Have you ever had real New York pizza?
When you order a slice, it's a big floppy one. It's one of eight slices cut from an 18-inch pie. The crust must be thin, but flexible, so you can hold it by the rim and fold it between the thumb and four fingers (otherwise the tip will flop down and the hot cheese and toppings will slide off). Held properly, the tip of the wedge protrudes straight out, presenting you with the choice first bite of hot pizza goodness.
To get the proper thickness and large size of a typical New York pizza, the dough should be hand-thrown and twirled. There are pie-makers who are good at this, but then there are masters of the art, twirling the dough up and down as well as spinning it on their fists like the plate-twirlers on the old "Ed Sullivan Show." When the dough is just right, it's laid on a pizza pan and a large spoonful of tomato-based pizza sauce -- not too much -- is swirled on.
While true New York pizza can be topped with a variety of edibles, pepperoni is the default topping. Pepperoni, when subjected to the heat of a pizza oven, yields an orange oil that runs over an abundance of melted mozzarella. The hot oil, cheese and spicy sausage irritate the alveolar ridge -- the ridge of flesh right behind the front teeth -- so it swells slightly. This is the so-called "pizza hump."
Now, there are several pizza parlors in Sonoma County that purport to serve New York pizza. As a child of the Big Apple, I grew up eating pizza in New York City. So please accompany me on a tour of these shops to find out if any, or all, might be serving the real deal, which we'll call "New York-style" pizza, since actual NYP is only available in NYC.
The minute I walked into Mombo's at 1880 B Mendocino Ave. in Santa Rosa (528-3278), I could almost smell New Jersey. There's another Mombo's at 560 Gravenstein Highway N. in Sebastopol (823-7492). First of all, there's the Mombo guy icon -- who looks like a real New Yorker: porkpie hat, ethnicity somewhere between Italian and Puerto Rican. But where's the toothpick in his mouth? Then there's that police mugshot of Frank Sinatra, looking very punk like -- hey, he could have posed for the Mombo guy. In a fine redundancy, since there are real pizzas on display behind the counter, the walls are hung with pictures of pizzas. And the atmosphere is well-worn shabby shop chic. Very New York.
The people working there don't have New York accents, but we'll not fault them for that. If you want to hear a New York accent, repeat after me: "I tol' huh tuh fuggedaboudit." But it all comes down to the pie, and this pie does not disappoint.
1. Mombo's, 1880 B Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.
2. I Love NY Pie, 65 Brookwood Ave. at Fourth Street, Santa Rosa
3. The New Yorker, 3 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma (762-7595). *??
Star rating system:
**** -- Extraordinary
*** -- Very good
** -- Good
* --Not very good
0 -- terrible