As might be expected, pizza has boomed nationally during the pandemic. What that macrotrend looks like to the New York dough cognoscenti is not the rise of Domino’s or Pizza Hut but a bunch of canny chefs and restaurateurs launching virtual pizza parlors inside their existing restaurants and establishing new brands around their new pies.
307 Spring St.; cocopazzeria.com
The opening of this new Coco Pazzo spinoff brings to mind the movie genre where the old gang gets back together and, in the spirit of enjoying one last hurrah, decides to rob a bank. Some 30 years ago, Pazzo’s Pino Luongo hired Ciro Verde to work the pizza oven at his pioneering Chelsea trattoria, Le Madri. Post Le Madri, both went on to open their own restaurants and then fell out of touch. After Verde closed his Brooklyn pizzeria last year because of the pandemic, he reunited with Luongo (along with Coco Pazzo partner Alessandro Bandini), and the result is impressive. Verde’s thin-crust pies are light and crisp and fall somewhere on the pizza-style spectrum between the Roman and the Neapolitan. Great new topping combos like the ’nduja-spiked Comma Pica (“How spicy!” in Neapolitan dialect) and the Burrata pie abound. Best of all is the return of Verde’s focaccia robiola, the superb cheese-stuffed flatbread invented at Le Madri and inspired by that New York City superfood—the bagel and schmear.
21 W. 8th St.; washingtonsquarespizza.com
The springy, toasty grandma pizza Dan Kluger introduced at Loring Place three years ago was so good and so popular you wonder why it took a pandemic for him to spin it off into a separately branded sideline — albeit one that operates, in the current rent-saving fashion, out of the existing LP kitchen. The pie that put Kluger on the pizza map, the tomato-mozzarella “O.G.” is here. What’s new is a slew of clever toppings and fiery accents: There’s spicy honey on the Meat Lover’s pie, pickled jalapeño on the Spanakopita, and chili crisp on the Mushroom.
176 First Ave.; blackseedpizza.com
If you already have a nice wood-burning oven churning out Montreal-style bagels by day, why not harness the residual heat, keep the oven humming, and bake pizza by night? That was the light-bulb moment that inspired Black Seed’s Matt Kliegman to make contact with his pal Bobby Hellen (of the late great GG’s pizzeria) and collaborate on this perma-pop-up. The result is some stand-up Sicilian squares plus some equally puffy rounds. Recommended for maximalists: the Bob’s Pie, whose flavor-bomb kitchen-sink approach to toppings includes three cheeses, soppressata, Castelvetrano olives, banana peppers, and housemade chimichurri.
53 Great Jones St.; ilbuco.com
Pizza has always been part of this multitasking Noho shopstaurant, but it took pandemic dining habits to beget a separate identity for its pies. “We’re trying to create a larger digital footprint, capture a little broader audience,” says chef Justin Smillie, whose dough has evolved over time into what he calls a “hodgepodge pizza.” The current incarnation combines the ancient Sicilian durum wheat timilia with whole wheat and bread flours, but what really distinguishes it is technique: Inspired by the cast-iron-pan pizza he made for his kids during quarantine, when he froze the “skins” to top and bake later, he now bakes his hearty, crisp-crusted dough “blank,” then cooks it again with toppings like kale and anchovy or mortadella and pesto.
194 Elizabeth St.; peasantnyc.com
Marc Forgione had barely assumed operation of Peasant when Covid-19 shut everything down, and the chef found himself like many quarantined cooks dabbling with sourdough starters at home. Eventually, he turned to pizza, envisioning a way to make Peasant’s wood-fired pies his own. “I always dreamed of combining Neapolitan with New York City pizza,” he says. “I love the flavor of Neapolitan but not the flop.” Out of that experimentation came a new hybrid crust—part sourdough, part pinsa, an early Italian flatbread made with rice and soy flours. He began adorning pies with offbeat toppings like Brussels sprouts and Calabrian honey, and spinach-and-artichoke “dip,” and launched a weekend pizza-delivery pop-up to test the brand as a potential new business. “Trying to be a restaurant and a pizza place gets a little confusing,” says Forgione. So while he’s still serving pies to stay or to go, he’s looking for spaces to house the new venture.
*This article appears in the March 1, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!