A Slice of Heaven

New York Pizzeria bakes up a pie that's the stuff of dreams

Though the Greek is my favorite, others I know swear by the basic Margarita, the purist's pizza. This one incorporates even more sliced Romas than the Greek, resting on a firm, springy bed of low-fat mozzarella. Granted, you can find Margarita (a.k.a. Margherita) pizzas anywhere from Rome to Los Angeles; what makes Russo's version shine is his pungent garlic sauce and fresh organic basil.

Then, too, there are adherents of the create-your-own school, folks who go wild choosing from a generous list of five different meats, 13 vegetables and herbs, three cheeses and one fruit (pineapple). My husband, like Russo a homesick Yankee, loves New York Pizzeria's Sicilian pizza, which he says is the closest thing to Boston's Sicilian pies he's found in Houston. The Sicilian pizzas are monstrous 16-inch squares with crusts almost half an inch deep, slathered with Russo's sweet tomato sauce and loaded with cheese. My husband requests his with fresh spinach and garlic chunks.

On my return from south of the border, though, my preference for thin crusts was the one being satisfied. After gorging myself on flat pizza, I turned my attention to the stuffed renditions -- calzones and strombolis made with the same heavenly crust folded over a variety of fillings. My personal favorite is the New York calzone, distinguished by its creamy ricotta cheese stuffing, underlain with gooey mozzarella and fortified with Canadian bacon. My meat-loving friends liked the stromboli, which in addition to mozzarella contains sausage and pepperoni, plus bell peppers, mushrooms and black olives. I sniffed. As far as I'm concerned, a stromboli is too close to a pizza that has just messily been squashed over. If that's what you're after, then just get the pizza.

As we plowed through the sandwich course, a heated discussion of bread erupted. New York Pizzeria's sandwiches are served on thick white rolls baked in-house. They're fine rolls, but not really suitable for the sandwiches they contain. My husband argued that the Soho, a meatball sandwich, should only be served on a hoagie roll. I rather agreed. I also thought the sauce was a little too sweet; another of our group thought it a little too bland; but one, a meatball fan, thought the chunky meatballs were just right.

I was also disappointed in the muffaletta, a commendable stack of deli meats and cheese piled high and slathered with olive dressing but, alas, not served on the sturdy, chewy bread it deserves. Too, while the bread was warm, the stack of cold cuts and cheese was unfortunately cool in the middle.

The counterman cautiously poked his head out the door, checking to see if we'd exploded. "What's for dessert?" we asked him brightly.

Shaking his head, he ducked back into the shop and soon returned bearing cannoli and cheesecake, both off-the-menu items imported from Russo's Cafe Anthony. The cheesecake was perfect: a towering wedge of creamy cake, rich with ricotta, on a thin crust of graham cracker crumbs, topped with a layer of sweet icing. The cannoli were everything cannoli should be: delicate pastry shells made with a splash of wine, oozing sweet ricotta and packed with chocolate chips.

We patted our lips and trundled off into the soft summer evening. The staff waved good-bye. I should be embarrassed to show my face here again, I thought. Next time, maybe I'll call and ask for home delivery. Under an assumed name, of course ...

New York Pizzeria, 2250 West Holcombe, 432-1121, and F.M. 1960 at S.H. 249, (281) 469-5669.

New York Pizzeria: specialty pizzas, $12.95 (12-inch), $16.95 (16-inch); Sicilian pizzas, $12.95; New York calzone, $6.95; stromboli, $6.95; Soho meatball sandwich, $4.95; muffaletta, $4.95; cheesecake, $3; cannoli, $2.25.

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