Editor's note: This story was originally published Sept. 5, 2018. We are republishing it today in observance of Pizza Pie Day!
NEW YORK (CIRCA) — Colin Atrophy Hagendorf ate a cheese slice at every single pizza shop in Manhattan.
Or as New Yorkers would say, a regular slice. Or simply, a slice.
Two years and 362 slices later, NY Pizza Suprema, an old school neighborhood joint tucked behind Penn Station, was the only shop to receive a perfect score, eight out of eight slices, in Hagendorf's fanzine and blog, Slice Harvester.
"Of the nearly 400 pizza places I ate at for Slice Harvester, Pizza Suprema was the only one where I got a second slice. Eating there felt like coming home," they said. "The slice is perfect. Thin but can support its own weight, crisp on the bottom but slightly fluffy on top. The sauce has a slight acidity and subtle sweetness from the high quality tomatoes Joe uses, and I still don't know what the secret is with the cheese, but I've never tasted a better mozzarella at a pizza parlor in my life."
Joe Riggio, the owner of NY Pizza Suprema, started working there when he was 10 years old. His father, Salvatore Riggio, an Italian immigrant, opened the shop in 1964, before Madison Square Garden was erected across the street. Joe can tell who the old-timer locals are by who still calls him "Joey."
"My dad would always say, you can't specialize in everything. People are going to try to get you to go in different directions all the time and you really have to remain true to your craft," Joe said. "Our cheese slice has always been the same, and I try to keep it that way."
NY Pizza Suprema serves all sorts of different slices, from an upside-down slice to a hot honey slice (with ricotta and mushrooms) to Sicilian to vegan veggie, but it is known for its plain, regular, cheese slice. Joe learned how to make the cheese slice from his father and kept the technique alive, while always tweaking his ingredients.
"It's not just sauce and cheese on dough. It's knowing how to age your cheese. It's knowing how to rise your dough, it's knowing how to grate your mozzarella. It's knowing how to turn your pizza in the oven," Joe said. "Ingredients are everything. Certain ingredients have to be imported in order for them to taste good. Other ingredients don't. Years ago, you would hear, 'Oh, the San Marzano, or this other brand.' Those are good tomatoes, too, but California makes some really awesome tomatoes."
He likens his openness to new ingredients to appreciating wine from Napa Valley, California, not just Italy. And there's nothing that Joe appreciates more than that perfect slice of New York pizza.
Joe, on a slice:
"A slice is supposed to be like this. When you look at it, it's not supposed to be ooey-gooey as they do in the commercials, with the spatula lifting up the pizza and stretching out. It's supposed to be dark. It's supposed to have a little char on the bottom. You're supposed to see the sauce peeking out from under the mozzarella. You're supposed to have a little bit of green herb on it, just to give it a little flavor, so it permeates throughout the pie. It's supposed to have a sweet, tangy, that sauce has to have nice flavor. When you bite into it, it's supposed to have a little crunch to it, you're supposed to feel it between your teeth. It's not supposed to just sort of go mushy in your mouth. Nothing is supposed to overpower anything else. It's supposed to all meld together beautifully, like a nice song. It's supposed to sing."