New York-style pizza is apparently quite well-known (so says Rob), and Rob said I had to give them a try. From my brief research, the main difference between the pizza culture in New York and that of in Perth (and perhaps all of Australia) is the preference for coal-oven baked pizzas over the traditional wood-fired pizzas. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most of the pizzerias in New York have coal ovens. I personally prefer wood-fired pizzas, but I was game to give coal-fired pizzas just for the sake of comparison and experience.
I searched online for the best places to go to for pizza in New York City, and found that Lombardi's in Manhattan's NoLIta (aka North of Little Italy) received consistently good reviews, and is voted on several sites, forums and books as one of the best 10 pizzerias in New York. Lombardi is also the first pizzeria in the United States, having been established more than 100 years ago in 1905. So then naturally, Lombardi's is also perhaps the most popular pizzeria in NYC on a weekend.
Popularity = crowd, and with that in mind, we opted to drop by mid-afternoon at 16:30pm to avoid both the lunch and dinner crowd. Upon arrival, it became obvious that this place also has a 'mid-afternoon' crowd, as we had to wait 5-10minutes for a table. Crazy, huh? It's not a space issue either, because the restaurant is huge, and there must be at least 3 different dining areas. Considering the size and crowd in the place, service was still quite reasonable (hence the waiter received his tip). On the way to our table, we walked past the bustling kitchen, so after we'd placed our order, I snuck a few shots of the action in the kitchen. Here you can see them use the coal oven, which I assume to be the original one, judging from the "1905 Lombardi" emblazoned in the tiles.
The menu was simple. The standard pizza has fresh mozarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, romano and fresh basil as the toppings. Two sizes: an 18" ($17), and a 14" ($14.50). And a list of 10-15 toppings that you can add such as tomatoes, meat balls, anchovies, peppers, more cheese etc ($3 for 1 topping, $5 for 2 toppings, $1 for each additional topping). We ordered a 14" to share with 3 toppings: olives, grilled peppers and pancetta (Rob actually wanted more toppings, but I told him that it might be best to keep it simple).
As you can see, the 14" was pretty big and was plenty for the both of us:
Thumbs-up points: the fresh mozarella was really good, and it's obvious that high quality ingredients were used. The toppings weren't as greasy and oily as what I'm used to, and we attributed that to the fresh mozarella. The base was dense and chewy, whilst the crust was baked crisp and chewy - a nice contrast. The pizza base was thin, so you can taste the flavours of the toppings.
Thumbs-down points: Unfortunately, thin crust also meant that it was quite soft towards the centre of the "pie", not helped at all by the fresh mozarella which has a higher moisture content than other cheeses. I like to pick up and eat pizza slices with the crust first, but because the centre was so soft, removing the crust would remove the slice's source of stability and make it impossible to eat without making a mess. So to eat the crust first, I had to put the pizza slice on the plate and use a knife and fork. I'm not a big fan of soggy anything (that's why I don't really like bread pudding and badly made filled pastries like profiteroles and eclairs) so this was the main negative IMHO.
Overall, I liked the pizza. Good quality ingredients were used, and I like the fact that it wasn't greasy at all. And it wasn't really that soggy - the good points far outweigh the negatives. However, after trying this coal-fired pizza, I still stand by my preference for wood-fired pizzas. Give me crisp, crunchy pizza crusts and bases anytime!