Middle Villagers, lucky enough to have a variety of pizza options, naturally tend to gravitate toward a favorite neighborhood pizzeria. I grew up in NJ, then resided for some time in Phoenix and have lived in Ridgewood for the past 5 years, so I was not at all familiar with Middle Village pizza until I decided to write this article. I therefore I undertook the Middle Village Pizza Challenge without any preconceived notions or personal bias. My goal was to try them all. I trekked to five different restaurants over the course of two days, sampling a basic pepperoni slice from each. Keeping it consistent was the best way to report on how each shop delivers on a simple order. Keep in mind that this isn't a competition. Instead it's more of a highlighting of some of the places that might be near you the next time you're in the mood for a slice of hot 'za.
Day 1: Metropolitan Ave
First up on my plate is Rosa's Pizza, occupying a small corner just off of Metropolitan Avenue and 78th Street. Inside I am greeted by wood and brick and a man quietly singing behind the counter. I order my slice and choose a table facing the soccer game playing on the television. The first thing that sticks out to me is the sheer amount of pepperoni on the slice, more generous than any place I've been to in recent memory. Thankfully the pepperoni has a good flavor to it, rounded out by a thin and crispy crust. I finish my slice, listening to the conversations of the Working Joes around me. Shrugging into my jacket I then walked a few blocks to Carlo's Pizza.
What strikes me first when entering Carlo's on Metropolitan Avenue is the neon in the windows and the mirrors lining the wall. I walk up to the counter and order a slice, which comes out of the oven bubbling hot a few minutes later. I grab a seat next to the window and watch the evening traffic streaming left and right as I devour the pepperoni slice. What stands out to me the most about the pizza here is the excellent balance between the cheese, crust, sauce, and toppings. A doughy crust plays perfectly with a just-right amount of grease on the slice. I'm a fan of a tiny bit of grease on my pizza as long as it's not overbearing or turns the paper plate clear, and Carlo's nails it. Even the end crust is well baked, enough to be chewy and something I enjoy finishing, not something to force down with water or feed to the birds. With a slice like that I call it a day, picking up the rest of my pizza quest a few days later.
Day 2: Dry Harbor Road and back to Metro
The hot midday sun beats down on me as I turn the corner and nearly walk past Harbor Pizza, named for the road on which it stands. It's nestled towards the end of a small grouping of stores in a small slice of Hometown, USA. Inside the walls are strung up with pictures of the cast of The Sopranos and other memorabilia. It's an off time and the man behind the counter quickly tosses my pepperoni slice into the oven. Moments later it's piping hot and ready. Sitting there watching the traffic wheel past thoroughly reminds me of my own hometown pizza joint. I would sit at the same Formica booths, eating a slice or three after soccer practice. And the pizza itself is just as good as my hometown memory, with a great interplay between the cheese and the sauce blending nicely with the crust and toppings. I wipe some extra sauce away from the corner of my mouth, return my tray, and wander over towards Gino's Express.
Gino's Express is situated further up Dry Harbor Road, intersecting with 63rd Avenue. Inside, they don't kid around when it comes to the word Express. It's the smallest of the places I visited, only four tables barely large enough to fit inside the building. I order my pepperoni slice and sit next to a construction worker on his lunch break. The first thing I notice about this slice is the sheer amount of cheese on it. It liberally coats the slice, topped with flavorful pepperoni that all the other places to this point. The crust is doughy and soft, with the mildness of the pepperoni complimenting it nicely. It's a place I wouldn't mind ordering from in the future or stopping over for a quick slice after a visit to the park.
I walk alongside the park, watching people play tennis and baseball as I head to my final spot, Bella Nova's. It's close to the Metropolitan Avenue M train stop, no more than a five-minute walk. A number of specialty pizzas are near the window and one in particular catches my eye—a Caesar salad pizza, topped with lettuce and croutons. It's tempting to take a break from the same pepperoni slice, but I decide to adhere to my own rules. It came to me a few minutes later and I dug my teeth into the final piece of pizza. The slice is floppy, making folding the pizza more necessary than any of the other places I visited. The rich sauce plays nicely with the cheese, creating a great combination of flavor when paired with the cheese and pepperoni. When getting to the end of the crust I find it soft and enjoyable and enjoy finishing the slice before heading back to the subway.
As I ride the train, I think back to all of the slices I had and which ones stuck out the most, and which ones were my favorites. They all had their own charm, and each had their own merits. Even now as I finish this article, I'm having a hard time picking one which I liked the most. So instead it's up to you, the reader, to try out all of these amazing places near you and decide which one you like the most. There are still two pizzerias I need to try on Eliot Avenue, so the Middle Village Pizza Challenge will continue in a future issue.