Walking towards Brooklyn Bridge Park this past weekend on a family outing, we came across the sight that represented everything not to like about Brooklyn. I even took a photo of it because it summed up so much of what is wrong with our city and world.
There was a long line in front of a brick oven pizza restaurant. People crowded into a dense rope line like cattle to the slaughter to pay handsomely for the honor, while a little ways up the street they could have gotten more food for less and eaten with real Brooklynites at the Park Plaza Restaurant. And worse than that, they were waiting to pay for brick oven pizza.
Brick oven pizza is a big scam. It should shame New Yorkers that some of our most heralded pizza restaurants are overpriced tourists traps offering crappy food. Somehow the powers that be have convinced millions of people that there is something authentic about eating poorly-made and overpriced pizza.
Take a good honest look at a brick oven pizza if you are ever roped into going to one of these insufferable establishments. You’ll notice that not only is the pizza weak and thin and the cheese coverage extremely spotty, but there will usually be bubbled and burned parts of the crust. You could take off some of these burnt pieces and use them to make a charcoal sketching if you wanted. Everyone pretends that this is good pizza, and brick oven pizza restaurants somehow get away with this even though there are hundreds of good pizza places that can make a delicious and authentic New York pizza.
If visitors to New York were willing to just travel a little farther away from the well-tread tourist areas, this con game could be put to an end faster. Sadly many New Yorkers themselves have fallen into this trap and gush on about some of these places.
Some of the celebrated brick oven pizza places boast that they offer a clam pizza, which really means they are failures in both pizza and seafood. There are too many good restaurants to get pizza and clams, don’t spend your money on the brick oven hype.
The brick oven pizza deception plays into the innate human trait to romanticize the past. While craft and tradition are certainly worth celebrating when they result in something positive, making sub-par pizza just because it’s old fashioned is stupid. Yes, they had brick oven pizza in the 1800s in New York. Do you know what else they had? Cholera and Yellow Fever. We shouldn’t be eating brick oven pizza any more than we should be commuting to work on horseback or leeching our children when they get colds. Let’s embrace those technologies that have improved our lives, including ovens that can cook pizza evenly.
Many people from outside the city are not aware that pizza making has a long history in New York and they wrongly believe that they must choose between the artisanal and brick oven swindlers and the legion of national chains that are sadly permeating New York neighborhoods. This is a false choice. The five boroughs and many surrounding areas are full of small, independent pizza parlors that can make you a delicious pizza.
Brick oven is a “brand” now. Just like you can charge extra money by calling something “artisanal” or “natural.” I have no doubt that bad pizza makers are baking their abominable pizzas in regular ovens and then just charging extra for it. They’re laughing at their self-satisfied marks who think they are somehow more “authentic” New Yorkers for being dumb enough to get taken by this racket.
It took years for this sham to get its hooks in the public and it may take longer to get people to open their eyes to the fact that they are paying more for less pizza.
So please, say no to the brick oven pizza hustle. There are still many independent pizza parlors that make real New York pizza.
For the tourist, and many of the locals, New York is a series of attractions and experiences that everyone must check off of their bucket list in order to consider their New York experience authentic or complete. But there are some things that are overrated and that resident and tourist alike should move to the bottom of their list.
Let’s make not being a sucker one of the authentic New York experiences once again. Here are five New York attractions that get way too much attention, along with some more reasonable alternatives:
The Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty is a beautiful monument to the enduring symbol of freedom America is to the world. However, visiting Lady Liberty means paying a shyster ferry company for an overpriced ticket out there, standing in a long line to go through TSA-style incompetent security care of the U.S. Park Police, and then riding to Liberty Island where you can wait in another long line if you want to get to the top of the statue’s crown. Once you get up there, you’ll have a few seconds in front of a small window before you are hustled on your way. It’s not worth the money or the time out of your life. As an alternative, the Staten Island Ferry is absolutely free, requires no strip search, and will get you within great photograph distance of both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Brick Oven Pizza. Hipsters and tourists stand in long lines and pay high prices for pizza that is burned, unevenly cooked, and gives you less of everything. Somewhere a mob-connected pizza scammer is laughing until he wets his creased chino pants. Go ahead and wait hours for your sucky overpriced pizzas and brag to your friends how you pretended to enjoy the thin crust and the flimsy layer of “artisanal” cheese. Meanwhile, any real neighborhood pizza place will get you a delicious slice or pie for a good price. Here’s an effective litmus test of any New York pizza place: if it doesn’t have parmesan cheese for you to sprinkle on your pizza, walk away.
The Central Park Zoo. Every zoo in New York that isn’t the Bronx Zoo is playing second fiddle to that fine animal kingdom. The Central Park Zoo gets lots of foot traffic because of its location but it’s overrated and doesn’t have as much to offer as its counterpart in Queens. People are too enthralled with being in the heart of Manhattan to notice that the zoo they paid for sucks. Take the 7 train to Queens and you can experience the Queens Zoo in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The Queens Zoo is half the price of the Central Park Zoo and has more to offer.
Thanksgiving Eve Balloon Inflation Stampede. The night before Thanksgiving, thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers, tourists and their children make their way to the Upper West Side to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons before the parade. While it’s a relatively mild, family-friendly mob scene, it’s still a mob scene that requires you to pack into a small area where you have no choice but to follow the slow moving crowd. The balloons are inflated but kept under nets at odd angles. This might make for some unintended comedy. It might look like the Buzz Lightyear balloon is being fellated by Pikachu and that might be hilarious, but it’s not hours of being herded like cattle hilarious, and you can’t expect your children to find that funny if you’re a parent. Wait until the Big Apple Circus comes to your borough and take the kids to see that. There will be some impressive talent and you can save Thanksgiving Eve for preparing for Thanksgiving.
Fancy cupcake shops. I like cupcakes as much as the next guy, but any bakery not run by blind monkeys can churn out delicious cupcakes. How a few choice cupcake stores have made everyone whore themselves out for their goods is beyond me. I was at a catered event and had a cupcake from the Magnolia Bakery. It was good, but so where cupcakes I had from school bake sales and every other bakery I’ve been to. For a good New York dessert experience, go to the Lemon Ice King of Corona in Corona, Queens. It is a famous place but it’s far enough away from Manhattan that you’ll have a real New York experience and not be a fool.