Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Da Vinci Pizza: "And now the end is here, and so I face the final curtain..."

So this is it. I don't even know where to begin. Let me just say, that though this is the Last Official Manhattan Pizzeria Review, it will not be the last post on Slice Harvester. I still have plenty of recapping and decision-making to do, and plus I want to keep this thing going at least until the last zine comes out in February so there's that, too. Anyway, I might as well just start this thing. You should probably open up this link in a new tab and listen to that Green Day prom song while you read this review.

I met Christina Sparhawk a little less than two years ago, just shy of six months from starting this project. I was lonely and sad and needed someone to share my heart like the last slice so I went to a Witch-Matchmaker and she set us up. When we first met, Christina handed me a piece of paper with a phone number on it and said, "if you're in a bad mood, call this number and ask for Manoff. Take it out on him." I didn't know her too well at the time and thought maybe she was a dominatrix or something and he was one of her johns and this was part of their thing. Turns out she was working as a hostess at a Burger Restaurant and this guy Manoff had been consistently stiffing her delivery guy on tips and just generally being a dick on the phone and she felt he needed some vengeance. At this point, I knew I was in love.

It's easy to write about smashing the state or how much I hate bro-dog frat culture masculinity or offing pigs or whatever, but how do you write about being in love in a way that doesn't suck? Do I rhapsodize about my girlfriend's beauty? (She is the most beautiful woman in the world.) Do I talk about how awesome and tough she is? (The other day some dude in a suit winked at her on the sidewalk and she punched him.) Do we discuss how talented and creative she is? (At everything.) Do I mention the ways we care for each other? (I honestly think she saved my life.) I don't know. This stuff is harder to talk about than all the hard stuff I talk about.

So I'll leave it to the poets. Go ask Yeats or Richard Brautigan what it's like to be in love, because all I can tell you is that I am honestly happy for the first time in my life and I can attribute a huge portion of that happiness to the truth of caring and being cared for. The fact is that we live in such a Sick Fucking Society that the simple act of honestly loving and being loved is transcendent and radical. Like I said last week, people are so alienated from themselves, from their own emotions and from each other that forging genuine human connections is NOT the go to means of interacting.

The other day I was talking to my friend Jamel who panhandles outside the supermarket in my neighborhood. In the summer we eat King Kones and talk about vampires because we both love vampires, but there was something in the air on that humid, too-warm Autumn evening, standing on the street watching the sun set, and we got to talking about life. Jamel told me, "the other day, I saw a guy drop a $100 bill. I picked it up and handed it back to him and you know what? He didn't give me shit." I scowled. "And you know what else, Colin? I don't care. Maybe he just got paid, maybe he had to spend the whole hundred on Thanksgiving dinner for his family or Christmas gifts for his kids. For a few minutes I thought that maybe he only had the $100 and he was would come back and give me something after he made change, but he never did." I was shaking my head pretty vigorously at this point, rolling us cigarettes. "And I still don't regret giving him that money back, although I could obviously use a hundred dollars. Because I did the right thing, and if more people did the right thing more of the time, instead of doing the easy thing, or the selfish thing, the world would be in a lot less trouble than it is today." He asked me if Christina, whom he had met the week before, was my girlfriend, and when I told him she was he said, "you better make sure to hold on to her. She's a keeper."

So me and Christina ate at Da Vinci Pizza last week, for my final review. As we first approached, my heart seized up because I mistook Da Vinci for Pranzo Pizza, where I had eaten the prior week with awesome newspaperman Aaron Rutkoff. And I thought for a second that maybe I had fucked everything up and hadn't done my research and Da Vinci had closed and my girlfriend was gonna hate me and everything was fucked and oh my god oh my god oh my god. Well, I was wrong. The fronts of Da Vinci and Pranzo may look similar but their interiors and their pizza are worlds apart.

This place looked and felt like a real pizzeria (check out Rob Bennet's photos accompanying the WSJ article about me [what?!] for evidence). And the pizza here, unlike the pizza at Pranzo, was real delicious pizza.

