August 28, 2017 | BITE: My Journal

Cravings for Pizza: Emily on Downing and Marta


Colony pizza with pepperoni, pickled chili, honey above Nguyen with Korean wing sauce, buttermilk blue.

          Reading about Emmy Squared Detroit pizza in Brooklyn makes me hunger to once again taste the crusty pan pies from Buddy’s in Hamtramck that I knew as a teenager in Detroit. I begin scouting for a friend who can be persuaded to make the drive to Williamsburg. 

          Distracted by lobster fests at NoMad, and the rebirth of landmarks at the Grill and the Pool, I let pizza cravings fade. But sa then I begin feeling stronger vibrations. Emily has seeded itself on Downing Street with the mammoth wood-oven below that used to bake Blue Ribbon Bakery’s bread.


It’s a triumph to be inside at Emily’s on Dominick when there’s a 2 hour and 45 minute wait on the sidewalk.

          When I get the usual “no room at the inn for you, babe,” I decide to give up anonymity, and call a friend at Resy. Done. Sidewalk loiterers on Bedford Street are being told there is a two hour and 45 minute wait when I slide down the slight incline at the door a few evenings later to take the table against the window and wait for my friends. There are herbs including a thriving rosemary bush in the window boxes outside. The boozy Uncle Carl at $12 is enough like a Negroni to keep me company.

Emily dances about the room, constantly on the move, welcoming, delivering, explaining, clearing.


The servers seem friendly and good-natured. This one is an artwork as well.

          Emily comes by to say hello. “As a lovelorn Detroiter,” I confide, “I’m primed to taste your pizza. Where are you from in Detroit?”  She tosses her head. It seems she’s from New Jersey.  I guess I should have done my research. Her husband Matt Hyland is the chef and pizza designer. There are grandma pies – like Italian-American grandmothers used to make. And steel pan pies, homage to Detroit’s Hamtramck pizza. It’s still pretty thrilling. Emily is everywhere all at once -- delivering, clearing, cheering -- and the servers are friendly and agreeable.


The salsiccia pizza at Mezzaluna Uptown now makes me long for the adorable Italian boys who used to flirt.

          Some food snobs might consider pizza to be a lowbrow obsession in a world where bouillabaisse or toro with caviar and sea urchin or even lobster pot pie reign. In my early years as the Insatiable Critic, I swooned over the nouvelle cuisine and enjoyed exposing the cruel snobbism of our town’s French Le’s and La’s. Once in a while my husband and I might go with Texas friends to Arturo’s on Houston for New York pizza. 

Long ago Fiorello on Broadway gave up their remarkable deep dish pizza for these cracker thin-crusted pies.

          It wasn’t until 1985 that I took pizza seriously enough to rate the creative outbreak in The Joy of Pizza. My top-ranked pie was then a deep-dish beauty at Fiorello on Broadway where at some point in history cracker-thin pizza took over. Not a lot of those ‘80s spots survive. John’s is still around, of course, Totonno, Ray’s Pizza, Petaluma, Patsy’s. Pizzeria Uno. Does anyone still go there?


Patrons may not even notice the half moons on the wall at Mezzaluna any more but some of us remember.

          I remember when Mezzaluna, fresh from Florence, was the chic-est huddle on the Upper East Side. A friend and I did an auld lang syne a year ago and it looks almost the same, but the waiters are no longer uniformly dashing young Italian heartthrobs, and the pizza, once unique, is just like one thousand others we’ve eaten since.


Emily’s sauce-free Pig Freaker pie has bacon, kimchi, and miso queso on a field of mozzarella.

          But at Emily on Downing there are toppings I could not have imagined. The Pig Freaker (freaking out?) has curls of bacon with kimchi, sesame and miso queso. One of tonight’s adventurers says it’s her favorite. The choices are listed as red, white, pink or green.


The red-sauced Colony layers pepperoni and pickled chile with a aophisticated touch of honey.

