Keste and more NYC eats.

I’m chatting today at 1 pm ET.

In the last three weeks, I’ve hit three more places from Food and Wine‘s list of the 48 best pizzerias in the country (I don’t know why they chose 48, and it’s 47 now anyway with one closed), and I’ve at least found one rival to Pizzeria Bianco for the best pizzeria in the country, as well as hitting the first of the four spots from the list located in Brooklyn.

Keste, located on Bleecker in Greenwich Village, is run by an Italian pizzaiolo who was born and raised outside of Naples and learned the craft of pizza-making in that city, the capital of pizza in Italy. The style is true Neapolitan, with a thin crust and a soft center so that the crust struggles to support the toppings, and Keste does it correctly, something few places that boast of serving “authentic” Neapolitan pizzas manage to do. The menu is quite large, with a huge selection of pizzas with tomato sauce, a small selection of “white” pizzas, and a number of gluten-free options. My friend Toby and I ordered two pizzas and split them – the margherita with buffalo mozzarella and the daily special with burrata, prosciutto, and truffle oil.

The crusts on both were spectacular, exactly as promised, with a little char on the exterior, good tooth on the exterior crust, and just enough underneath to keep the toppings off the plate and give some texture contrast. The special was among the best pizzas I’ve ever had thanks to the creaminess and bright flavor of the burrata, and the salty-but-not-too-salty prosciutto, as well as the hint of truffle flavor that didn’t overwhelm any of the other ingredients. The margherita was notable more for the brightness of the tomatoes than anything else, with good balance between that and the mozzarella di bufala. The flavors on both pizzas were loud, in a good way, and everything was balanced and fresh and just incredible.

A few weeks ago, I managed to sneak into Co., the pizzeria founded by Jim Lahey of no-knead bread fame, for dinner with my family on a trip to Boston. The crust was outstanding, as you’d expect, but the rest of the experience fell very short for us. For one thing, the pizzas were small and sparsely topped, skimping especially on cheese, which is kind of the essential ingredient when pizza is the entree because it’s the only real protein source on any pizza without meat. For another, I am not sure when I have ever been in a colder restaurant than Co. was on that night – it could not have been over 65 degrees in there – and it was incredibly loud. I was more impressed with the bread and olive oil starter, which does a better job of showing off Lahey’s technique, than I was with either of the pizzas we ordered. I’ll tolerate atmosphere issues if the food is amazing, but the crust was just good, not enough to make me want to deal with the conditions there.

Franny’s in Brooklyn was an outright disappointment, however – so sparsely topped that it was more like having bread for lunch than pizza, with almost nothing beyond a thin layer of tomato sauce on top. The crust was gorgeous, with some blistering on the exterior, great tooth to the exterior, and a good contrast between the edge and the interior. But man, you need to put something on top of the pizza to get me to fight my way down Flatbush to come eat at your place.

Moving on from pizza … After Keste, Toby dragged me kicking and screaming to Grom, a gelateria (one of two Groms in the city, plus a summer location in Central Park) that imports the product from Italy. Their commitment to product quality is insane, with organic eggs, spring water for their sorbets, and fruit from their own farm in Costigliole d’Asti. And the gelato is amazing – the dark chocolate “sorbet,” made with egg yolks and Colombian chocolate but no dairy, is as intense as eating a bar of very dark chocolate but with the creamy texture of actual gelato; the caffè flavor uses Guatemalan coffee beans to create a dark coffee flavor that doesn’t hide the coffee behind sugar and cream. It’s a hell of an experience even when you’re already overstuffed with pizza. (I also love that their URL is; too bad walla.ce isn’t available.)

Culture Espresso on 38th Street doesn’t roast its own coffee, but buys from some of the best roasters in the country – currently using coffees from Heart roasters in Portland, Oregon, a micro-roaster that specializes in very light roasts of single-estate coffees. Culture is currently using a blend of two coffees, an Ethiopian and a Central American (I think the barista said Colombian), which produced a medium-bodied shot that still had the bright strawberry notes of the east African half of the blend.


  1. “(I also love that their URL is; too bad walla.ce isn’t available.)”

    You’ve made my day with that joke, Keith.

  2. Right on, Keith!
    Keste is probably the best pizza in Manhattan – he actually started in Pittsburgh (of all places) before moving to Manhattan. He started a pizza school and he has a few students who’ve opened up their own places (Scuola veccio in Delray Beach, FL, to name one). Also love Motorino & di Fara in Brooklyn and Juliana’s (formerly Grimaldi’s in DUMBO.)

  3. Grom opened up right around the corner from me when I lived on the UWS. Lines were around the block. I was surprised to discover how fantastic it was, because the way it branded itself shouted, “CHAIN!” to me. But that was in err. I didn’t go there a ton because as good as it was, I didn’t think it was worth a 45 minute wait, but when I did, it was much enjoyed.

  4. Keith, I’ve been to the Grom in Florence, Italy and I had exactly the same two flavors you did and felt the exact same way. The caffe had the most amazing coffee flavor. I’d have to say the experience of having it in Florence while sitting in front of the Duomo at night was a pretty awesome experience.

  5. Pizzeria Bianco is easily the most overrated pizza in the country, and that Food & Wine article was a disgrace. It clearly was attempting to appeal to the widest readership by listing pizza from all regions, regardless of quality.

    Santarpio’s Pizza in Boston may be the best the city has to offer, but its downright BAD.
    I question if what Mozza serves is truly pizza. Its more like a salad on bread.

    Scholls in Portland, Pepe, these places were good calls. After that they should have reprinted Timeout’s top 25 NYC pizzas and called it a day. The rest of the country’s offerings can be safely ignored.

    • PhillR: I appreciate the feedback, but it’s hard to take your comments seriously when you’re slagging Bianco (widely regarded as one of the country’s best pizzerias, not just by me) or criticizing a list where you’ve only tried a few of the non-NYC options. Perhaps you just don’t like Italian-style, thin-crust pizzas, at least not as much as you like the NYC slice-style?

  6. I was at Bianco this past spring, its quite good and I enjoy the style. However the gushing reviews are over the top and really just speak to the absence of great pizza in that half of the country. For example, Roberta’s in NYC does that style noticeably better. Its a great pie, but owing to the prevalence of great pies in the area, it rarely gets national attention.