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Slice of heaven: ‘Pizza Project’ documents endangered local shops

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They finally shot their piece of the pie!

Five Brooklyn pizza enthusiasts showcase the city’s mom-and-pop pizza shops with a book and exhibit of photos, opening in Park Slope on Feb. 13. One of the goals of the “New York City Pizza Project,” which was published as a coffee-table book in September, is to bring attention to a local pizza scene that is threatened by an onslaught of Domino’s and Papa John’s, says one of the photographers.

“The landscape of what was mom-and-pop pizzerias is changing and there’s a heavy wave of chain stores moving in,” said Nick Johnson, who lives in Cobble Hill.

He and his four pizza-loving friends spent five years photographing and interviewing owners and eaters at more than 100 pizzerias all over the city. The group had strict rules about which places qualified — they stuck to simple slice joints, eliminating spots that only serve full pies. They also steered clear of 99-cent spots and anything that seemed like “hipster pizza” — two forms that they fear are taking over New York’s pizza scene.

“The places that we are focusing on are kind of being squeezed out by the low-end 99-cent pizza and the high-end pie joints,” said Johnson.

They also correctly rejected any place that focused on Chicago-style “pizza.”

“A lot of people would not even consider Chicago-style as pizza,” said Johnson. “They say it’s like a pie or a cake.”

One of the most memorable stories in the book is Johnny’s Pizza, on Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, which proved it could stand up to big-name competitors after at Papa John’s outpost moved in next door in 2007. The pizza joint implemented an online ordering system to keep up with the commercial pie slinger.

“He made it his mission to match them and fight them and it’s been really successful,” Johnson recalled.

Brooklyn has the strongest pizza scene in the city due to its large Italian presence, he said, with L&B Spumoni Gardens in Gravesend, and Lenny’s in Bensonhurst serving up especially classic slices.

The worst slice in New York comes from mall chain Sbarro, said Johnson, and his favorite place is Caruso’s in Cobble Hill. But the best pizza joint is in the mouth of the beholder.

“The best pizza is what tastes like home,” he said. “It’s really whatever is familiar to you.”

“New York City Pizza Project” at Powerhouse on Eighth [1111 Eighth Ave. at 11th Street in Park Slope, www.powerhouseon8th.com]. Feb. 13 at 4 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Barry from Flatbush says:
Vinny's on Court St.
Feb. 11, 2016, 8:43 pm
John from Bay Ridge says:
It amazes me that people in Brooklyn, with easy access to some of the best pizza in the world, would even consider eating the disgusting faux "pizza" produced by the likes of Papa John's or Dominos.

"Friends don't let friends eat Dominos"
Feb. 12, 2016, 9:23 am
Richard from Wiliamsburg says:
John, I was thinking the same thing. What person in his or her right mind would go to one of those horrible franchise stores when you live in Brooklyn? I don't really see how Papa John's or Domino's stay in business in Brooklyn. In big cities all over the country, local owners advertise "real New York pizza" (sometimes it's close, often not so much, but still better than the chains).
Feb. 12, 2016, 10:02 am
Josh from Bed Stuy says:
I think the problem (and this is NOT an excuse for eating Dominos) is that these places are two to three-times the cost of the chains. Some of them also don't deliver or they take an hour to arrive.

With Dominos, the fatties can just open an app and tap "order again" and they're heavy breathing over carbs and fat within 30 minutes.
Feb. 12, 2016, 12:32 pm
Boris from Borough Park says:
Josh, you get what you pay for.
Feb. 12, 2016, 4:43 pm
SCP from Sunset Park says:
Josh, that was pretty damn harsh! Your first paragraph made sense and was well-reasoned. I don't know what happened in your second paragraph, but that was extremely judgmental and insensitive!

I see a place for both types of pizza. Usually I do get real New York pizza, and it's great. But there are times when I just want something different, and the pizza chains are good for that. Plus they are cheap (you can get a pie for $5 at Little Caesar's). I don't really consider them "pizza", more like "fast food". It's like getting a burger at McDonald's compared to some upscale burger place. No comparison, but there's a place for both. That's what makes this city (and country) great!
Feb. 12, 2016, 9:21 pm
K. from ArKady says:
Actually SCP, no, there isn't a place for both. The old New York only had the one, and the new New York is rapidly transitioning to the other. Truth is, only the chains can afford the enormous new rents. And the new people paying those rents only know the chains, it's all they had growing up in wherever the hell they are all from.

If the book authors are reading this, I was at the great Sunset Johnny's Pizza protest. I may have been the only one there with a camera(?), but I did give Johnny Jr. the pics the next day. If you want me to contact you, drop some info in the comments here.
Feb. 13, 2016, 1:50 pm
Me from Bay Ridge says:
Went in Papa John's once -- doesn't sell slices -- Johnny's next door does. You're out shopping on the avenue, you don't want a whole pie for lunch.
Feb. 13, 2016, 3:52 pm

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