Slice of heaven: ‘Pizza Project’ documents endangered local shops

Slice of heaven: ‘Pizza Project’ documents endangered local shops
NYC Pizza Project

They finally shot their piece of the pie!

Five Brooklyn pizza enthusiasts showcase the city’s mom-and-pop pizza shops with a book and exhibit of photos, opening in Park Slope on Feb. 13. One of the goals of the “New York City Pizza Project,” which was published as a coffee-table book in September, is to bring attention to a local pizza scene that is threatened by an onslaught of Domino’s and Papa John’s, says one of the photographers.

“The landscape of what was mom-and-pop pizzerias is changing and there’s a heavy wave of chain stores moving in,” said Nick Johnson, who lives in Cobble Hill.

He and his four pizza-loving friends spent five years photographing and interviewing owners and eaters at more than 100 pizzerias all over the city. The group had strict rules about which places qualified — they stuck to simple slice joints, eliminating spots that only serve full pies. They also steered clear of 99-cent spots and anything that seemed like “hipster pizza” — two forms that they fear are taking over New York’s pizza scene.

“The places that we are focusing on are kind of being squeezed out by the low-end 99-cent pizza and the high-end pie joints,” said Johnson.

They also correctly rejected any place that focused on Chicago-style “pizza.”

“A lot of people would not even consider Chicago-style as pizza,” said Johnson. “They say it’s like a pie or a cake.”

Coming right up: Pizza makers from Luigi Pizzeria in Clinton Hill create their perfect pizza.
NYC Pizza Project

One of the most memorable stories in the book is Johnny’s Pizza, on Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, which proved it could stand up to big-name competitors after at Papa John’s outpost moved in next door in 2007. The pizza joint implemented an online ordering system to keep up with the commercial pie slinger.

“He made it his mission to match them and fight them and it’s been really successful,” Johnson recalled.

Brooklyn has the strongest pizza scene in the city due to its large Italian presence, he said, with L&B Spumoni Gardens in Gravesend, and Lenny’s in Bensonhurst serving up especially classic slices.

The worst slice in New York comes from mall chain Sbarro, said Johnson, and his favorite place is Caruso’s in Cobble Hill. But the best pizza joint is in the mouth of the beholder.

“The best pizza is what tastes like home,” he said. “It’s really whatever is familiar to you.”

“New York City Pizza Project” at Powerhouse on Eighth [1111 Eighth Ave. at 11th Street in Park Slope, www.powerhouseon8th.com]. Feb. 13 at 4 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Order up: John, of Johnny’s Pizza, fought back when a Papa John’s moved in next door. His story is documented in the book and photo exhibit “New York City Pizza Project.”
NYC Pizza Project