Pizza is the world's perfect food. Why shouldn't it be lavished with maximum artistry and the best ingredients? "No reason at all," declares a new generation of local pizzaioli as they usher in a new wave of serious pizza.
Best ingredients does not mean most ingredients. These serious pizzas stand in a rebuke to a longer-standing Long Island trend of saddling a pie with an entire Italian meal. (You've seen them: the baked-ziti topped pizzas, the veal-Marsala-topped pizzas, the Buffalo-chicken-topped pizzas.) The new-wave pie gets its cred from the restrained deployment of homemade mozzarella and artisanal sausage, from imported San Marzano tomatoes grown on the volcanic slopes of Italy's Mount Vesuvius, from extra-virgin olive oil and fresh-shucked clams and Prosciutto di Parma.
But a serious pizza relies most emphatically on its crust. Neither precariously thin nor ponderously thick, it should approach a perfect balance between toothsome and tender, puffy and crisp, slightly charred but never burned. It is delicious all on its own and yet forms a perfect canvas for its toppings.
These serious pizzas measure about a foot across. Most are baked in a wood-burning oven (perhaps built in Italy), but a gas oven is perfectly capable of turning out a great pie. Fuel, after all, is secondary to craftsmanship.
Here are a dozen places to sample the pizza-maker's art at its highest level. They were chosen by Newsday's food staff: Peter M. Gianotti, Erica Marcus and Joan Reminick.
611 Montauk Hwy., Center Moriches, 631-878-2528, lavolperestaurant.net
THE PIE Margherita individual pizza, $10
WHY In a Tuscan-style building shared by La Volpe Ristorante, a wood-burning oven turns out a light pie with a crisp, blistered, slightly smoky crust. The classic Margherita is done with house-made mozzarella, imported San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil and hand-crumbled dried oregano from Italy. Fresh basil tops it.
RUNNERS-UP The prosciutto crudo e rugola pie goes into the oven with tomato sauce and mozzarella; when it comes out, it's crowned with imported Prosciutto di Parma and fresh arugula. There's also a rustica pie with a forthright topping of chunky tomato sauce, basil and no shortage of garlic.
103 Main St., Westhampton Beach, 631-288-3003, pizzetteriabrunetti.com
THE PIE Brunetti's vongole bianca, with fresh-shucked clams, garlic butter and herbs is, all by itself, worth a trip to the Hamptons. In traffic. $18
WHY Imagine the best linguine in clam sauce you ever had. Now swap out the pasta for one of Long Island's best crusts, baked in a Naples-built, wood-burning oven.
RUNNERS-UP Every pizza is a work of art at this 12-seat establishment, such as the San Gennaro with imported sheep's-milk ricotta, sausage, roasted peppers and onions.
43C Glen Cove Rd., Greenvale, 516-484-3880, centrocucinacafe.com
THE PIE Quattro formaggi, the four-cheese pizza with fior di latte mozzarella, fontina, Pecorino Romano and Gorgonzola. $13
WHY An outstanding white pie, creamy and balanced, spreading over a fine, thin crust.
RUNNERS-UP Also from the wood-burning brick oven, the bisacquino, with tomato sauce, basil, fried eggplant and ricotta salata; the bellezza, with mozzarella, olive oil and pesto; and the basic Margherita.
6800 Jericho Tpke., Syosset, 516-921-3250, tomschaudel.com
THE PIE A grilled pizza sporting goat cheese, roasted garlic, mushrooms and rosemary. $13
WHY A California spin in the competition that's very appetizing.
RUNNERS-UP The Tuscan with fresh mozzarella, basil, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke; the Margherita; and the pie with duck prosciutto, caramelized onions, asparagus and provolone.
THE PIE San Gennaro pizzarella, $12
WHY Emilio Branchinelli's busy, noisy Commack trattoria-pizzeria features a 12-inch individual pie that's big on character - and it's not even baked in a wood-fired oven. On top is an Italian street fair: crumbled fresh hot sausage, house-made mozzarella, multicolored peppers, onions, oregano and marinara made with San Marzano tomatoes. The crust is both thin and light.
