Let's Talk About Pizza, Baby

On one of the first nippy days of what promises to be another brutal New York City winter, I ducked into NY Pizza Suprema on 8th Avenue to grab a slice with Corey Mintz and Tim Reitzes, two of the creators of The New York Pizza Project. The shop itself was loud, bright, and crowded–a safe haven from the cold, and one of the few spaces of respite that the bustling city offers. Though I’d never eaten at this particular spot, it felt inexplicably comfortable and welcoming, as though I’d been there a thousand times. It is precisely this unique, ineffable energy that the NYPP sought to capture in their coffee table photography book documenting the classic New York City slice shop.

Though countless books have been written about the art of pizza, Reitzes explains, “It’s all focused so much on the food. Nobody has focused on the people and the places and the culture.”

Reitzes, Mintz, and the the rest of their team of New York natives (Gabe Zimmer, Ian Manheimer, Nick Johnson) wanted to zoom in on the idiosyncrasies of the grab-and-go pizza place versus a sit-down family-style pie restaurant. Mintz recounts, “I grew up more on the slice joint. I think what you get is that connection with the person that’s making the pizza.”

“We love that experience of, like, waking up on a Saturday morning and just rolling around the corner to the pizza place to grab a slice,” Reitzes adds. “It’s gonna be great, and it feels regular, and it feels–traditional is not the right word–familiar.”

The passion project was funded through Kickstarter, where the original goal of $15,000 was exceeded by more than $10,000. Reitzes says, “It felt like we hit a nerve, in the best way possible.”

The lush book has four sections: The Makers, The Eaters, The Shop, and The Block. Each segment features photos and interviews that the boys collected merely by walking into a shop of their choosing and sitting down to liaise with strangers.

“So we went in this pizza place and the vibe in there was very different,” Mintz explains.

“Then we go to this pizza place and that owner is different, and has a story. They all think, ‘Oh, my crust is better, I’ve got a secret sauce,’ but of course they never reveal what the secret sauce is. They all have their own pride in what they do.”

In the book’s introduction, NYPP touts slice shops as “guardians of authenticity in the face of homogenization,” a sentiment I asked Mintz and Reitzes to elaborate on.

“Every time a small business closes, it’s going to be a pharmacy or bank, but we don’t need another Duane Reade,” Reitzes emphasizes, “One of the really cool things about these pizza places is that they seem to not change that much.” He explains that many of these slice shops manage to continue on in much the same way as they always have despite the ever-changing landscape of New York City. “That was one of our driving questions: what is it about these places that allows them to be this pillar in a swirling, changing, city around them?”

Mintz adds, “In my head, I see the time-lapse of this block. Everything is sort of changing, but the pizza shop is always the same, and the people who go there have been going there for 20, 30 years. As children they grew up on it, and now their children grow up on it.”

What The NYPP manages to evoke is a sense of timelessness and community found within the enclaves that we city-goers continually orbit around and gravitate towards. It’s a love song, composed for these hubs of New York City grit, sweat, indulgence, and loneliness. It’s where the flavor comes from the hands of the chefs, the water of the city, and the memories of recipes from generations that came before.

The three of us grab our lunch: a plain slice, an upside-down, and a Grandma slice. We eat, and Reitzes says, “This is a very New York thing that we’re doing, but I also think that it goes beyond that.”

Mintz remarks, “I’ll tell you, though, that when you ask somebody what their favorite slice is, most of the time it’s the place that they grew up eating pizza… You’re reincarnated back into a child and you’re having that moment of tasting it [and] nothing has changed.”