Meeting My Maker

A New York Pizza Place makes fantastic New York–style pizza, and now they make it my way, too.

LAST WEEK I DID something I've been meaning to do for three years: I called the phone number printed on the label of my favorite frozen pizza. Believe it or not, it's a 206 number; the best frozen pies in the world are made near the Northgate Mall and as it turns out, they don't just make freezer pizza. When I called A New York Pizza Place and spoke with owner Doug Armatage, I found out that he operates an honest-to-god pizza joint, open every night of the week. On Saturdays, he even serves lunch. That'll teach me to do something about my phone aversion. Armatage's pizza was one of the first things my old man ever made for me. Ahhh. Now listen, I know "made" is a stretch, but c'mon, it was a hot meal, and there was a thoughtful twist. He dressed the pizza up with thinly sliced Yukon potatoes, and as far as I was concerned, that meant it qualified as a lovingly prepared meal—plus, it was just plain excellent pizza. But believe me, I was skeptical at first. "Frozen 'New York' pizza? Made in Seattle? No way." My first bite lead to the most fantastic humble pie I've ever had. A year or so later, when we found ourselves in the kitchen one night with our favorite frozen pizzas but no potato, it got even better. That's when we invented beetza. "You put what on it?" asked Armatage when I had him on the phone. "Beets," I repeated. I'm used to the apprehension; no one thinks sliced, steamed beets belong on a pizza. Not until they've tried it. Everyone we've made it for regularly asks when they might be able to come over for more. Sure, it's pure genius that the mister and I added beets, but really, it's the pie. The crust is thin and cooks crackly brown and perfect even in regular ovens, the sauce is wonderfully subtle and restrained, and the well-portioned cheese is nothing at all like the plastic mess that comes on most pizzas—frozen or otherwise. So when Armatage invited me to come up to his restaurant so he could make us a fresh beetza, I was there in short order. Armatage, an ex-software slinger who bought his pizza place a year and a half ago from the Bronx native who opened it in 2001, makes the crust in-house on a big Hobart mixer in front of the ovens. During the day the crew prepares and wraps the frozen pies (they sell portions of dough, too) for PCC stores and Whole Foods, and at night they serve dinner to the neighborhood. One guy came in for his take-out order and announced, "I'm here to pick up the best pizza in town." I was just impressed that Armatage would invite me into his kitchen and let me show him how to make his pizza. Standing at the boxing-and-slicing station near the register and yielding a giant knife, he hacked at the outer layer of the beet while several customers and I looked on. A woman at the end of the counter grimaced. Her face expressed confusion, and then concern. One just isn't used to seeing root vegetables in a pizza place. An hour or so later, however (those suckers take forever in the steam bath before they can be sliced up and baked on the pie), I sat down behind a great, bubbling gorgeous beetza—the best I've ever had. Armatage couldn't resist making half of it with Canadian bacon, careful dots of pesto, and chopped artichokes—they call it Lady Liberty, and it's superb—but it was obvious that I won him over with my "recipe." For his last bite, he plucked an extra beet off a slice that neither of us had room to eat, and added it to the one in his hand. Another happy beetza convert, sated. A New York Pizza Place, 8310 5th Ave. N.E., 206-524-1536.

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