May 2019

More than Just an All-Natural Slice: New York City Pizza: everything you want in Italian food and nothing you don’t

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Ask any New Yorker, and they’ll tell you New York City’s pizza is the best in the world. They may not have invented it, but they certainly perfected it. At its ideal, a slice of real NYC pizza represents a perfect balance of fresh mozzarella bubbling over a layer of robust red sauce, all spread over a foldable thin dough that rises to perfection with just the right amount of crust.

Some say it’s an artform. Some say it’s the product of generations spent perfecting the recipe. Some will even say it’s inherent to the Big Apple’s municipal water source, but one bite of New York City Pizza, and you’ll know they have it all.

“My partner and I started this 24 years ago to give people what we grew up on in New York and New Jersey. It was always homemade with everything made in-house, and we’ve been doing that since day one,” Robert Saxton, NYCP’s owner, said. Growing up around first- and second-generation immigrants from Naples, Italy, Saxton was raised on Italian street food that embraced its old-world roots. “Whether it be the meatballs or the red sauce, all of those recipes started in somebody’s kitchen and then progressed into pizzerias and restaurants.”

That pedigree of Italian cooking informs every item on New York City Pizza’s menu, from the signature pies to the authentic Italian dishes. But the venerable pizzeria still found a way to reinvent itself, announcing last year that all their restaurants were switching to all-natural, preservative-free ingredients, only sourced from the best Italian vendors.

“We took our stores to a new level—all-natural, no preservatives and no GMO’s. This is how I eat at home, and we want to feed our customers the same way,” Saxton said.

And that’s not just in the pizzas; it’s in every corner of the surprisingly diverse menu. Prior to opening New York City Pizza back in 1996, Saxton and his partner ran a string of fine-dining trattorias from Charleston to Savannah. With NYCP, they’ve taken some of that fine-dining experience and given it a casual flair. “It’s a little bit of both,” Saxton said. “We wanted to give people great food with the end result being a great experience.”

So, don’t think just because it’s a pizza place you’re not going to get mouth-wateringly authentic Italian cuisine. From the tried-and-true spaghetti with meatballs to the slow-marinated and perfectly textured calamari on a bed of linguini to the kaleidoscope of flavors that is the eggplant rollatini, every bite is a masterclass in taste. NYCP is more than just amazing pizza.

Pat Hornak (Operations Manager), Robert Saxton (Owner) and Mike Sakuta (Director of Culinary Operations) sit in a booth at the Shelter Cove location, making plans for the soon-to-open second location in Bluffton at Buckwalter Plaza.

And with the emphasis on house-made, all-natural buns, the heroes are a true piece of authentic NYC gourmet street food. Start with the ham, salami, capicola and provolone on The Italian and work your way down the list.

But the dish that gets top billing right there on the sign is the pizza. Saxton tends to go with the classic slice of cheese, but he gets that having it your way is what pizza is all about. “I’ve seen people order 8, 9, 10 toppings on a pie,” he said. “We were the first ones to offer margherita pizzas down here, and I remember my GM at the time getting mad because people wanted pepperoni on it. I told him to just let it go. It’s just like a sommelier might tell you, there’s no right or wrong. Whatever you like. If you want it, you got it.”

And obviously, what the dining public wants is more of their favorite New York City Pizza. Popular demand fueled steady expansion in the restaurant’s 24 years, starting on the island and then spreading to Bluffton with the opening of the Belfair Town Village location nine years ago, then Charleston in 2013. Their Shelter Cove location positioned them perfectly to take advantage of the new waterfront park. And their new location on Buckwalter gives them the ability to deliver virtually anywhere in Bluffton, including Sun City and New Riverside.

But what of the original location, smack dab in the heart of the biggest redevelopment project on the island? That has to be a challenge, right? “To say the least,” Saxton said with a laugh. “But there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re still open for business.”

And that light comes in the form of a magnificent remodel of the Pope Avenue store with plans for an open-air rooftop bar that will transform the second floor of the restaurant and provide private party space. On the main strip of the south end, this promises to be the new hotspot once the Coligny district reemerges from construction.

Until then, you can still enjoy a taste of authentic Italian pizza, heroes, pasta and more at six locations around the Lowcountry.

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