Tag Archives: calzones

Little Italy Pizza

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I live in a pizza dead zone. There are a few places in my neighborhood, but they’re all pretty terrible, so for the most part, I abstain. I can get Joe’s through Caviar, but it takes an hour and a half, and by the time the pizza arrives, it’s always soggy and lukewarm. So when I really want pizza, I have to comb the Internet for alternatives. Can you see where this is going? Little Italy Pizza is just one of those random pizzerias I found through whatever third-party delivery website I happened to have been scouring for a nut-free pie. I claim no responsibility for this post’s existence.

Unfortunately, Little Italy is at the very bottom of my random-delivery-pizza hierarchy (which category is itself at the bottom of the pizza-in-general hierarchy). But we’ll get there. First, allergens. Before placing my first Seamless order, I gave Little Italy’s Fulton Street location a call, and the guy I spoke with assured me (through much confusion) that there are no tree nuts or peanuts used in any of their food. Whether he knew what he was talking about, I have no idea—but I’m inclined to believe what he said, given that Little Italy is just a standard-issue pizzeria, whose ilk I’ve never, ever had any (allergy-related) trouble with.

Look: I’m just going to skip over all the Fluff & Fun and cut to the chase here, because this place is so bad that I can’t even have a good time at its expense. The pizza’s so lame that I actually won’t eat it—and there isn’t much I won’t eat (or at least idly pick at) once it’s in front of me. The cheese is inoffensive, I guess, but the sauce is so sweet, and the crust is…something else entirely. It has a weird flavor, and it’s so crispy that it’s basically a cracker—plus, it’s covered with bread crumbs, which (a) give it an even less pleasant texture than it otherwise would’ve had, and (b) make for an unusually messy slice of pizza. (Seriously. I eat extra carefully and I’m still vacuuming up breadcrumbs 10 minutes after getting rid of the box.)

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For whatever reason (desperation—the reason is desperation), I’ve also tried Little Italy’s calzones, their stromboli, and their mozzarella sticks. But unfortunately, I have almost nothing nice to say about any of the above. My calzone (ham and cheese) was inedible—the cheese may as well have been made of plastic, and the ham, present only in two enormous chunks, was pretty gross, too. And the stromboli I ate (three bites of) wasn’t any better. Each and every meat inside was unequivocally bad, but it was the pepperoni that kept me from reaching bite #4. There had to have been at least 20 layers of pepperoni in that thing, and it was Hormel-quality, too. Please, no.

The mozzarella sticks were, I guess, the best of the bunch. That’s not saying much, I know. But I didn’t actually mind them in the slightest. (Maybe I just have too much of a soft spot for mozzarella sticks. But my many food-related soft spots couldn’t save the rest of Little Italy’s food.) No doubt, these were bad—the cheese was shitty, and the breading was all wrong—but I got through them, and I ordered them again (of my own free will!), too. That’s a lot more than I can say about any of the other Little Italy productions I’ve tried.

Over the last six months (which is as long as I’ve known about the place), I’ve ordered from Little Italy maybe four or five times—but that’s only because they’re open all night and they’ll actually deliver to me when no other restaurants seem to be able to. My verdict, then: There’s no excuse for giving up actual legal tender in exchange for such bad pizza in a city full of such great options…except for, you know, all those excuses I rattled off over the course of this post.

You’ve been warned.

Find Little Italy Pizza all over Manhattan.

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My Little Pizzeria

My Little Pizzeria's Brooklyn Heights storefront

As a direct result of my going to high school in Brooklyn (Heights), I learned: that the subway is the greatest invention of all time; that Brooklyn might just be a better borough than Manhattan; that the Chipotle on Montague Street is the best Chipotle in the city (and perhaps the world); that the plaid-skirt private schools in my (Manhattan) neighborhood are actually sort of frightening; that the stoops and rooftops of Brooklyn’s brownstones are some of the best places to hang out; that Brooklyn is most definitely a better borough than Manhattan; and that My Little Pizzeria makes some of the best pizza in this whole city.

But as I wrote in my post on Joe’s Pizza, New York City regularly participates in a rather ridiculous best-pizza circlejerk—by which I don’t mean that we all mistakenly believe that our city has the best pizza, because that isn’t a mistaken belief. What I do mean is that the pizza places everyone touts as the city’s best—Joe’s included—are only so because…well, because everyone’s constantly saying so. They’re the Best-Pizza Options, so they’re the ones everyone’s always drawing upon when it comes time to make a Best-Pizza List.

