A Piece of the Pie

Forego the Pepperoni for These More Creative Approaches to Pizza

Classicists beware: these pizzas may not be for you. Around the city, certain restaurants are dolling up their dough in unconventional ways that blend global cuisines and qualify as acceptable meals not just for lunch and dinner but breakfast and dessert too. They may make an Italian grandmother frown, but in New York where all bets are off, these slices are worth seeking out.

Dessert Pie at Max Brenner (841 Broadway)
Since it opened as a small chocolate shop near Tel Aviv in 1996, Max Brenner has skyrocketed to become a global chain with shops and restaurants in locations as far-flung as Moscow, Harajuku, Sydney, and Las Vegas (consider it a lesson in the universality of chocolate). Yet despite its origins, the Union Square locale of this cocoa-worshipping temple couldn’t feel more like a Big Apple institution, with more than decade under its belt dishing up some of the most decadent desserts in the city.

Crepes, 10 types of hot chocolate, s’mores, fondue, and extraordinarily large sundaes comprise only a fraction of the menu here. There are savory options as well, but why go for those when you can have a saccharine version instead? Chocolate tacos, chocolate spaghetti, and the famous chocolate chunk pizza that comes as pizza dough topped with melted white and milk chocolate topped with hazelnuts, bananas, peanut butter, and marshmallows surely count as a dinner—or at least negate the need to eat one before.

 

Brunch Pie at Adoro Lei (287 Hudson St.)
Adoro Lei just may be the ooziest, booziest pizza joint in Hudson Square. In keeping with its name, which is Italian for “I love her,” languid illustrations of girls in beanies coyly eating pizza hang on the dark walls, mirroring the restaurant’s cool, downtown clientele. Late dinners here verge on feeling like the club-restaurants found in the Meatpacking district, but a selling point all its own is its weekend brunch—an unusual a air for a pizza-focused establishment.

On Saturday and Sunday early afternoons, a full range of the restaurant’s wood- red, thin- crust pies are on offer as well as its much-loved truffle rice balls, alongside more morning-ready options like a breakfast sandwich, omelet, red velvet pancakes, and a special brunch pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, eggs, pancetta, and scallions. Like any popular brunch spot on this side of town there’s an option for bottomless cocktails (sangria, punch, bellinis, or mimosas), and a DJ will take court sometime after noon. But fear not that you’re in for just another party brunch—Adoro Lei is known for its impeccable service and volume low enough to still have a proper conversation.

 

Tuna Tar Tar Pie at Sushi Roxx (120 E. 39th St.)
The bizarre, over-the-top fluorescent nightlife of Tokyo can be found in Midtown at Sushi Roxx, where Japanese clichés are elevated into one of the most engrossing dining experiences in the city. Off-Broadway performers and aspiring pop stars perform song-and-dance numbers choreographed by a former Pussycat Dolls member to blaring Top 40 tunes while murals of Godzilla and a giant sumo wrestler watch as diners nibble on shamelessly Americanized Japanese cuisine, like avocado tempura with ginger ranch dressing and shitake polenta.

In fact, the flatbread pizza topped with tuna, avocado, caviar, and aioli sounds more Japanese than many of the sushi rolls, which include a filet mignon–topped Surf & Turf and a jalapeño- and Serrano-peppered Spice Girl. There’s no doubt that authenticity comes second to the restaurant’s foremost intention—to impart the kitsch and candor of a night out in Tokyo. And, after some bottle service and a couple of hours in this after- dark theme park, you may just be surprised to step out and find yourself back in Midtown.

 

Mac & Cheese Pie at Uncle Mario’s (739 Ninth Ave.)
There’s a time and a place for dollar-slice pizzerias and another for a white-tablecloth  pizza meal with gourmet toppings. But more often than not, what’s wanted most—and can be surprisingly hard to find in Manhattan—is a place that falls somewhere in between. One of the rulers of this rare middle ground is Uncle Mario’s Brick Oven Pizza in Hell’s Kitchen, where freshly made pizzas and pastas come alongside draft beers and decent wines in a large sit-down space that feels something like a pizza café.

Carmela, an Italian dame who takes orders at the register, has further put the spot on the food map for her irreverence as saucy as the pies pulled from the oven, topped with everything from pulled pork, buffalo chicken, and creamy spinach to classic margarita, puttanesca, and alla vodka. However, what most distinguishes this menu are the four grandma-style specialty pizzas. Cheese lovers will want to go for the Mac & Cheese pie, which sees the dough topped with macaroni and cheese and then smothered in cheddar and mozzarella.