NYC Pizza and Ice Cream: Motorino, Rosario, Best Pizza, Big Gay Ice Cream, Il Laboratorio and Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Brussels sprouts on a pizza?! Trust me on this one. This pizza was one of the best things we ate on our entire USA trip. New York might be the home of bagels, but it's also one of the great cities in which to eat pizza.
Where is the best pizza in New York? The answer will always be contentious, but Motorino Pizza regularly crops up in top 10 lists.
Motorino Pizza, East Village
There are two branches of Motorino Pizza in New York - we chose the more central East Village location over Brooklyn. It's a narrow slip of a restaurant, with a tiny kitchen at the back. Our first visit is on a rainy weekday evening - the place is full we patiently queue for half an hour. The pizza is so good that we come back for a second visit at lunchtime - much quieter during the day.
Motorino woodfired pizza oven
The concrete-domed pizza oven takes up the bulk of space in the tiny kitchen. You could barely swing a cat back here, but there's a well-rehearsed precision of manoeuvres between pizza dough tossing, bases being topped, and assembled pizzas being slid in and out of the fiery oven.
The pizzas here are Neapolitan-style. That means the dough must be shaped by hand and baked for 60 to 90 seconds in a 485C oven.
Brussels sprout pizza US$16
Our brussels sprout pizza lands on our table in under ten minutes. It's the smell of the pancetta that gets you first, wafting forth in smoky plumes.
Pizza upskirt shot
The dough itself is worth marvelling over, thin and crisp with volcanic bubbles along the edges.
Brussels sprouts and smoked pancetta
But it's that first bite that will send your eyes rolling to the back of your head. The smoky fatty juices from the pancetta roll onto your tongue first, washing past the delicate petals of brussels sprouts, tender but caramelised at the edges. It's the high heat of the oven that makes this pizza such a success, allowing the pancetta to remain moist as you sink your teeth into puddles of molten fior di latte mozzarella livened with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
Now you know why we returned!
Margherita pizza US$15
We also order the margherita pizza, basted with a generous layer of tomato sauce and islands of melted buffalo mozzarella cheese.
Bubbled crust on the margherita pizza
The pizza is so photogenic it's almost pornographic. Okay maybe that's just me.
And in a sign that Motorino may soon take over the world, owner Mathieu Palombino recently opened an outlet in Hong Kong in March this year.
Mmm... stretchy cheese
Rosario Pizza in the Lower East Side
Late night on the turps? I love that pizza places in New York City stay open so late, offering cheap pizzas by the slice. We stumbled onto Rosario's at 1am one morning, charmed by its old skool appearance. We're even more delighted to see that the man making pizzas in the photos on the wall is the same guy, twenty years older, still making the pizzas behind the counter.
Rosario Pizza menu in the dining room with owner Sal Bartolomeo in the photos
Owner Sal Bartolomeo's uncle Rosario first opened the restaurant in 1963. Sal worked there as a teenager, and you'll still find him there today, manning the pizza ovens until all hours of the night.
Mushroom pizza slice US$3
Various pizzas are cooked and then transferred to the display counter. These are true New York pizzas with floppy crusts and only a light amount of topping. There's plenty of mushroom on the mushroom pizza, and we can't help but marvel over the neatness of the pepperoni pizza - it looks just like a pizza depicted in cartoons!
Pepperoni pizza slice US$3
There's a lovely sense of community about the place. Locals, couples, uni students and backpackers all trail in throughout the night, and several chat with Saul like seasoned regulars.
Sophia pizza slice US$3.75
It's all down to pot luck as to which pizza slices will be available when you turn up, but hover long enough and you should be able to catch a pizza fresh from the oven. We pounce when we spy the Sophia pizza emerge. It's the best of the night, a tomato base loaded with soft and spongy mozzarella slices, sweet fresh tomato and fragrant basil leaves.
But wait, there's more.
