First Gothamist's own VittlesVamp mentioned it, and then one of Slice's readers filed a report. Word was on the street: Numero 28 was a new neapolitan-style pizzeria in Manhattan, opening on the heels of the East Village's spanking-new Una Pizza Napoletana, and Gothamist had to get in on that action.
We'd just reviewed Una Pizza Napoletana a few weeks ago (comparing it favorably to the classic NYC-style pizza of Grimaldi's), and kicked up a rather contentious readers' commentary (including a guy originally from Naples!); everyone had very strong opinions on pizza. From how much it costs per pie, to what type of attitude/service can be expected at such pizzerias, the debate was on. (And that was before we even got down to the nitty gritty of what the pizza actually tasted like.)
While some might prefer a New York-style pizza, for those who love Italian pizza, Numero 28 can hold its own with the best of them. The two brothers from Naples who opened the place bring the knowledge and experience that you can taste when you bite into the thin, crisp crust. So crunchy were the outer edges of dough that we found ourselves wishing for a steak knife instead of the standard-issue restaurant bread knife we were given.
Having gone with just one friend, we had to limit ourselves to two of the 12" pizzas, and we agonized a bit over to which to choose. Unlike Una Pizza Napoletana, which offers just four styles (because the owner claims those four are the only "true" Italian pizzas), Numero 28 goes out a few limbs, with everything from pears and gorgonzola to lemon slices and zucchini, in combination with more expected sorts of toppings such as ricotta, buffalo mozzarella (flown in from Naples), garlic, and tomato sauce. In all, there are thirteen different pies on offer.
We decided the best way to make an initial judgment of taste was to order the traditional Margherita pizza. In choosing the second pie, we took our server's advice, which had been offered both urgently and earnestly, to try the San Daniele, a pizza of thinly sliced prosciutto di parma, fresh tomato slices, buffalo mozzarella, arugula, and parmesan shavings. He had explained how the buffalo mozzarella had just arrived for the week, and was still at its peak.
After our first bite, Gothamist understood why the San Daniele had come so highly recommended. It was like no pizza we'd ever had in New York before, and it reminded us of the best (non-pizza) Italian food we've had over the years. The various textures (meltingly thin prosciutto, warm globs of mozzarella, crackly crust) and flavors (salty ham, slightly bitter arugula, yeasty dough) came together in such a way that made the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This pizza pie was a fleeting, highly perishable creation that temporarily transported us to Italy, if only in our minds.
The only thing lacking in the San Daniele pie was the quality of the fresh tomato slices, though perhaps in warmer months this will be less of an issue. Fortunately, as the other toppings factor more strongly in this particular pie, the effect was minimal.
The Margherita pie was outstanding as well, with a tomato sauce that was so concentrated and pure, so the essence of heavenly tomato perfection, that it managed to divert our attention from the cheese, which we will admit is often our main focal point with your average slice of pizza.
Numero 28's pizza comes in three sizes (12-inch, 18-inch, 29-inch) and the pies range in price from $12-$15 for the small ones to $26-$35 for the large. Cheap it is not, though more in line with the prices of places like Grimaldi's and not so expensive as Una Pizza Napoletana.
Even if New Yorkers will never agree on who makes the best pizza, Gothamist is happy to see yet another restaurant jump into that never-ending competition.
Numero 28, 28 Carmine Street (between Bleecker & Bedford), Phone: 212-463-9653, open noon to midnight, 7 days a week