Slices get sexy: Long Island pizzerias are leveling up

 Pizzeria Undici in Massapequa serves an upside-down slice.  Credit: Noah Fecks

It’s hard to think of a more enduring Long Island institution than the local pizzeria. It serves day and night, the young and old, the solitary slice and party pie. From Great Neck to Greenport, Malverne to Montauk, the pizzeria has always been here and surely always will be.

Immortal, yes, but not immutable. In the last decade, we’ve seen the rise of Neapolitan and Roman pies, the race to see who can invent the craziest toppings, the growth of kosher and halal places dedicated to translating the Italian American tradition for their communities and, now mercifully receding, the craze for Detroit pizza.

And there’s something else afoot, not so much a trend as an upgrade: the dawn of the neoclassical pizzeria. These new spots respect — even revere — the traditions that have made our island a pizza paradise. They are not deviating so much as exalting — the pizza, the surroundings, the service, the vibe.

Pizzeria Undici in Massapequa. Credit: Noah Fecks

For one such pizzeria, the key to the future lies in the past. Pizzeria Undici in Massapequa was founded in July by a loose amalgam of brothers, cousins and in-laws most of whom grew up in the Outer Boroughs and were looking to re-create the pizzerias of their youth.

Newsday food writer Erica Marcus talks with Pizzeria Undici owners about the inspirations behind their Massapequa pizzeria. Credit: Randee Daddona

Louis Annunziata, for instance, is a partner in a number of Long Island restaurants, but Undici has a special place in his heart. “When I was growing up in Queens,” he said, “we didn’t have a lot of money. It was peasant food at home and pizza three, maybe four times a week. It was a treat but, back then, a slice was 99 cents, maybe $1.25 — it was an affordable luxury.” He figured that, right now, there were a lot of local families who could use just that.

After looking around for a few years, Annunziata was drawn to a compact, free-standing building at the busy intersection of Merrick Road and Forest Avenue. It reminded him of New Park Pizza (est. 1956 in Howard Beach), and the team gave it a clean, retro look with lots of subway tile and a leitmotif of Coca-Cola branding on floor mats, tables, bottle openers. The neon sign, dominated by a sharp-angled arrow, recalls an even older culinary icon: In-N-Out Burger (est. 1948 in California). There’s limited seating inside, but fair-weather lingering is encouraged at picnic tables like the ones at Brooklyn’s Spumoni Gardens (est. 1939).

A customer takes a bite at Pizzeria Undici in Massapequa. Credit: Noah Fecks

The most old-fashioned thing about Undici, however, is the pizza. The partners, who also include Tony Luisi, were adamant in their rejection of what Luisi characterized as “too thick, too heavy, too chewy.” The pies are tossed to be very thin, with no discernible rim, so that the finished product is extremely crisp — the crunch accentuated by the semolina used to roll it out. The tomato sauce, which veers toward the sweet, is applied very sparsely and is topped with mozzarella that is cubed, not shredded, which gives the pie an appealingly polka-dotted surface and helps the cheese adhere. “When you fold a slice and eat it,” Annunziata said, “you don’t want to get a ball of cheese in your mouth, and we want you to really taste the sauce.”

Undici’s menu is also sparse: Specials aside, there are nine round pies and four square pies and none are topped with mac-and-cheese, chicken-bacon-ranch or Caesar salad. “It’s run, block, tackle here,” Luisi said. “You’re not going to see 30 different kinds of pizza.” Attention must be paid to the square favorite, the Upside Down, an homage to the Sicilian square at Spumoni Gardens that might be even more refined and delicate.

Undici offers a handful of classic salads, rolls and an extraordinary fried calzone, fat and golden and bursting with ricotta. Tara and Massimo Fedozzi, Amityville pizza connoisseurs, count Undici among their new favorites. “We like the higher-quality cheese, the clean taste of the sauce. And it has this retro-modern look,” Tara said.

Massimo, a former Long Island restaurateur who is now a private chef, has loved American-style pizza since he moved here from Genoa in 1984. “I definitely see a shift in the last few years,” he said. “There is more and more ‘authentic’ Italian pizza, but even the American places are upgrading their ingredients.”

