Thursday, April 25

Penny De Los Santos: A Visual Study of Neighborhood Pizza

Food and travel photographer Penny De Los Santos blogs for us about her sources of inspiration, her travels, and her favorite bites and sips along the way. You can follow Penny on Twitter at @pennydelosantos. 

The classic, New York City slice of pizza.

In my neighborhood (Manhattan's West Village) I can get five different styles of pizza—New York, Neapolitan, and Roman—all within three blocks. It's pretty incredible.

I can get the classic, New York City–style pizza-by-the-slice, cooked three different ways at three different pizza joints. At Joe's, it's cooked in a gas oven. If that's not my fancy, I'll walk up the street a block and get the same New York–style pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven, which imparts a hint of smoke. Or I head just a few blocks east to Arturo's and get the same style of pizza, only cooked in a coal-fired oven, giving the dough a pleasantly charred flavor.

On a Neapolitan pizza, fresh ingredients share a co-starring role with great dough, which is made by hand and lightly stretched into shape before baking. The pizza cooks in a wood-burning oven that hits 1000 degrees F. They're in and out of the oven in just one minute, imparting a smoky flavor and a crispy crust while retaining the fresh taste of the ingredients.

And then there's Neapolitan-style pizza. I have Keste right across the street. This place abides by strict rules to make its pizza truly Neapolitian. The dough is made with particular ingredients, mixed by hand, and cooked in an oven that is filled with wood and heated to 1000 degrees, allowing the pizzas to cook in only 60 seconds. If you don't believe me, Google "Keste" and read the scores of reviews and testimonials singing its praises.

Roman-style pizza has a thicker dough. It's cooked in a square dish, cut with scissors, and sold by the [rectangular] slice.
Finally there is my go-to place, Roma. It's just a few doors down from Keste, and it's where I head when I'm lagging after a long day. They make great Roman-style pizza and sell it by the slice. I did a story in Rome a few years ago for Saveur magazine. I spent two weeks shooting the food in different neighborhoods, and one thing I remember really well is the pizza. I'd order a square of it, hang my camera around my neck, and head outside and watch the locals. While I ate the pizza, I'd try to find my next photograph. Roma on Bleecker Street reminds me of that assignment. I like to go there and order a glass of white wine and my favorite slice, the zucchini pizza, and I feel like I'm back in Rome in the Campo di' Fiori neighborhood.

This is what makes New York City so great: It's a city rich with the stories about the migration of food. The next time you're in NYC, hit the West Village and get your pizza ethnography study on.