My search for the best pizza in New York continues….

LEE'S TAVERN, 60 Hancock Street (at Garretson Avenue), Dongan Hills, Staten Island

I could spend months searching for the best pizza on Staten Island alone. Some people (mostly Staten Islanders) claim the borough is home to the city’s best. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only been to a handful of the pizzerias there, but little by little, I’m setting things right.

Lee’s Tavern has always been high on my list, but when I met somebody from Staten Island who urged me to add it to my bucket list, I decided to move it to the top. A bucket list seems a bit morbid at this point – I’m just going to eat pizza!

You immediately understand why it’s called Lee’s Tavern and not Lee’s Pizza. This place is a total dive bar. I never in a million years would have wandered into this unmarked bar and attempted to order a pizza. The bar itself was lined with big guys in baseball jerseys, the atmosphere was dark and dingy, and there was a faint smell of urine in the air. Was I really in the right place?

But the address matched and when I asked for a pie, it was brought to me. I told the bartender I wanted to try both the traditional and the clam pie (that’s what they’re most known for) and he suggested getting a large with half and half rather than two small personal bar pies. He was right when he said I’d save money in the process (the large came to a reasonable $13).

Real New York

While waiting for the pizza, I watched large groups of families come in and take a seat. This felt like real New York. No tourists or hipsters in site. This place was filled with people who lived here who were spending their Sunday with the family eating good old fashioned pizza (or drinking some mass-producd beer while watching the game).

Half/Half at LEE'S TAVERN

The large pie arrived and it was piping hot – I’m still dealing with the burn on the roof of my mouth from my impatience (and hunger). I was impressed they were able to really keep the flavors separated without the tomato sauce bleeding into the white clam slices.

Clam Pie at LEE'S TAVERN

I started with the clam pie, which might have been a mistake. It was loaded with butter and black pepper. I mean, how could it be bad? But judging it against other clam pies I’ve tasted (like Lombardi’s and others in New Haven), it paled in comparison. The tiny clams were a bit hard to find and there was not much parsley or lemon to relieve the richness. I still managed to eat just about all of the slices.

Bar Pizza at LEE'S TAVERN

The regular half fared better with a wonderful tomato sauce that was sweet and thick without being too chunky. There was a nice ratio to the cheese and the browned bubbles around the circumference was appreciated.

Where's the Char?

These slices were ultra-thin and the dough was very flavorful, yet I was disappointed not to see any char whatsoever on the bottom of the pie. Even from a gas oven, there could have been some darkness underneath. Even still, the crunchy thin crust was very enjoyable.

I must say I enjoyed Lee’s Tavern more for the experience than the actual pizza. It’s an amazing neighborhood spot, but I’m not sure it’s worth it for a visitor to come out here with high expectations on the pizza alone. But put on a jersey and hang out with the locals and you won’t care what the pizza tastes like.

Is Lee’s Tavern the best pizza in NY? The pies are good and the thin crust is irresistible yet the lack of char and less-than-perfect clam pie keeps them at anout of 10.

LEE’S TAVERN
60 Hancock Street (at Garretson Avenue),
Dongan Hills, Staten Island
(718) 667-9749
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Category: Pizza

About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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