A steamy, thin-crust pizza slice soaked in tongue-tingling tomato sauce blanketed with graded mozzarella cheese right out of the oven will forever reign supreme on Long Island.
There’s no argument.
But LI happens to be blessed with hundreds—if not thousands—of pizzerias littered across the island, many of which have conquered the regular slice and eventually turned pizza-making into a fine art—adding a seemingly endless amount of toppings, from onions and olives to full-on salads and buffalo and barbeque chicken, to their menus. The slice itself has become a canvas for pizza makers to enjoy creative freedom and push the limits of what they can do.
Naturally, some styles will emerge that challenges the conventional wisdom of oven-cooked pizza.
Welcome, cold cheese pizza.
The few—but smart—pizza gurus on LI that produce this odd slice, which entails sprinkling a handful of cold cheese on top of a steaming hot slice or pie, concede that it wasn’t their invention.
“I know it’s an upstate thing,” says Al Fortina, part owner of Cataffo’s Pizza in Stony Brook.
Cold cheese pizza did indeed originate north of here, but it has quickly shaken up the pizza landscape in Nassau and Suffolk counties, with late-night crowds fawning over the specialty slice and forcing other pizzerias to get in on the action. Visit Little Vincent’s Pizza in Huntington on a Friday or Saturday night and the pizza of choice may overwhelmingly be cold cheese. The same goes for the crowd at Town Pizza in Ocean Beach—a wooden shack that thrives during summer months on Fire Island.
“[It’s] something that got popular maybe two years ago,” says a worker picking up the phone at Town Pizza.
Little Vincent’s, however, has been churning out the popular slice for close to three decades.
Dan Rossi, who manages the Huntington location, was preparing for the busy lunch crowd on a recent morning when the topic of cold cheese came up. He chuckled at the slice’s growing popularity, especially considering Little Vincent’s history of preparing only a plain slice.
“That’s our whole menu,” Rossi jokes of the regular slice.
Rossi introduced cold cheese to Huntington in 1985 when college students returning home waxed poetic about their experience shoving down slices with a mountain of extra cheese. He decided to give them what they wanted. Soon, customers started spreading the news of the cold cheese invasion across LI.
“I didn’t even know what it was,” Rossi recalls. “I thought it was extra cheese melted. And they explained what it was, and you just take a handful of cold cheese and put it on top.”
Rossi, who says he’s only had one such slice in his life, grabs a handful of shredded cheese and dumps it over a sizzling slice as a demonstration.
“It’s the sensation of you go from the cold to a warm slice or hot slice,” he adds. “It’s like you’re getting the best of both worlds.”
And more and more people are turning to cold cheese.
A ferry ride away in Ocean Beach sits Town Pizza, a cozy spot that becomes even more intimate when young crowds pour inside as a sort of nightcap after a night of bar crawling.
“It’s mostly for the late night crowd, we get a lot of people [who] order it,” says an employee at the pizzeria, who estimates that more than 60 percent of its late-night customers order the slice.
The slice itself has been a source of confusion. People familiar with the idea of waking up and eating leftover pizza question why anyone would actually order a chilled slice.
And some of the more than dozen pizzerias contacted by the Press inquiring if they make cold cheese seemed perturbed.
Fortina, of Cataffo’s Pizza, was also taken aback by the question even though the pizzeria makes the slice upon request. Cataffo’s doesn’t refer to it as “cold cheese” but fixes up a slice when customers request that he sprinkle some on top.
The slice has gained a small—but sometimes fanatical—following, yet it has failed to enter the mainstream. It’s unclear if it will, but more pizzerias are jumping on the bandwagon. The slice is now available at Little Vincent’s location in Ronkonkoma, Rosa’s Pizza in Huntington and ZA Late Night Pizzeria in Rockville Centre—with no shortages of late-night pizza seekers.
“Some people will not eat the cold cheese, it’s just not for them,” says Rossi. “But I mean the majority of people, once they have it, they’re hooked.”
“You get your money’s worth,” he smiles.