By-the-slice, New York-style pizza finally arrives in Saigon. Photos and review by Chris Mueller.
In January, scandal hit New York City. Less than 10 days into his first term, the newly elected mayor was seen in a Staten Island pizzeria eating a slice of pizza with a knife and fork. Blasphemy. Any real New Yorker knows there is only one way to eat a slice of New York pizza: grab it, fold it and eat.
But in Saigon many locals think the standard of pizza is the pre-made garbage with something resembling cheese on top that is pumped out of places like Pizza Hut and Domino’s. So it’s no wonder that Khai Tran, the Vietnamese-American owner of ESPY pizza, had to put a poster on the wall illustrating how to eat these huge slices. It is, after all, the first restaurant of its kind in the city.
ESPY soft-opened four months ago and is trying to introduce the by-the-slice concept to the city. Upon entering the pizzeria, customers are greeted by 50cm pizzas sitting behind glass, already sliced and ready to be reheated. For the uninitiated, in this type of restaurant the pizzas are made ahead of time and toppings are added when a customer orders, before the slice is reheated. Some toppings include pepperoni, sausage, roasted garlic and vegetables. Slices start at VND 45,000 each. While the menu mostly offers pizza, there is one other noteworthy item: the garlic knots (VND 35,000), pieces of baked pizza dough covered in garlic, cheese and olive oil, which are ubiquitous in pizzerias around the United States.
Khai, who has been in the food industry for years, says he has been fine-tuning his pizza recipes to get as close to the real thing as possible. But it’s still not quite there. One of the biggest reasons, he says, is the water. It’s well known that New York pizza gets a lot of its uniqueness from the city’s water, and Saigon’s simply isn’t the same. However, like all food in Vietnam, you shouldn’t expect it to be exactly like back home. Still, the food seems to improve every time I go back (which is probably too often). The crust is just the right thickness and crispness and it is covered in just the right amount of tomato sauce and cheese. While it may not be perfect, it is a damn good slice.