Food: 4.5/6 (Very Good – Excellent)
Ambiance: Small and dim neighbourhood place with refined food
Service: Friendly and helpful
If I had to name one food that’s quintessentially ’New York’, pizza would be my top choice. Bagels might be more familiar to an outsider, but after living here for a year it still blows my mind how much competition and diversity in pizza there is here!
You’ll never find me on one of those “Best pizza in NYC?!?!?! PLZ HELP” debates, as I don’t profess to be much of a pizza expert having made only a few pizzas in my life. New York does have many “best” pizza places that each have a unique style so my foodie curiosity dictates that I try as many of these that I can in the next little while!
First up on this pizza craze is Motorino! It’s a classic East Village gourmet pizza spot that does both dine-in and take-out service. It’s always in the conversation for “best pizza in NYC”, although some people aren’t so crazy about it which is understandable with so much personal preference involved.
They’ve been in the news recently for opening a location in Hong Kong of all places! Their third location is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and if they continue to be this successful it wouldn’t be surprising to see them expand some more!
The ambiance here is casual with a very dark dining room and a menu focused on quality pizza with only a few antipasti options on offer. There’s usually a wait here, especially on weekends, but delivery is also an option if you live in the neighbourhood.
The style of pizza here is very much Neapolitan, and the key to that is the oven. The pizza oven was originally imported from Naples by Anthony Mangieri for his restaurant Una Pizza Napoletana and was left behind when he moved to San Francisco.
Motorino doesn’t strive to be fully authentic to the tradition of Naples and some point to the ability to choose toppings or serving the pizzas cut in quarters as evidence for that. It does do a better job than most at capturing the wet and soft character of Neapolitan pizza while moderating tradition to suit local preferences.
Pizzas range from $15-$20 with the exception of a basic marinara pie which is $9. The pizza here is slightly bigger than personal size so two pizzas for three people should suffice, although a big eater could probably handle one pizza alone.
I enjoyed my experience here, although the wait times can be annoying to deal with on weekends! It definitely does a solid job with Neapolitan pizzas whether that’s your preference or not. Anyone doing a pizza tour in NYC should definitely have Motorino on their lists!
Things Roger Ate like a Pig
Margherita – 5/6 (Excellent), $15
- Neapolitan style pizza with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, basil, pecorino and extra virgin olive oil
What better way to start than with a classic Margherita? This pie came out exactly as you’d expect, striking the perfect balance between doughy crust, soupy tomato sauce and smooth mozzarella.
The crust was typical of a Neapolitan pizza, with a thick ring of crust surrounding the otherwise thin-crust pie. I loved the flavour of the crust here! It had the yeasty sweetness of a good bagel with a good amount of leoparding for extra smokiness.
There were two cheeses here: the standard buffalo mozzarella (from water buffalo milk from Campania) and pecorino, a hard Italian cheese made from sheep milk. The mozzarella tasted fresh with a decent chew while the pecorino injected an appreciated nuttiness into the cheese layer.
The tomato sauce was on the soupy side as expected for this style, which isn’t normally my cup of tea, but I couldn’t get enough of this! Tomato sauce in Naples is made from San Marzano tomatoes which are an oblong-shaped heirloom variety that’s sweeter and more flavourful than Roma tomatoes. That sweetness really came though and made this simple pizza irresistible!
Top all that off with the aromas of crisp basil and extra virgin olive oil and you have a beautiful pizza that’s simple, well-balanced and utterly delicious. If this was my initiation to true NYC pizza then I’m in for a treat in the weeks ahead!
Brussels Sprout – 4/6 (Very Good), $16
- Neapolitan style pizza with fior di latte, garlic, pecorino, brussel sprouts, smoked pancetta and extra virigin olive oil
This was consistently highlighted as a unique specialty (although brussels sprouts are pretty common on pizza these days) and they had run out of a few of the other white pizzas so I decided to try this. The crust faithfully followed the same script as that of the Margherita, being thick and doughy on the outside with a malty touch. This pie wasn’t as watery as the margherita but was still soft enough near the middle to make holding it difficult!
Instead of tomato sauce, the base of the pizza was a creamy fior di latte, mozzarella made from cow’s milk rather than water buffalo. There was a pretty healthy amount of brussels sprouts and pancetta (Italian cured pork belly) to top it off.
The brussels sprouts were the namesake of this pizza and accordingly their flavour was the most prominent. They were cooked light enough to retain some firmness and weren’t too oily. The pancetta had a chewy and meaty texture that was a little too rough and they didn’t retain their flavour as well as I would’ve liked.
This was a pretty solid pizza although the toppings were pretty typical and it didn’t have the divine simplicity and elegance of the margherita pizza.
Motorino is a great choice for Neapolitan-influenced New York pizzas! Beware of the wait times, but if you don’t mind Motorino cranks out some pretty delicious pies!
Date visited: Feb. 17, 2013
Price range: $10 – $20