Saturday, September 29, 2007

New York Pizza -- Vito's vs. Lamonica's



Lamonica's
1066 Gayley Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 208-8671
Google Local Info

Vito's Pizza
846 N La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90069

Get Directions
(310) 652-6859
Google Local Info

Before the NYC pizza smackdown, a plug for my wife Sa. This is the final weekend of EEMED, an Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance. It's some of the Southland's best belly dance troupes in a group show featuring non-traditional music and choreography. From Sa's Pirates-inspired piece with the Perfumes of Araby to Desert Sin's jaw-dropping Hut of Baba Yaga, it's a very cool evening of watching scantily-clad ladies shake it to slinky tunes. For more info and tickets, click here.

Okay, on to the chow.

The ragingest foodie debate in in town has to be about the "best New York style pizza." Not only who serves it, but if, in fact, it exists in California. (Logically, of course, it doesn't. If it's not served in New York it's no longer New York by definition. The same could be said about Santa Maria Style BBQ, or Ensenada Fish tacos, or Hong Kong style seafood. Anyone who's tried to find a proper chili cheeseburger outside of LA knows what I'm talking about.)

Now, I'm a native Southern Californian, but I've done some time in Manhattan. I ate a lot pizza there, at some of the "right" places and some of the "wrong" places, and found it all to be, you know, pizza. Some of it was very good, some of it unremarkable, but I didn't find anything quintessentially or homogenously "New York" about it. There were thick crusts, thin crusts, saucy pizzas, cheesy pizzas... just like here.

But to New Yorkers, there seems to be something ineffable in their pizza, such that they find SoCal pie, in all of its variety, to be unworthy the name. So I went to two of the top contenders -- or, some would say, pretenders -- to the title of "best NY style pizza in L.A." to see what all the fuss is about.

Lamonica's has a nondescript storefront on Gayley Ave. a few blocks south of the UCLA campus. (Sorry, no photos... Food Crazy forgot his digital Elph). Inside, it's a classic college-town vibe -- if the town is New York. The walls are decorated with New York street signs and a lightup subway map. You might as well be in the East Village. Lamonica's (a sign proudly proclaims) flies in their dough from New York. Some New Yorkers say their pie is all about the dough. (They say the same about their bagels. Some even assert that it's the ... ahem... savory qualities of the East River water table that gives New York dough its signature texture and flavor The pie at Lamonica's is not what I picture when I think New York pizza... it's not a big, floppy, thin-crust triangle, it's an average-looking, Pizza Hut-sized slice. But the quality is remarkable. It's a perfect balance of cheese and sauce. The sweet italian sausage on my slice is intense with fennel and sweet spice. But it is, in fact, the crust that's noteworthy. Perfectly browned and crisp on the bottom, with a gentle char. There's a custardy top layer that tastes like "more!" In fact, whether because of the surprisingly small slice or the deliciousness of the product, I was still hungry after one slice, and ordered another (pepperoni). In any rustic contruction like a pizza, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that's the case here. The Lamonica's pie has a an intense, slightly gritty quality that, combined with the funky decor, certainly evokes New York.

Or maybe it was the East River I was tasting.

Vito's, formerly of Los Feliz, has moved into a nondescript strip mall on the stretch of LaCienega filled with art galleries, rug emporia, and mid-end restaurants. No Manhattan vibe here like Lamonica's; it feels more like a Subway than the subway. But the slice is awesome. It has the same custardy crust as Lamonica's, but here, thin slices of jalapeƱo offset the sweetness of the slice's Italian sausage. Maybe I'm just being influenced by surroundings, but the pie tastes somehow "cleaner" to me, less gritty, perhaps more Californian, and -- for my taste at least -- a little better.


I'm not sure yet how these pies would compare side by side to some of my other favorites -- Antica, Dino's, and my personal favorite Pizza Bella. And being a non-New Yorker, I wouldn't presume to venture an opinion about their "authenticity" (the most overrated word in food criticism, IMHO). But they are tasty, tasty specimens of the species, and if you haven't checked 'em out, you should.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:29 AM

    what about Albano's Brooklyn Pizzeria? Not a bad approximation of a slice of New York style pie, IMO.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brooklynza9:02 AM

    Vito = 10, LaMonicas = 7.5, Albanos = 5 at best. Albanos is the perfect example of someone thinking that because they're from NY, they make NY pizza. Just ain't true. Same with Joe Peeps -- the pizza has no relation whatsoever to NYC other than the owner's lineage.

    Long live Vito.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ob Askin7:30 PM

    When I worked in Pasadena a number of years ago there was a Lamonica's a few blocks away on Colorado Blvd.. The first time I went there - with their NY Subway motif and sign promising imported NY dough - it was a "eureka" moment for me. Being from Brooklyn, and after spending half my life in L.A., it was the first time I had a pizza by the Pacific that actually evoked memories of what my native pizza was like. These are the traits I associate with "NY style pizza": 1) the crust is thin, but doughy, with a nice crunchy bottom char - but not crisp like a cracker. 2) The edge of the crust must be thick, like a handle filled with air. This comes from a dough that rises quickly in a very hot oven and is filled with seared-over air bubbles. 3) Only "traditional" ingredients. No chicken strips, no sprouts, and for all that is good and just - no pineapple and ham! 4) The cheese must be thick and flowing, and you've got to be careful that your first bite doesn't pull the whole cheese topping off its base in one big glob. 4) Expect grease dripping down your forearm when you fold it - as is the only proper way to transport the pizza to your mouth.
    Lombardi's meets all these criteria, and I missed it when the Pasadena branch closed.

