Pizza Quest

Lamenting about the cost of living in Lower Manhattan has become as futile as asking “Why isn’t fried chicken good for me?”  It is a simple, tragic, reality.  I am not here to lament.   Instead I’m here to voice my profound appreciation for one of the few, affordable, rays of light in the sprawl below 14th street: the dollar slice.  

During my vagabond months of last year, much of which spent in an apartment on Avenue D (a street that appears to have never received the memo about gentrification in Alphabet City) the dollar slice was a gastronomique oasis, an economic and culinary vestigial remnant of cheaper days gone by that keeps us afloat.  

 

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not my bicycle, but a kindred soul nonetheless 

 

 

Those of you who have read my writings are familiar with the Manga Scale.  It was with this ideal that I set off for the perfect dollar slice, a journey that would take me throughout south east manhattan, in search of the most exquisite marinara covered manna. Oh streets of New York, what perfection could you hold?  Acompanarme.  

All of these places are essentially called the same thing so I’ve listed their cross streets for the sake of simplicity.  I’ve not included the financial district because if you are hanging out in the financial district you probably can afford a decent meal.  The west village and washington square are not included because I don’t enjoy hearing about NYU freshman seminar essay topics while I consider what my life has become, which is what I think about when I’m eating dollar pizza.  Two Bros is not included because everyone knows them and I find their slices too sweet/capitalistic.  

 

Rivington and Essex:  

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A locale of decent quality and taste.  Located extremely close to my favorite watering hole (Welcome to the Johnson’s) this dollar slice purveyor is a treat whether preparing my stomach to drink fifteen budweisers and play pool against a group of aggressive yet untalented aging punk dudes, or stumbling out of the bar at close.  Adding to its allure is that the owner is supposedly a champion pizza twirler, and Turkish.  This is truly the American dream.  However, while one may be a great twirler of Bosphorian origins, I care significantly more about the taste of the actual pizza versus how high you can throw it into the air.  There are also a bunch of pictures of the owner side by side with celebrities of various caliber, ranging from the extremely creepy Akon to a visibly inebriated Keanu Reeves.  

The pizza itself is very decent: salty, a thick bed of dough, good consistency to the cheese.  This dollar slice loses points for two major reasons: The first is the lack of parmesan cheese.  True dollar slice connoisseurs know that the slice itself is more of a vehicle for the free toppings that will substantially add to the taste and value of the product.  What is at first simply bread, tomato sauce, and cheese, is transformed into a limited yet delicious spectrum of herbs, spices, and powdered salts.  Parmesan is a key amongst these.  Essex and Rivington’s lack of parmesan cheese serves to make them come off as cheap, and unsympathetic to the palates of the worker.  Bread and Roses, my friends.  The second cause for concern is the raise in price after 10pm to two dollars a slice.  The reasoning make sense. Drunk assholes will pay more for a slice of pizza at a later hour while leaving a public house of amusement and libations.  But once again, this airs more of exploitativeness than enterprise.

Despite all of these anti-lumpen proletarian measures, the dollar slice on Essex and Rivington is a very good place to eat cheap pizza and potentially see a fight start. The LES’s rocker past has very much transformed into bridge and tunnel dudes on the weekend who didn’t get enough hugs as a child.  Somehow, pizza and fluorescent lights only exacerbates their chauvinistic impulses.

 

Allen and Hester:

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Delve deep into the world of Chinatown/LES my comrades!  If you are in these parts the logic would be to patronize a superior proprietor of cheap eats such as Prosperity Dumpling (RIP).  However, to fully complete a Marco Polo-esque afternoon adventure of taste and cost, occasionally a good slice of pizza is what the tongue longs for (the mixture of Italian and Chinese cuisines is often overlooked.  It’s not that they mix well, it’s just that they are both cost effective).  

Given the re-appearance of drunk Keanu Reeves (this time in black and white!) at this location, I’m assuming Allen and Hester is owned by the same pizza tosser as Essex and Rivington.  This dollar slice scores major points for the fact that it has seating.  Just because we are poor and enjoy a thrifty meal does not mean we don’t deserve to rest our weary legs which tire from long days of sitting around writing emails in the offices where we are essentially glorified secretaries.  Ah, to be young and employed in New York!  What wonders our degrees in Caribbean literature have brought us!  In truth, the clientele of this location does thoroughly make one question what direction their life is heading in.  I’m not sure which opiate the patrons of Allen and Hester dollar slice prefer, but it is certainly one which has made them both aggressive and strangely joviale.  If you are okay with lots of neck tattoos, thoroughly worn down walking shoes, nonsensical mumbling, and the occasional drool, this is your kinda place.  In all seriousness, they are a nice bunch.  Share the hot flakes with them and you’ll be fast friends.  

The pizza here is made fresh often, and thus one endures the harrowing journey of wanting to eat the pizza right away while risking scalding your mouth instantly.  I imagine this is what Sade was talking about in “The Sweetest Taboo”.  “You’ve got the hottest slice, sometimes I think you’re just too glutennnyyyy…..”  The problem lies in that I prefer my dollar slices reheated.  This allows the cheese to congeal and become more substantive, with its hidden notes emerging.  The pizza here is a little too thin for my liking, requiring the purchase of more slices to feel sustenance.

