This week, I reached out for the best thing ever: a plain cheese pie, bubbling hot, charred on the edges, a little black on the bottom — so simple, so elegant — at Lombardi's Pizza in New York City.
Lombardi's opened its doors on Spring Street in Nolita (north of Little Italy) in Manhattan back in '05. That's 1905 — the first pizzeria in America for you history majors. While the big boy burger and sub sandwich chains open (and close) restaurants every five minutes, it's taken Lombardi's, oh, only 113 years to give rise to its second location in the Big Apple.
The new Lombardi's is located in the old Biltmore Room building at 290 Eighth Ave. between 24th Street and 25th Street in hip and thriving Chelsea, walking distance from Macy's, the Empire State Building, and Madison Square Garden. That's some serious, well-worn foot traffic.
The original Lombardi's is famous for authentic, iconic New York pizza, thin crust and coal-fired in an oven topping 1,000 degrees. I remember the owner telling me, "I can drive a locomotive off that oven." The oven is original equipment, with "1905" marked in tile. Tourists come back to the kitchen to take selfies.
Excuse me, the owner also told me to call them "visitors," not tourists.
The new Lombardi's has an iron gate out front and chandeliers inside from the Biltmore Room. There's an atmosphere of old time, genteel New York here. The restaurant sports a full bar with wine and beer, a bar menu, and room for nearly 200 pizza lovers, locals and, okay, "visitors" from out of town.
The only thing you really need to know about the new Lombardi's on Eighth ... it honors the cherished legacy of the original on Spring Street. The pizza is made with the highest quality flour, plum tomato sauce, mozzarella, and imported olive oil. This is pizza for kids and pizza snobs alike. The sturdy thin crust doesn't bend to the forces of gravity and hearty appetites. Lombardi's pizza is one of the great eating experiences in the world. This is New York pizza, and nobody got a problem wit' that.
I'm serious, I've written more than 1,200 restaurant reviews, one a week for 23 years and counting. The absolute single best thing I ate ... everything at Lombardi's.
All the Lombardi's touches have made the uptown trek: incomparable pizzas, Grandma Grace's meatballs, giant calzones, salads, crusty breadsticks, and Junior's cheesecakes. Also, don't even ask ... no slices!
Slices? At Lombardi's? Why don't you just draw a moustache on the Mona Lisa while you're at it?
Ken Hoffman reviews a new fast food restaurant item every Wednesday. Have a suggestion or a drive-thru favorite? Let Ken know in the comments or on Twitter.