I was a little bit turned off by the fact that this slice of pizza was sitting on a piece of aluminum foil. But I am open minded, right? And it looked and smelled good. I lifted the slice, and it drooped a little more than is ideal, but I still had a good feeling. And I wasn't wrong! This slice had delicious ingredients. The cheese tasted great, the sauce was on the sweeter side, but didn't taste synthetic and was totally delicious. The dough was expertly made, though perhaps not cooked as much as I would have liked, and the whole slice had GREAT ratios.

Tina said, "it's got that youth fair taste that I like," and called it "carnival pizza." Now, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with this assessment with a small distinction. Traditionally I have discussed a disgusting type of pizza I love, which I've always called "roller rink pizza" because it reminds me of this pizza I ate at this roller rink in Queens at my parents' best friends' kid's birthday party when I was like, 8 that for some reason I remember really vividly. That sort of pizza is objectively bad, but I admit to loving it anyway. This slice, while superficially similar to this sort of pizza, is neither disgusting, nor objectively bad. I think the similarities lie in a certain amount of fluffiness in the cheese and the dough. But this dough was soft and supple without being rubbery, and the cheese, while bountiful, was not over whelming.

All told, this slice was totally satisfying, although not mind-blowing. But it was good, and I am happy to end on a positive note. I wouldn't go out of my way for this slice, but I stand behind it. I will eat here next time I am planning on spending an afternoon reading a book and riding the ferry back and forth. As we finished eating Christina let out a huge belch, smiled and said, "that was a burp of satisfaction."


Da Vinci Pizza - $2.50
44 Water St (Hanover Sq & Cointies Slip)
New York, NY 10004

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pranzo Pizza: "Swing and a miss."

Pranzo Pizza is a nice little place. When I got there, they were in the midst of their Wall Street Automoton Lunch Rush Spectacular and it reminded me of my life a few years ago. When I was in my early 20s and first making my decision to No Retreat/No Surrender/No Gods/No Masters the square world and never work in an office in my life, I would sometimes have moments of doubt, sitting in my dingy apartment eating dumpstered bagels for the third day in a row because I didn't know where to dumpster any good produce yet and I refused to work more than four or five days a month because, well, because CrimethINC. And when I had those doubts, I had a simple solution: I'd go to Grand Central Station at 4:30 or so, and sit on a bench there until 6:30 or so, and watch dudes in suits that cost four times my rent frantically run to catch trains and it would make me feel better about my own decision, because I could position myself in a position of superiority to those clowns. The frantic hustle of the Pranzo lunch rush brought back memories of dudes with briefcases hauling ass down marble corridors to get home to Briarcliff Manor or wherever.

But don't worry! I'm a grownup now, and I have a much more nuanced perspective on the world. My friend Kimya Dawson, who has been a Slice Harvester supporter since, literally, day one, has a song on her new record where she articulates this sentiment quite succinctly: "Just because someone does not look like me / doesn't mean they are a clone or a sheep. / Maybe they like their job and they're living their dream,  / and they love their friends and their family. / Some people thrive between nine and five,  / and feel like they're choking if their neck's not tied. / .... / Some people feel enslaved when they have a boss, / some people without one feel totally lost."

I think one huge drawback to the Culture of Opposition that is so compelling to so many alienated teenagers is that we feel turned away and excluded from the culture at large and so try and create our own culture that ends up parroting the lack of inclusivity and dogma of the culture we are fighting against. At this point in my life, I have friends that work in offices and friends that are working artists, friends that are FDNY and friends that are itinerant farm workers. Some of the people that work in offices are kinder, gentler, more compassionate people than some of the artists! Shit, I don't even hate ALL COPS anymore! Like, capitalism as it exists in the West today is incredibly alienating, and I've felt alienated by the priorities and values of our culture since as long as I can remember. I feel like it robs us of our personhood and asks us to dehumanize each other and that is what I'm fighting against. But in fighting so hard against a culture that wanted to dehumanize me and wanted me to dehumanize other people, I ended up losing sight of the humanity of over half the population! Like, honestly, on 9/11 I felt a mixture of grief and triumph. Real talk. And I am still processing about that. But those towers were a symbol of a culture I despised and I would be lying if I said part of me didn't feel a sense of glib satisfaction that some of the wind had been taken out of the American Empire's sails. I thought, perhaps naively, that the experience, though terribly tragic, might at least teach us some collective humility.

