Scott Wiener takes pizza seriously. His collection of 1207 (and counting) pizza boxes is the largest in the world; he carries an infrared thermometer to check the surface temperatures of pizza (he reckons 70 degrees Celsius is optimal for flavour, texture and avoiding mouth burns); and he's a columnist for trade magazine, Pizza Today.
Weiner is also the founder of Scott's Pizza Tours, a New-York based walking and bus tour company that is arguably the easiest and most entertaining way for out-of-towners to learn about the city's pizza obsession. Tours are grouped within specific boroughs and each three-hour walking tour takes in three pizzerias, while bus tours take in four. Only the first stop on each tour is pre-determined, enabling tour guides to choose appropriate destination for each (small) group being led.
Scott's Pizza Tours founder Scott Wiener.
While immigrants from Naples might have brought pizza with them to America - regular tour stop Lombardi's is regarded as America's first licensed pizzeria and began baking pizza in 1905 - America and Americans have made the dish their own, from specific regional styles (the Chicago deep-dish, say) to divisive "gourmet" and "topped with pineapple" varieties. While Weiner says aficionados might obsess over neighbourhood-specific pizza styles, four major pizza styles are recognised throughout the five boroughs. Will this always be the case? He doesn't know, but he's excited to continue tracking the dish's evolution.
"Pizza is so very important here, but the kind of pizza that people are making is changing," he says. "It's not so much about pizza by the slice, it's more about pizza by the whole pie. It's expensive to run a pizzeria. You've got to sell it by the whole pie and beer and wine along with it to make it work."
Here are the four pizza styles you'll find in New York City:
Classic New York coal oven pizza
The coal oven pizza is a sort of cousin to the Naples-style pizza, only made using American ingredients. The crust is harder and crunchier and baked at a lower temperature. The outer rim of the crust is typically charred and they tend to be sparsely covered with slabs of fresh (rather than shredded) mozzarella. The basic pizza tends to be the pizza Margherita and is typically sold whole rather than by the slice.
Try it: John's of Bleecker Street, 278 Bleecker St, New York, NY, +1 212 243 1680, johnsbrickovenpizza.com
The New York slice
This is the classic, large-format pizza sold by the slice. Gas-fuelled, stainless steel deck ovens cook these and operate at around 260 degrees, which is lower than the coal-fired ovens, so the pizza is going to take longer to cook and be a little drier. This style of pizza is covered with low-moisture mozzarella which results in wall-to-wall cheese carpeting. Typically, you should eat a New York slice by picking it up, folding it from crust to crust and letting the oil trickle down your arm a little bit. That's when you know it's good.
Try it: New York Pizza Suprema, 413 8th Ave, New York, NY, +1 212 594 8939, nypizzasuprema.com
Also known as "squares", a Sicilian pizza is rectangular and made from dough that's allowed to prove after it's been stretched into the pan. The dough is thicker, almost like focaccia. It's baked in the same oven as the New York slice but at a lower temperature for slightly longer. Once in a while, you might find sausage or pepperoni on a Sicilian, but it's something you're generally not going to find toppings on. People fight over the different pieces. Corner slices with two crusts are coveted, but sometimes you get square pizzas with a crustless, middle piece that some people really want. People have childhood attachments to particular kinds of slices.
Try it: Famous Ben's Pizza, 177 Spring St, New York, NY, +1 212 966 4494, famousbenspizzaofsoho.com
This is very similar to the Sicilian in that it's spread into a pan, but the dough isn't allowed to prove and is topped and baked right away, resulting in a crunchier crust. It's very sparse, very simple and gentle, almost like a diet version of the Sicilian. Some people call Grandma Pizza "pizza a casa", meaning pizza at home. Nowadays, everyone has a pizza stone, but back in the day, everybody made their pizza in a cookie sheet pan. You'd put a little oil in the pan, push the dough out to the edge and then sparsely top it. It was the way Italian grandmas made their pizza.