As a native New Yorker, I have strong opinions about pizza, just like I’m supposed to. So when Papa Johns’ newly launched “New York style” pizzas hit the market late last month, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to participate in a time-honored NYC tradition: telling other people exactly how the city’s iconic foods should be made.
The variability of New York–style pizzas, even within the five boroughs, is vast. There are the old-school Brooklyn spots (L&B, Di Fara’s), the media darlings (Lucali, L’Industrie), the unassuming neighborhood joints, and the ubiquitous dollar slice shops. You will be treated to a very different pizza experience depending on where you go, but there are certain hallmarks of a proper New York slice. Here are two non-negotiables:
- The slice itself must be large enough to constitute a meal in itself.
- The slice must be foldable.
Contrary to what some people (including, perhaps, the Papa Johns R&D team) might believe, foldability does not mean that the pizza should be floppy. The crust should have a crisp bottom that snaps as the doughier parts give way to the fold, ensuring that you don’t get oil all over yourself as you hold your pizza with one hand while texting with the other on your way to the G train.
Papa Johns’ promotional materials for its NY Style Pizza describe it simply as having “oversized, foldable slices.” This statement is factual: the slices are larger than those of a normal Papa Johns pie, and you can fold them. That does not, however, make this offering a New York–style pizza.
My husband and I had just purchased a new dining table, so we invited our neighbors over for dinner and ordered an extra-large NY Style Pizza from Papa Johns: half plain, half pepperoni and pepperoncini.
I should preface what comes next with the confession that I am a New Yorker who likes big box chain pizza. I will never say no to Pizza Hut; I sincerely love Domino’s Hawaiian pizza; and I have a soft spot for the Little Ceasars Hot-N-Ready pies that got me through many college all-nighters. I wanted to be pleasantly surprised by Papa Johns’ East Coast crust innovations. Reader, I was not.
“Buncha fuckin’ New Yorkers ordering Papa Johns,” my neighbor Mark grumbled as we opened the box. We stared at the pie for a bit, sizing it up. It looked okay, despite the presence of a single, inexplicable pepperoncini in one corner of the pie. (I later realized that it is meant to sit in the box beside the pizza as a garnish, and must have slipped in transit.)
There was some nice blistering across the top of the pizza, and the cheese-to-sauce ratio seemed appropriate. So far, so good. But when I picked up a slice, my optimism waned.
Sure, the pizza was technically foldable, but that’s because it was positively flaccid. The entire front half of my slice sagged out of the fold, as though giving itself a thumb’s down. When I flipped the slice over, the bottom crust was so light in color I wondered whether it had actually seen the inside of an oven.
People say that the crust is really what makes a New York–style pizza, and the Papa Johns crust was a failure on almost all points: It was pale, sagging, and flavorless. As for the size, the pie was a New York medium, at best. And if you asked a New Yorker who wasn’t on assignment to pay $18 for eight slices of mediocre pizza (only four of which have toppings), they’d tell you in no uncertain terms to fugghedaboutit.
The flavor profile of the pizza was not bad, but muted. Had the crust been more successful, this product would have been on par with the low-end dollar slice shops you find in the parts of midtown that non-tourists avoid like the plague.
The Papa Johns NY Style Pizza was not the worst I’ve ever had. Our group ranked it as being better than Sbarro, and even a bit better than the concession stand pizza you’d get at a minor league baseball stadium or bowling alley. But I’d take a dollar slice at 2 Bros. over this vague approximation of the style any day of the week.