What Makes New York-Style Pizza So Unique?

New York is a city known for many things, and its distinguished style of pizza is one of them. With nearly 1700 pizza locations in the metropolitan area (via The Guardian), New Yorkers have options from the numerous street stands selling $1 slices to Industry Kitchen's $2,000 24K gold-topped pie (via Thrillist). Regardless of the price tag attached, there's a certain affinity to a New York slice that makes it stand out from the other signature pizzas of cities across the country.

You've all heard the debate; the divisive argument over which region deserves the title of the best pizza. Whichever side you choose — whether it's Chicago's deep dish, Detroit's rectangular pan, or Colorado's rolled crust — might as well be considered a personality trait. While each region and its pizza have their own unique coming-of-age stories, the origins of New York City's pizza proves to be America's closest relative to the one that started it all, the Neapolitan (via History).

An immigrant story

Between the late 18th and early 19th centuries, tens of thousands of Italians left their home country and settled in New York City (via Thirteen). Despite leaving their lives behind, Italian immigrants carried on cooking the traditional dishes of their homeland which included pasta, parmigiana, and, of course, pizza. New York City's pizza origins are inseparable from its Italian-American community, with Italian-owned pizzerias appearing in Manhattan around 1895 (via History). However, New York's pizza has long been credited to one man: Gennaro Lombardi (via History). While Lombardi was a part of the New York pizza story, he certainly wasn't the only pizza maker in tow, nor was he the first. 

Research shows that a man named Filippo Milone, a pizza maker from Naples, established six of his own pizzerias across the big city before Lombardi even arrived in the U.S (via History). One of these was a location on Spring Street, where Lombardi worked as an employee and eventually took over the operation in 1905, giving it the "Lombardi's" name it's known for today (via History). The truth is, New York's pizza was created as a result of the community's collective pioneer-dom. From then until the mid- to late-1900s, Lombardi's employees broke off to open their own pizzerias, spreading its Neapolitan-style outside of Italian-American neighborhoods (via Eater). But what made the pizza distinctly it's own can only be credited to the city itself.

The New York slice

New York's first pizzerias were originally established in buildings that previously operated as bakeries. This was because, at the time, coal ovens were commonly used to bake bread. With pizza's rise in pop culture over the 1940s and 1950s (via History), many of these ovens were utilized by Italian-Americans for their own pizza making businesses (via Serious Eats). The heat from the coals created the perfectly charred and chewy crust — similar, but still distinct, from what the Neapolitan-style pizza is famous for. With these ovens, Italian pizza makers were able to recreate the classic Naples-style using ingredients available in their new city, dubbing it the "coal oven Neapolitan," or "Neapolitan-American" pizza (via Eater).

At the same time, another style of pizza was developing: The New York slice. After World War II, the country was introduced to new and more affordable fuels. This made the pizza making business became much more financially attainable through the efficiency of gas ovens (via Serious Eats). While some pizza makers stuck to their roots, others branched out into a new territory, eventually redefining New York pizza as they knew it. Along with efficiency and affordability, the pizzas made using gas ovens were unique from the Neapolitan-American style in their lack of char but could be ready-made, portable, with extra cheese, and at a low price — a perfect compliment to the speedy, on-the-go, New York lifestyle (via Eater).