From left: The Uncle Benny pizza at The Pizzeria in Bay Shore; MVP Pizza at Marinara in Greenvale; pizza all pala with arugala and prosciutto at Casa Stellina in Farmingdale. Credit: Noah Fecks

The Fedozzis are also fans of The Pizzeria in Bay Shore, which Tara characterized as “more urban than suburban.” If Undici recalls the pizzerias of the past, The Pizzeria heralds the future. This forward-looking organization aims to leverage the nostalgic appeal of pizza and its natural adjacencies with up-to-the-minute marketing and technology.

If that sounds like an annual report, it’s no accident. With six locations in Suffolk County , The Pizzeria seems like the love child of a neighborhood slice shop and Axe Capital, the fictional hedge fund of Showtime’s “Billions.” Can you think of another local pizzeria chain with a mission statement, training manuals, an HR director, equity incentives for managers and even a part-time performance coach a la Wendy Rhoades?

“We want to deliver an elevated pizza experience,” said partner Cliff Weinstein. A Wall Street veteran who recently sold his private equity firm, Weinstein teamed up with his childhood friends Paul and Danny Saccoccio — who happen to be scions of Gino’s Pizzeria of Ronkonkoma. The brothers grew up in the restaurant, but Danny went on to a career in finance while Paul bought into Gino’s and grew the business.

We want to deliver an elevated pizza experience.  

-Cliff Weinstein, The Pizzeria in Bay Shore

Thai Chicken Chili pie at The Pizzeria in Bay Shore. Credit: Noah Fecks

It was Paul who was approached in 2019 by Simon Property Group, the country’s largest owner of shopping malls (including Roosevelt Field, Walt Whitman Shops and Smith Haven Mall on Long Island). “Their idea was to bring ‘real pizza’ to the mall,” he said. “We were going to start with Smith Haven and, if it did well, open more.” COVID interrupted their plans, and although they eventually opened at Smith Haven, they pivoted, taking over Tony’s, a little Bayport pizzeria, for their second location in October 2020.

Those first two spots were 500 and 800 square feet, respectively, but the next one, the old Pizza Parm in Islip, was 2,200 square feet. In 2022, they had the opportunity to design and build a place from scratch on the ground floor of Eleven Maple, a new luxury apartment building just off Main Street in Bay Shore  and, in April, they opened their largest Pizzeria yet, taking over the 5,000-square-foot building on Main Street in Babylon that used to be Cooper Street.

The switch from bare-bones mall pizzeria to something a bit more sophisticated made perfect sense to Weinstein. “I looked at the pizzeria landscape and saw a generational shift,” he said. “Right now, there are 50 pizzerias listed for sale on Long Island — and that doesn’t count owners who would be happy to sell if they got the right offer. A lot of original owners are hitting retirement and their kids who went to college don’t want to take over. And, for a lot of these places, it’s been 10, 15 years since their last renovation.”

The menu goes beyond slices and pies at The Pizzeria in Bay Shore. Credit: Noah Fecks

Weinstein is bullish on design, and The Pizzerias reflect that. The Bay Shore shop is a warm-cool combination of brick, marble, wood and subway tile; weathered brass meets gleaming stainless-steel and modern light fixtures. Both here and in Lindenhurst (which opened last year), you’ll also find a full bar, complete with signature cocktails, craft beer on tap and a small, thoughtful wine list.

But let’s not forget that The Pizzeria is a pizzeria. The pies are not as thin-crusted as Undici’s and range much further afield. The white pie gooses its cheese blend with truffle oil; chicken shows up with bacon and ranch dressing, with Buffalo sauce or glazed with Thai chili marinade. The bestselling specialty pie is the Uncle Benny — fresh mozzarella, sausage, pepperoni and Mike’s Hot Honey.

The kitchen makes its own fluffy focaccia for sandwiches and, also deserving commendation, are the garlic knots, which are markedly smaller than the norm. “They take more time and labor,” Danny Saccoccio explained. “But because they are less doughy, they taste a lot better.”

With table service and a wine list, The Pizzeria smartly offers a trattoria menu with salads, starters, pastas and main courses. A dining-in family with rambunctious children will be supplied with a “Super Team Kids Activity and Coloring Book,” complete with Pokémon-style characters, a word search, a maze and a trivia quiz. (Get three out of five correct and win a free zeppole!)