But even though I felt that way, when I went to a Leftover Crack show a few weeks later and Sturgeon was making jokes about the people that died, I was appalled. Because whoever those people were, whatever heinous shit they might have been up to, their deaths are a tragedy. Murder is never something to celebrate. We are fighting against people that celebrate death, and part of the struggle is not to become them. (At heart, our battle is like that Tales from Earthsea anime movie, but without dragons.) And then the war started, and people started shit-talking all soldiers. And I thought about my friends growing up who had enlisted in like, '98 or '99 as a way to go to college hopefully, or to get out of their neighborhoods, and how it looked like there was no chance of a war ever again. And suddenly they would come home on leave and just sit at the bar slamming shots and not talking, biding their time until they could get back to war, because they had become so unaccustomed to civilian life, and I didn't want to say "fuck all soldiers" because I wanted to help my friends and the people like them.

I will wrap up all this shortly, but let me just say clearly, I am not espousing some totally unrealistic hippy dippy doctrine of Loving Everybody. I am not telling protestors to humanize cops who are beating them up. If a cop is shooting tear gas at you, smash his fucking face in with a fire extinguisher if that's what you need to do. Seriously. But I also know and have known some really decent cops (none of whom are NYPD, unless you count Benson and Stabler, but I don't technically KNOW them even if it feels like I do), who are generally interested in harm reduction and maintaining people's comfort and safety. I think the point I'm making will sort of be lost on most of my non-punk readers because perhaps they don't automatically hate cops. I guess all I'm really saying is that people are people and some people do shitty stuff and are still good people and some people are shitty people but they do good stuff. I don't know, this isn't even about pizza anymore and I feel like I've probably alienated half my readership. Ce la vie. I just want to have a dialogue.

This slice was a bummer and a disappointment. The ingredients were decent enough quality, but the construction and preparation of the slice seemed so hasty it was all lost. The middle of the slice had like, a sinkhole in it that just drooped and fell out from under me when I picked it up and folded it. And the slice was already too thin to begin with. I couldn't really make out any sauce flavor, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it was weighed down with so much cheese. And the cheese didn't taste bad, in didn't taste like anything in fact, but there was too much of it. If there had been less cheese and the same amount or slightly more sauce, the sauce could've provided the flavor the cheese lacked. And if the crust had been prepared properly and didn't fall to shreds when I lifted it, there might have been a sound foundation up which to rest a decent slice. To top all of it off, this slice was thrown in the oven and removed so quickly, the crust never even browned. Nothing on this slice crunched. And the whole pizza parlor smelled like butter. Ultimately though, while this slice had flaws, it wasn't inedible and was certainly passable. In an ideal world, this slice would be the worst pizza gets, but in the world we live in, it probably falls dead center on the Spectrum of Pizza Awesomeness.


Pranzo Pizza - $2.30
34 Water St (Coenties Slip & Broad St)
New York, NY 10004

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Big Al's Chicago Style Pizza: "Almost didn't make the cut."

I have to admit something: I have never been to Chicago. Which means I have never had Chicago style pizza. I don't even actually know what it is. I've talked for minutes at a time about how much better the New York slice is than a Chicago Pie. "I MAY AS WELL EAT LASAGNA!" I've shouted in bars over Cock Sparrer songs blaring too loud from the soundsystem. But the truth is, I am just good at being a windbag and a blowhard. It's just like all the books I've never read and movies I've never seen that I find myself pretending I have because it seems easier than finding something else to talk about.

Either way, I still KNOW New York pizza is better, even if I've never had the pie in Chi-Town. And that's why I almost didn't even go to Big Al's Chicago Style Pizza on Thames St right around the corner from OWS. Because I review New York slices and I figured they didn't have one. Because why would a regular New York pizza parlor go through all the effort of calling itself Big Al's Chicago Style Pizza if they were just gonna sell regular slices?

