8 Pizzas That Haunt My Dreams 2015

Each year I like to take stock of all the pizza I’ve eaten in the previous 12 months and drop a quick list of the “8 Pizzas That Haunt My Dreams.” As I always say, this is compiled from the roster of pizza I ate during the year. If your favorite place isn’t on here, that’s because I either didn’t eat there or it didn’t necessarily jump out at me when I went to make this list. Does that mean I didn’t include some really great and/or deserving places that I did eat at? Sure. But, like I said, it’s a list of slices and pies that, when I looked back over my IG feed for the year, really tugged at my taste/memory heartstrings. The heart wants what the heart wants, and the chips lie where they fell. So, without further ado, let’s go!

Rubirosa, New York City

When we started 2015, I was still in the throes of doing “#Kubslunch” lunches with folks. Backstory is that I was originally angling to move to Portland, Oregon, to open a branch of P a u l i e  G e e ‘ s — until I caught the bar-pie fever and decided to remain in NYC and open a full-fledged Margot’s Pizza. As sort of a farewell tour, I was arranging bucket-list lunches with people at restaurants around town. Here, I had lunch with Lee Sawa-Frank. We did Rubirosa, because IIRC he either had never been or hadn’t been in a long time. As I type this it’s been a LONG TIME for me. This photo was the last time I had Rubirosa, and that’s too long!

This is one of my favorite thin-crust pizzas in the city. They have a great vodka sauce pie (add pepperoni to it, and BOOM!!), and their non-pizza food is fantastic, too. It’s relatively new on the scene, and by that I mean within the last decade — but you would never know it. It has the kind of well-worn charm you’d think was the product of decades of people-pleasing pizza-slinging. We ate here shortly after co-owner AJ Pappalardo died, and with that knowledge in mind, I made sure to take in the vibe here and note that in its short time in business, Rubirosa has become a bit of a Nolita institution. The place was packed, as always, and people were happily drinking and eating. In short, it seemed to have its usual energy. AJ’s family and friends can take comfort in the fact that Rubirosa continues to make people happy. In my book, that’s not a bad legacy at all.

Via 313, Austin, Texas

Via 313, straight-up, is making IMO some of the best pizza in the country right now. They do “Detroit-style” pizza, which is a pan pizza with an airy/spongy crust and a perimeter of crisp-crunchy cheese all around. If you follow any of my Margot’s Pizza stuff, you will know that the Detroit-style cheese rim (which I often refer to as the “frico rim” or “frico crust”) was a hugely important feature I worked hard to incorporate into my version of bar pizza. I have places like Via 313 in Austin and Buddy’s in Detroit to thank for sparking this idea.

When I went to SXSW in 2013 I only got to try a slice or two of Via shortly before it closed for the night. Thanks to a lack of checking Via’s operating hours, it was the last opportunity I had before leaving town. This year, I vowed to visit early and often. And I did. I think I went there three times. I would have gone more, except I wanted to eat Mexican food and Texas barbecue. This is deeply satisfying pizza on all levels, and the brothers who run it are stand-up guys.

Pieous: Austin, Texas

When I visited Austin in 2013, I didn’t have a rental car and couldn’t make it out to Pieous, but this time I did have a car, so IT WAS ON. It’s hard to believe that Pieous is technically in the same city as Via 313. I drove 40 minutes to get there, and it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s still within Austin city limits. Sprawl, what can you do!

The pizza was excellent. Owner Josh Kaner makes a naturally leavened dough, so the crust has plenty of flavor. I ate every last bit of it, which is rare for me these days. (My “pizza bones”–eating habits have changed.) It’s crazy, because the surroundings are SUPER CASUAL for a pizza of this caliber. And don’t sleep on the pastrami. It’s fantastic. I know, right? When Kaner took over the space here, it had a smoker, so he put it to use making pastrami. When in Rome!

Maria’s Pizza: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Maria’s is amazing. I love the pizza, but I looooove the atmosphere. It’s NUTS. Christmas lights up year round, paint-by-number portraits of saints and Jesus and religious themes, tinsel, Tiffany-style stained glass lighting… This place is the archetype of the “pizza parlor” pizzeria while at the same time blowing that archetype to smithereens as something completely its own. The pizza, well, the crust isn’t going to win points with pizza dorks who prize cold-fermentation or airy hole structure, and that’s OK. It does what it does — crisply holding all the great toppings and cheese. You have to get the large pie, which overhangs the cafeteria tray it’s served on. My family often gets the Maria’s Special. Actually, I don’t think we get anything else. It’s perfection. If you want to understand my pizza soul (but, really, who does? hahahaha), this would be a good place to start.

Mack’s Pizza: Wildwood, New Jersey

One last slice shot from @MacksPizza in #WildwoodNJ.

