Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Slice of the Big Apple

Those of you who know me or have been reading my stuff for any length of time know of my never-ending quest to find excellent New York style pizza in the cities that I call home. Nashville--forget it--there was none to be found. In Phoenix, NYPD Pizza on Highland was about as close to Nirvana as I could get without airfare and a cab ride across the Brooklyn bridge to Fulton Street. (Although, word on the street is that Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix is considered the very best by discriminating pie-o-philes. Sadly, I didn't even know about the place before I moved away almost four years ago...)

Since I've been in Vegas, my quest has continued, but I'm pretty much content with the idea that Metro Pizza is about the best pizza found in the city. I love the individual nine-inch pies, they are perfectly sized and have a wonderful crust. The problem, however, is that if you order a large pizza at Metro, the crust changes completely from NY-style thin, to something thicker, almost on the order of Domino's (but thankfully much tastier). So the secret to having excellent pizza at Metro is to stick with the individual pie and order no more than two toppings.

As a bonus, Metro Pizza on Tropicana is just a few minutes away from my house, so I manage to eat lunch there at least twice a month, more if any of the constant stream of visitors I pick up at the airport are hungry for lunch before checking in to their hotel rooms and attacking the green felt.

But don't even try to get good authentic NY-style pizza at the most obvious place, the New York New York Casino & Hotel food court. Their sad offering will make anyone living south of the Cross-Bronx Expressway recoil in horror faster than a Derek Jeter trade rumor. It's just plain bad. Actually, terrible is more like it.

Anyhow, back when I was a wet-behind-the-ears dice dealer at the Golden Gate casino, two of the guys on my crew were born-and-bred native New Yorkers. And whenever the game went dead, if we weren't talking about women or sports, we were talking about food. I told them of my quest to find good NY style pizza-by-the-slice, and they both heartily recommended NY Pizza & Pasta, west of The Strip out on Jones and Sahara. 'Recommended' isn't quite enough of a word to describe their enthusiasm--they both raved about how it was the only pizzeria in Vegas that had pies good enough to remind them of home. They also told me that they ate there every chance they got.

That was good enough for me.

Since I don't often venture out to the west side, I filed that info away under the 'someday' file. Well folks, someday was today. Driving back from Mt. Charleston this afternoon, I was getting pretty hungry, having only had a Powerbar and a bottle of cold Starbucks vanilla frappuccino from the convenience store earlier this morning when I gassed up the truck on my way out of town. So when I saw the exit for Jones Blvd, I remembered the recommendation and pulled off the highway.

Since I was traveling south, and the restaurant is on the northeast corner, it took some creative u-turning skills in the heavy traffic to get into the parking lot. The first thing I noticed were a couple of Metro Police cars parked out front, and my first thought was Uh oh, the place got robbed. Of course, my second thought was This joint must be good because cops always eat at the best places...

Nope, they weren't robbed--turns out that Vegas' finest also enjoy a slice or two of good pizza as much as I do.

I walked into the storefront restaurant and was surprised at how big it was--it looked like it started small but eventually took over their neighbors spaces and knocked out the walls to expand the dining room. There were no waiters or waitresses, you just walked up to the counter and ordered directly from the nice Jewish-Italian lady from New York, who immediately called out the order to the dough-flinging pizzaiolo about ten feet away in front of the huge gas oven. Not missing a beat, he kept the dough spinning in the air and yelled the order back for confirmation.

Two slices of pepperoni & sausage, with a large root beer came to about $7 and change. Unfortunately, my only beef with the place is that it's a Pepsi restaurant, not a Coke restaurant, which is why I went with root beer. Since it was such a hot day, I would've preferred a couple of bottles of St. Louis's finest macrobrew, but didn't much care to have all the boys in blue sitting at the next table seeing me draining the suds and then getting back on the road.

The restaurant itself was not fancy at all--typical square tables covered in plastic red & white checkered tablecloths, with black pleather banquet chairs for seating. Silk flowers from Michael's provided the tabletop ambiance, although I probably would've preferred an old Chianti bottle with a candle stuck in it. At least they had the good sense to pipe in Sinatra music instead of TV's blaring ESPN or the news.

A few minutes later, the cashier/housemother delivered my tray of piping hot New York City goodness. I gave it a light sprinkle of parmesan and snapped a quick picture.

I followed the proper protocol and promptly folded the first slice in half. Even before the first bite, I was impressed--the outside of the crust actually cracked, but the inside held together, indicating the perfect combination of crunchy and chewy that most pizza crusts fall desperately short of. Not this time. And the tip didn't sag either, another good sign.

The first bite gave that wonderful combination of pleasure and pain--excellent flavor, yet still hot enough to burn the room of my mouth. A pizza eater's slice of heaven.

The entire slice was excellent--the crust was cooked to perfection, and there was just enough cheese and sauce to compliment the toppings without overpowering them. Forgetting my duties as a reviewer, I almost downed the first slice before I remembered to snap a picture of the bottom of the crust.

It too, was impressive--as nothing ruins a good slice of pizza more than undercooking, which for some reason almost every pizza chain in the world is guilty of. Notice the satisfying puddle of grease left behind on the pan--it just doesn't get any better than that.

The only small critique I have (other than serving that vile Pepsi shiat) is that they don't offer fresh basil on the pizzas. When the cashier lady came around to refill my drink, I asked her if fresh basil was available, and she said not on the pizzas. They have a full menu with salads and pasta and such, but the kitchen is separate from the pizza-making operation out front, and thus no greenery. A small oversight, but an important one, especially for an authentic place like that.

Lack of basil aside, it was an excellent experience. The service was good--everyone working there sounded like they were from The City, and the food was excellent. The boys on the dice crew were right--they make some fine pies at NY Pizza & Pasta.

I will be back--I just have to find an excuse to cross The Strip, that's all.


NY Pizza & Pasta
2400 S. Jones
(Northeast Corner of Jones and Sahara, west of the Vegas Strip)
Open 7 days a week from 10:30 am to 9:00 pm

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