    Now, back in NY, truth be told, it's not so easy to find an authentic "NY Style" pizza either. There are the glorious specimens - Totonno's in Coney Island, the first pizza parlor ever, Lombardi's in SoHo, and John's in The Village. There are also really good examples of "corner pizzas" - those ubiquitous pizzarias that keep us going day-in and day-out. We all have our favorites, but would never elevate them to the level of the greats. Then there are the dime-a-dozen crapparias that serve pizza alongside burgers and gyros and breakfast sandwiches and whatever. They're flaccid and flavorless and hurt the feelings of true New Yorkers.

    "California" pizza can be good, can have bbq chicken on it, has a crisp cracker crust that is as unleavened as a matzo and breaks when you fold it. It's as different from a NY pizza as is a deep dish Chicagoan. When my family first moved to L.A. from Brooklyn we discovered Little Tony's. Went there for years. We knew the pizza wasn't quite right, but it was a close approximation that satisfied us in the absence of authenticity. So glad it's still in business after all these years.m

    ReplyDelete
  4. When I worked in Pasadena a number of years ago there was a Lamonica's a few blocks away on Colorado Blvd.. The first time I went there - with their NY Subway motif and sign promising imported NY dough - it was a "eureka" moment for me. Being from Brooklyn, and after spending half my life in L.A., it was the first time I had a pizza by the Pacific that actually evoked memories of what my native pizza was like. These are the traits I associate with "NY style pizza": 1) the crust is thin, but doughy, with a nice crunchy bottom char - but not crisp like a cracker. 2) The edge of the crust must be thick, like a handle filled with air. This comes from a dough that rises quickly in a very hot oven and is filled with seared-over air bubbles. 3) Only "traditional" ingredients. No chicken strips, no sprouts, and for all that is good and just - no pineapple and ham! 4) The cheese must be thick and flowing, and you've got to be careful that your first bite doesn't pull the whole cheese topping off its base in one big glob. 4) Expect grease dripping down your forearm when you fold it - as is the only proper way to transport the pizza to your mouth.
    Lombardi's meets all these criteria, and I missed it when the Pasadena branch closed.

    Now, back in NY, truth be told, it's not so easy to find an authentic "NY Style" pizza either. There are the glorious specimens - Totonno's in Coney Island, the first pizza parlor ever, Lombardi's in SoHo, and John's in The Village. There are also really good examples of "corner pizzas" - those ubiquitous pizzarias that keep us going day-in and day-out. We all have our favorites, but would never elevate them to the level of the greats. Then there are the dime-a-dozen crapparias that serve pizza alongside burgers and gyros and breakfast sandwiches and whatever. They're flaccid and flavorless and hurt the feelings of true New Yorkers.

    "California" pizza can be good, can have bbq chicken on it, has a crisp cracker crust that is as unleavened as a matzo and breaks when you fold it. It's as different from a NY pizza as is a deep dish Chicagoan. When my family first moved to L.A. from Brooklyn we discovered Little Tony's. Went there for years. We knew the pizza wasn't quite right, but it was a close approximation that satisfied us in the absence of authenticity. So glad it's still in business after all these years.m

    ReplyDelete
  5. So glad that oB, the originator of the "must fold in half" rule, posted here. I'm still collecting recommendations, so there will surely be a "Part Three" coming soon.

    ReplyDelete
  6. i'm surprised nobody has mentioned Mulberry Street Pizzeria (2 locations) in Beverly Hills.

    i haven't been to any of the other places listed here, but Mulberry is very good.

    what do people think of that place in comparison?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Say Cheese1:31 AM

    I grew up in NY. The ONLY place I'll order up a pie from out here is Village Pizza. That's New York. Everything else is second rate at best. Don't waste your time at Vito's. Just 'cause it ends with an "o" doesn't mean it's the real deal. Heavy handed with the spice, and too much crap piled on. Classic Californian mistake. Just cheese if you please, then make your decision. It's just like Pink's hot dogs. I always pity those Bozo's standing in line for a hot dog they gotta slop a bunch of other crap on to make it taste good. So sad.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "California" pizza can be good, can have bbq chicken on it, has a crisp cracker crust that is as unleavened as a matzo and breaks when you fold it

    ReplyDelete
  9. The new York style pizza is among the tastiest pizza. If you have plan to visit "Charleston", It is recommended to visit New York Style Pizza Charleston. I sure this you will find the same taste as of the Pizzas prepared in Bronx, New York. Know More!

    ReplyDelete