New York is a pizza town. Whether old or new school, thin crusted discs or poufy squares, the slice maintains rock star status to its devoted groupies.
Matthew Hyland is currently the rising star of the city’s pizza world, having achieved fame first with his brilliant renditions of Neapolitan pies at Clinton Hill’s Pizza Loves Emily and later for paying homage to the thick chewy Detroit-style pie at Emmy Squared in Williamsburg.
When he announced, along with his wife Emily, that they were coming to Manhattan and bringing a new style of pizza with them, it was huge news.
The Hylands aren’t moving into any old storefront; they’re taking over one of the most famed wood-burning ovens in the city, at the former Blue Ribbon Bakery on a picturesque corner of Greenwich Village.
This is the beating heart of New York pizza territory, a stone’s throw away from such iconic spots as John’s, Joe’s and Keste.
Matthew has never made pies in an oven like the tremendous one in the new space before; it stretches back 18ft and was originally used to bake loaves of bread. Depending on your sources, the oven dates back to the 1850s or was built as “recently” as 1906.
The old bakery is a trophy space for the Hylands. “When I was fresh out of culinary school and cooking at Public, around 2004, I used to come here and eat a Blue Ribbon duck club sandwich after service.”
He says he would slip downstairs to look at the oven and tell himself, “One day I’ll have a restaurant like this.” (Then he’d remember he was making US$10 (RM42.60) an hour.)
While the rent at the original Emily is about US$4,600 and Emmy Squared’s is US$9,000, the West Village Pizza Loves Emily rent is US$22,000, almost a 500% increase. (The space is nearly twice as big as the original Pizza Loves Emily and seats about 70.)
The landlord was relieved to hear that Matthew and Emily were opening a pizza place. “I think they were afraid it would be a frozen yogurt spot or a cell phone store,” says Matthew.
There’s currently a neon sign outside that announces their arrival, and Emily has decorated the space with a wide array of knickknacks, from her father-in-law’s old lacrosse stick to art by employees. Otherwise it looks almost exactly the same as it did when it was Blue Ribbon Bakery.
It opens today, and if it’s not ready by then, “We’ll order take out from John’s for customers”, jokes Matthew. “I love that place.”
Below are highlights from the menu of the new West Village Pizza Loves Emily.
There will be not one, but two kinds of pizza. The round, 12-inch Emily-style pies are wood-oven baked.
“They’re an homage to New York’s original pizzas,” says Matthew. “Places like Lombardy’s that were bakeries that made pizza.”
The edges of the lightly chewy dough are brushed with oil, generating a slightly fried and crisp-chewy crust.
Matthew has also changed up his tomato sauce — this one is more deeply flavoured with garlic, roasted vegetables and a splash of wine. The pungent cheese blend has been adjusted, too.
There are just four wood-oven pies, including the Classic, which tastes like a powerful Margarita; the Margot, with a Calabrian-chile spiked tomato sauce and pungent, Asian-style anchovies; and the spicy clam-topped Dune Road with tomatoes.
“Most of the clam pies in New York are New England chowder style, white pies; this one has a Manhattan chowder vibe,” explains Matthew.
The other pizza on the menu is a riff off the Emmy Squared sensation, the rectangular, chewy, and cheese-crusted Detroit-style pies.
From a triple decker convection oven, Matthew is producing a more Grandma/bar-style pie. They’re about ¾-inch thick — half as thick as the ones at Emmy Squared — and denser, with a higher ratio of toppings to base, but the same fried cheese corners.
Among the dozen-plus selections of these, you’ll be hearing a lot about the Pig Freaker, an ode to their friends at the nearby restaurant Pig Bleecker: It’s covered with cheese, thick pieces of bacon, kimchi scallions and splashes of miso queso — the flavours are meaty, tangy and indulgent. (“We’re an Asian restaurant masquerading as a pizza place,” says Emily.)
And for those who have longed for Emily’s bestselling Colony topping — pepperoni, pickled chillis and honey — on a pan pizza, they’ll get their wish here.
The Burger, Sandwiches and More
It’s almost unfair that Pizza Loves Emily makes destination pizza and burgers. But the Emmy Burger has been voted one of the best in the city by such sites as Infatuation.
The version that Matthew will serve at the new spot is a riff on the one he does at Pizza Loves Emily. It’s a double stack of dry-aged beef, caramelised onions and the buttery Korean-chilli Emmy sauce, in a pretzel bun.
Here, Matthew is featuring double patties: “You get twice the charred surface area and twice the cheese.” He has replaced the cheddar with American cheese and added bread and butter pickles.
Also new to the tray that the hefty burgers are served on: Golden curly fries. “I’m excited not to run out of burgers,” says Matthew (in Brooklyn they prepare only 24 a night).
At his new place, Matthew is also featuring sandwiches. “Like pizza, they’re a perfect food,” he proclaims. “Lots going on in one small space.”
The Indian-flavoured Lammy Burger is also a double stack with yogurt sauce, green papaya slaw and crisp pappadums so that each bite comes with a gigantic crunch.
Matthew is even more excited about the Pressed Duck, his take on Peking duck, starring duck that’s been infused with Szechuan peppercorns, fried in crispy patties and garnished with cucumbers, scallions and a Hoisin-style sauce.
Emily calls the wine list “a little more exploratory” than those at her other spots.
Besides a generous wines-by-the-glass list, there are about 40 bottles, including a 2014 Chateauneuf de Pape Blanc from Domaine Andre Mathieu and a few of the Oregon Pinots that she’s passionate about: Her restaurant is one of the first places in New York to carry the Flaneur Pinot Noir from Ribbon Ridge.
At the small bar in front is also a display of whiskey and bourbon and a handful of cocktails, including the Classy Carl, which is a simple, smooth mix of rye and fernet, plus a half dozen beers on tap, most of them local. — Bloomberg