Friday, October 27, 2017

The Best Pizza in NY According to Me and Science

I often get the question, “You’re a New Yorker, AND you’re Italian!  You’ll know where I can get the best pizza!”

They’re right.  I do.

But I’m going to do better than just telling you the best pizza.  I am going to quantify the quality of the pie and present to you not just another Buzzfeed ranking but rather a calculated list of mathematically undeniable excellence.

2 days.  2 judges.  9 pizza parlors.  4 ranking categories.

The 4 Categories:
1)      Sauce: A good sauce is the single most important part of the pizza.  It needs to taste fresh, and juicy but thick enough to differentiate it from pasta sauce.  It needs to be light, not weighed down with spices.    When you eat a good pizza sauce you should feel like you’re being hugged by grandma.
2)      Cheese: When you bite into a good piece of mozzarella it should squeak against your teeth.  It should puddle slightly with delicious oil and the stretch of cheese from slice to face should be long and unwieldy. 
3)      Crust:  When you hold the slice up by the crust end, it shouldn’t flop down.  No one likes a floppy pizza.  The crust should be supportive, crunchy and make your pizza stand erect.
4)      Ratio:  Do you have a bunch of cheese on a crust?  Then you have yourself a flat bread, not a pizza.  Are you swimming in sauce?  Well that’s kinda nice but it’s not right.  Ratio is important.

And those are the categories.  Each category is ranked 1-5 (5 being the highest) for a total score out of 20.  Scores were averaged between the two judges to come up with the below, statistically significant pizza ranking:

#9: Di Fara:
Some people are going to hate me for ranking Di Fara last.  But I don’t care because I have science and math on my side.  #9.  There’s  a stupid long line because this place is “Old school.” But let me tell you something.  This pizza scored a 5/20. A 1 on each category.  25%.  F. 
 A slice is a whopping $5. Their schtick is that every pie is made by the old man that started the place.  Which is cute, but he forgot how to make pizza.  Take a look at my picture below.  Oily, grey slice.  Sauce is barely there and suffocated by oil anyway so you can’t taste it.  Cheese tastes like plastic. Crust is a SIN. 

Grey Di Fara's Pizza

Here is a picture of me outside of Di Fara eating Totonno’s because (spoiler) Totonno’s ranked much higher.

Eating Totonno's outside Di Fara

#8) Tavola:
Tavola on 9th and 37th is dressed up to look like an old Italian grocery store.  It is a sit-down trattoria that serves whole pies.  Now let’s get something straight, there are sit down, wood burning stove pies, and there are slices.  I realize there is a difference and I am ranking both on the same list.  Moving on…

This pizza did not rank so well.  It scored an 11/20 (55%).  Its main downfall is that it really just wasn’t New York enough.  The sauce and cheese both ranked a 2 ratio 3, and the crunchy crust did better with a 4.  But alas, the crust did not save it as pizza is not bread.



Tavola Pizza

#7) Roberta’s:
Oh Roberta’s you hipster daughter you.  If I could subtract points for a tiki bar and too many mason jars I would.  But I will not.  Because that’s not science.
Roberta’s scored 12/20 (60%) and had a very decent pie.  (Keep in mind we scored all these against each other so Roberta’s is not 60% of all NY pizzas but rather 60% compared to other places on this list).  Sauce was too oniony so ranked a 2.  Crust was decent at a 3, ratio could have used more sauce so also a 3, and the mozz was really quite squeaky so got a 4.  I do have to admit that in addition to their regular, I tried their “Bee Sting”: tomato sauce, mozz, sopressata, chili and honey.  It was (gesture with kissing fingers and then raising them to heaven in that Italian way).

Roberta's Pizza

#6) Joe’s Pizza:
If you’re in the city, and you want an excellent slice, there is no better place than Joe’s Pizza.  It’s exactly what you want, especially at 2am.  (who am I kidding I haven’t been out until 2am in years).  Served on that flimsy barely there paper plate that you need to quadruple up so the oil doesn’t make it to your lap, you can scarf down two of these bad boys in seconds.  Cheese, sauce and ratio were golden all scoring a 4.  But the crust was mushy.  When you fold the pizza (the only way to walk and eat a pizza) it should have a nice small crack down the middle where the crust gave way to the break.  It should not be able to be rolled up into a ball.  Pizza is not rollatini.  The crust scored a 1 bringing Joe’s to a score of 13/20 (65%).

Joe's Pizza

#5) Motorino:
Freakin noms.  Sauce is delicious.  Cheese is very good.  But although the crust is a crunchy delight, it takes up way too much of the pizza.  So in this case, the ratio of crust to sauce and cheese was not doing it.  Motorino scored 14 (70%). 

Motorino Pizza


#4) Grimaldi’s:
Grimaldi’s (the Coney island location) is so underrated.  Everyone thinks of Totonno’s when they think of Coney Island Pizza (and I guess they should since Totonno’s ranks higher than Grimaldi’s on this list) but should not forget about Grimaldi’s!  The mozz is fresh, the sauce is light, the crust is crunchy.   It is a good pie.  Scored a 15/20 (75%).


Here's to Grimaldi's

#3) L&B Spumoni Gardens:
I GREW UP ON THIS PIZZA.  When I was a teenager and had a cavernous pit of a stomach I once ate an entire square pizza pie in one sitting.  And yes, that is what you order at Spumoni Garden, the square.  Omgomgomg the square pizza is a dream come true.  The crust is crunchy, the center like a pillow and in a CRAZY TWIST the sauce is over the cheese which is brilliant because it makes the cheese melt better.  Then there is the sauce which has a recipe so secretive that the owner was SHOT DEAD by the mob who says he stole the recipe.  (True story).  Get the square, (or 4), and finish up your meal with a rainbow spumoni ice.  It will be heaven.  (also great people watching as this is where all the mafia goes when they visit Brooklyn from Staten Island). L&B scored a 90%. 

Spumoni Garden

Spumoni Garden
Spumoni Ice

#2)  And the winner of the best traditional slice of pizza in New York goes to Totonno’s in Coney Island.  This is everything a slice dreams it could be.  Really it’s just so perfect in all of the categories above that I’m not even going to go into it.  Just, trust me, next time you go to Coney Island tell Nathan’s to suck it and go to Totonno’s.  Your stomach will thank you.  (Even if the surly old guy behind the counter will not). 


Totonno's crust is perf

#1) Now for the big prize.  Winner of best pizza in New York according to this indisputable science is…Lucali’s in Carroll Gardens!  Holy mother of god this pizza.  Each bite of this pie will rock your world a little more until, with a flourishing dip of your slice in the EXTRA BOWL OF SAUCE THEY GIVE YOU, your world is thoroughly rocked.  I am writing this over a plate of bland chicken in Namibia right now.  I may have to cut my visit short and fly home to get a pie a Lucali’s.  From your table you can see Lucali in the back slowly making the pizza while looking around at his kingdom.  He got stabbed a few years ago by stealing another restaurateur’s girlfriend.  He touched my back and asked how my pizza was.  I almost fell over.  Lucali’s scored a perfect 5 in each category. 

And if you don’t believe the science listen to Jay Z and Beyonce.  They DITCHED THE GRAMMIES to have a pie at Lucali’s.  And Beyonce is better than science. 



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

So, what do you do?

Every time I am at a party I dread the question, “So, what do you do?”

Because there’s no casual way of saying what I do.  My elevator pitch sounds like it should have Sarah McLachlan playing in the background. 

“I am trying to assess the burden of HIV in 13 African countries.” 

And when I try to be flippant and nonchalant I sound like an asshole.   

“Oh you know.  HIV.  In Africa.  With the babies.”

I'm like the person who kvetches about her period cramps when asked a hallway “How are you?”

I asked a few of my girlfriends who do similar work and they all feel exactly the same way.  One of them said she feels bad because she feels like they feel like she thinks she’s a saint.  Shefeelsliketheyfeellikeshethinksshe’s.  How’s that for some emotional censoring? 

I asked a male colleague if he feels awkward.   Apparently he puts “I save babies in Africa” in his Tinder profile.

I think what I do is cool.  I think I'm cool for doing it.  I do not think I am a saint.  Most of what I do is spreadsheets and conference calls and hoping that my teams will not lose another survey tablet that I have to report to the IRB.  But I’m doing what I love and hopefully helping people as well.  I just want to stop this self-imposed meekness when I explain what I do with my life.

Maybe the next time I walk into a party I’ll announce to the room “I am Chelsea, and I study HIV in Namibia!  With the babies!  I will take questions now.”