Joe’s New York Pizza
I tend to break pizza down into several categories that exist almost entirely in my own mind. I like each kind of pizza almost equally, but I evaluate them differently. There’s what I think of as “real” pizza; specifically, Wooster Street Neapolitan-style, thin-crusted, and cooked at insanely high heat in a brick oven until satisfyingly charred and blackened. Then, there’s the “Sicilian” slice, those pillowy, thick, heavily-sauced squares of happiness that you won’t find anywhere near Sicily, but that are delicious just the same. There’s what I think of as “novelty” pizza, which bears no resemblance to its more serious cousins, and seems to be very popular here in Portland. These pizzas are where you would find chicken and Buffalo wing sauce as available topping options, or hummus and Greek olives, on big, puffy, Boboli-style crusts. (Now that I think about it, I tend to kind of hate pizza in this category.)
There is also room in my heart, however, for what we have taken to calling the “Go-Slice.” This is the kind of pizza you find at every low-rent corner pizza place in NYC, whether it has some combination of the words “Famous,” “Original,” or “Ray’s” in the name, or not. The kind of place that has several pies ready to go, and will heat your slice up for you just before you eat it, where you can choose from either a plain slice, a chicken Parmesan roll, or a white slice, heavily dolloped with big lumps of ricotta. The kind of place where a slice of cheese and a Budweiser will set you back just two bucks, and if it’s three in the morning and you’ve already been drinking for eight straight hours, all the better. The kind of place where you shake on extra granulated garlic and red pepper flakes, before you step out the door with your pizza on a paper plate. You can stay and sit down, but eating this type of slice on-the-go, slice folded in half, letting the plate catch the orange grease, is so much more satisfying. When I think of pizza, it’s often the “Go-Slice” that my mind returns to: a tangy, heavily-oreganoed sauce, with bulk mozzarella, and a chewy, thinnish crust, tapering up to a thick, satisfying roll around the edge. It’s heavy, it sits in your stomach like a brick, and it’s cheap.
It also happens to be the kind of pizza that we really hadn’t yet found in Portland. We had been turning our noses up at “Joe’s New York Pizza” on Fore Street, both for its use of “New York” in the name, as well as (much more irrationally) their decision to base their logo around the “Baby Kruffy” typeface. It wasn’t until we needed a midday snack on a day trip to Portsmouth that we gave this chain a chance, and we were glad we did. Here was the Go-Slice we had been missing, with the requisite soft, high-gluten crust, sharply-flavored raw tomato-flavored sauce, and the blistered, chewy low-grade mozzarella. When we learned that the Fore Street location was part of the same chain, we definitely had to add it to the list.
We ordered a plain cheese pizza and a batch of “hot” Buffalo wings, once we found out that they were discounted on that particular day. The pizza arrived 45 minutes later, by a man who made sure to refer to it as a “huge frikkin’ pizza” as he handed it off. And huge, it was: this 16″ monster was cut into eight huge slices, each easily twice the size of a normal piece of pizza. The pizza wasn’t as successful in whole-pie form; we liked it one slice at a time much more. The pizza looked like it had been sloshed around a bit, and was heaped higher on one side of the box, as though it had done some sliding inside the box. In terms of taste, it delivered on the memories we had of the Portsmouth location, and we were tempted to march around the house, pretending to be Very Important Businesspeople, as we ate it off of paper towels. It satisfied our craving for a Go-Slice, and we had plenty left over to eat for breakfast the next day.
The Buffalo wings were another story, and just aren’t recommended. These heavily-breaded (???), soggy wings had barely a trace of sauce. Though we ordered just one heat level below “Chernobyl,” there was mysteriously almost no spice. We learned after the fact, also, that blue cheese dressing is sold separately, which is an unforgivable omission. Though “Joe’s New York Pizza” is managing to somewhat successfully produce NYC-style Go-Slices, their wings bear no resemblance to what you would find in upstate New York.
Though the pizza being slung out the door at Joe’s certainly can’t compare to what you’d find at Flatbread or Otto’s, it’s simply not trying to compete on that level. This isn’t organic arugula and free-range chicken served on a gluten-free crust; it’s hard-working, cheap, fast, workaday pizza, for people who don’t want to spend a lot of money or time to go from “empty-stomach” to “stomach full of pizza.” In that regard, we find Joe’s New York Pizza to be a solid choice for a midday slice.