The other day after dojo practice I was looking for a quick bite before heading home, and I paused to ponder my options. The Upper West Side is home to its fair share of cheap eats, although high rents and upscale eateries are doing well to change the culinary landscape. Cesca, Aix, Ouest, Neo, Café du Soleil, just to name a few, and the list continues to sprout.
Thankfully there are still joints like Gray’s Papaya, ubiquitous Chinese spots, and buffalo wings on sale (Check out Lion’s Den Monday nights). Longtime neighborhood establishments like La Tacita de Oro (for Roast Chicken) and La Casita (for Cuban sandwiches) have reluctantly passed the torch to fast food aberrations. Boy do I miss them.
The best bet is still pizza, in my mind the number one street food, especially if you’re on the go. There is pizza and there is pizza, and everyone who has teeth has an opinion about where is the best pizza shop. I have other favorites all over the city, Di Fara being on the top of my list, but when I gotta have a slice, only one place takes the cake every time.
For thirty years I have been eating away at the life pie that is crafted by two Sicilian gentlemen, Sal and Carmine. At first, they operated out of 95th street, near the Symphony Space. Fires and real estate wars pushed them out. They found a home on 102nd and Broadway, and have endured high rents by strategically raising the price of their slice and maintaining an undying, faithful following.
The reason for that following is simple: a pizza that is consistently great and satisfying.
In this carbo-phobic society, bread is a taboo, but not here. An ample crust serves as the platform for a proper tomato sauce, topped by tangy mozzarella. The slice holds together in harmony. Of the toppings, I enjoy onion, but the plain slice reigns supreme. To say anything more about the pizza will do no justice. You can read a review (the walls are posted with them) or just come on down and have a slice. The slices get sold so often you are basically guaranteed a fresh slice on every visit.
One time my friend Jason called Carmine up and asked him at what temperature should he bake a homemade pizza. Carmine replied, “One thousand degrees.” Jason retorted, “My oven doesn’t go that high. What am I supposed to do with this dough?” Without pulling any mozzarella cheese Carmine added, “That’s right. Just throw out that dough. Come down here in fifteen minutes. I’ll give you a fresh pizza.” Point well taken.
My friend Dr. L. and I have a theory that one brother is jealous of the other’s pizza, and that keeps them going day after day. The family recipe is well-guarded, and sometimes their nephew helps them out, but he recently became a state trooper, and Sal and Carmine are hard-pressed to keep the shop open every day. Soon they will retire to Italy or New Jersey, and the pizza legacy will accompany them. One review on the wall talks about how Sal & Carmine create the “platonic ideal of a slice.” Having created that perfection, they deserve the rest. Joining Casita and Tacita, that’s one less joy for a boy looking for a slice of pizza heaven.