Styles of Pizza: super thin, coal-oven Neapolitan
Service: Dine-in, carry-out, delivery
Standout Tidbits: Supposedly the first pizzeria in America. Cash-only. Delicious
Review: I was only going to be in Manhattan of a 36 hour business trip. I was determined that any pizza I could make time for would be have to be more remarkable than the Famous Original Ray’s I had tried in Times Square on my first-ever trip to NYC back in 2003. I did a little research before the trip and settled on hitting Lombardi’s, which boasts the title of the very first pizzeria in the USA, with their mercantile license dating back to 1905. In fact, Lombardi’s actually closed in the 80’s, but was reopened a decade later, a block from the old location, but with the original coal-fired, tiled-oven.
I was immediately struck by how corporate Lombardi’s felt. The ambiance kind of reminded me of a cramped Buca di Beppo. It didn’t feel like New York. It felt more like something in the midwest trying to feel like New York. Lombardi’s takes every opportunity to remind you of their “first pizza in America” status. It is on the sign, the walls, the staff’s t-shirts, and even their website’s domain name (firstpizza.com). It is also reflected in their prices, with a small, basic pie starting at over $15.
As far as the pizza goes, I did find it to be quite delicious. Even though I was flying solo, I was “forced” to order an 14″ “Genarro’s Original Pizza,” which is just fresh mozzarella, a San Marzano tomato sauce and topped with Romano cheese and fresh basil. This is their smallest size (they also offer an 18″), and slices are not available. This is not a New York-style joint with the big greasy pies. This is closer to traditional pizzeria napoletana.
As an indicator of the intensely-hot oven and a fairly short cooking time, the crust of the pizza was nicely-charred with some good bubbling, while the cheese was still very white and almost liquid. The crust was paper thin with a crispy lip that was slightly chewy inside. Flavor-wise, a hint of salt was detected.
The sauce was the high point of the pie. It tasted extremely fresh, with only the slightest hints of seasonings, and coverage over the pie was excellent. The sliced mozzarella was flavorful, without being strong, and not overly greasy. The minimal sprinkling of basil seemed to be nothing more than decoration.
I was lucky I arrived when I did, which was about 5:30 on a week night. As I left (with the entire 14″ pizza safely in my belly), I noticed a significant line was forming down the block. While I am sure the locals still recognize Lombardi’s as high-quality za, I get the feeling a heavy portion of the clientelle is made up of tourists. I know I would enjoy a visit back on another trip to NYC, but I think next time I would like to seek out some true pizza joints just to get a little more of the local “flavor.”