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Younger and Hungry: Self-Portrait circa 1st Grade

My love of pizza began at an early age. "Pizza" was one of the first words I learned to spell, I would ride past Pizza Hut every day on my way to school, and the restaurant was where I had my first birthday party. To the right is my ultimate pizza artifact—written 15 years ago in my first grade journal, I simply declared: "I like pizza becauce it is good." I may not have drawn hands or feet, but I sure did remember the mushroom toppings.

15 years and countless slices later, I've moved to the Upper West Side and have found myself flanked by two neighborhood joints: Koronet and Sal & Carmine's. Sure, I could go for Koronet's cheap super jumbo slices, but Sal & Carmine clearly serves the superior slice. Yet, $24 for a large cheese pie is a bit much—especially since this was the Plan B after the 60-cent dinner plans at Patsy's failed. To reconcile the situation, I came up with the semi-homemade pizza bar—Sandra Lee, god help me.

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Sal and Carmine are no strangers to Serious Eats affection and when I read Ed's review, the part about it being "a good old New York slice" struck me. I realized that I liked their pizza so much because of the way it reminded me of what pizza used to taste like when I was kid. Back when my great aunt, who didn't speak English, would bring me mushroom-topped slices from the parlours that always seemed to be around every corner in Brooklyn.

2008825basil.jpgNow, I've got that old neighborhood taste back, but in a new neighborhood—a wonderful, but dangerous proximity. Not wanting to fall into the old college stereotype of surviving on pizza and ramen every alone, I was determined to take my classic cheese slice into homegrown territory. Sal & Carmine's isn't cheap and getting toppings doesn't make it any cheaper, but looking around my kitchen I saw a few solutions. First: the beautiful basil plant from upstate NY, just begging to be pruned. For just 3.99, the plant was well worth the money and I have my fingers crossed that it'll live a long life as my herbacious golden goose.

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I may not have been a Columbia kid, but I'm surrounded by them and will certainly continue to reap the benefits of living so close to the Columbia University greenmarket, which is a great place to get local produce on the weekends. After calling in my order to Sal (or was it Carmine?), I quickly got to work on the bounty that would become the toppings for my makeshift pizzabar.

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I came up with sauteed spinach with garlic and chili flakes, onions, and sliced grape tomatoes that were so sweet and snackable, they barely made it onto the pizza.

20080825slice.jpgChanneling Dom, I snipped my fresh basil onto the pizza, dropped on some tomatoes, sprinkled the parm, and hoped that Adam wouldn't find my homemade pizza-topping sacrilegious when he reads this. The Sal & Carmine slice is saltier than most (which I actually like), but the tomatoes and basil gave it a sweet, fresh pop every few bites. By no means would I want to be a Sandra Lee, but this was pretty good semi-homemade eats; neighborhood pizza topped with fresh ingredients from my local greenmarket—and upstate basil to boot. It's too easy and simple, but supplementing your takeout, whether it's pizza or Chinese, with extra fresh veggies is something I always do. That at least makes me feel a little better about going greasy for dinner.

This summer I've had everything from big sloppy Artichoke slices and meh-99-cent pizza, to the perfection of Di Fara's (though the burnt crust is still a problem). Now that the summer is ending and I've begun to settle into the new apartment and neighborhood, I want to combine the best of both worlds: cooking and eating out. With the many markets, cafes, and restaurants that line these Upper-Upper West Side streets—that night, I'd only just begun.

Sal and Carmine's Pizza

2671 Broadway, New York NY 10025 (nr. 102nd Street; map)
212-663-7651

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