          My pick has to be the Colony, an 8 x 10 inch tomato and mozzarella-sauced rectangle with pepperoni, pickled chile and honey. The pink version mixes vodka sauce and mozzarella with the same toppings. The intensity of the spicy sausage is softened by the sweet nectar.

Ricotta, roasted garlic, mushrooms, Calabrian chile, thyme, and basil makes it the Mimi Cheng pie.


One night’s special pizza at Emily’s combines pulled pork and ribbons of tomatillo sauce.

          The pies are delivered on double-decker chrome holders. Ricotta, roasted garlic, mushrooms, thyme, Calabrian chile and basil make the Mimi Cheng pizza seem almost tame compared to chicken, Korean wing sauce, scallions, buttermilk blue, and radishes on For the Nguyen, named after the chef who dreamed it up.


You can count on the Emmy Burger here, a double stack of dry-aged beef, Emmy sauce and Vermont cheddar.

          One night the Grandma’s special features pulled pig and streaks of tomatillo. We must try that. The burger here is legend already, too. Apparently it was rationed in Brooklyn, and when they ran out, that was it. But not in the Village. Ask and you get two LaFrieda dry-aged beef patties, thin so not really as rare as you like, with caramelized onion and Grafton Village cheddar on a pretzel bun. The curly fries are excellent, even better with mayo.


Between pies, try duck confit sandwich with cucumber, scallions, crispy onions and a Chinese mustard mayo.

          On another evening, in a creative interlude from pie overdrive, we share the juicy duck confit sandwich piled with cucumber, scallion, crispy onions, and Xiannaise – a mustardy mayo. Do I have to be the one to say some green is needed? The gem Caesar with papadum crisps, anchovy, and tarragon seems a little skimpy, but it does the trick.


Feel a need for greens? Try the gem Caesar with white anchovies.


Corn on the cob with okonomi sauce, aonori under a cloud of bonito is definitely a special taste.

          After a trio of pies, a fourth of a burger, and corn under a cloud of bonito, I can’t say I need dessert, although a tangy citrus sorbet is always refreshing. I definitely don’t need anyone channeling s’mores. The semifreddo must be a mistake. Olive oil cake is acceptable. On the bottom of the menu it reads: “We happily split bills up to 4 ways.” I think that expresses the friendly vibe.


I can live without the hideous thyme ice cream, but the olive oil cake will do if you need a sweet finale.

35 Downing Street on the corner of Bedford. 917 935 6434. Monday through Thursday 11:30 am to 11 pm. Friday 11:30 am to 11:30 pm. Saturday 11 am to 11:30 pm. Sunday 11 am to 11 pm.


How Essential Is Marta?


Marta cooks feed two wood-burning ovens and grill most everything else on an open fire. Stoddard Photo.

          Suddenly I find myself thinking about Marta. Obsessing about Marta’s pizza, needing to taste it again.  It’s that old law of sensual cravings. Great sex always makes you hungry for more. Now after all those pies at Emily’s, I’m hungry for pizza. The good news is that pizza is readily available. If you are distracted now by thoughts of sex, read my memoir: Insatiable. I’m on my way downtown.


I forgot my camera so author Andrew Friedman shot Marta’s must-have crispy zucchini.


Marta’s macellaio pizza celebrates pork: soppressata, hog jowl and sausage. Photo by Dana Stoddard.

          Danny Meyer and chef Nick Anderer’s sprawling pizzeria in the Redbury Hotel, soaring with hard surfaces capturing and magnifying the din, once needed to be booked a month in advance. But now I simply call, anonymously, and get a table, a few days ahead. And again, just days later, with another tagalong of friends.


The mixed chicken, pork and duck sausages with tangles of broccoli rabe come from the wood fire.

          Do they recognize me at the check-in podium? Maybe. I invoke the fake reservation name. All I know is that we’re at my favorite table, in the rear corner against the window, close enough to the kitchen to see the flare-ups of the grill. I like to think it’s a little quieter. Quieter than what? Marta’s Category 3 din.


