SADLY, 900 DEGREES IS NOW CLOSED.
The last few times Jason Feirman of I Dream of Pizza put together a Pizza Club meeting, I was unavailable. Sunday nights might be best for people who work in the real world, but since I pay my bills working at a restaurant, those are generally not the best nights for me.
But the last two gatherings were at Saraghina and Artichoke. I’ve been to them both (although would have been up for trying Artichoke’s newest location). However, when Jason announced his next conquest for Pizza Club, I knew I had to find a way to make it even if my job was on the line. Fortunately for me, this month’s excursion was on a Tuesday night and I was able to join without an entire rigamarole from work. It’s a brand new pizzeria called 900 Degrees. And the concept sounded terribly intriguing.
Many other pizza goers must have been just as excited about this place because there were 14 smiling faces waiting to dig into the pies, including Scott Weiner from Scott’s Pizza Tours. This spot had only been open a few weeks and this was already Scott’s third time here. Regardless, it’s always a pleasure to share a pie with his enthusiastic pizza appetite.
The chef, a remarkably young woman named Audrey Sherman, was incredibly sweet and welcoming to us – even walking us through the different ovens they have (not literally, of course). She trained at Tony’s Pizza in San Francisco, and along with some of the management and wait staff re-located to bring their special pies to New York. And more specifically, to the pizza heavy West Village.
The reason they have more than one oven is because the deal here is that they make just about every style of pizza imaginable. While most of the other heavyweights along Bleecker Street focus on one style or another, 900 Degrees does them all. The idea of this really excites me, but I’m also aware this could be a recipe for disaster. It’s sometimes dangerous to stretch yourself too thin – no pun intended.
The menu was quite overwhelming. They offered everything from Napoletana to Roman to Sicilian to good old fashioned New York to more inventive original American pies. I’m glad Jason was in charge because I didn’t know where to start. This was truly a case where I wanted everything on the menu. Scott very serenely pointed out that that’s the reason why I have to come back. Explains why he’s been here three times already.
After an amazing complimentary appetizer special of sauteed radicchio topped with an intensely flavored balsamic and a mound of homemade mozzarella, the pizzas start appearing. They were very good at coursing them out. Instead of bombarding us with food, they let us linger on each pie and made it a little too easy to eat more than we should have. By the end, I was beyond stuffed, but because it was spread out throughout the evening, I wasn’t in too much pain. This was pizza service at its most thoughtful.
We started off pretty simple with the Margherita. The dough was nice and blistery with pockets of steam and char, although I found the bread just slightly dry. The tomato sauce was bright and tangy, while the cheese was fresh and tasty. It was a decent version, but I don’t think it compares to the perfect Napoletana pies down the street at Kesté.
We also tried the Spacca Napoli, which replaced the tomato sauce with cherry tomatoes and the Fior di Latte with Buffalo Mozzarella. Clearly, the cheese was a little creamier and buttery, but I was still not completely overwhelmed by the pizza.
That completely changed from there on out. The next pizzas we got were all unique and flavorful and put any doubts I had to rest. The $35 Roman pie was next. On the menu, this section was the most exciting to me. It was basically a three course meal divided into sections of thin crust, square pizza. All three options piqued my interest, but Jason settled on the Bennici, which started with pepperoni and sausage, continued with ricotta, prosciutto, peppers, and arugula, and ended with a slightly sweet blend of pesto, caramelized onions, and robiola cheese. It was an interesting pizza tasting. All the flavors worked really well and the crust was wonderfully crisp. Unfortunately, I got a little intimidated and started with the final third, so I didn’t get the true sense of the progression. But I tell you it all tasted good!
The most exciting pies in my mind were the ones listed in the American section at the bottom. These were stranger concoctions, closer to what you’d find at California Pizza Kitchen, but the flavors and textures were spot on. CPK would be lucky to have a chef this innovative. The first one blew my mind. The Farmers Pie had mozzarella, white rose potatoes, leeks, broccoli rabe sausage (that’s right – sausage made with broccoli rabe), beautiful pink Calabrese chilis, and shaved raw goat’s cheese. It was quite the work of art. And the spiciness was delicate and blended in with the richness of the cheeses and the potatoes.
Like the Farmers Pie, the namesake pizza (the 900°) was baked in a wood oven so it also had a killer woodsy, char on the bottom. But it was the toppings that put it over the edge. And I realized this could have been a total fiasco, but the combination of pulled pork, hot peppers, citrus, tomato, cactus salsa, and queso fresco was a knock out. It had wisps of Southwest flavors, but none of those intense ingredients overwhelmed the pie. I’m still have trouble processing how well it worked, so Scott’s right, I will have to come back.
We moved on to the Tomato Pies section (which are the most classic New York). They’re obviously heavy on tomato sauce and the mozzarella is there, it’s just a bit sporadic. The dough is also a little chewier and thicker than the ones we’ve tried so far. The Vodka Pie looked like some of those sad pasta pies you see at corner pizzerias, but this was perfectly fresh with a rich vodka cream sauce, pancetta, and soft penne pasta. The Original Tomato pie was heavier on the tangy tomato sauce, dotted with spicy pinched sausage and all the usual fix-in’s – oregano, sea salt, and garlic. Yum.
Finally, I absolutely loved the Pancetta Porcini, which had intense earthy mushroom notes with truffle oil and wild mushrooms. Yet for me, the crowning achievement is the pizza that won a Gold Medal from the Food Networks Pizza Champions Challenge: the Cal Italia. This beauty featured a trifecta of cheeses: mozzarella, asiago, and gorgonzola. It had pockets of a sweet fig puree along with layers of prosciutto, and a generous drizzle of balsamic reduction. I had two slices of this and both were in silence. The sensation of sweet and savory was a holy experience. Everything was of the utmost quality and bled together in harmony. A perfect pizza experience.
We didn’t even get to sample anything from the Sicilian section of the menu. Regardless, I feel like I got a good sense of how things work here and I must say that all the pies are well-thought out and lovingly prepared. I wasn’t crazy about the ambiance (it reminded me of a restaurant in a shopping mall), but with pizza this good, I could care less where I was sitting.
When the complimentary tiramisu arrived, I was in shock. Yet somehow I managed to work up to a taste. It was served layered in a jar – resembling an ice cream sundae. This dessert, while nice and interesting, had nothing on other versions and certainly doesn’t come close to the magnificence of their pizzas.
From my understanding, this place is just as good as Tony’s in San Francisco. Maybe Jason needs to plan a Pizza Club on the West Coast so we can find out. For that, I’d take off work.
Is 900 Degrees the best pizza in NY? Not all their styles are perfect, but everything is good and the more interesting pies are phenomenal. This can’t get less than a 9 out of 10.
|29 Seventh Avenue South (between Morton Street and Bedford Street)