$1 Slice-o-Rama: Joey Pepperoni, How Ya Doin’
We’ve done the big kingpin chains and the aggressors in the 6th Ave Pizza War of 2012 (voted silliest war this side of the War of Jenkins’ Ear by the United Nations Committee on War Naming in recess, eating $1 slices at Roll and Go and wishing they’d gone to NYC Fried Chicken instead). When you think of pizza, if you’re lucky, you think of terrible Italian stereotypes that play off a mix of charming historical quirks and reclamation of blatant ethnic stereotypes that actually serve decent slices. Joey Pepperoni’s, which took over the space, format, and food that was previously known as 2-and-a-Can, sits across the street from the Pizza War battleground, almost above the fray of the 75 cent slice. Is 2-and-a-Can’s loss a pox upon the $1 slice space at this location, or is it just a matter of enough Italian-American colloquialisms to fuel the buck slice turnover? Fugeddaboudit. Let’s siddown, kid.
Unironic use of the phrase “om nom nom?” Oh boy. The internet has leaked into the real world again and as always, the results are worthy of a nuclear facepalm.
Toppinged pies on deck. Sicilian slices and garlic knots among them. Pizza King tried this and didn’t get too good of a score. Is Joey Pepperoni that focused on turnaround that there need to be zero plain pies ready to go? Is there a hidden reserve somewhere?
Note the floor plan. This is a cramped space. No clue how it was a business anytime before this, but perhaps it was born to be a buck slice joint. Look at the floor plan: it’s the roughly isosceles triangle of a pizza slice. Space planners take note: shape your business like your primary product for maximum profits! But then again, look how well it did for 2-and-a-Can…
Now that’s a turnover-oriented eating section. No chairs, napkin dispensers fixed to the wall, cramped space.
Here’s my two slices. Not pictured: the slicer used to custom-cut them. That’s right, kids, these plain pies are taken out of the oven and cut as people come and get ‘em. This practice is new to me, but theoretically, I could see a benefit to keeping pies intact and slicing as you go. That way it can stay in an oven for a minute or so at a time to reheat the whole thing, instead of reheating individual slices as NYC Fried Chicken does. Just the look doesn’t bode well, but it’s not all about aesthetics. Let’s do some hard data gathering, the fun way.
Cheese: Despite blatant coverage issues (the entire critical first bite of either slice is around 60% sauce, bare bubbles of sauce on both slices) this is one of the better-balanced cheeses I’ve had. NYC’s was nicely pungent but this was creamy, sharp enough to denote some nice part-skim dried mutziness, and it had viscosity, adhesion, and grease percentages that were within target bounds. In terms of viscosity, I got plenty of nice stringy bites. Adhesion-wise, only a tiny corner of one bite pulled up from the sauce/crust. As to grease, yeah, it’s there, but it’s the good grease making its return. Haters gonna hate, grease is a wonderful part of the pizza experience and it was profuse enough from the cheese here to be known, but not so much that it dripped like Pizza King’s. The only thing holding Joey Pepperoni’s cheese back is a process issue – coverage is critical for a balanced slice, and they lose on that, but it is the only thing their cheese falls short upon. 4 out of 5.
Sauce: If I break down the empirical factors that I’ve stated on sauces – liquidiness, distribution, flavor, more than just crushed tomatoes – I can say quite clearly that this is the single best sauce I have yet had. It is not watery under heavy cheese coverage, its liquid state at worst is a nice thick juiciness that pervades under the cheese and doesn’t drip a drop at all. It is well covered across the slice; despite what the points of each slice show as a big clump of overly thick sauce, it isn’t an overdose and is representative of an even sauce coating across both slices. It is a balanced, low sweet/tart combo with a pervasive flavor of basil and oregano, salted just enough to give a little flavor up to the cheese. It’s a clean texture across the palate that doesn’t leave your tongue feeling covered in crap, it adheres well to the crust… it’s without fault in my opinion. I’m trying hard to nail it but other than poorly distributed cheese as noted above, the sauce is not at fault for any flaws in the slice. I do not hand out opinions toward perfection gormlessly, but this is a sauce that earns every point. 5 out of 5.
Crust: I’m the kind of guy that likes my burgers near-living in their rareness, my bacon crispy to the point of melting on the tongue, and my fries shoestring, salted, ketchup on the side, cooked until they’re a color somewhere between any given Kardashian and Snooki’s post-spraytan state. As such, I don’t mind a spot of burned crust on a pizza, but there’s a difference between my opinion and even cooking. Those are very clear burn spots on the right slice, and as you can see as well below, they persist onto the underside.
Nevertheless, the crust is uniform and surprisingly properly done. The inner crust goes between 2mm and 3mm, a tolerance level that’s probably the tightest yet observed in this column. The outer crust is an even 11mm throughout. While this is on the thin side of outer crusts, whatever they do to cook it is done properly. Both test slices had wonderfully moist dough in their outer crusts, just perfectly done. The inner crusts were not too crispy, just the right amount of chewiness while still supporting the slice. When held flat, the slice dangled down with a slight curve to it, which is always good, meaning that there’s no overly dry parts within. The folded slice kept its structural integrity quite nicely, with a bonus of having the outer crust close enough to give a very yeasty, flavorful bite when I reached that part. If they can even out the temperature in their oven or better account for hot spots, this could be the perfect implementation of crust at the $1 slice level. 4 out of 5
Overall: This is the science of $1 slice service personified. The line at 12:20 was five people in when I arrived. They asked for my order about 14 seconds after that. The pizza was in my hands around 30 seconds later after it was sliced right there in front of me. Banks of pizza ovens are in the back but within clear sight, as is the pizza prep area if you crane your neck. Two or three guys were working the ovens and getting pies made up and the turnover was fast and furious. There was room for me to stand at the counter, the napkins were within quick reach, and there were two or three sets of condiments. It was clean. It moved fast. The line, being consistent, was consistently well served and never backed up. While outside tables would have been nice, I can find nothing wrong with the overall pizza experience. While there are possibilities of backlog with the custom-slice model and questions raised with no plain pies on deck, I didn’t experience any issues that lead me to give them anything less than a solid 5 out of 5.
Final score: 4 out of 5. Either from good vibes left over from the predecessor or an ironclad command of the pizza turnover equation, Joey Pepperoni’s blows past all comers to be the very best so far. While NYC Fried Chicken’s dollar slice is our previous title holder thus far, it’s impossible to ignore that there’s no better confluence of ingredients, preparation, or service in the $1 slice arena thus far observed.
Granted, if you’re coming from the far southwest corner of midtown like your humble reviewer, it’s a bit of a schlep for pizza. Is Joey Pepperoni worth traveling to? It’s not far from the 42nd St. stop on the B/D/F/M trains, but other than that, it may be a fine outpost for a lunch break in the midst of shopping for garment trimmings. Nevertheless, travel distance has nothing to do with the individual metrics upon which we base our scoring. True pizza perfection? One day, perhaps we’ll see what happens if the best of normal midtown pizza gets the comparo treatment, but we’re coming close to the end of the Slice-o-Rama. One target remains on our hit list for dollar slices, and as we come to a close, the specter of an area not known for pizza sinks its nails into the fray! Stay tuned and keep the ovens warm, people!
Joey Pepperoni’s Pizza, 1032 Sixth Ave. (on 39th btw. 5+6th)