By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
When I'm in need of an energizing, centering, head-clearing taste of the Big Apple, I usually go to New York Pizzeria, a little hole-in-the-wall strip-mall joint in Glendale. But last month, I realized it had been a long time since I'd made a trip back to the state that spawned me and the city at its heart, so -- under the guise of giving an honest assessment of how Denver's best New York-style pizza stacks up against the real Gotham article -- I wondered if I shouldn't fly back for a few days.
In all honesty, I wasn't heading back only for a slice of pizza. That would have been insane, since there are services that will overnight you a fresh-tossed pie for much less than the cost of a human's plane ticket. But I also intended to stuff myself with Philly cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, my mom's cream of broccoli soup, maybe a garbage plate from Nic Tahoe's. Add all that up, and the shipping costs began to look prohibitive. So in the name of spendthrift gluttony and in the interest of educated reportage, I proposed a spring jaunt to the big city.
In my mind, it was absolutely vital.
600 S. Holly St.
Denver, CO 80222
Region: Southeast Denver
16” thin crust regular, double
cheese and salami:
12” thin crust pesto, garlic and spinach: $13.50
12” just cheese $8.50
16” Bronx: $14.99
Calzone, dinner size (serves 2), 5 cheese, 5 topping: $7.99
Sabrett hot dog w/the works: $2.25
Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda: $1.25
The boss disagreed.
And I went anyway.
Now, I did have one other reason for dropping in on Midtown (see Bite Me), but that New York slice was still near the top of my to-do list. I found it in Manhattan, at a street vendor's cart on Sixth Avenue around 42nd Street. The vendor's name was Leon, and his cart was a magnificent contraption: a gleaming machine made of aluminum, plastic and punched tin, with hinged doors and warming boxes, cold trays, two fat propane tanks and chrome-spoked wheels that any lowriding cholo would covet. It was the Cadillac of the pushcart world. If you have big dreams of owning your own street-side hot-foods cart, this baby is the one you fantasize about, the one whose picture is showing when you tuck the catalogue under your pillow at night. Maybe it wasn't that much compared to the bright spike of the Chrysler Building towering overhead, but it was prettier than a Yellow Cab, for sure, and at least as sleek and sharp-angled as some of the women stalking by.
Anyway, it was tough to miss. And it was tough to miss the man wrangling all that tin, because for all the sweating, suffering labor that must have gone into the lovely behemoth that sat on Sixth, not one minute of toil had gone into fashioning the man who sat slouched against the trailer hitch on its ass end.
That was Leon. He held a special place on the top-ten list of God's ugliest evolutionary mishaps, coming in somewhere between dust mites (which are pretty terrifying under the magnifying glass) and East St. Louis (equally terrifying, even from a distance) on that roster of all-time ugly. Take Rocky's friend Paulie from the movies, go upside his head a couple of times with a nine iron, give him a voice like Ethel Merman on the wrong end of a whiskey bender, and you're in the ballpark.
Leon served chili dogs, sausage and peppers, and soft pretzels. He gouged rube and local alike on bags of chips and cold sodas. He'd sell you a map or a stuffed animal for your kid and give you directions (though if you wanted the rightdirections, you probably should have slid him a fiver). But most important, he sold pizza -- cheap and by the slice. I like a man with scruples, especially of the culinary variety, and I liked Leon because he had a deep and abiding mistrust of any pizza made outside of New York. As a matter of fact, Leon had a deep and abiding mistrust of any pizza made outside of his sight, and he warned me against eating at several spots (all referred to by the name of the guy who owned them -- Jimmy's place, Tony's place -- as if I knew those guys personally), for a variety of colorful reasons.
Leon insisted that his 'za was the best -- "King a pizzas, right here," he said -- and who was I to argue? A simple country mouse like me, alone in the city that never sleeps? Why, I was thankful for his friendly advice, and told him so in no uncertain terms, explaining that if I couldn't trust a fast-talking Manhattan street vendor who looked like something fresh off the set of a George Romero zombie movie, then who could I trust?
Seek and ye shall find, sayeth the good book. And while biblical scribes probably didn't have Leon in mind when they penned those lines, I sought, and Leon was what I found. The king a pizzas and his cart. Leon and the first slice of honest-to-Jesus, 212-area-code, New York-style pizza I'd had in six years.
But in New York City, no one calls it "New York-style" pizza -- because no one has to. It's just pizza, a slice, a definite article used for describing a thing as nature intended it to be. Pizza in Leon's world (and in mine, and also in that little corner of bizarro Colorado that is New York Pizzeria) is warm but not hot, with a thin crust that's touched lightly with a sweet, unspicy sauce and real cheese -- not cheez or "cheese product." It also possesses a magical capability for creating a strange orange grease that's magnetically attracted to button-down Oxford broadcloth. The more expensive the shirt, the stronger the attraction.