Every conversation about pizza is a trap. Is thin crust better than extruded crust? Is pineapple an acceptable topping? Should I put the tomato sauce cooked or raw? Is it a margarita if the mozzarella doesn’t come from buffalo? Is it okay to continue eating husks? Is sourdough better than dough made with commercial yeast? Is a charcoal oven better than a wood oven? Does California have its own style? Does Chicago-style deep dish count as pizza? Many people claim to have answers, because everyone thinks they are experts on pizza, including pizza actual Pizza experts, who are nightmares. But there are no answers, only conflict and heel-digging. The infinite variety of pizzeria’s beliefs is so universal that it slips into something almost Jungian, a window into self and shadow. The pizza of your childhood, the pizza of the place you call home, the pizza that woke you up to the fact that pizza can be deliciously amazing – each is the best pizza in the history of the world, because it is history for you world. Tell me what you think of the perfect pizza and I’ll tell you who you are.
At 8:30 on a recent Saturday night, the line for slices outside Scarr’s Pizza — in a new location opened in July, across the street from the original, now-closed Lower East Side — stretches across Orchard Street to the end of the street. The building, as it turned west on Hester Street and ended in an undulating knot of people joining and leaving, unsure whether the wait and the pizza at its end was really worth it. The phrase “worth it” is one of those slippery notions that plague our commodity and philanthropic lives. The poor guy at the end of a line of over a hundred people will pay $3.75 for his slice just like everyone else, with the extra cost of an hour or so in line. But then there would be the chip itself: a large, tapering wedge, perhaps topped with rounds of pepperoni, or studded with chili mushrooms, perhaps just a triangle pure and simple of sauce and cheese. And it will be a Scarr chip, a legendary chip, a chip if you know, a chip that earns a heart emoji when you post it on Instagram. Because Scarr’s is where you go if you want a good slice, like, truly Good, like New York’s Best Steak is good. Whatever the meaning of “best”. to whom it means.
Is it worth it? I don’t know how to answer that question, and I would be suspicious of anyone who claims to do so. All pizza is relative, and New York pizza is doubly so. Millions of words have been written and spoken about where to have a great slide in this city, rating the best of the best, and mapping out the perfect trails for crawls and tours. People have built their entire careers on saying, with absolute certainty, that a remarkably good slice of pizza is one iota closer than another to the Platonic ideal. It makes sense that pizza would be such an obsession: like all things so simple, even the smallest differences in approach have a huge impact on the end result.
Here’s what I’ll say: No list of great pizzas that doesn’t include Scarr’s should be trusted. The restaurant’s steak is excellent, only this side of the flaws. The crust is gorgeous, light and a bit tangy, and has a firm bottom that almost instantly gives off a springy interior. No puddles of grease, no bald spots of dough, no annoying bubbles or stray burn marks. The whole thing has impressive structural integrity, and is not subject to sagging or wetting. The sauce is bright and fresh – it could go a bit flat, but there’s nothing a touch of chili can’t add. I can also tell you this: If you go to Scarr’s in the middle of the week, early in the lunch period, maybe when it’s raining a bit, the line is only four feet outside the door, so the question of whether it’s “worth it” isn’t. It matters at all.
Restaurateur and founder, Scar Pimentel, grew up in Hamilton Heights, in a sprawling Dominican family. As a teenager, he got a job as a waiter at the famous Emilio’s Ballato restaurant in Nolita, where he began learning the basics of turning flour, yeast, and water into a paste. He moved on to pizzerias—Artichoke Basil, known for its huge slices, and Lombardi’s, arguably the birthplace of New York pizza—and began refining his own sense of the perfect pizza. Scarr’s Pizza opened in 2016, in a cramped space with brown wood-panelled walls, molded Formica booths, and a burlesque late-’70s vibe. It was a deliberate aesthetic, whether it was a dramatization of nostalgia or a subversion of it. Pimentel, a black Latino making moves in the predominantly white world of pizza, didn’t pay tribute to pizzerias in his youth; was claiming them.