As a native New Yorker, a native Brooklynite to be specific, and of some Italian heritage to boot, I consider myself an authority on pizza. My pizza-related interests are broad, and I will try anything once. I love a fancy thin crust sourdough with little charred bubbles, topped with anchovies and olives. I’ve waited in line at Lucali’s (worth it), and had the famed Connecticut apizza (didn’t get the hype). I’ve traveled through Italy eating every slice of pizza I could get my hands on. I own a pizza stone and make my own long-ferment sourdough pies.
I also love a Domino’s Hawaiian pizza delivered in the wee hours of morning at the end of a long night. The mere thought of a stuffed crust pizza from Pizza Hut instantly lifts my mood. Deep dish? Not an abomination, just a different thing. When I lived in Manhattan’s East Village in my 20s, I subsisted on $1 slices topped with frozen broccoli and pineapple (for nutrition!) for the better part of five years. I’m not a snob or a purist: I have eaten a lot of pizza in my 32 years walking this earth, and there is one that always reigns supreme.
The square pie at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Gravesend, Brooklyn, is not only the best pizza in New York, but also possibly in the world. The reason? They put the sauce on top.
This style isn’t unique to L&B, although I think they do it best. Sicilian-style pizza, which has a thick crust and is cut into squares, like focaccia, is often layered with the sauce on top of the cheese. This alternate layering technique serves primarily to keep the thicker crust from becoming soggy, but it also creates a texture that meshes together everything good about pizza and that ineffable Q-texture that you find in things like mochi. The cheese becomes one with the chewy, airy crust, allowing the flavor of the sauce to really shine. Especially when the bottom of the crust is crisp and a little charred, and the sauce is homemade and deeply caramelized from being cooked for many hours and then baked in a very hot oven. A single bite is transcendent.
There are also practical reasons why pizza is better with the sauce on top. The main one is that it is literally impossible for the cheese to slide off of your slice mid-bite. While I love a classic, sloppy plain slice from some no-name corner spot in Manhattan as much as the next New Yorker, I absolutely hate getting one bite that’s all molten cheese followed by innumerable bites of wan, limp crust smeared with cheap canned tomatoes that have been over-seasoned with dried oregano. The perfect union of cheese, crust, and sauce combined in a single bit can mask imperfections in all three elements, but once the cheese is gone, the jig is up.
Despite having known since I was a toddler that I prefer my pizza with the sauce on top, whenever I make pizza at home, I default, like an automaton, to the standard-issue crust-sauce-cheese technique. I chalk it up to the fact that, for a long time, L&B wasn’t something I had particularly often. Gravesend, if you’re not familiar with the geography of Brooklyn, is far away from everywhere. That’s why, even though it’s had its fair share of foodie PR, and even though there is always a line, that line is usually filled with denizens of Deep Brooklyn. Imagine the cast of the Jersey Shore, but with the sharp edges of New Yorkers. These are my people, though you wouldn’t know it at a glance.
A few years ago, I moved back to South Brooklyn, where I was born—not quite so far out as Gravesend, but close enough that not only can I get to L&B in around 20 minutes by car, I can also get it delivered to my apartment. Now my favorite pizza is also my default pizza, and as a result, I’ve started making pizza at home the way I like it. I usually make a fairly standard 10-inch round sourdough, and I can say with authority that it’s better when the sauce is on top of the cheese. Especially in a home oven, which never truly gets hot enough to make pizza even with a stone, swapping the order of these two toppings actually results in a massive improvement. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to try. You might never look at pizza the same way again.