Flatiron Lunch: Forget the Pizza, Maffei’s Baked Stuffed Fish is Where It’s At

Now that Downtown has its very own section of the site, what are we going to post on Fridays at 10am? Answer… how about a new column devoted to those lunches just south of the ML boundaries. Please give a warm welcome to Jason Lam from the blog Me So Hungry. Every Friday at 10am he’ll post about lunches in Murray Hill south, Grammercy, Flatiron, and everything in between… or as we’ll call it from now on: Flatiron Lunch.

Everybody loves pizza, and it’s not unusual to see my co-workers come back to the office from Maffei Pizza (on 6th Ave. and 22nd) with a Grandma slice. It’s very much your usual New York pizzeria –pizza, pastas, soups, and parmesan sandwiches. But what I think sets them apart is their baked stuffed fish.

Salmon or flounder with bread crumb stuffing, mixed shrimp and imitation crab meat. Some bites are delicious and buttery, some tasteless, dry or drowning in oil. Nonetheless, I can’t stop getting it. Perhaps it’s because of the heaping portions that include a side, for which I usually pick the best looking pasta that day. At $8.75, it’s at least two meals. Plus you get  garlic knots or buttered bread. Carbo load! (BTW, Salmon > Flounder, IMO)

Of all the pastas I’ve seen them offer as a side dish the best pasta I’ve had there recently was the Gorgonzola Gnocchi. Dense creamy cheese sauce with a strong Gorgonzola aroma over the potato pasta dumplings. I can see it being a Mac N Cheese lover’s dream. Sadly, they don’t have this every day. I’ve only seen it once as a special, so good luck.

I’d pass on the lasagna and spaghetti & meatballs. Those are my favorite things in the world, but sadly it’s underwhelming here. I think it’s the meat filler, which makes for a spongy meatball.

Now here we’ll talk about the pizza. I was never a fan of Maffei’s pizza, which happens to be the local favorite of my co-workers. Could it be that I don’t understand New York pizza or at least pizza by the slice? I did grow up on Domino’s down South, and my best friend in high school crashed his Jeep Cherokee to get to Papa John’s. We agreed it was well worth it after we ate it. And when I moved to New York over seven years ago, I couldn’t wait to try Pizza Hut’s Big New Yorker pizza. What I found in New York is that you get a slice from a pizza that’s been sitting out for hours and then reheated. I’m used to the pizza that burns the roof of
your mouth because it’s just been cooked.

New York pizza –it took me a while to get it. I went into Maffei’s once and happen to get a fresh Grandma slice straight out of the oven. Okay, I got it in that brief moment and understood New York, the crust and its water. Maybe it’s all a matter of eating fresh pizza. Perhaps that’s part of the reason popular pizzerias are good –slices go as quick as they’re taken out of the oven. Makes sense.

Maffei’s is a well-rounded New York pizzeria with a loyal local following. You get what you expect. You’ll hear New York accents, a rarity these days in New York. They have a rug that says “Pizza.” The guys there are nice and generous. One time I handed my money and one of my quarters dropped into the marinara sauce. They told me to forget about it.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • I love hefty portions that can feed two or me twice
  • I like a good ol’ local pizza shop.
  • I’ve never met a grandma slice I didn’t like

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • I don’t get New York pizza by the slice.
  • Some of the standard pasta dishes are disappointing
  • (Oh I forgot to mention) I don’t like the dry breaded chicken that’s occasionally in the pastas.
  • I’m afraid to get that quarter Jason dropped into the sauce

[Post review thoughts: After writing this and thinking about all my past experience with Maffei's, that Gorgonzola Gnocchi is truly the only thing I can strongly recommend enough to walk those extra blocks for. Here's hoping one day they'll make it a daily or at least weekly standard, because I really think it's something special.]

Maffei Pizza, 688 6th Ave (@ 22nd St), 212-929-0949

35 Comments

  • @Wellerfan… yeah, it’s pretty much a Sicilian slice. Zach had done some research on the differences here:
    http://midtownlunch.com/downtown-nyc/2009/08/03/what-exactly-is-a-grandma-slice-anyway/

    @OneMeas & Doc… yeah, you’re right. JV team still needs to put in their 10,000hours per Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Then we’ll be the Beatles.

    One thing I learned today is prepare for the backlash if you “almost” rag on someone’s go-to NY lunch slice, even if it’s an Original Famous Ray’s.

  • BTW, weller: Grandma slices aren’t simply Sicilian; they have plum tomatoes or other crushed tomatoes (instead of just sauce), usually basil, and fresh mozz. Sicilian is a regular slice with thick square crust. Grandma cruist tends to be a bit thinner than Sicilian too.

  • Another tip: Maffei’s fried calamari is really good if you get it fresh–usually the earlier part of lunchtime (before 12:30?).

    Jason, Dom *is* gonna kick your butt!!

  • DocChuck: “P.S., I would also chip in for the return ticket, but why on Earth would ANYONE playing with a full deck want to leave California and move back to New Yawk City?”

    Because earthquakes, massive brush fires, and mudslides all suck.

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    Funny thing, I was eating a slice a while back and bit into something hard and shiny, I ended up having to get a cap on the tooth.

    Jason, you owe me $499.75

  • First off, I’m sorry. The tone of that note was a bit (semi) anonymous Internet Assholish of me, and I apologize.

    Second, uhm, yeah, that was a pretty important paragraph that was left out there!

  • Weird. Guess what’s in my office right now. A bunch of leftover Maffei’s pizzas.

    @Bossman… Why didn’t they just round it off to $500? I feel you though. I once ate some crunchy cluster cereal and bit onto something hard. I was persistent and kept crunching the cluster down. I later realized 2/3 of my molar was gone. I guess I ate my tooth?

  • Haha. I didn’t call you guys the JV squad or B-Team. I have referred to you as Zach’s A-Team (he choose each of you for a reason and a purpose – keep ML Midtown NYC alive!). I can’t expect the newly-formed crack commando unit to ascend to top of the mountain from the get-go. Everyone has to be patient and give you all time. Gotta also have faith that you will come through for ML too.

    I want some chicken parm and spaghetti for dinner now. Uughhh.

  • @chinolam,

    Similar thing happened to me, except in Vermont while eating sauerbraten at an ‘upscale’ restaurant. Lost half of tooth (#3 in dentist’s terminology).

    To save the tooth, I had a root canal, and then a crown, which I later found out was made in frickin’ china.

    Now I have strange, uncontrollable urges to speak chinese (just kidding on that part, fortunately).

    Cost me a bundle for that little ‘restaurant’ fiasco. And then people ask me what I have against ‘restaurants’?

  • @stevenp – I hope you do. I’m sorry I can’t offer to help you out.

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    Holy shit…… I expected the humorless part but lack of math skills……. never saw it coming.

    The Disneyfication of ML is complete, Fonzie has donned the skis.

  • @boss… first rule of improv. “Yes, and…” So, thumbs up and “Aaaaaayy…”

  • no pizza hut in the city…there used to be one though…i have a admit, im a sucker for domino’s
    cheesy bread.

  • huge fan of maffei’s; indeed their entrees are amazing; all the fried seafood, the chicken dishes, etc. slice has gotten worse over the years and is now extremely sloppy.

  • I FULLY back your Papa John’s, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut feelings and can’t staaaand it when people refuse to admit that chain restaurants are chains for a reason. I used to work across the street from Maffei’s at the now-defunct Chelsea B&N and loved their buffalo chicken pizza. A lot of NYC pizzas taste entirely spice-less to me, but the buffalo sauce on that chicken was dreamy.

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