Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pizza Thinners (Rizzo's; 30-13 Steinway Street)

Best-slice-in-Astoria discussions don't follow the pattern of best-slice-in-New-York rumbles. Astorians come away from such talks with a list of six or so recommended places but no clear winner, not even two or three that stay in constant rotation at the top à la DiFara's, Grimaldi's, and John's. You're as likely to hear "this place on Ditmars and 23rd" as you are the coal-oven pies at Sac's. There's no consistency; it can seem like random prejudice. So it took a few conversations in which Rizzo's was mentioned as the best slice in Astoria before we took it for a whirl.

Rizzo's is cleaner than other pizzerias -- immaculately so -- and bright with fluorescent glare, but the standard-issue plastic booths and floor tiles are exactly what you'd expect. The mirror-walls were heavily dotted by Ikea-style floating frames featuring shots of the restaurant back in Astoria's Italian-American heyday, lending an air of nostalgia without going over the top in any attempt to mark its territory in the neighborhood's hallowed pizza ovens. Yes there are a few framed clippings from newspapers and local magazines touting their slices, but these don't distract from the modest, neighborhood feel of the place. The only ostentatious touch is the old neon sign above the entrance, which we consider a touch of class, even though it is out of keeping with the rest of the block.

The proud but restrained approach goes for the pizza too -- as well as the service: The genial fellow behind the counter, recognizing our red, sweaty faces as those of people coming off of a jog, offered us a to-go cup of water upon our departure without us having to ask. The regular slice, carefully called the Neapolitan slice on the chalkboard menu, is indeed closer to what one finds in Naples than other New York slices: a thin, toasty crust without too much char, luscious savory-sweet sauce, and just enough cheese to make it, well, pizza -- no strings of mozzarella dripping off. Rizzo's Sicilian slice is what is usually heralded , though, and for good reason. Unlike the oversize, doughy Sicilian pizza found elsewhere, this postcard-sized slice had a thin crust with a carefully placed rectangle of mozzarella placed right in the middle. They're self-conscious about its daintiness -- the non-mirrored wall had a recognizable caricature of the Sicilian pie -- but with good reason, as it's worth coming back for.

We're happy to keep Astoria's best-slice discussion democratic. There's never a real winner in those chats anyway, which is why it makes such constant fodder for about-town publications. But we'll be happy to proffer Rizzo's from here on out.

Price: Normal pizza prices.
Will we go again? Just may be the best slice in Astoria—absolutely.

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