Best Pizza, Brooklyn
It would be all too tempting to say the best pizza in New York can be found at Best Pizza. Whoever came up with this name is a bona fide genius. Many pizza aficionados will swear the best pizza is found in Brooklyn. We skipped past the usual suspects - Grimaldi's, Di Fara, Totonno's and L&B Spumoni Gardens - and headed to Best Pizza on Havemeyer Street.
The Best Pizza 100-year-old woodfired oven
Best Pizza may have only opened in 2010 but it's already established itself as a serious contender for some of New York's finest pizza. The pizza toppings are restrained here. Choose your own combination of ingredients and they'll be scattered sparsely on a cheesy tomato or white base.
The pizzas are cooked in a grand old dame of an oven, 100 years old and still going strong.
Best Pizza dining room with paper plate decorations
There's barely any seating here, so get here early or be prepared to take away. There's room for about 16 only, depending on how many people can pile into the two benched alcoves at the front. Three small tables line one wall.
In the early evening, it's a popular spot for families, and the kids quickly get stuck into drawing on the extra paper plates. Staff will give you a wide selection of markers and the walls - and ceiling! - are plastered with artworks from kids and adults from all over the world.
Tossing pizza dough
And if you're not artistically inclined, there's always the pizza show in the kitchen.
Half-and-half pizza of our choice US$21
White base, anchovy, kale and caramelised onion and
white base, mushroom and caramelised onion
We go for the half-and-half pizza on a white base. On one side is anchovy, kale and caramelised onion; the other half is a mushroom and caramelised onion affair. The ricotta is light and creamy, perked up with the salty sharpness of pecorino shavings.
Another obligatory upskirt shot
Scant toppings allow the real hero to shine - it's all about the base, and anyone who argues otherwise hasn't eaten a really good pizza. The crust is thin but there's enough structure so it isn't soggy or overly flimsy. That crunch when you first bite into the dough is the real winner, giving way to a soft yet satisfyingly chewy interior.
It's smiles all around.
Cheese, kale and caramelised onion
Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
What logically follows pizza? I say ice cream. The bigger and gayer you say? Okay! Big Gay Ice Cream started off as a food truck, serving soft serve cones out of Prospect Park in Brooklyn in the summer of 2009. Co-founders Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff are, yes, gay, but they also claim it's about being happy. Quint has been quoted saying:
"If I weren't gay, I wouldn't call it the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. And if I weren't happy, I wouldn't have the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. It would just be the big crabby ice cream truck"
This year they officially retired the Big Gay Ice Cream truck, citing mechanical issues and legal headaches. They also pointed out they now have two shops from which to trade: one in the Gramercy/ Flat Iron district, the other in the East Village.
Big Gay Ice Cream Shop menu
Wacky flavours are the signature of Big Gay Ice Cream. The Pumpkin Gobbler sundae incorporates pumpkin butter and maple syrup; the Cocone adds toasted curried coconut to chocolate soft serve ice cream. You can add toppings that include Makers' Mark bourbon butterscotch, blood orange balsamic glaze, olive oil and sea salt, and ginger syrup with or without curry powder.
[top] American Globs vanilla soft serve, pretzels, sea salt and chocolate dip US$5.52
Salty Pimp vanilla soft serve, dulce le leche, sea salt and chocolate dip US$5.52
We went with the classic Salty Pimp: vanilla soft serve ribboned with sea salt dulce de leche and dipped in chocolate. I preferred the chunkier and more savoury American Globs: vanilla soft serve rolled in pretzel pieces with sea salt and dipped in chocolate.
Usually they'll serve your cone in a cute plastic cone holders that have a handy drip shelf (you can see them in the menu photo on the shelf next to the blackboard) but we went with boats for easier eating.
Il Laboratorio del Gelato
If kooky gelato flavours are more your style, then Il Laboratorio del Gelato is a mandatory detour. The shopfront has been deliberately designed to resemble a laboratory, with stark white decor and an eerie sterile glow from the neon sign hanging overhead.
