Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Best Pizza in New York?


New Yorker - "Tables for Two: Scarr’s Pizza"

"The restaurant’s owner and founder, Scarr Pimentel, grew up in Hamilton Heights, in a sprawling Dominican family; as a teen, he landed a busboy job at the celeb-magnet Nolita restaurant Emilio’s Ballato, where he started learning the basics of turning flour, yeast, and water into dough. He moved on to pizzerias—Artichoke Basille’s, known for its gargantuan slices, and Lombardi’s, arguably the birthplace of New York pizza—and began to refine his own sense of pizza perfection. Scarr’s Pizza opened in 2016, in a narrow sliver of a space with brown wood-panelled walls, molded Formica booths, and kitschy late-seventies ambience. It was a deliberate aesthetic, both a play to nostalgia and a subversion of it. Pimentel, a Black Latino man making moves in the overwhelmingly white pizza world, wasn’t paying homage to the pizzerias of his youth; he was claiming them.

The original Scarr’s was a classic New York pizza shop, serving classic New York pizza, except for all the ways it wasn’t. The ingredients were organic. You could buy a can of Bud Light, but you could also get a bottle of natural wine. There was no pork in the kitchen—Pimentel doesn’t eat it—and a portion of the menu skewed plant-based and vegan. The pies were thoughtful and deliberate, not high-speed, high-volume gut bombs. Pimentel is an exacting sort of person, which is a good quality in the world of pizza: when he couldn’t figure out exactly the right blend of flour for the crust of his dreams, he started milling his own, a fresh batch daily, in the restaurant’s basement prep area. The slice shop’s Orchard Street location, and its whole vibey gestalt—aesthetic deliberateness, quasi-healthfulness, nerd-level gastronomic rigor, plus a tiny bar and dining room that felt a little bit like a secret—made it a default for the hip and artsy habitués of the lower end of the Lower East Side, an area that’s since become saddled with the name Dimes Square. Social-media buzz began to build. Bon Appétit declared it the best slice in the city. The lines were long, and getting longer.

In pizza, as in all things, trends come and go—everyone’s freaking out about sourdough crusts one minute and Detroit-style rectangular pies the next. When Pimentel opened Scarr’s, many of the city’s most lauded pizzerias were sit-down affairs that served whole pies: coal-fired, Italian American-style at old-school spots like Lombardi’s and John’s of Bleecker; minimalist, jewel-like Neapolitan pizzas from Una Pizza Napoletana; and cheffy, creative “New Brooklyn” pizzas at places like Lucali, Roberta’s, and Emily. Now, for some reason (credit the slumping economy, a collective wistfulness for a New York City that once was, or the success of Scarr’s itself), we are living in the golden age of the slice. It is the fundamental unit of New York pizza: a cheap, hot meal for a city short on time and money and space, consumed while standing, a food shovelled-in more than eaten. At places like Scarr’s (and similar new-wave slice shops, like L’Industrie and Mama’s Too), it is treated like a form of art."

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