Raúl Bonetto, the owner and pizza master of New York Style Pizza, makes a bold statement straight out the gate. “The two best places in the world to eat pizza are New York and Buenos Aires,” he proclaims to my complete surprise, “My theory is that Italy’s great pizzeros ended up here or in New York and they adapted pizza with whatever was available. I like both styles, especially the classic porteño thick crust pizza you find at places like El Cuartito or Güerrin.”
The dual love surprises me. Pizza talk in Buenos Aires is rarely diplomatic—expats from the United States lament over the absence of sauce and crust that can be folded up the middle, locals are enamored by cheese and unwavering about topping combos. The few Italians I’ve met think we are all crazy. I’m in Bonetto’s camp and will happily eat anything with bread, cheese and grease and am not above slamming a piece of napo at Kentucky at 5am.
Bonetto pops back into the small shop and begins pulling pizzas out from the display window to wave in front of my nose. Pepperoni, smoked bacon with pesto dripped across the top, deep brown caramelized mushrooms, Hawaiian style ham and pineapple. The smell of rich tomato sauce and melty cheese grows stronger with every demo.
The cooks in the back pull my slice of pepperoni out of the oven and slide it my way. It’s delivered over a thin sheet of paper on a plastic plate. The golden brown crust is uneven from air pockets that have burst upwards. The center is uniformly flat and airy and mostly resists breaking up the middle as I arch either end—dough is left to rest overnight which gives the bread flavor but doesn’t overpower the toppings like a dough that has been fermented longer. The mozzarella cheese glitters underneath the light and small pools of sauce stained grease fill the pizzas surface and the rich red pepperoni makes it clear that it’s the real deal—Bonetto later reveals that the pepperoni recipe comes from his supplier in the US. He had to sign a confidentiality agreement for the rights. It crisps slightly under the heat and has a rich spicy pork flavor.
“Nothing is an original recipe. I haven’t invented anything here,” he assures me, “These are all pizzas we made back there.”
‘Back there’ refers to 25 years spent in New York City, “I was 24 and I bought a ticket after I saw Wall Street. I was supposed to be Charlie Sheen,” he says. A break of uncontrollable laughter sneaks out of me but he is completely serious, “I was trained as an elevator mechanic but didn’t speak English and had no paperwork so I ended up working in a kitchen at a pizzeria.” By the time he returned to Buenos Aires in 2014, he owned different pizza shops on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
After returning to “escape the cold winters,” his friends begged him to make pizza. “People don’t understand that you can’t make good pizza in a regular oven.” A friend that lived above MEME, the soup and wrap restaurant that previously occupied this tiny storefront, suggested that he make pizzas in the evening when MEME closed. Bonetto slowly began changing the kitchen to accommodate a pizza shop and initially offered delivery, then dinner service and now lunch as well. “I came back to relax but I’m working like crazy now. We didn’t expect this to take off as quickly as it has.”
A family of four sitting next to me is gushing over their pizza—Bonetto’s classic half pepperoni, half cheese. They heard about New York Style Pizza on the radio when they were driving up to La Plata from the southern Santa Cruz province. Many newbies arrive similarly hearing the call of authentic pizza and make the pilgrimage. “Foreigners come and are really excited about it. With locals, we have to educate a little. The size, the flavors, it’s different from what we are used to.”
Like any strong culinary tradition, pizza making is learned over years of cooking. When asked how he is able to make a pizza that tastes so similar to the US, he responds simply, “I’ve been doing this for two decades. You just know.” I order slice after slice. The Staten comes with spinach, ricotta and mozzarella. The ricotta pulls out a slight saltiness from the sauce and makes the melted mozzarella cheese especially creamy. The thin layer of spinach adds a thickness to the chew. The Bronx comes with a meaty smoked pancetta with provolone cheese that adds an almost nutty intensity to the pie—this one is the house favorite. The Queens has deep flavored mushrooms and tiny dots of fresh broccoli. Pizzas are all available by the slice; one is the equivalent of two regular slices. Or you can order a monster-sized large to share amongst three or four people.
The unifying flavor present in all the pies is the sauce, which is painted on generously and gives a soft sweetness that balances out the heavier toppings. An actually spicy crushed red pepper is not just a guarded secret recipe, Bonetto vigilantly guards the popular spice mix from being stolen. And to make the whole operation feel all the more like an Italian pizzeria, simple baked calzones and meatball subs are also available—spaghetti and meatballs and gnocchi were once on the menu and I’m hoping at least the the former makes a return even if as an irregular special.
The holy tradition of pizza making has changed in the last few years—we all have places like Piola, 1893, Siamo Nel Forno, Cosi Mi Piace and San Paolo to thank. Still, New York Style Pizza is a pizza all its own as the only place to grab a slice that tastes like home for the city’s North American expats.
New York Style Pizza
Gorriti 5881, Palermo Hollywood
Wednesday through Monday, 12:00pm to 3:00pm and 7:00pm to 11:00pm
(Open until 11:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays)