I’ll admit it: I never would’ve given Ben’s Pizzeria a second glance had it not been for its presence in the opening to Louie. But I go to school in the neighborhood, so I pass Ben’s all the time—and the image of Louis C.K. shoving a slice of Ben’s pizza into his mouth is so burned into my mind that I couldn’t help but give the place some attention.
Since Ben’s is an exceedingly average pizzeria—all they serve is pizza, calzones, rolls, garlic knots, salads, and heroes—I figured the place was probably a shoo-in. Still, I was really dreading making the phone call, because pizza places are fucking impossible to communicate with. Think about it: their phones ring all day, but 99.9% of callers are just calling to order a pizza. Those are the calls they’re trained to handle. So when someone calls in asking whether there might be any nut products on-site, they get confused. The usual language barrier doesn’t help—but the fact that I’m calling to ask a sort-of-unprecedented question doesn’t help, either.
But I did call, and the gist of the answer I received was that there shouldn’t be any nuts or nut products anywhere within the walls of Ben’s. And that—combined with the incredible convenience of the location, and, you know, the whole Louie thing—convinced me to give this place a try.
Unfortunately, the pizza isn’t all that great. It’s fine—it’s not weirdly sweet or offensively doughy or anything—and it’ll certainly do in a pinch, but it definitely isn’t good. At $2.75 per slice, I’d expect this stuff to be reliably better than the dollar slices you’ll find at 2 Bros. et al., but it isn’t. In fact, it’s actually a little worse. The cheese is bland, and there’s way too much of it—and overall, slices are so flavorless that I’ve actually taken to salting them. (Who salts pizza? Not me. But Ben’s pizza needs salt.) The crust’s decent, though. I’ll give them that. And the sauce is all right, too.
Maybe I’ve just been unlucky. Maybe Ben’s has better pizza to offer. I don’t know, but I guess I’ll find out, because it’s not as if I’m about to stop eating there. Within a certain range of quality, well…pizza is pizza—and Ben’s pizza certainly falls within that range. (I definitely don’t agree with that stupid-ass adage that there’s no such thing as bad pizza. There’s bad pizza, and if you tout the aforementioned adage as some sort of universal truth, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably one of those folks who’s into bad pizza.)
Their stromboli, though, are certainly worth avoiding. At all costs. For real. The crust is fine, but the filling—no matter what you settle on—sucks. The meat melds together; the vegetables meld together; everything gets all slimy, and the final product verges on inedible.
Pictured immediately above is a meat stromboli (made with ham, salami, pepperoni, meatballs, and mozzarella) that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish, despite my best efforts (and despite my hunger, too). It was just too goddamn unctuous—actually unctuous—to get through. Though I did eat 100% of the crust.
But Ben’s isn’t without its pros. They have a pretty wide array of toppings (though you’ll have to order a whole pie if you happen to want a combination of toppings that isn’t already on one of their pre-made pies), and, well…there’s seating. (Joe’s has none—so although Joe’s pizza is way, way better, Ben’s wins my patronage in the winter months.) Plus, their garlic knots (pictured immediately below) are actually worth eating. They’re huge—fist-sized, almost—and they have a prominent sourdough flavor to them, which I really like.
Surprisingly enough, I’m also a fan of their calzones. They’re made with plenty and plenty (and plenty) of cheese, and the folks at Ben’s will throw whatever fillings you want in there, too. I get broccoli, which is probably a mistake—their broccoli is watery and not really worth ordering—but maybe one day I’ll get over my aversion to most pizza toppings and give something else a try. I do tend to like plain old cheese calzones, though. Ricotta is one of my favorite things in the world, and mozzarella’s an easy sell, so it’s not as if I need anything additional in my calzones. But I wouldn’t mind some better broccoli…
Oh well. Here’s a calzone:
Anyway. Like I said, mediocre food won’t stop me from patronizing Ben’s. Maybe I’ll get around to trying the sandwiches, maybe I won’t—but I know for sure that I’ll keep eating their pizza, calzones, and garlic knots. I have to; I’m nearby every day, and that shit definitely does the trick. Again: The food isn’t bad. I just can’t, in good conscience, call it “good.”
Find Ben’s Pizzeria at at 123 MacDougal Street, between Minetta and West 3rd.