A photo posted by Adam Kuban (@akuban) on

When my wife and I first started going to Wildwood every summer, she talked to some locals and discerned that the pizza top dogs were Sam’s and Mack’s and that locals were often either a Sam’s or a Mack’s person. Of course we tried both. I was more of a Sam’s partisan at the beginning. It’s closer to the New York–style pizza I’m used to at home. But I’ve slowly come around to maybe slightly preferring Mack’s. It’s got a sharp-tangy cheese blend that I’m almost certain contains a little cheddar and some gruyère in addition to the traditional mozzarella. We still visit both pizzerias at least once when we go, but this year I visited Mack’s three or four times .

Lazzara’s Pizza, New York City

I’ve sort of reawakened to Lazzara’s in the last couple years after having been reintroduced to it by an Instagram friend, @restaurantgroupie. I had been avoiding the place for a while because it’s crazy busy at lunch, but I’ve learned, more or less, when to go to get a table — early or late, just not during primetime lunch hour. I love the vodka pie with pepperoni. I have to confess that the other reason I used to avoid it is that I always used to order wrong here. There’s a pie on the menu that comes with tomato slices on each piece. It might be the Margherita, IIRC. And somehow I’d always end up ordering that thinking I was going to get a plain cheese pie with some basil. Well, now that I almost exclusively order the vodka pie with pepperoni, that’s not an issue. Lazzara’s is its own kind of unique pan pizza that I’ve not seen the likes of elsewhere in the city.

Colony Grill: Stamford, Connecticut

Pretty much all my own bar-pizza shenanigans start at Colony. During the heyday of Slice, when were doing a Photo of the Day feature, I remember seeing a picture of a Colony pepperoni pizza and freaking out. It called to me. I could taste and feel the texture of that pizza by looking at the photo. It took me a while to finally get there, but when I did, I was not disappointed. As I suspected, it was a cousin of the kind of thin-crust pizzas I grew up eating on trips to Milwaukee (see Maria’s, above). Not exactly the same, but similar in many ways. If I think about it, it was Colony that planted the seeds of obsession with bar pizza. For a long time I tried to develop the same pock-marked cheese for my own Margot’s Pizza pies, but I finally gave up and let Margot’s be its own thing. Still, Colony-level bar pizza is one of the targets I aim for when making my own pizza. Respect.

Prince Street Pizza: New York City

Prince Street ever fails to satisfy. I don’t think I’ve had anything but the Spicy Spring pepperoni slice the last several times I’ve visited. First, because there’s no need to get anything else. Second, because it never fails to get major hearts on Instagram. In fact, I think this photo here is my most liked of the year, if not EVER.

Roberta’s Square Pie Pop-Up at Humboldt & Jackson, New York City (Bushwick, Brooklyn)

This square style is actually sold by Roberta’s as the “Working Man” at their take-out annex and sometimes at various mobile locations they do, and I can’t think of a better name. It’s a humble, solidly built pizza that does the job of satisfying you. It was cool to see them do this as a pop-up at Humboldt & Jackson, a bar in Bushwick that seems to have more culinary events like this in store.

Last Dragon Pizza, New York City (The Rockaways, Queens)

Last Dragon is sort of a crazy, crazy experience. It’s technically located in NYC, but it’s in The Rockaways, the beach community made famous by The Ramones (“Rockaway Beach”) and unfortunately also by Hurricane Sandy, which did a lot of damage to the community. Within The Rockaways, there are several sub-neighborhoods, too, so things get even more granular. Last Dragon is in Arverne. Anyway, I always try not to label a neighborhood as being “far flung,” because obviously PEOPLE LIVE THERE and to them it’s the center of the universe. But, I think some of the appeal of The Rockaways is that they ARE a bit remote. I don’t know. In any case, from my POV, first as a Western Queenser and now as a Central Queenser, Last Dragon has always been a bit of a trek for me. I first learned of it via Instagram, IIRC. It’s run by Nicole Russell, who makes the pizzas out of her home. She’s a SUPERFAN of the movie Last Dragon, which inspires the toppings and names of her pizzas. It’s a bit of an adventure in that you order online and then get texted the location of the pick-up. So it’s sort of clandestine. When we bought a car a few weeks ago, one of the first places I knew I had to go was Last Dragon. I’d been wanting to meet Nicole and try it for a long time, as the whole idea of this venture and Nicole’s pizza had haunted my dreams. We got the Laura Charles (Margherita) and the Daddy Greens (veggie lover’s). Nice spiciness in the sauce on the Laura Charles. As Nicole said, “It’s Last Dragon Pizza. Even the Margherita has to have a kick.” Very cool to end the year on this note!

For previous years’ 8PTHMD, check out the archives on Serious Eats: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.