Updated: Apr 24, 2019
Slice, slice baby.
I know what you're thinking: why is this necessary? Why would someone willingly elect to eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire week? Ambition, the pursuit of happiness, the thrill of the sheer risk of it all, simply because pizza is the sh*t, or out of utter spite (@ the people who told me it would be impossible when I first brought it up as a joke). Just pick one.
What better place to take on this challenge than New York City, where pizza is such an essential part of the city's identity? Around 1905, the first New York pizzas were sold at Lombardi's in Little Italy at only 5 cents a piece. Traditionally, New York-style pizza is hand-tossed, and consists of a relatively thin crust, a light layer of tomato sauce, and sprinkles of dry, grated mozzarella cheese. Nowadays, the varieties are nearly limitless, from classic dollar slices that come on flimsy paper plates and almost always drip with grease, to $40 gourmet 'wood-oven baked gold leaf truffle oil pies.’ Not only was this a great opportunity see and evaluate NYC's pizza scene for myself, but it was also a convenient excuse to really dig into some pies.
1. Only pizza can be consumed (this means no appetizers, desserts, sides, snacks, candy, boba, etc.).
2. No 'meal substitutes' (i.e. Soylent, smoothies, etc.).
3. All pies must consist of a flour crust, sauce, and cheese.
Dinner: Roberta's, East Williamsburg $$
I wanted to start the challenge off with a bang: Roberta's. Arguably the originator of the Brooklyn hipster restaurant oeuvre, Roberta's famous pizza has over 2,500 reviews on Yelp, and has been lauded as a 'must-eat' culinary destination in Bushwick. The space is small and densely packed with long communal tables, but seating was relatively quick to find.
When the first pie arrived, I was still (naively) feeling motivated and excited, my skin was (mostly) clear, and I was still a firm believer in eating the pizza purely the way the restaurant intended. My friend and I each finished our own pie, sans crust, with relative ease. We particularly appreciated the unique combination of spicy arrabiata and sesame in the 'Four Emperors' pie.
Pizzas to Try:
Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) - $17
Four Emperors (arrabbiata, ricotta, mozzarella, rustico, asiago, sesame seed) - $19
Breakfast: Coffee. I ended up having to heat up frozen Trader Joe's Margherita pizza at 6 a.m. in my pjs, while trying not to wake my roommates.
Lunch/Dinner: I invited a couple of friends over for ‘build-your-own pizza night’ (secretly just meal-prep for the week). The experience was not only incredibly enlightening in regards to how difficult making a pizza from scratch really is, but also lent itself to some passionate arguments about what makes a good pizza, including the ever controversial 'pineapple on a pizza' debate. Regardless of whether we found its inclusion sacrilegious or genius, we were already anxious for some fruit, so pineapple it was. Other toppings included Italian sausage, prosciutto, arugula, fresh basil, mushroom, shredded mozzarella, and roasted garlic.
After waiting four (four!!!) hours for the sauce to finish, we quickly assembled our pies and popped them in the oven. I don't know if it was the shockingly long wait or the joy of putting in the work that made the pizzas especially satisfying, but our custom, homemade pies were surprisingly delicious.
Brunch: Sotto 13, West Village $$$
Pizzas to Try:
Sausage, Egg, & Cheese (fontina, sweet fennel sausage, soft egg, salsa verde) - $17
Monte Cristo (smoked gouda, Canadian bacon, grilled pineapple & black pepper syrup) - $19
In an attempt to include a breakfast pizza, I headed to Sotto 13 in the West Village. The SEC pie was, in retrospect, one of the best pizzas of the entire endeavor; the salsa verde cut through the heaviness of the cheese, which was truly appreciated after three days in the lactose lock-up.
Dinner: Leftovers from DIY pizza night!
Breakfast: Leftovers from Sotto 13, with extra sunny-side up eggs on top.
