 900-degree oven is the classic New York coal-fired 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 little nubbins of crumbled sausage. In 2017, ownership of Salvatore's passed from founder Fred Lacagnina to brothers Pat and Dom DeSimone, with no discernible change. More info: 516-883-8457, salvatorescoalovenpizzeria.com

San Marzano Brick Oven Pizzeria (38 Merrick Ave., Merrick): This resolutely nontraditional pie pays less homage to Italy than it does to French and California cuisines. The 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 and full of good, wheaty flavor. More info: 516-546-3300

Taglio (85 Mineola Blvd., Mineola): Roman-style pan pizza is the main event at Taglio ("slice" in Italian). The puffy, rectangular pies may look Sicilian but when you examine a slice in cross section, you'll see large air pockets; take a bite and note the elastic-chewy texture, the deep wheaty savor. All of this is the result of a wet, hard-to-handle dough and a dayslong process of fermentation. Chef-owner Rob Cervoni satisfies his customers tastes with "chicken bacon ranch" and eggplant Parm, but the best pies are inspired by Rome's great Pizzarium Bonci. These rotate from week to week but include prosciutto with arugula, and mortadella with artichokes and, the one I wish they had every day, potato with rosemary, a refined combination that, in turn, perplexes, entrances and obsesses. More info: 516-741-0379, tagliopizzany.com

Wild Side Organic Bistro & Bar (1551 Montauk Hwy., Oakdale): When Jay Jadeja and Raquel Wolf moved their restaurant from Hicksville to Oakdale in 2016, they installed a wood-burning brick oven in the new space. Jadeja spent the first few months mastering the Neapolitan art of pizza making; now Wolf has assumed the mantle of chief pizzaiola. Wild Side is a haven for restricted diets, and the vegan marinara pizza here is one of the best, topped only with San Marzano tomatoes, poached garlic, fresh oregano, olive oil and crushed red pepper. For adventurous diners looking for a little Indian-Italian fusion, try the chicken tikka masala pie, silky, mild chicken curry garnished with coriander and cumin seeds, fried green chilies and curry leaves. More info: 631-791-1800, wildsidebistro.com

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