The Pizza Bar Diaries
An excerpt from our New York Pizza Blog: Full Transcript of our New York Pizza Bar Diaries will be available in Print and on Digital release this Autumn
Recommended first by the guys at Vinnie’s, then at Roberta’s, then by two people in the queue at Prince’s, Screamer’s came in hot on the tally scale, second only to Di Fara’s. Since we were running out of time, we skipped the Googlewhack and went in blind.
The place was landmarked by awesome triangular signage, running right down the middle of the three floor façade which sat on top of this tiny slice shop. It protruded from the wall like a Christmas stocking Toblerone. The light of the sign was too in my eyes for a decent picture so I walked a little further up the street, when I noticed something was different. My heart sank. Yes, whilst on the one side the sign read ‘PIZZA’, it said ‘VEGAN’ on the other.
We still have yet to find anywhere that makes decent pizza with vegan cheese. We find ourselves doing taste tests often, and just as often I find myself spitting it out. I do not like vegan cheese. We try to be as inclusive as possible with our vegan offerings, but the lightness of our dough disagrees with the necessary cooking time for cheese substitutes. Instead we opt for a sprinkling of “nootch” (nutritional yeast), which has so far been very popular with our diners.
‘Vegan!?’ I moaned, ‘ We should’a googled,” but Alex shushed me with a single word,
His positivity is boundless, as usual.
‘We’re only here once Pete. Gotta try everything on the list… let’s just have a slice.’
He bounced through the front door before I could Littlefinger him out of it. I followed, wearing a frown, and we were greeted by the most chipper of servers who sang us through her selection of slices. She couldn’t be more irritatingly upbeat.
‘Depending on the topping,’ she said, ‘We use different combinations of Violife, almond, cashew and “nootch” to get the feel and flavour profiles right.’
Okay. Now I’m interested. She talks us through their vegan blue cheese, vegan pesto, buffalo cauliflower, black sesame seeds… forget about just layering thick oily vegan substitutes. Somebody back there actually seems interested in making good pizza. Alex orders 2 slices: a simple Mushroom and a Buffalo Cauliflower. I sit for a moment staring at both while Alex dissects the crust, then I think… fuck it. You must feed.
Let’s start with the ragu. Bright, unsweetened, and there’s a nice acidity which cuts the oiliness of the cheese – WAIT – the cheese! The cheese is understated, and it’s very clever. The pizza has avoided any oodles or spoodles of claggy oil based sludge. Its the mushrooms and tomatoes doing the talking here – the cheese is just delicately placed in the background, not so much that you’d notice it was vegan, but enough that you’d miss it if it were gone.
I look at the munchkin behind the counter as she beams, ‘Good right?’
She definitely gets off on this. I wonder how many people she converts a week, a day, an hour. I look around. It’s busy. She at least gets one an hour. The cauliflower practically gets a hi-five from my taste buds. It reminds me of good buffalo wings, and before I can swallow my second bite I’m on my feet at the counter, talking with my mouth full and asking the munchkin to share supplier info. Whilst Alex talks to Chef about the temperature of his ovens, we order two more slices: another buffalo cauliflower and a black seed special. But everything here is special.
Our notebooks are open, pen ink smudged in pizza grease, splashes of organic cherry soda and fingerprinted splodges of that tasty ragu. The black seed is a hark to a nonna slice with a second, pulpier ragu, sharing space with lush al dente broccoli, and not a pool of slime in sight. The shakers of almond, cashew and “nootch” on the table are the nicest touch (even if they do get our allergen senses tingling).
Screamer’s, more than anywhere in NYC, inspired us to look at both our offer and our approach differently. We had samples en route to our restaurant in Camden before we even boarded our flight home, armed with a list of fresh ideas. There was one big thing we took away from this place: do not compare. Though we’ve spent a long time trialling vegan cheese next to regular mozzarella, the truth is they will never be the same. Screamer’s seems to embrace this with an unparalleled cuteness and gusto, pitting clever combinations of toppings like homemade seitan and artichoke against saucy components like vegan ranch dressing, while springy crust-middles and biscuity bases give the slices a mouthfeel of traditional style, synonymous with a New York Slice.
If you truly love pizza and only have time to see one pizzeria in the whole of New York then please, make sure its Screamer’s.