Lunch: Unfortunately, I had a lunch meeting I was unable to reschedule, so I was forced to make my excuses, sit back, and sip my coffee while my colleagues chowed down on some seriously delicious-smelling noodles and chili-oil wontons. Pho-real, turning down free food as a college student was painful.
Dinner: Pitifully dressing up slices from Joe's Pizza ($), snatched from the remnants of a debate club meeting, with whatever was available in my fridge. Voila.
Photos by Katie Sun
This whole eating only pizza for a week thing was looking pretty bleak at this point.
I roped my friend into doing this experiment with me, and we now regularly debate what the definition of a pizza is in order to try and find loopholes in the challenge rules we've created ourselves. Do Totino's pizza rolls count? Do Bagel Bites? Unfortunately, we haven't been able to justify boba, so I now have the distinct pleasure of watching my friends enjoy their milk tea without partaking. Boo.
Lunch: 2 Bros, East Village $ (dollar slice)
2 Bros has, in my opinion, the best dollar slice in New York City. Usually, I adore it for its generous helping of sauce and impressive cheese-pull capacities, but this time I had to douse both slices in red pepper flakes to get through the grease.
Here's a gif of me pulling a box of arugula out of my bag; I had been carrying it around in a desperate attempt to eat veggies, even if only as a topping.
Dinner: Lombardi's Pizza, Little Italy $$
Pizza to Try: Original Margherita (fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, Romano cheese, basil) - $21.50 (small)
The pizza itself was good; coal-fired, crispy, and a classic. Maybe our expectations were too high, but we were less impressed than we'd hoped to be. Was it the best I've had? No. Is it still worth the trip for the cultural significance? Absolutely.
We (with no small amount of shame) Uber-ed the 10 blocks to our building in order to keep the pizza warm. By that time, we were starving, and ended up just sitting down in the middle of the hallway and eating it.
Lunch: Artichoke Basille's Pizza, Greenwich Village $$
Pizza to Try: Vodka Slice - $6
For the final meal, I had planned on going to Lucali's, which had been both highly recommended by one of my friends, and also was the place that Jay Z and Beyonce elected to visit rather than attending the Grammys. In order to get a seat at the extremely popular restaurant, you'd need to arrive before 5pm to line up and put your name down, and then kill however many hours until you might be seated. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the time in my schedule, so we ended up going to Di Fara, another Brooklyn institution.
Dinner: Di Fara, Midwood $$$
Pizzas to Try:
Classic Pie (sausage, pepper, mushroom & onions) - $35
Chaos Pie (sausage, meatballs, cherry tomatoes, wild onions & fresh garlic) - $40
Regular Pie (eggplant, porcini mushrooms, sundried roasted peppers, eggplant) - $30/pie + $8 toppings
Di Fara was established in 1965 by Domenico di Marco, who spent over 53 years perfecting his pizza. Today, both locations are still family owned and operated, and Dom himself continues to cook at the age of 82.
The Chaos Pie was insane. The roasted cherry tomatoes were such a gorgeous, sweet end to what had been a deeply acidic and greasy week. The ingredients are all imported from Italy, and the taste truly reflected this authenticity. My four friends and I split three pies, which was just about right for our group.
Well, let's see. On the one hand, I had been very dramatic about what all the cheese and grease did to my body (fatigue, lethargy, bloating, irritability; those fun pimples that you can feel blooming under your skin), but at the conclusion of the challenge, I genuinely felt like I could've kept going. Not because I somehow developed an iron stomach or that I've enjoyed the thrill of playing fast and loose with the limits of my lactose intolerance, but because NYC's pizza variety is just soplentiful. Clearly, seven days was just not enough time to hit even a fraction of the iconic spots I wanted to try (Joe and Pat's Pizzeria, Motorino, Patsy's Pizzeria, Prince Street Pizza, Lucali's, to name a few).
Although I am a little disappointed that I didn't manage to make it to all the spots on my list, it'll likely be a hot second before I have a craving for a pie again.
Update: Two months have elapsed since I completed this challenge, and I have yet to eat another slice of pizza.
Originally published by Spoon University.