Paul Saccoccio, the pizzeria veteran, was as focused on the chain’s corporate culture as he was on the design or menu. “I wanted all the stuff I love about this business — the community, the camaraderie — and none of the stuff I hated about it — the crazy hours, not getting any time off.” He follows the Richard Branson adage, “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

In fact, a few of The Pizzeria’s customers have become employees. Turnover is not a problem here, partly because as employees gain confidence and skills, they are also given new responsibilities. This spring, the team will open its biggest Pizzeria yet, the 5,000-square-foot building in Babylon that used to be Cooper Street.

While The Pizzeria continues its conquest of Suffolk, Nassau is home to a chain with its own singular story. Gabi Weiser and his wife, Brittany, own six Marinara pizzerias in Manhattan, but the East Hills residents hadn’t opened a Long Island shop until last year, when Marinara Pizza debuted on Glen Cove Road in Greenvale.

MVP pizza at Marinara in Greenvale. Credit: Noah Fecks

Weiser, a Long Island native, attended college in Arizona where he missed New York pizza but appreciated the stylish design of the national quick-serve chains he frequented. “When I came back to New York,” he said, “I realized that the classic slice shop could use an upgrade.” At 21, he managed to put together enough money to buy a small slice shop on the Upper East Side, which was soon joined by a second location on the Upper West Side. “Saba’s was kosher,” Weiser recalled, “but I was proud that we had a lot of customers who were not kosher.” In 2017, he decided to try the “big leagues” of the nonkosher pizza world and opened his first Marinara on 91st Street and Lexington Avenue. He went on to establish five more Manhattan satellites.

The stores were small but spiffy, with black-and-white hexagonal tile floors and pressed-tin ceilings. And Weiser imbued them all with more than a little Long Island DNA. “The pizzerias in the city concentrate on the slices — everything else is an afterthought,” he said. “On Long Island, people expect to be able to have a meal.” He wanted to bring that pizzeria-trattoria tradition into the city and is very proud of his “steakhouse-quality” chopped salads, pastas and seven Parm/piccata/Francese/paillard mains, all of which come with pasta and salad.

Weiser decided that having taken Manhattan, he’d try his hand on Long Island, where he had two new challenges: How does a concept inspired by Long Island distinguish itself here? And how would he translate the Marinara atmosphere to a larger space? Weiser was undaunted.

He promptly set about designing the spiffiest pizzeria he could. Even the pizza boxes, red with bold white lettering, became a design element, whether stacked on the counter (see page 66) or shelved like books in the dining area. “I wanted to keep that red-saucy vibe but add a modern twist,” he explained. No visual element was more critical to the design than the pizza itself. “I want the counter to look like a Picasso,” Weiser said. “No old pies, and every slice has to make people say ‘wow.’ ”

I want the counter to look like a Picasso.

— Gabi Weiser, Marinara Pizza

A pie is finished with freshly grated cheese at Marinara Pizza in Greenvale. Credit: Noah Fecks

The most striking pie may well be the rectangular MVP, with its bright regimental stripes of marinara, vodka and pesto sauces. The MVP is served by many Long Island pizzerias (you’ll find it at both Undici and The Pizzeria, where it’s called the Tri-fecta), but Weiser claims to have invented it.

“I did a pesto-marinara slice at Saba,” Weiser recalled. “At Marinara, vodka sauce was so popular we decided to add it to the other two. That burst of flavors — it quickly became our Most Valuable Player.” (Yes, MVP also stands for marinara, vodka and pesto.) When the MVP first started popping up in the city and on the Island, Weiser was initially annoyed, but he conceded that he himself had been inspired “by New York’s library of great pizza ideas. Now I take it as a compliment.”

Whether in the city or suburb, Marinara’s pizzas fit squarely into the venerable pizza tradition of the Northeast. And, despite their differences, so do Undici’s and The Pizzeria. Casa Stellina, which opened in March in Farmingdale, is going in a different direction: It’s attempting to marry the American slice shop with an Italian sensibility.

