East Coast Goodness

New York Pizza Department sells some of Tucson's best thin-crust pies

One of the great mysteries of the food world is New York-style pizza: How do pizzerias in the Big Apple manage to get their pies so thin and yummy?

Theories abound. Some people claim it's the mineral-rich New York water; in fact, pizza-makers outside of New York have been known to have the water shipped to them for dough-making purposes. Others say the matter is mental—that it's actually the vibe of New York and its environs that makes the pizza taste better.

What the truth is, I don't know. However, I do know this: I've never had New York-style pizza outside of New York that was the same as the pizza I've had in New York. That doesn't mean I haven't had some exceptionally delicious New York-style pizza outside of N.Y; it just hasn't been the same.

This was all going through my head as I sat at New York Pizza Department and chowed down on a slice of a 16-inch meat-lover pizza ($15.95). The thin-crust pizza was downright splendid, topped with pepperoni, sausage and real ham—not the lunchmeat-style crap that some pizza joints use. No, this ham was thick, just a little fatty and a welcome ingredient in one of the better pizzas I've enjoyed in Southern Arizona.

While this was indeed New York-style pizza, it wasn't the same as the pizza one would get in New York. Case in point: I couldn't fold the slice and eat the whole thing with my hands. The slice just didn't have the structural integrity, in part because there were so many delicious bits of meat on the slice (and, let's face it: meat = fat = grease).

New York Pizza Department—which apparently has no relation to the Phoenix-area series of pizza joints with the same name—was opened in February by former UA football player Mark Fontana, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. The small joint had just a handful of tables and some bar-style seating until August, when NYPD took over an adjacent space and greatly expanded the seating area. However, the new space is a work in progress, and it shows: Whereas there are TVs (tuned to sports, of course) and some nice New York-themed artworks in the initial small space, there's no décor at all, really, in the expansion area. One of the employees told me this should change in a month or so; NYPD is getting an alcohol license, and with it will come some refurbishments that will include a new bar area.

The menu is large, with a variety of pizzas by the slice ($3), as well as in 12-inch ($12.50-$14.50) and 16-inch ($15.95-$17.95) sizes; there's also a 20-inch pizza, most unfortunately called "The Situation," with 10 toppings ($26.96). Also available: calzones, panini, stromboli, Italian bombers, subs both hot and cold, wings, baked ziti, lasagna, salads, breads, chicken parmesan, eggplant parmesan and several desserts. In addition to dine-in and takeout options, NYPD also delivers, in an area bounded by Swan Road to the west, 22nd Street to the south, Pantano Road to the east, and either Grant Road or Cloud Road to the north.

Most of the items we tried were fantastic. Our 12-inch pizza with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms and black olives was splendid, like the aforementioned meat-lover pizza, due to the ample quantity of top-notch ingredients and a savory pizza sauce. The margherita pizza wasn't a true margherita—the folks at NYPD add garlic to the cheese, tomatoes and basil, which is cheating, but it was tasty nonetheless.

Garrett tried the greasy Italian sub ($6.95), and as advertised, it was indeed greasy—but it was also wonderful. Genoa salami, pepperoni, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mayonnaise were placed inside a white roll; Garrett said there could have been more meat, but there didn't need to be more meat, if that makes sense. I tried the lasagna (a pricey $10.25) with Italian sausage (add $1.75), and although I was disappointed that the sausage wasn't mixed in—I received the standard lasagna with the sausage on the side—I can't deny that I enjoyed it.

We also enjoyed the garlic bread ties ($3.50) and the Batman bread (with mozzarella, jalapeños and bacon, $5.75). Even better than the breads, though, was the tangy marinara sauce that came alongside both. Yum.

The salads led to our only disappointments at NYPD. The side salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, $2.50) was fine, and the antipasto ($8.25) was flavorful—but the way in which it was delivered made it a mess to eat. We ordered the antipasto during our dine-in visit, and it was brought to us in an overflowing plastic container; there was no way to get the greens, tomatoes, provolone, salami, pepperoni, ham, artichoke hearts, black olives and pepperoncini onto the plates using the provided plastic utensils without getting half of the ingredients on the table. The house Italian dressing was fine, but it was the only option we were ever offered—even with the Greek salad ($6.50), which was not a Greek salad. The only "Greek" addition was feta cheese. Lame.

While the salads were only so-so overall, the desserts we tried were a-OK. The big-ass chocolate chip cookie ($2) didn't quite look right—it had a chalky, off-white hue—but it was quite tasty, and the big-ass brownie ($2.50) was chocolaty goodness.

So, yeah, the food at New York Pizza Department is not quite the same as the stuff you'd get in New York proper—but it's still some of the best pizza-joint fare I've found in Tucson.