$1 Slice-o-Rama: Getting Fresh with 99¢ Fresh Pizza
Port Authority Bus Terminal is the structure we all love to hate. Those unfortunate enough to have to take NJ Transit buses (Decamp for life, if it serves your area) or Greyhound know too well its inner workings, its layouts the architectural equivalent of the Mos Eisley cantina (“nowhere else in Manhattan will you find a more wretchedly-laid out hive of scum and villainy”) and its external visage looking like a boondoggle of an Erector Set. Its seamy underbelly has been no-mans-land for as long as any of us can remember, despite such Midtown Lunch landmarks as Tabata Noodle Restaurant and the as-yet-ML-unreviewed (oh, this is going to be fixed, you’d better believe it) Troy Turkish Grill within a stone’s throw.
Just past the soup kitchen under Port Authority can be found 99¢ Fresh Pizza, a hole in the wall without much to speak of in terms of space. This isn’t a place to linger over your slice and shoot the breeze on matters of court and state – you wanna grab and go here. In our exploration of the dollar slice, are we seeing trends emerge in terms of location vs. atmosphere? Granted, we’re not exactly looking for a Gramercy Tavern dining experience, or even McDonald’s, but who knows what trends yet emerge in the dollar slice experience?
Let’s get down to the meat and potatoes – or the cheese and dough, in this idiom.
Cheese: schlogged on with gusto and evenly spread, there wasn’t enough stringiness to contribute to a good textural feel of classic pizza, most likely because it was a little under-temp from sitting out. The cheese itself had a pretty serious amount of grease considering the low temperature of the slice (it wasn’t warmed up in the oven beforehand, just served from the display) and had a nice creaminess to it. While it was low on cheese viscosity, it was high on cheese consistency and almost lifted clean off the pizza when it was folded as I was eating my way through it. 3 out of 5.
Sauce: definitely not just crushed tomatoes, it had a nice bright tang to it with enough salt to balance out well. It was spread evenly enough without too much splashing onto the outer crust. It stayed a little bit liquidy under the cheese but it looked and felt more like it was juicy and not swimming around. There were decent sized chunks of tomato that fell off of the pizza while consumed flat, but no odd sauce behavior while folded. 4 out of 5.
Crust: 2mm at measured inner crust point. However, as I made my way through the slices, there was no way that was uniform. The inner and outer parts of the inner crust were palpably thicker than the inner crust. A revisit would be necessary to get measurements across the entirety of a crust. The underside was very lightly cooked and the inner crust was noticeably chewy, which I found interesting considering that the outer crust was a meager 11mm thickness and felt like an undercooked noodle.
The outer crust clocked in at 8mm-10mm and was mostly dry, no moisture left inside the doughy part of it, which made things nice and crisp but little else. The crust when held flat required one hand to support the outer crust, one hand to support the point. When folded, the inner crust dangled limply at the halfway point, so it’d require two hands to eat while folded. A shame that it didn’t hold up, but the uneven construction and lacking support scores a square 1 out of 5.
Overall This could be the proto-$1 slice experience. There’s no sitting down here, you get your slice/slices and hope to God that you don’t spill on you as you walk. There was only one set of condiments out and didn’t have the salt and pepper that 2 Bros has. Only two whole pies were visible in under-counter storage and I couldn’t tell if they were heat-lamped or just left out at ambient temperature. There was zero line at 12:10 PM, but four people quickly lined up as I was eating. There’s no separate tables, just a counter that runs right below the service window and runs about 10 feet on the frontage towards scenic 9th Ave. I couldn’t see any prep areas from my vantage point just outside the window but there were a couple of stacked ovens. Nothing came in or went out during that time, so I put a very serious question on the freshness of 99¢ Fresh Pizza. No frills in both a good way and a bad way here – you don’t have the glitz of 2 Bros (I’m as stunned as you are that the word “glitz” can comparatively apply to 2 Bros ever) but what you lose in name recognition, you gain in speed – but the visible pizzamaking process would have made me feel a little more comfortable with my $1 slice experience. I’ll note without comment the price differential – a penny is a penny but I’m tired of things being 99¢, 95¢, etc. It’s a buck. Be honest, people.2 out of 5.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5. It’s hard to ascribe a low number to 99¢ Fresh Pizza, especially since their crust and cheese were on or close to the way I like them. However, the big hit on the crust had to be given simply because inconsistency and structural unreliability is counter-intuitive to decent, consistent $1 slice pizza. Moreover, the outer crust was greatly lacking. It wasn’t as bad as big chain pizza houses of horror but it lent no backbone to the crust. Perhaps 99¢ Fresh’s weak point is in the crust-tossing, or the particular brand of crusts they use or how they’re made. I could see weird yeast behavior or distribution during mixing at fault since the thickness was heavy in the middle and weak on the outside. Without knowing that part of the process, I can’t guess at a root cause, but it’s a shame that they had to get dinged. The cheese and sauce were flavorful, strong showings that would have benefited from a more reliable fold-slice eating method, but there’s that crust working against them again. The hole-in-the-wall experience can be a good one as well, but I’d hate to see what happens if/when a crowd gathers at 99¢ Fresh. On one hand it could backlog real fast and result in big crowds around small spaces, but it could hopefully lead to better slices than what I had.
Next time: can existing crappy generic deli wannabes turn out dollar slices with the big boys? Or does it roll down the river of despair?