These two traditions have met before. In the last decade, Long Island has seen an efflorescence of “authentic” pies that would be at home in Naples or Rome. Some of these places — such as The Onion Tree in Sea Cliff and Brunetti in Westhampton Beach — make no other type of pizza and serve no slices. Others — Dario’s in West Hempstead, Donatina in Patchogue, Dough & Co. in Huntington, King Umberto’s in Elmont and Taglio in Mineola among them — swing both ways, satisfying customers looking for an “artisanal” experience as well as those looking for a classic New York pie or a slice thereof.

But Fabrizio Facchini, Stellina’s executive chef and co-owner, is determined to filter everything on his menu through an Italian lens. Facchini and his partners (his wife, Samira, along with Thomas and Adriana Milana) already operate Oyster Bay’s Stellina Ristorante, one of the best and most authentic Italian spots on Long Island, as well The Wine Line around the corner and two Stellina bakery-cafés, one in Oyster Bay, the other in Syosset.

An Italian native with roots in Umbria and Calabria, he respects Italian American cooking. “When Italians immigrated,” he explained, “they did not have access to the ingredients they had in Italy, and they developed new dishes, new ways of cooking. It is not a bad cuisine, but it is not Italian cuisine.”

At Casa Stellina, all the ingredients are imported from Italy. Certainly, it isn’t the only pizzeria using Italian tomatoes or extra-virgin olive oil, but there aren’t many that are importing fior di latte (cow’s milk) mozzarella for all the pies. Facchini uses a blend of two cheeses from Latteria Sorrentina, a 140-year-old dairy near Naples. “You are tasting where the cow is from, what the cow eats. And this mozzarella melts without becoming too wet, without burning.”

In Farmingdale, Casa Stellina imports flour and tomatoes from Italy. Credit: Noah Fecks

The most crucial import is the flour. Facchini collaborated with Mimmo Tolomeo, a brand ambassador for Caputo, Italy’s most famous mill, to create a dough using Nuvola Super, a flour suited to high hydration and long fermentation. Tolomeo, who has consulted with many other ambitious Long Island pizzerias, and is also a partner at Taglio, said that the Nuvola results in a crust with “a pillowy interior, a crisp exterior and the right amount and size of air holes.”

The four types of pizza at Casa Stellina use the same dough, although it’s stretched differently for the Roman-style “pizze alla pala,” sold individually or by the square; Neapolitan pies; round 18-inch “New York” pies; and the schiacciata, a “naked” pan pizza split and filled with savories such as Calabrian soppressata or cured Italian tuna.

A few months after they opened the pizzeria, Facchini and Milana opened an adjoining restaurant with a menu similar to Stellina in Oyster Bay. But even the pizzeria's non-pizza offerings look to the Old Country with dishes such as fried artichokes, trofie al pesto Genovese or strozzapreti al fumè.

Lasagna at Casa Stellina in Farmingdale. Credit: Noah Fecks

Facchini knew he was threading the needle when it came to the place’s interior. “We didn’t want it to be so upscale that it looked like you couldn’t come in and have a slice. But we also didn’t want that hard modern design that so many pizzerias have.” Instead, Casa Stellina has lots of wood and brick that throw into relief the Ferrari-red Italforni two-tiered oven behind the counter.

Casa Stellina has moved into a crowded pizza field, with Vico (inspired by Naples) across the street, Gino’s (classic Long Island nostalgia) down the block and Vespa (upscale hybrid) right next door, but Facchini sees that as an advantage. “A lot of pizzerias bring in a lot of traffic,” he said. “We all have different products and will attract different customers.”

He’s likely right. Long Islanders have a bottomless appetite for pizza and Long Island pizzaioli have a seemingly limitless capacity for invention. They are working day and night to satisfy our every craving, while creating cravings we didn’t even know we had. Who among us can hardly wait to see — and to taste — what’s next?


CASA STELLINA 302 Main St., Farmingdale; 516-943-9111 |

MARINARA PIZZA 5 Glen Cove Rd., Greenvale; 516-862-3343 |

THE PIZZERIA 11 Maple Ave., Bay Shore | 631-686-3555; 606 Montauk Hwy., Bayport | 631-472-5959; 592 Main St., Islip | 631-581-9500; 342 Smith Haven Mall, Lake Grove | 631-652-9987; 177 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst | 631-876-2777;

PIZZERIA UNDICI 4195 Merrick Rd., Massapequa; 516-820-1111 |

Top Stories


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months