The original Patsy’s Pizzeria

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not one for eating pizza by the slice. I don’t like eating on the go. I want to sit, relax, and be comfortable while eating my meal. I like to be talking across from someone, reading a magazine, or watching television. I definitely don’t want to be standing. And the only thing I enjoy eating while walking is an ice cream cone.

But New York is a city where quick eating is a necessity. On the way to the subway, on the way out of the subway, on the subway platform, on the way to work, on the way home, outside the bar, outside school, next to the movie theater, before entering the sports arena, in the park, along the water. Food that you can quickly eat in less than five minutes is everywhere, and the pizza slice is definitely king. Any opinion I might have about good pizza immediately goes out the window when you learn I have very little slice experience. I care little about rectifying that, but I am aware.

A few weeks ago, J. Kenji López-Alt of Food Lab fame posted a picture on Instagram of his slices from the original Patsy’s Pizzeria in East Harlem. I acquired a pizza itch for those slices, and I wanted to know why Kenji loved the crust. Earning some cred by having a slice from one of the only original coal-oven pizzerias (it opened in 1933) that still served pizza by the slice was also motivating. Perhaps most importantly, it was time for me to try honest-to-goodness New York pizza. A simple, thin-crusted cheese, sorry “plain,” slice.

Work takes me relatively close to Patsy’s sometimes for meetings, and the perfect opportunity opened up for me to bookend my lunch break around one of them. The walk from the subway afforded me the chance to see some of Spanish Harlem for the first time, and on the beautiful spring day, it was a fun one, with street vendors out, people casually walking, and the presence of the good mood that seems to wash across the world when the air finally feels warm. There is a proper sit-down restaurant where you can order full pies, but I was there for the take-out space. Miniscule, with only a small counter for standing. a soda vending machine, and the oven, Patsy’s take-out typifies a slice joint. You are not there to eat or linger. You are to get your slices and move on. Many of the customers were double parkers who ran in to get a quick slice and then jumped back in their cars. Others picked up their snack to wolf down and keep walking. I was lucky in that there was no pizza ready when I arrived, so when I got my two slices, they were fresh from the oven. Perched at the little counter trying to manage my work bag, phone, and jacket, I was the current outlier with no rushed take-it-to-go vibe

The charred crust has the thickness and weight of the paper plates that the pizza is served on. There’s a momentary worry that the cheese and sauce will soak right through. But then I picked one up and made the required fold for ease of handling and eating. No problems. The crust also bends as easily as a paper plate, demonstrating that you will be getting chew and not crisp. It was great. As I worked my way down, I appreciated the perfect amount of sauce, adequate coverage with just enough to slip through the fold to make you quickly lap it up. The cheese pulled enough without becoming a stringy mess or coming right off the slice. Textbook.

These are definitely slices as snacks. I should have ordered three to feel satisfied for lunch. But that would have taken away from the act of being there for only a quick spell. Snack not meal, I have to tattoo to my forehead. If I wanted a real lunch, I should have just gone to the restaurant next door. I didn’t have the time. I was on the move, needing to get to my meeting. For 10 minutes at least, I was just a busy New Yorker taking a short break for a New York slice.

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