RUNNERS-UP The classic Margherita, as well as the truffle pizzarella made with mozzarella, asparagus, mushroom, ricotta and truffle oil. Also the ultrathin bar pie (think matzo pizza) wearing nothing more than tomato sauce and mozzarella.
1556 Main Rd. (Route 25), Jamesport, 631-779-2844
THE PIE Rosa bianca, a beauty topped with thin slices of local potato, red onion, Parmesan cheese, rosemary and olive oil. $11
WHY Excellent toppings, yes. But what makes rosa so delectable and worth picking is the full-flavored but delicate crust, which goes for all Grana pizzas from the wood-fired brick oven imported from Italy.
RUNNERS-UP The namesake pizza, with fresh mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, garlic-herb ricotta and arugula; the Jamesport, with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, salami and Kalamata olives; and the white clam, with fresh minced clams, garlic, olive oil and, though seafood and cheese usually don't mix, Parmesan and Romano.
38 Merrick Ave., Merrick, 516-546-3300, smarzano.com
THE PIE Margherita pizza, $9
WHY At this boutique-y pizzeria with brown checkered cloths, the air is scented with wood smoke, which also imbues the crust of the Margherita pie. It's pebbly, blistered, topped with a simple combination of freshly made mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil.
RUNNERS-UP A pizza bianca crowned with fontina, Gorgonzola, speck prosciutto and caramelized onions. Also, a bacon-and-egg pizza done with mozzarella, pancetta, egg, goat cheese and Pecorino Romano.
136 N. Main St., East Hampton, 631-324-3550, nickandtonis.com
THE PIE A tasty union of braised leeks, pancetta, ricotta salata and tomato, $16.
WHY A wood-fired, brick-oven pizza with first-class ingredients; works as a very good appetizer or light main course.
RUNNERS-UP Four-cheese pizza with house-made mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Parmesan and Asiago plus sweet onion; pizza with roasted eggplant, tomato, aged provolone; and pie with spinach, tomato, fresh ricotta and toasted garlic.
1632 Hillside Ave., New Hyde Park, 516-326-8509, piccologourmet.com
THE PIE The baci, made with smoked mozzarella, pancetta and thinly sliced red onions. $8.95
WHY Roman-born pizzaiola Patrizia Colatosti makes magic with the wood-burning oven at this unassuming-looking Italian specialty market/deli that recently added some tables. Now you don't have to eat in your car. The store closes at 7 p.m.
RUNNERS-UP Among other excellent pies, a perfect Margherita, the Romana with potatoes, onions, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, olives and prosciutto; the Piccolo with cherry tomatoes, porcini, sausage and homemade mozzarella; the Siciliana with smoked mozzarella, tomato sauce and fried eggplant. All pies are also available as "mezzi metri," measuring 1 foot by 2 feet, none of which cost more than $18.
1195 Corporate Dr., Westbury, 516-222-1042, scottosrestaurant.com
THE PIE The individual pizza "al prosciutto tartufo" is a superstar at this cavernous Westbury spot (formerly Luzzo's). $12.95
WHY Made in a wood-burning oven, the 12-inch pie has a well-blistered crust that puffs a bit around the edges. And there's the topping: the salty swagger of prosciutto, the musky perfume of truffle oil, the softness of fresh mozzarella, the herbaceous hit of basil.
RUNNERS-UP A long list includes a bright Margherita pizza as well as a salsiccia (tomato sauce, basil, sausage, mozzarella) and a pizzante (mozzarella, sausage and cherry peppers).
599 Main St., Islip, 631-277-3800, veracerestaurant.com
THE PIE A thin one capped with sweet pear, Gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses, from a gas oven. $12
WHY A fine combination of flavors, sweet playing off salty, with a creamy referee.
RUNNERS-UP The fundamental Margherita; and the Sicilian "pie of the week," recently finished with eggplant, pancetta, mozzarella and Asiago cheeses.