Then the comments and emails started coming in. "What about Big Al's?" "When you gonna go to Big Al's" "I'M A COP YOU IDIOT" "Did you skip Big Al's?" And I called Big Al's and I said, "yeah, do you guys sell slices" and I could see the pizzaman's look of disgust and perplexion (I just made this word up!) as he said, "yeah...." but was clearly thinking "who is this moron?"

So I went. And I'm glad I did.

Big Al's definitely gets the "Best Slice Near OWS" award, which is actually something a lot of people have been asking about. This slice has a thin but adequate crust, nice pungent cheese, ample grease and a pretty good sauce. The ratios are spot on. There is just enough salt. And in the words of Mr. Paul Lukas, "everything coheres nicely." This slice is A-Okay. Totally alright. Wildly above average. It was prepared well and I like that.

At one point while we were sitting there, this worker accidentally jostled Paul while mopping up some spilled soda. He apologized, and Paul was like, "it's cool man, what's going on over there?"
And the guy is like, "This lady, she takes one sip of her soda and then just turns it over into the garbage bag. The worst part is, she was looking me right in the eyes when she did it. By the time I got around here with the mop it was running all over the floor."
"People are animals." I interjected. "I work at a diner in Brooklyn. We got this garbage can in the bathroom that has one of those foot pedals to open the top, and every day I clean up piles of sullied paper towels from the top of the lid. From people too lazy to press a fucking button with their foot."
"Animals..." the guy muttered, as he stepped away to continue mopping.

Me and Paul talked a while and then parted ways, but as soon as I walked out the door I had to piss so bad I felt like I was gonna explode, but didn't remember seeing a bathroom in Big Al's. I went back inside, found the guy I'd been talking to, leaned over conspiratorially, "You got a bathroom in this place?" I murmured. He slipped me a key and pointed to a door, "take a left. First door on your right."

I walked out into the corridor of an office tower and quickly found the bathroom. Now, as you know, my second favorite thing besides reviewing pizza is reviewing pizzeria bathrooms. Well this one was a gem!

Easily the most claustrophobic restroom I have ever been inside. I felt like I was in a Kafka courthouse can in here! It's worlds away from the spacious and romantic two-seater at 42nd Street Restaurant, but equally charming, in it's own cramped way. Also, second to the Worcester, MA diner bathroom that was totally clean of graffiti except that someone had written VAN HALAN over two of the walls, this back wall, behind the toilet, vandalized with TOILETS! and an anarchy symbol may be my favorite bathroom graffiti.


Bathroom Rating:

Big Al's Chicago Style Pizza - $2.50
9 Thames St (Trinity & Broadway)
New York, NY 10006

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pizza Italia: "This could've been better but it was pretty good."

A while ago I ate pizza with this guy Paul Lukas. Hopefully in a few months or years I can say, "my friend Paul Lukas," but for now we are just people who know each other and maybe there is reciprocal admiration, but maybe I just admire him and that's fine. Let me tell you about my future friend Paul. See, way back in the hinteryears of the mid-90s there used to be this store on E 7th St call See Hear and it only sold zines. And they would sell ANY zine ever. I bought my first issues of Cometbus and Punk Planet there (I bought my first issue of MRR at Tower Records, though). I looked at my first (and only) NAMBLA bulletin there at the ripe old age of 14. I was constantly befuddled by the black man who would come in and buy all the Neo-Nazi newspapers that were for sale. Later I almost got arrested right outside for drinking a 40 in the middle of the 7th St but the cop seemed more concerned with the fact that my handrolled cigarette might have been weed than with the fact that I was underage drinking in public. Go figure!

Among the many zines I devoured as a teenager in the 90s, one of my consistent favorites was this zine called Beer Frame, which I never actually bought at See Hear and would buy at St. Marks Books, now that I think of it. I'm not sure why that is. ANYWAY. In Beer Frame, subtitled "The Journal of Inconspicuous Consumption," Paul set out to review any and every product available both domestically and internationally. From Beverly Bulk Sausage With Natural Juices, 10.5 oz can to the Brannock Device (that thing they use at shoe stores to measure you foot), Paul would review ANYTHING. And he did so with a degree of insight and stylistic panache that I still aspire to today. For over a decade, every time I've seen one of those weird tiny plastic tables they put in the middle of your pizza I've thought about Paul's thoughts about that object in an issue of Beer Frame.

