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Long Island's best pizza: 10 pies worth the drive

Long Island boasts hundreds of great slice joints. This list does not include those pies.

Choosing among them would be a fool's errand: the whole point of a neighborhood pizzeria is that it is in your neighborhood, a dependable source of savory sustenance that's no more than a short drive or a phone call away.

The pizzerias on this list warrant a trip from anywhere else on the Island. They are going above and beyond with their sourcing of ingredients, with their carefully wrought toppings and, most of all, with their crusts.

A great crust is the sine qua non of great pizza; without it you might as well put the toppings on an English muffin or a flour tortilla. And to fans of wackadoo pizza toppings, I say this: judging a pie based on its toppings is like picking a Miss America based on her swimsuit.

Of the 10 pies on our original 2012 list, only one remains. But it’s a doozy, and has once again snared the top spot. Of the pizzerias that have fallen off the list, some have closed (Brunetti in Westhampton Beach is supposed to reopen in a new location in the spring) and some have let their standards slip.

But the big news for 2019 is the number of newcomers on the list: four out of 10. Pizza Rita is bringing classic Neapolitan pies to Mattituck, Donatina in Patchogue makes Neapolitan pies as well as Detroit and classic New York pies. I’ve never put slices on this list before but I had to change the rules when confronted with the squares at Taglio in Mineola and King Umberto’s in Elmont.

Two more things to bear in mind: No pizzeria got onto this list if the quality of all the pies wasn’t very high. You can never go wrong ordering a Margherita or marinara at any of them.

Finally, this is a very close competition. In the middle of the list, the distance between rankings is barely greater than the thickness of a slice of pepperoni.

Let the debates begin.

10. Open-faced calzone at Donatina Pizza Cafe

Donatina Pizza Cafe (18 West Ave., Patchogue): They're
Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

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.) We settled on 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. The filling is so rich, you may need to request a little extra marinara on the side. More info: 631-730-7002, donatinapizza.com

9. Speck pie at Saverio’s

Saverio's (929 Broadway, Massapequa): We've long sung the
Credit: Daniel Brennan

Saverio's (929 Broadway, Massapequa): We've long sung the praises of the mellow Mom's pie at this family-run pizzeria but, this year, we're turning the spotlight the Speck pie, an exciting counterpoint to Mom's hushed elegance. Crumpled slices of Speck (smoked prosciutto from Northern Italy) rest on a bed of Parmesan cream and mozzarella and, when they are lightly browned by the oven, get shavings of more Parmesan and, if desired, a final anointing of truffle oil. Since 2015, when Sam and Emily Cataldo carved this tiny pizzeria out of a corner of their Massapequa market, A & S Pork Store, they've had to expand the seating, first outside (in fine weather) and then, during the evenings, to the sales floor of A & S. The cheeseless Mom's, topped with a thin layer of sweet, onion-rich tomato sauce, remains a menu staple. More info: 516-799-0091, saveriospizza.com

8. The combo at The Gristmill

The Gristmill (144 Main St., East Rockaway): The
Credit: Daniel Brennan

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

7. Margherita pie at Vulcano 081

Vulcano 081 (43 N. Village Ave., Rockville Centre):
Credit: Daniel Brennan

Vulcano 081 (43 N. Village Ave., Rockville Centre): More than two years after its founding pizzaiolo, Michael Viglotti, left the operation, Vulcano 081 is still turning out great pizza under the direction of Alex Escobar. (Vigliotti is now slinging pies with Eddie Macari at Avelino Pizza, the seasonal truck usually parked at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck. If the truck were there permanently, it would be ranked here. Very highly.) The restaurant is named after Naples' area code, and the pies have the city's signature puffy rim and floppy crust. 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, honorable mention to the Diavola, ignited with spicy salami and Calabrian chili oil. More info: 516-442-5858, vulcano081.com

6. Margherita metro at King Umberto’s

King Umberto's (1343 Hempstead Tpke., Elmont): John Cesarano
Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

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. There's always a Margherita; wild cards might include prosciutto and arugula, pepperoni with stracciatella cheese and Mike's Hot Honey. More info: 516-352-8391, kingumberto.com

5. Potato-rosemary slice at Taglio

Taglio (85 Mineola Blvd., Mineola): Roman-style pan pizza
Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

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

4. Marinara pie at Wild Side Organic Bistro & Bar

Wild Side Organic Bistro & Bar (1551 Montauk
Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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

3. Cannolo pie at Pizza Rita

Pizza Rita (55 Middle Rd., Mattituck): This summer,
Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Pizza Rita (55 Middle Rd., Mattituck): This summer, 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. Mom helps out when she can, Dad splits the oak logs that Marrone feeds into the domed oven that he tiled with broken crockery collected from thrift stores. 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. Only open Thursday to Sunday. More info: 631-315-5557

2. The DOC at Naples Street Food

Naples Street Food (970 Hempstead Tpke., Franklin Square):
Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Naples Street Food (970 Hempstead Tpke., Franklin Square): 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. There's not a bad (or even merely good) pie to be had here, but we're honoring the most authentic, the DOC. The letters connote Denominazione di Origine Controllata (controlled designation of origin), the appellation accorded to Italian products that best reflect their provenance and heritage. At Naples Street Food, the DOC is made with crushed San Marzano tomatoes, imported buffalo mozzarella and basil, with a few cherry tomatoes for added freshness. The original Naples Street Food has a wood-burning oven imported from Italy but the new Oceanside location, which opened in May, uses an Italian-made electric oven that mimics and possibly (dare I say) improves upon its wood-burning cousin. More info: 516-673-4630. (Other location at 2905 Long Beach Rd., Oceanside.)

1. Sausage pie at Salvatore’s

Salvatore's (124 Shore Rd., Port Washington): Here's the
Credit: Daniel Brennan

Salvatore's (124 Shore Rd., Port Washington): Here's the one to beat, the pie that's been ranked number one more times than any other, the sausage pie at Salvatore's. 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

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