Seriously. Google “best NYC pizza” all you want; no matter how many articles you read, you’ll continue to come across the same handful of recycled names. But I refuse to accept that those same places fill each and every list simply because they’re really just the best. Certainly, there are other pizza places that are as good (or…dare I say?) better. And I hereby submit My Little Pizzeria as my first piece of evidence.

Located on Fulton Street, between a GameStop and an American Apparel, My Little (as my entire high school called it) doesn’t look like anything special. And perversely enough, I mean that as a compliment. I can’t trust a pizzeria that looks “special”—immediately, I’ll start to wonder what’s wrong with the pizza they serve. But this place is refreshingly boring. There’s a pizza counter, an ice cream counter, two dining rooms, and a stupid-looking courtyard for those who insist on dining al fresco. Come winter, there are usually string lights and some dumb-ass blow-up decorations. Oh, and there’s a bathroom. That’s literally it—and that’s fine, because their pizza calls for no compensatory frills.

(You’ll have to excuse me. Sometimes, I get carried away and forget that I’m meant to be writing about food in the context of food allergies. Rest assured, though, that My Little is pretty allergy-friendly. There are no nuts in any of their food-food—and though they do have a few nutty gelato flavors, nothing in the pizza area should ever come into contact with anything in the gelato area. They’re separate counters, as I said—so in all, I feel entirely safe eating at My Little.)

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Anyway, onto the food. The menu’s about what you’d expect from your average pizza place: garlic knots, calzones, rolls, and salads. I’ve never really considered getting up close and personal with a pizza-place salad, so I’m  moderately proud to say I have no opinions on My Little’s. With regard to everything else on their menu, though, I have plenty to say.

As with my meals, I’ll begin with the garlic knots. Like most garlic knots, My Little’s are pretty good—and at $3 for a dozen, they’re pretty cheap, too. They’re usually fresh and always warm, and they suffer from no shortage of garlic, thank God. In short, they’re fine: nothing special, but garlic knots aren’t really supposed to be special. They’re supposed to be cheap, greasy, and reliable—and these are, so I’m on board.

Now, it’s hard to bring myself to say anything negative about My Little, given how seriously attached I am to the place (and how many hundreds of hours I’ve spent within its walls)…but there’s no point in lying—including by omission—so here goes: their calzones are no good. They aren’t appalling—there’s plenty of cheese (mozzarella and ricotta), and the center’s always nice and warm—but they’re bland and boring, and the innards never quite fill out the crust. Oh well.

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Before I start in on the pizza, I should probably mention that I’m going to be talking specifically about My Little’s plain pies—that’s plain, not “cheese,” because I wasn’t raised by wolves (or people from upstate)—as I’m of the belief that plain pizza is pizza in its best form. White pie? No thanks. Sicilian? Get real. Fresh Mozzarella? Ugh. Plain or bust. Direct all hate mail here.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…I’m pretty confident in saying that My Little’s pizza is pretty much perfect. If you ask me, one of the marks of a good slice of pizza is that there’s very little to say about it (other than “…yep, it’s really good”), so this is going to be pretty challenging, but trust me: My Little churns out some reliably solid pies, especially around mealtimes, when they’re pretty much guaranteed to be straight from the oven.

The crust is perfectly virtuous; it rests at the mean between irritatingly crispy and doughy-as-fuck. It’s chewy, but not overly so—and for some reason, that’s pretty rare. The sauce is simple and refreshingly not-sugary  (also weirdly rare), and the cheese is creamier than most pizzerias’. Slices are salty, but not overly so, and there’s more than enough grease to satisfy a grease-lover like me. (And by the way: if you’re a grease-blotter, we can’t be friends. I’m sorry—that’s just the way it is. All hate mail to the aforementioned address.)

Plus, the guys who work the counter are great. For over 6 years now, they’ve been honoring each and every one of my sometimes-very-stupid requests (à la would you mind, uhh, cutting that slice into pieces?, which was my signature request for a month or two of my fifteenth year, during which I developed a weird, weird obsession with pizza “morsels”). And even though I only stop by once or twice a month now that I pretty much never happen to be nearby, most of them still know my name, and they never fail to greet me with a smile…or a wave, if I happen to be walking by. It’s the little things.

And the pizza.

Find My Little Pizzeria at 114 Court Street, between Atlantic and State Streets.

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Ben’s Pizzeria

The storefront of Ben's Pizzeria

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.

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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.)

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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.

An order of garlic knots from Ben's Pizzeria

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:

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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.

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