However, once again, these are dollar slices, and you have to really fuck it up to make it not tasty/worth it.  So this is a perfectly good place to have a cheap lunch/breakfast while wandering around Allen street searching for your drug dealers car, or to hear about the latest methadone clinic gossip.  

 

Ave A and 2nd St:   

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Avenue A holds many delicious locales to dine.  Black Market’s cheeseburger is a revelation and GG’s has the most reasonably priced restaurant Tecate’s around.  These places are all well and good, but after blowing all my money at the bar it’s the corner of 2nd St and A that I find myself ordering slices in the hopes that it will miraculously pre-treat what will inevitably be a debilitating hangover.  

This location lacks seating, and it is incredibly small.  If more than two people are enjoying their slices inside it makes for some unwanted bumping and grinding.  What the store lacks in space it certainly makes up for in service.  Slices are served speedily and at a decent temperature, ready to eat instantly.  Further, the staff always calls me “Boss”.  This makes me feel weird given both them and I are partners in the great proletarian workers struggle, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Importantly, they have the full gamut of free toppings. Oregano, Pepper, Garlic Salt, Parmesan Cheese, Hot Flakes, AND Hot Sauce.  My my, what decadence.  The slices themselves are not extraordinary but are thick enough and leave you feeling un-famished after two slices, and for just 75 cents more you get you a can of soda.  The store is also a nice place to stop by and get out of the cold during the day.  They serve coffee as well but it looks horrible.  

 

Orchard and Delancey (AKA Pizza):

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I make note of the name of this location because I find it fascinating.  Is it called “99 Cent Pizza AKA Fresh Pizza”?  Is it just called “AKA Pizza”?  What else are people calling it?  Deep philosophical questions are contemplated at this restaurant.  “Is this Pizza?  Who am, I?”  I personally found myself being drawn towards nihilism by the end of my portion here, for what point is life, if I have found such a delicious slice?  Why go on?  Alec Baldwin was probably eating here when he decided to quit public life.  

There are a lot of great things going on at AKA Pizza:  A hand painted Fresco graffiti mural about the lower east side’s love for pizza, a clear homage to Diego Rivera’s work for the Ford Motor Company.  A deal on 14” pizza’s for five dollars on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Parmesan cheese, SEATING!  The only thing holding AKA Pizza from Manga Scale perfection is that their staff is sub par.  The young man behind the counter seemed less than interested in my request that my slice be made warm and not too hot, for he was on his phone throughout my order.  I understand that working at this pizza place may not be all that stimulating or rewarding, and a zen like stewardship of the oven is not required, however I would like to be at least acknowledged.  As we have discussed, New York is already treating me quite poorly with cost of living.  The dollar slice restaurant is supposed to be a place of refuge and solidarity, where I am not judged for my economic standing and love of low priced pies.

Despite the rough start this was a great slice.  Re-heated, bountiful, with ample amounts of cheese and dare I say the perfect amount of sauce.  The oregano here was also especially flavorful.  I was thoroughly delighted, and by the end of my second slice had forgiven the employee in my mind.  Pizza heals all wounds.  

(Note: Many moons after writing this piece, my bike was stolen from outside this dollar slice.  The house always wins in New York, for no great thing comes without a steep moral/economic/transportative cost.)

 

Avenue C and 9th:  

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Avenue C is a strange place.  It represents a sort of DMZ between the thoroughly gentrified Avenues A and B, which at this point are essentially part of the East Village, and the still somewhat “complex” Avenue D.  There are places such as Ninth Street Espresso and whatever that store is that sells 8 dollar grilled cheeses, and then there are places like AC Kitchen and the dollar slice that serve a less affluent clientele.  

The location of this restaurant is quite large, yet does not have seating.  There is ample space however to post up at a windowed counter and enjoy your cheese bread while seeing the eclectic mix of residents circulating outside, a neighborhood in flux.  The pizza is good and they have the full array of free toppings.  It’s nothing to get overly excited about, but a solid slice.  It’s like seeing Rocky IV on TV: you don’t cancel plans to watch it, but it’ll fill the time before your tinder match messages you back.  The staff here are incredibly nice as well.  Two years ago I was broke and living around these parts.  I ate two one-dollar slices twice a day and walked everywhere because I didn’t have money for subway rides (sorry I can’t meet you in Brooklyn!).  I lost five pounds and looked great.  This proves both that carbs aren’t caligula incarnate and pizza is delicious and takes a while to get sick of.  I’d say I’ve moved on but the inspiration for writing this piece is that I’m pretty much in the same position as back then.  I imagine that there is a sect of monks in Tuscany who practice a similar form of asceticism.  Hot flakes are a great inducer of self discovery, as is not being able to afford going out to eat with anyone.   

 

Everyone likes pizza.  It unites us in a way only rivaled by hate for Rudy Giuliani and/or whoever schedules MTA maintenance  By no means is the goal of this piece to disparage fantastic restaurants such as Two Boots, Motarino, and their ilk who are the producers of delectable slices with a cacophony of interesting toppings.  It is simply that the dollar slice is an institution, an idea.  A concept so simple, yet containing substantial depth and variance, often not even involving the pizza at all.  An ephemeral “experience” of austerity and joy.  

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