711 W. Armitage Ave. 312-867-9111
Rating: 3 ½ (out of four)
Some of New York's best pizzerias have about as much charm as a bus station: They're small, tiled and totally un-decorated. Armitage Pizzeria seems to stick to the same utilitarian aesthetic with a matchbook-size Lincoln Park storefront that barely has room for one table and a soda cooler. But behind the largely take-out (and cash-only) operation is one seasoned pizza maker with a bona fide East Coast upbringing: James Spillane, the former co-owner of Coalfire in West Town. While Coalfire uses a (duh) coal oven to heat its Neapolitan pies, Armitage Pizzeria is all about the New York City style: a thin, dry 14-inch crust with basic toppings and melted, gooey cheese—plus the option to buy by the slice ($2.50). Could Armitage Pizzeria put out pies to rival the Big Apple? This New Jersey native stopped in with high hopes.
The crust: As Spillane wheeled the pizza cutter through the pie, I heard the promising crack of the thin crust. From the first bite all the way to the edge of the crust, the slice's base remained crispy but not cracker-thin. Spillane uses a gas oven to bake the pies, which produces a drier crust than a coal or wood oven. The rim of the pizza had a few bubbly, charred blisters, but not so many as to create giant air pockets. And yes, each slice is successfully foldable.
The sauce: New York pizzas don't get too crazy with toppings, so the ratio of sauce to cheese is paramount. Armitage Pizzeria spreads its sauce on the thinner side, which was fine by me. It's not an especially spicy or flavorful sauce, so better to use it as a conduit for the cheese and toppings.
The toppings: I pulled a slice from a whole pie and watched as the cheese just… kept…stretching. The melted mozzarella isn't overshadowed by the sauce, making the standard cheese pie ($11) a study in simple pleasures. There are only a few topping combos—the standard white pizza ($12), sausage ($13), and meat trio of Italian sausage, pepperoni and salami ($14)—but there is also the option to mix and match meat and vegetables from a short list. The best part of the meat pie was the crumbled bits of Italian sausage that become caught in the cheese like a spider's web, with just the lightest sheen of surface grease that reminded me of a NYC street slice.
Other stuff: While you could squeeze two or three people around the sole table, Armitage Pizzeria clearly has a take-out focus. Three salads ($6), three calzones ($9) and a fridge of soda round out the compact menu.
Bottom line: These pies are an exception to the claim that the secret to East Coast pizza is New York tap water. From the stripped-down interior to the owner's accent to the satisfyingly thin slices, Armitage Pizzeria is definitely legit in my book.
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