$1 Slice-o-Rama: Breaking Down the 2 Bros. Slice
Anthony Bourdain described the “utility slice” as the basic NYC pizza aptly and well. Sometimes all you want is just a slice or two of pizza and a can of soda. 2 Bros has since defined this subset by cranking out plain pie after plain pie, with the occasional outlier of pepperoni pies or mushroom pies, and offering pizza at $1. Earlier this year, we saw open pizza wars break out on one block – the revolution of a 75-cent slice. How in 2012 can this be legitimately done? Where are the corners cut? There has to be some kind of clarity shed on the phenomenon of the dollar slice. People love it and line up to get it. We don’t expect greatness for a buck a slice, but compared to the $2 and up slice, it’s a revolution in value. And as with any revolution, there will be winners and losers. Whose slices are Bolsheviks to the deposed Romanovs? Whose crusts lie guillotined and whose comprise the Directoire? Has 2 Bros become the Batista to an up-and-coming Fidel?
I aim to shed some light on which dollar slice joint is the one worth walking to, and which is only workable as a convenience if you really can’t be bothered to cross an avenue. How unique are they all? Are we dealing with different permutations of bulk ingredients from different proprietors, different oven types? What codifies and quantifies the best dollar slice?
I’ll be giving fair numerical quantification solely based upon facts as much as I can: cheese viscosity and adhesion, sauce density and distribution, etc. Some interpretations of scoring will inevitably be based upon unquantifiable values – transportability, uniqueness, etc. While I don’t pretend to be Vulcan enough to run this comparison solely on numerical quantities, it’s unfair to the pizza and its logistical chain (suppliers, crust tossers, assemblers and slicers, etc.) to not evaluate each slice based upon its individual characteristics. Thus, I will use the following criteria to judge pizza from each dollar slice purveyor, with the specific definitions of the criteria focused upon the category and not necessarily inclusive or exclusive of all the definitions below:
Cheese: How much is on there? Does it schlog right off if the slice is lifted? How greasy is it? Is it more mellow or piquant? Does it look like regular mozzarella? Are there cold patches?
Crust: Does it adhere within a minimal tolerance from a benchmark thinness under the sauce and cheese, and a 1cm tolerance for the external crust? Is the crust too bubbly at the edges? Is it too crispy on the bottom or not crispy enough? How well does the crust support the pizza? Does it break when folded or hold? Is it evenly done?
Sauce: Is it just crushed tomatoes or does it have any variation to the herbs and spices? Are there pools of sauce? Is it too unevenly distributed or too thin across the entirety? Is there any burnt spillover onto the outer crust? Is it too liquidy?
Overall: Is this slice worth the $1 I paid for it? Where is it lacking? A summation of the above scores with any noteworthy factors (visible roaches, unsafe eating conditions, cleanliness, etc.).
Final Score: The average of the above in a handy travel-size numerical value.
Midtown South – below 42nd and between 9th and 5th – will serve as the stomping grounds for this test. Each pizzeria will be tested on two slices, consumed immediately after serving. No consideration will be given for how fresh the slices are – what we get is what we test, and if it’s not fresh out of the oven, so be it (gotta keep the turnover going, pizza guys!). One slice will be eaten flat, one slice folded, regardless of temperature. No condiments or toppings will be put on the pizza – slices are as is. In the case of chains, only one location will serve for testing.
Where do we start? Has to be with a standard benchmark. None other than the local renown of 2 Bros Pizza chain and its dense concentration of dollar slice-erias serves as the perfect basis for comparison. Perhaps the most recognized, reviled by many as a devaluer of lunch prices (not that we’d complain if things cost less without spelling doom for their purveyors and the economy) and hailed as a return to the famed New York slice of days past, this stalwart serves to deliver us a standard slice format. Without putting favoritism or priority to 2 Bros, we’ll use their slice to start.
Cheese. Rather lacking in total quantity and spread a bit thin in the center, the cheese managed to stay together and didn’t have any visible or extruded grease during eating. It was a standard low-moisture mozzarella as far as I can tell, and the slice was too long out of the oven to be piping hot. It still had some warmth present to it and held its own, but the age of the slice didn’t do much for the cheese factor. 3 out of 5
Sauce. Spread way too thin for the slice, the sauce contributed darn near nothing other than a red, tomato-scented layer between the cheese and crust. A shame, because it had a very fresh taste. Not too vegetal, but not too overcooked, there were visible flecks of tomato skin throughout. It had a low herbiness and really, really needed some of the pizza spices to round things out. 2 out of 5
Crust. 2mm under the sauce and cheese, 17mm outer crust. The inner crust held up perfectly to a fold without breaking at any point. The crust was overtly crisp and flaky. Both undersides were slightly stippled by the shape of the pizza pan. A significant dark brown to black burn pervaded the rear 1/4th of one slice, with some burn spots on the outer crust. The inner part of the outer crust was doughy and moist, the outer part of the outer crust slightly crisp. The flat slice held its shape with only one hand grasping the outer crust, as if it was a cracker. 3 out of 5
Overall. At time of arrival and consumption (12:15) the line was about twelve people deep and moving very swiftly. Three pizzas of varying degrees of freshness were lined up behind mine, and I got the last two pieces of the pie ready for service. Condiments were available with multiple instances of each, and napkin dispensers were at every table. Shared stomach-height tables were available on the street and a few smaller ones with seating inside, but all those were taken up. The pizza itself was being made fresh before our eyes and multiple pies went in and out of the oven during the course of my visit. The surfaces of the table were stained only with the occasional drip of sauce and pizza crumbs. The serving and prep areas looked clean enough to my non-DoH eyes. 4 out of 5.
Final score: 3/5. 2 Bros’ spread doesn’t necessarily indicate the singular best slice out there. If not enough people are consuming pizza to keep fresh pies on deck, that could well be the pervasive chink in the armor of the dollar slice phenomenon. If your expectations are square in the middle for your buck, then you’ll get just that at 2 Bros. Not great – but not bad either. Sure, we’ve all had amazing 2 Bros slices, but if this is the standard before any fresh-from-the-oven pizza status or the addition of some much-needed basil and oregano (and garlic powder if you have no plans to kiss anyone) then the standard it shall be, square in the middle.
2 Bros Pizza, 557 8th Ave (btw. on the corner of 38th St.)
Stay tuned for the next foray in our expedition on the $1 Slice: a shady location just shy of an architectural atrocity might just serve up something decent!