That three-legged doohickey is called a lid support. It may not look like much, and it probably cost your pizzeria less than a penny, but it's saved many a pizza... from an unhappy fate. The lid support is so innocuous, and its functional utility so efficiently matter-of-fact, that it's become the perfect example of a product too simple for its own good: Everyone knows what it is but nobody outside the pizza biz knows what it's called, and most people just take it for granted. Hiding in plain sight, it has become classically inconspicuous--a stealth element in our consumer culture. 

He then goes on to provide a detailed and presumably accurate history of Lid Supports! What? If there's anything I pretty much indiscriminately love it's when people indulge their desire to be totally obsessive about something totally arbitrary and really go all out in executing it. See also, Dishwasher Pete.

I met Paul when we were both doing one minute interviews on 7 Second Delay's "60 Most Important New Yorkers in 60 Minutes" radio show. He is currently working on a ton of rad projects, but that day he was getting interviewed about Uni-Watch, his website about sports uniforms. (He also works for ESPN and like, writes cool shit all the time and is just generally a great dude.) We eventually re-met at the City Reliquary and I found out he did Beer Frame and I was really excited and asked him to come eat pizza with me, and he agreed. Then I texted his land line for like, 10 months before I figured out what was going on and we finally made plans and we met outside Pizza Italia on a blustery Autumn day.

Pizza Italia is a real proper pizzeria, which is a rarity for the Financial District, which seems to be mostly full of places that are Investment Opportunities or Business Plans instead of Pizza Parlors or Restaurants. But Pizza Italia feels honest, and honesty is really important to me. When Paul and I got there, it was super slammed with the Soulless Business Dude Lunch Rush. It was totally chaos in there, but I noticed the pizzaman check on my slices a couple of times before handing them to me. Which is to say, he didn't just pull them out once they were hot, he made sure they were cooked well, and that's a degree of care and consideration under pressure that is rare these days.

I know I usually share slices, but me and Paul were hungry and this place looked non-shitty.
This slice had a good crunch and expert ratios, but the the cheese texture was a little mealy. And it felt cheap, which is a shame. If they hadn't cheaped out on the cheese, this slice would've been pretty amazing. They certainly gave it adequate care, there was a perfect amount of grease, and the crust and sauce were phenomenal! Paul said, "it's not like, world class, but it's a perfectly solid, legitimate slice." And I tend to agree with that assessment. But it WOULD be world class if they had better cheese!


Pizza Italia - $2.75
11 Stone St (Whitehall & Bond)
New York, NY 10004

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I been deep in the shit.

But Slice Harvester is not dead! I have four more places to go in Manhattan and then I'm calling it quits, at least for the time being. Although there will certainly be a bit of Manhattan Wrap Up and perhaps a Final Four style showdown?

Anyway, I got this email today from a long time reader wondering where I'd disappeared to which contained this passage:
"Last year I was on a plane from Singapore to NY--i started talking to this guy working in the backwaters of Malaysia. He was visiting NY for the first time and looking forward to getting Pizza.

I asked him if he needed recommendations. He said, no, that he knew where to go because he'd been reading this blog from some guy who was eating at every pizza place--your blog.

Really. "

Also yesterday I hung out with Ben Trogdon who does NUTS! Magazine and we had some super inspiring conversations. It all reminded me that maybe I've been living my life of blood and flesh at the expense of my life of wires and words. Which is to say, I haven't been on the internet too much lately.

So here's what's going to happen:

I have two reviews ready for places I ate at with my friend Paul Lukas. I will post one of them tomorrow and the next one next Wednesday. In the meantime I will eat at the final two pizzerias in Manhattan I haven't eaten at, and I will post the reviews the subsequent two Wednesdays. After that we'll play it by ear.

We are living in wild times. Everyone stay strong.