Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Z is for: 'Za {NYC Pizza Restaurant Review}

When my dad and step sister came to visit last month, one of the items on Dad's "bucket list" was to drive to New York City. As a wheat farmer from Montana, New York isn't a place he ever had a reason to visit. But now, with his daughter just two hours away in Connecticut, he wanted to see what the Big Apple was all about.

When I asked what he would like to see and do in NYC (keeping in mind we were only planning a day trip), the two things at the top of his list: the 9/11 Memorial and New York Pizza. I hadn't yet had a chance to visit Ground Zero yet, so I was on board for that. And I love me some pizza... soooooo, we suddenly had a nice little itinerary.

At that point... it was a matter of narrowing down which New York establishment we were going to sample our 'Za. Naturally, I started doing a ton of research on the subject. It seems like a lot of the very highly acclaimed spots are actually in Brooklyn, but I wanted to stick to Manhattan since we only had the day.

I took to Twitter, and got a lot of suggestions from followers. I also solicited advice from Scott of Scott's Pizza Tours. Sadly, the pizza tour was not available the day we were planning to visit, but it got me thinking... why don't we do our own mini tour?! I decided it would be fun to sample a more artisan style and a traditional New York style.

Our pizza posse was made up of me, my dad, my step sister Krista, and my good friend Adam (a key participant in #SireSF) who now lives in NYC. After reading several "Best Pizza in NYC" lists, I narrowed it down to a handful, but finally settled on Keste. Scott recommended it, and I remembered seeing it on my co-worker Keith Law's blog. Keste also appears on Food & Wine Magazine's list of best pizza places in the U.S., from which I have now sampled six of the 48, so I still have a lot of pizza eating to do. (This includes Pizzeria Bianco, Pepe's and Flour + Water).

True to everything I've tried on that list, Keste was fantastic. We ordered two pies, including the margherita. In my opinion, you can really tell the quality of a pizza place by its margherita pizza. Yes, it may seem difficult to screw up something so simple, but it's when it's done right... there's nothing better (except maybe the other pizza we ordered there).

On our server's suggestion, we actually got the Regina Margherita, which uses imported buffalo mozzarella instead of the housemade stuff, and it has grape tomatoes in addition to the sauce, basil and olive oil. I still prefer the margherita at Tony's in San Francisco, but this one was definitely right up there. A bright, simple tomato sauce with globs of mozzarella and a perfectly blistered crust.

The second pie we ordered absolutely stole the show. It was one of the daily specials, and sure enough, "special" is a perfect way to describe it. I feel like I have a tendency to say this when I try a new, unbelievable pizza place... but this was one of my favorite pizzas ever. It was blanketed with a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth-like-buttah burrata, which was nicely balanced by large slices of prosciutto. Considering those are two of my favorite ingredients...well,  ever... this is was a knockout combo on a pizza. There was a hint of truffle that highlighted the flavors of the other ingredients instead of taking over the dish. Once again, the crust was soft and blistery and stood up well to the toppings. We all agreed it was our favorite pie of the day.

On the menu alone, there are 40 different options you can sample of the Neapolitan-style pizza, including gluten free, vegan and vegetarian... so there is really something for everyone here. I guess it makes sense that "Keste" means "this is it" in the dialect of Naples.

Conveniently located almost directly across the street is John's on Bleecker. John's is one of the OG's in the city. If you want traditional, New York style pizza, this is your spot. Even though we were just about stuffed from our feast at Keste, we walked around Greenwich for a bit and then braced for Sire Pizza Tour, Round 2.

First of all, you have to appreciate the history of this place. As indicated on the awning outside, it's been around since 1929. And judging by the tables and walls inside, I believe it. Alongside the celebrity photos and New York memorabilia, the place is covered with markings and signatures of patrons past. Ironically, we were seated in a booth near a window, and I see the name "J-A-I-M-E-E" in large block letters staring right at me. I took it as a sign, and my dad added the short line to transform the "I" into a "Y," carving my own little slice of this New York eatery's history. (To Jaimee... whoever you are, I apologize).

As for the pizza, it was awesome. You won't find prosciutto or burrata at this place. We went for pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms. The super thin crust is coal-fired in an 850 degree brick oven, so it comes out fast and slightly charred on the edges. It's fresh, simple and perfect.

Aside from our pizza tour, we also visited the 9/11 memorial. If you haven't been, I highly recommend this. (Tip: reserve your free passes online). It was a very humbling moment to stand in front of the large reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood. I was a sophomore at Washington State when the attacks happened, waking up to hear the confusing and horrible news. I sat glued to the television all day, as many Americans did, watching in horror and disbelief as the chaotic events of the day unfolded. Standing there brought back a lot of sad memories, but it was also good to see how the city continues to rebuild.

Our jam-packed day also included a trip through Times Square and a panoramic view of Manhattan from 230 Fifth (complete with red snuggies). My step sister Krista, a talented DJ in Florida, requested a photo op in front of Radio City Music Hall, so we did that too. Dad rode the subway, took a cab and even tried a dirty water dog from a street vendor. All in all, I'd say it was a successful trip to New York!


  1. I know this is an older post, but so be it :).Sounds like Dad got to experience some real NYC moments...I'm sire you were bombarded with "try this place" but you definitely cannot go wrong with Johns...

  2. I know this is an older post, but so be it :).Sounds like Dad got to experience some real NYC moments...I'm sire you were bombarded with "try this place" but you definitely cannot go wrong with Johns...


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