Jon Snyder is the owner and founder of Il Laboratorio, regarded by many as a gelato guru. Back in 1983, he started his first ice cream business, Ciao Bella. In 1989 he sold the company, along with 60 recipes. Ciao Bella has since grown to a multimillion dollar business with national distribution.
The business sale included a five-year non-compete clause but Snyder was certain he'd never go into the gelato business again anyway, after enduring so many long hours. It was the lucky escape by his brother on September 11 2001 - stopped from entering the World Trade Center where he worked by police that morning - that prompted Snyder to rethink his corporate career and return to his original love of ice cream.
Il Laboratorio opened in 2002 in a tiny site on Orchard Street. In 2010 he moved to the Lower East Side, upgrading to a site six times as big. His mum lives in an apartment above the shop and helps out every morning. Snyder starts his days at 5am, making the range of 200+ flavours entirely from memory and instinct.
Gelato and sorbet flavours
If you're sick of being stuck with chocolate and vanilla choices, Snyder has a riotous journey of flavours here. Basil, cheddar cheese, lavender, malt, mastic, prune armagnac and sweet potato beckon from the gelato rainbow. Sorbets might include blackberry with port, celery, cucumber, concord grape and kalamansi.
Il Laboratorio queue
Fior di latte and root beer US$4.25 (two scoops)
I end up choosing the fior di latte mozzarella that is mild and creamy, and the root beer which is wildly fizzy on the tongue. What's most impressive here is the elegant smoothness of the gelato, free from overly large crystals or any unpleasant graininess. There's a great density to the gelato too, which is traditionally churned at a slower rate than ice cream.
We also love the rectangular serving tubs - allowing you to enjoy each flavour as you choose, rather than having to dig through the top to get at the one on the bottom.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Still haven't satiated your sweet tooth? Chinatown Ice Cream Factory offers an Asian twist to your ice cream flavours. It's been trading in New York's Chinatown for 35 years, making it one of the area's longest standing businesses.
Dan tart egg custard, chocolate Oreo and cupcake ice cream flavours
Philip Seid opened up this ice cream shop in 1978, quickly gaining a reputation for developing ice creams with Asian-themed flavours. One of their most popular flavours today is almond cookie. The flavour range runs the gamut of pandan to black sesame to durian. They also offer mochi toppings, sweet and chewy rice dumplings.
Jelly donut and dan tart custard tart ice cream US$3.99 (one scoop)
I'm tempted by the cupcake ice cream (it looks like vanilla with rainbow sprinkles) but eventually go for the dan tart custard tart (eggy!) and jelly donut that is less donut and more raspberry jam. But with our bellies stuffed full of ice cream and the lips covered in sugar, there's only one thing I can think - I could really go for some pizza!
33 Havemeyer, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (718) 599 2210
Sunday to Friday 12 noon - 12 midnight
Saturday 12 noon - 1am
Big Gay Ice Cream Shop - East Village
125 East 7th Street (btw 1st Ave and Avenue A), New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 533 9333
Tuesday 4pm - 11pm
Wednesday to Monday 1pm - 12 midnight
Also open at West Village, 61 Grove Street New York, New York, USA
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard Street, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 608 4170
Open daily 11am - 10pm
Il Laboratorio del Gelato
188 Ludlow Street, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 343 9922
Monday to Thursday 7.30am - 10pm
Friday 7.30am - 12 midnight
Saturday 10am - 12 midnight
Sunday 10am - 10pm
Motorino Pizza - East Village
349 East 12th Street, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 777 2644
Sunday to Thursday 11am - 12 midnight
Friday and Saturday 11am - 1am
Also open in:
Williamsburg - 139 Broadway, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Hong Kong - 14 Shelley Street, Central, Hong Kong
Rosario Pizza [facebook page]
173 Orchard Street, New York City, New York, USA
Tel: +1 (212) 777 9813
Open daily 11am - 3am
>> Read the next USA 2013 post: Shake Shack and Tom Colicchio's CraftBar, NYC
<< Read the first USA 2013 post: Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC
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9/23/2013 12:05:00 a.m.