Aging Negroni in a tagged bottle strikes me as a gimmick but it’s definitely a good drink.

          I brood about Marta’s bottle-aged Negroni. It strikes me as just a gimmick to get $19 for a cocktail rather than the usual $13 for a shandy or a spritz. But it makes good iconography. And actually, a sip reminds me that it also makes an excellent Negroni. I like Marta’s commitment to Italian titles and subtitles on the menu, too. It brings back memories of long sabbaticals with my guy in Pietrasanta and Venice.


The carbonara piles on potatoes, hog jowl, black pepper, pecorino and a buried egg. Lauren Bloomberg Photo.


The salsiccia is a red pizza with pork sausage, cremini mushrooms and pecorino.

          The pizza is great. Just as remembered. Not like anyone else’s. Definitely not classic Neapolitan. Bubbled and burnt, maybe sometimes too charred. I think it’s in the dough. The white carbonara with potatoes, pig jowl and an egg is luscious, my favorite. Pork sausage with cremini mushrooms and pecorino on a tomato sauce base is excellent too.


The white mushroom pie features hen of the wood and chanterelles with red onion and thyme.

          Back a few days later, I let my niece Dana choose the mushroom pie with fontina, mozzarella and curls of red onion. It almost doesn’t matter that it’s not as rich as the carbonara, it’s still so good. When Dana disappears midway through dinner looking for the ladies’ room, I order the killer meat pie: soppressata, guanciale, pork sausage, and mozzarella with Grana Padano. She’s back in time to savor a slice. And since I’ve only ordered a couple of salads, and she doesn’t like the beer-brined chicken because it tastes smoked, she finishes another wedge of the pizza.


The beer-brined chicken with charred cabbage and Fresno chile comes straight off the grill.

          I can’t get anyone interested in the fennel-spiced sweetbreads and duck offal. That’s a $14 starter from the grill. I could simply order it to satisfy my own craving for innards. But I resist and order crispy zucchini shoestring fries instead, and two salads: Italian canned tuna with buffalo mozzarella on baby gem lettuce, and the watermelon toss with arugula and chopped pistachios.


I gamble on tuna salad, but it’s good, canned Italian tuna with buffalo mozzarella, capers and baby gem lettuce.


Summer means watermelon salad with arugula, chopped pistachios, cacio Fiorello and pink peppercorns.


I’d like to stop by Marta tonight, just for these thrilling crispy charred fingerlings. Photo by Lauren Bloomberg

          It’s Marta’s pizza that lures me.  But there’s a whole page of antipasti that also need to be tasted. Ricotta with oven-toasted peaches. Ember-roasted beets. Grilled black pepper bacon. And wood-fired mushroom salad with kale, (if I could overcome with certainty that kale was never meant to be actually eaten).

          One night four of us share a platter of garlicky mixed duck, pork, and chicken sausages with broccoli rabe from the wood fire. That same evening I discover the crisp shards of fingerling potatoes with roasted garlic in a herbed vinaigrette. I have eaten almost half of the pan before I feel obliged to pass it on. Is it the triumph of the evening? I’d say it’s as essential as the carbonara pie?


Sundae pops were my choice: blueberry corn crostata and roasted pineapple. Photo by Dana Stoddard.

          I go out six evenings a week in search of something good enough to recommend, as you may know. Not often do I get as happy as I am at these two outings to Marta. I can think of any number of reasons why I need to go back again soon. Sweetbreads. Carbonara pizza. Tuna conserva salad. Fingerling potatoes. Macellaio pie.

29 East 29th Street between Madison and Park Avenues. 212 651 3800. Monday through Friday: Lunch noon to 3 pm. Pizza and dessert 3 to 5 pm. Dinner 5 to 10:30 pm. Saturday and Sunday: lunch 11 am to 3 pm. Pizza & Dessert 3 to 5 pm. Dinner 5 to 10:30 pm. Pizza hour to 11:30 pm.


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