$1 Slice-o-Rama: NYC Fried Chicken Doesn’t Chicken Out
How lucrative is the $1 slice business? Are we really looking at something that, when monetized and capitalized, revenue-streamed and leveraged, packaged and branded, and delivered as an active service to energized customers, is a profit component well worth integration? Or, to translate from the business buzzword crap, is it worth making a pizza oven and valuable store frontage a $1 slice outpost? NYC Fried Chicken seems to think so, and with their only previous Midtown Lunch mention being a 2008 entry from the Brooks Era giving modest mention to the chicken-to-price ratio, could the $1 slice business give this prime corner a shot? With 2 Bros and the rightfully-panned Roll and Go within a stone’s throw and Port Authority in plain view, our northwesternmost $1 slice outpost now falls into our purview. Time to see if they can stack up – er, slice up – with the big boys or if they’re better known for cheap fried chicken.
The storefront is an unassuming and plain, generic fried chicken proclamation with a sign for $1 slices present below eye level.
You get your ‘za on by the window facing 8th, with minimal fanfare, display, or glitz. If there was such a $1 slice joint that was less frilly than 99¢ Fresh Pizza, this is its exemplar.
So it looks like their prices only dropped 50 cents. Are we looking at some kind of promo pricing that will only last until 2 Bros goes away? It looks like 2 Bros isn’t doing anything like that. This is our first visit to a place that started out doing pizza and dropped prices to stay competitive. What corners were cut if any? Is this doing any kind of long-term change to their profits that may cause price adjustments elsewhere? Or was it just a change in suppliers or labor processes? The other surprising part: the restaurant is halal, so wouldn’t that preclude against pepperoni unless it’s all-beef?
But enough talk – have at you, pizza!
Cheese: For a slice that was put back in the oven to reheat, I was extremely pleasantly surprised at its gooeyness and consistency. While the cheese did hold together mostly, it had one or two stringy bites that weren’t too hot. There were some pools of grease, but it was DELICIOUS grease, not just the bulky-feeling greasy grease that people blot off with napkins (pansies, all of them lily-livered pansies!). The cheese itself had a deep pungent flavor that persisted well across the bite, and it kept a good creaminess as well. It was perfectly distributed and not too thick. I do ding them for gaps on coverage, though – where there was cheese it was perfect, where there was no cheese the sauce is omnipresent. The inner crust had about a 2cm band of no cheese coverage before the outer crust was left to rise in the oven. You can see the gap a little more clearly below. This minor coverage gap is all that holds the NYC Fried Chicken slice back from cheese perfection. They could give lessons to Roll and Go, maybe even 2 Bros. 4 out of 5.
Sauce: Roll and Go’s experiment with slight sweetness must have been copied by NYC Fried Chicken, because it was the right balance of just barely sweet and tart. There was enough saltiness to lend body to the sauce without making it overshadow the cheese and crust. The sauce adhesion level was as optimal as I’ve seen thus far: not too liquidy, not too thick. This was not a dumping of sauce upon unwitting crust, this was ensuring coverage. The detail shot above does show that the sauce in the un-cheese-covered part is not burned, so you get a decent cooked-sauce taste. I would have liked to have seen/felt some chunks of tomato, or even skin flecks. However, that’s purely opinion: compared to other dollar slices, the only reason I’m iffy on the sauce was a low herbiness. This was very tomatoey, and very well-presented, but it wasn’t a balanced pizza sauce. 4 out of 5.
Crust: 3mm-4mm on the inner crust, with un-cheese-covered areas coming up to 6mm. The outer crust was a near-standard 11mm, maybe 12mm in a few spots, but there weren’t any huge variations. The inner crust held up quite strongly, and had a good doughiness to it. Roll and Go tried this but failed, resulting in an overly bready slice, but it was nicely chewy. It held itself up quite well when held flat, with only a minor droop at the point as I walked and ate the flat slice. The folded slice held its structural integrity perfectly and the outer crust stayed intact. It was just about to turn golden brown on the underside and barely spotting golden brown on the outer crust. The outer crust skin didn’t really crunch enough but was perfectly moist in terms of softness in the middle part. There weren’t any weird thin spots, it was well stippled from the pan on the underside, and while cook-til-crispy advocates may rail against this, it is on or close to crust perfection – they just gotta do something about the thickness variations on the inner crust. We grade on uniformity, not preference. 4 out of 5.
Overall: The pizza does not materialize fully-cooked out of midair (“Pizza. Plain. Hot.”) and the real problems with NYC Fried Chicken emerge in getting the pizza from storage to mouth. After asking for two slices and handing across a $10, I was sent inside the chicken joint to pay. So much for a quick street slice. After about a two minute wait I got my order, which was on par only with longer lines at 2 Bros. Perhaps the guy was out of small bills, but other pizza consumers were sent inside as well. So much for uniformity of service. The slices were tossed in the oven to heat through, but my to-go order, instead of being balanced across two spread-apart paper plates, had the pizza slices folded inside individual plates, shoved into a bag, and handed to me. If you’re a flat-slice guy, your hopes are dashed, doubly so if you unfold a perfectly hot slice. It speaks against pizza preference here by this delivery method, and it really shouldn’t happen unless someone requests it.
While there was a set of condiments at the pizza window and at the inside, it sure wouldn’t have been fun to open the bag, sprinkle ‘em on, and unfold/transport the slices. 2 Bros doesn’t give you a bag or box unless you ask for it, which is good policy – if you don’t need to carry around transportation which will become trash, why use it in the first place? Fortunately, the pizza queueing itself was well executed – only one pie was on deck, with others cooking up as slices were reheated.
They have good volume handling but they need to get cash handling right. Plus, where are the pizzas getting made? The window guy was well occupied with the cooking process, but even Roll and Go had the pizza maker in clear view.3 out of 5.
Final score: 3.75 out of 5. Wow. Seriously, I’m going back over my notes, photos, and memories, and I’m honestly kind of gobsmacked that NYC Fried Chicken did so well. I am not too big on fried food and save my fried things for the really, REALLY good fried things, and I wouldn’t have known about their buck slice without walking right by it. Still, their scores beat out 2 Bros, our benchmark and unofficial $1 slice standard-bearer, and I can honestly say they did so for good reason. The crust was dry and crispy in the right places, fluffy and moist in the right places. The sauce is wonderfully done and properly executed, as was the cheese. The only big dent was a confusing, less-user-friendly service experience. I was left wondering why I was dancing around for the pizza, but I ended up realizing it was worth the waltz in the end. If you want the best $1 slice on 8th Ave, this is it.
NYC Fried Chicken, 598 8th Avenue. 212-719-1599
Join us again next time as we dive headfirst into the no-mans-land of the Great Pizza Price War of 2012, where word of a white flag may just well confirm all quiet on the pizza front!