The bar has been raised: Long Island pizza is better than it’s ever been. Never before have I left so many fine establishments off my annual list of best pizzerias —because "very good" is no longer good enough.
Maybe it was introspection brought on by the pandemic. Just as home bakers lost themselves in the intricacies of sourdough, local pizzaioli were looking inward, experimenting with different flours, dough ratios and pizza ovens.
At The Onion Tree in Sea Cliff, Jay Jadeja changed up his flour mixture and decreased the proportion of water in his dough. In Elmont, King Umberto’s John Cesarano decided against a wood-fired oven, opting for an electric deck oven, and Michael Vigliotti at Huntington’s 1653 Pizza Company found that the key to achieving his desired crust was lowering the temperature of his coal-burning oven.
1653 is the only brand-new pizzeria on this list of 12. And of the 10 spots on my original 2012 list, only two remain, Salvatore’s in Port Washington and Brunetti, which, after a two-year hiatus, has reopened in a new location a block away from the original in Westhampton Beach.
Your favorite pizzeria may not be on this list and here’s why: Long Island has hundreds of great slice joints. I daresay there’s nowhere else in the country that has so many dependable neighborhood pizzerias, and choosing among them would be a fool's errand. Rather, these 12 pizzerias are culinary destinations.
What makes a great pizza? First and foremost, a great crust. Pizza is, at its heart, a bread — that amalgam of flour, water, yeast and salt that becomes something magical when treated to a long, slow fermentation and then given shape and structure by a practiced hand. I’m not swayed by innovative or elaborate toppings. Ask any great pizzaiolo what their favorite pie is and I’ll bet you, dollars to bombolini, they’ll say "Margherita."
No pizzeria got on this randomly ordered list without serving a fantastic Margherita but, this being Long island, you’ll also find well-wrought versions that go way beyond fresh mozzarella and high-quality tomatoes. Here they are, presented in no particular order. Buon appetito!
1653 Pizza Company (80 Gerard St., Huntington): After a nearly two-year gestation, 1653 opened in June in what had been Massa’s Coal-Fired Brick Oven Pizzeria. Partners Frank Antonetti and Michael Viglotti replaced everything except that oven and chef Vigliotti, a maestro of the wood fire, learned how to work with a new fuel — with spectacular results. His pie has the light, puffy rim of a classic Neapolitan pie but a sturdier crust, the better to handle such harmonious toppings as fresh and smoked mozzarella, bacon jam and shaved red onions, or a mélange of mozzarella, scamorza and maitake, king trumpet and pioppino mushrooms with truffle paste and porcini dust. His unorthodox clam pie — involving a clam-infused cream, lemon zest and pickled banana peppers — is triumph. There’s lots more than pizza on the menu, plus a swank décor, craft cocktails and an inventive wine list. More info: 631-824-6070
Charred Brick Oven (3915 Merrick Rd., Seaford): From the ashes of the former Seaford Lobster Shack, Charred Brick Oven rose in late 2020 to bring classic Neapolitan pies to this corner of the South Shore. Owner Greg Garofalo kept some of the former restaurant’s dishes (the clams oreganata live on on a pizza) but installed a wood-burning oven in between the bar and dining room — the tables up front offer an unobstructed view of the pizzaioli at work. The Margherita is textbook Neapolitan, with its puffy, leopard-spotted crust. For sheer overindulgence, get the mortadella pie wherein slices of the imported sausage are draped over a white pie then lavished with stracciatella cheese, chopped pistachios, arugula and pistachio cream. More info: 516-586-8617, charredbrickoven.com
Naples Street Food (2905 Long Beach Rd., Oceanside): Since he opened the original Naples Street Food in Franklin Square (now Chef Gigi’s Place) in 2016, Naples-born pizzaiolo Gianluca Chiarolanza has been a standard-bearer for unapologetically Neapolitan pies, 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. At the larger and brighter Oceanside restaurant (est. 2019), he’s tightened up his pies, making the crust crisper and the toppings less soupy than is traditional in Italy. Beyond the marvelous Margherita and marinara pies, the "porchetta" is topped with braised pork, smoked mozzarella, arugula and lemon oil; the Bosco features San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Gorgonzola, sausage, mushrooms and basil. The menu also features seven pastas and the Neapolitan panuozzo, a warm sandwich whose bread is a freshly baked length of pizza dough. Pies come in either 12-inch rounds or eight-slice rectangles. More info: 516-442-1692, naplesstreetfoodoceanside.com
Brunetti (61 Main St., Westhampton Beach): When it opened in 2010, Brunetti kicked off Long Island’s neo-Neapolitan pizza trend, but it exited the scene in 2019 as it built a new, larger pizzeria one block west. (It could hardly be smaller; the original Brunetti was, essentially, an oven, a counter and a few stools in the back of a Häagen-Dazs shop.) Brunetti 2.0 is a proper restaurant with tables, chairs and an expanded menu but its soul is still the wood-burning oven. The Margherita remains a classic whose lily might be gilded with "Mary’s meatballs" and ricotta. White pies include the "Funghi e Cipolle," with shiitakes, caramelized onions, goat cheese and thyme. Tomato-less and (mercifully) cheeseless is Brunetti’s signature "Vongole," a refined marriage of crust, clam, garlic, parsley and little else. In the new space, founder Michael Brunetti is now joined by partner, Danny Armyn, who also makes pies and manages. More info: 631-288-3003, brunettipizzahamptons.com
The Onion Tree (242 Sea Cliff Ave., Sea Cliff): Jay Jadeja is that culinary rarity, a jack of all trades and master of quite a few. He and his partner, Raquel Wolf Jadeja, opened The Onion Tree in 2019 and have managed to turn it into a destination for New American, authentic Indian and Neapolitan pizza — on weekly "Tasting Tuesdays," they take on the rest of the world. The international influences sometimes migrate onto the pies — to excellent effect — as in the "Palek Paneer pie," topped with spinach, fresh cheese, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, or the one made with Darjeeling-inspired short ribs, tamari, Gorgonzola and onions. Of course you can’t go wrong with the Margherita, quattro formaggi or the luxuriant "Funghi" with wild mushrooms, Taleggio, Fontina, thyme and truffle oil. More info: 516-916-5353, theoniontree.com
Mangia Bene (14 S. Park Ave., Rockville Centre): The menu at this year-old Rockville Centre trattoria ranges all over the boot, but attention must be paid to the individual Neapolitan-style pizzas, designed by executive chef, John Di Lemme, and owner, Maurizio Vendittelli, and baked in a newfangled electric oven imported from Italy. Crust and toppings are in perfect harmony, from the simplest marinara and Margherita to the "PLT" (smoked Tyrolean Speck, arugula, cherry tomatoes, lemon, mozzarella and Parmesan) and the "Calabrese," sparked by hot sausage and Calabrian chilies. Gluten avoiders can order any pie with a cauliflower crust and oenophiles will appreciate the wine list, full of interesting, pizza-friendly wines, many of them available by the glass. More info: 516-447-6744, mangiabenervc.com
King Umberto (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. Having mastered the Long Island basics (thin-crusted round, Sicilian and grandma), in 2018 he introduced the "metro pie," made in the pizzeria’s deck oven but inspired by the long-fermented doughs and carefully sourced toppings that characterize Roman pizzas. In 2021, when the restaurant built a marble-tiled covered terrace, he set up a little shed along one side, got himself a fancy new electric oven, and started working on his own personal holy grail, a pie that has the airy structure and refinement of a Naples-style pie, but with the crunch and crackle of New York. The Margherita is a thing of beauty, made with both cow and buffalo mozzarella and imported Parmesan. Less traditional pies include those inspired by cacio e pepe and Amatriciana pastas as well as the white "Hot Boy Summer" pie with regular shredded mozzarella, ricotta, sweet and hot peppers, spicy sausage and Mike’s Hot Honey. More info: 516-352-8391, kingumberto.com
Salvatore’s Coal Oven Pizzeria (124 Shore Rd., Port Washington): The only pizzeria that has been on every one of our best-pizza lists, Salvatore's, which opened in 1996, had Long Island’s first coal-burning oven. Coal was the fuel used by New York's very first pizzerias, Lombardi's, John's, Totonno's and Patsy's (from which Salvatore's is descended through its founder Patsy Grimaldi). 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 a soulful combination of char and creaminess. The crust is a dream, crisp but pliant, the topping is a balanced meld of fresh, milky mozzarella and chunky chopped tomatoes. No designer pies here, just your choice of classic toppings to be enjoyed in a retro room where the soundtrack is 50% Sinatra. 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
Chef Gigi’s Place (970 Hempstead Tpke., Franklin Square): In early 2021, Italian chef Pierligui "Gigi" Sacchetti took over the original Naples Street Food, changed the name and added dozens of regional Italian pastas. But, happily, the pizza offerings remain the same, still made in the wood-burning oven by Giorgio Jeri, who has been slinging pies here since n 2016. (Original founder Gianluca Chiarolanza has decamped to Naples Street Food in Oceanside, which opened in 2019.) The classic Neapolitan pies are available in both 12- and 17-inch sizes, and the menu also features pucce (singular: puccia), Pugliese sandwiches made on freshly baked "pocket" breads that take pita to a whole new level. Fillings include sausage and broccoli rabe; imported mortadella, shaved Parmesan and artichokes and prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and arugula. More info: 516-673-4630, chefgigisplace.com/
Saverio’s (929 N. Broadway, North Massapequa): In 2015, Sam and Emily Cataldo carved out just enough space from their venerable A & S Pork Store to accommodate a wood-burning oven, a prep counter and a few tables and, before too long, people were coming from all over Long Island to sample the pizza — and to hang out with the extended Cataldo family. Eventually, tables were set up in the pork store itself and, in the fall of 2021, Saverio’s took over the neighboring storefront to have a proper dining room for the first time. Some of the best pies recall great Italian pasta dishes — alla vodka, broccoli rabe and sausage, or the "Mom’s Pie" featuring onion-rich Genovese sauce. Another favorite is the Speck pie, topped with cream, mozzarella and the eponymous smoked prosciutto, which gets a little crusty in the oven and, finally, is topped with shaved Parmesan and your choice of Mike’s Hot Honey or truffle oil. Last year, Sam was inspired by the newly ascendant deep-dish Detroit-style to create his own "Depequa" pie whose top and sides are crisp with a hardened matrix of mozzarella, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses before being topped with tomato sauce and more cheese and sent back into the oven. More info: 516-799-0091, saveriospizza.com
Donatina (18 West Ave., Patchogue): They're doing it all at John Peragine's three-year-old Patchogue pizzeria. There’s a wall of deck ovens for both traditional New York- and Detroit-style pies. The latter, a Michigan import, are baked in deep, steel pans, a thick topping of mozzarella, Cheddar and Wisconsin brick cheese seeping down the sides and caramelizing, perhaps even burning a little, to create lots of crunchy, pleasantly greasy crust. Then there’s a wood-burning oven for baking individual Neapolitan pies that include the sausage and cherry pepper, a masterful blend of tomato, mozzarella, crumbled hot and sweet sausage and sliced cherry peppers; and 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
Pizza Rita (55 Middle Rd., Mattituck): Jeff Marrone’s three-year-old eatery is located in a strip mall halfway to the end of the North Fork and is only open Thursday through Sunday (and sometimes not even then — call to make sure that Marrone is not catering a party or has run out of dough). But this is the very definition of a pizzeria worth the drive. In the wood-burning oven that he lovingly tiled with broken crockery, Marrone bakes pies whose just-short-of-over-the-top toppings never overshadow their supernal crusts. No pie beats the Margherita, but a few give her a run for the money, among them, the "Northforker," with mozzarella, mascarpone, pine nuts, Pecorino Romano, kale and red onion, the latter two ingredients sourced from local farms. New pies are posted on Instagram (@pizza.rita) which is how we learned about the "Carmen," topped with broccoli rabe pesto, fennel sausage and buffalo mozzarella. More info: 631-315-5557, pizzarita.org