The pursuit of a perfect dollar slice might be an elusive one, but Francisco Balagtas is willing to commit two years of his life to finding out if this cheesy promised land exists. As part of his solo project to document and rate every single variant of this budget category in the five boroughs, Balagtas set up an Instagram account called DollarPizzaSliceNYC back in August of 2014.
What you’re left with is a hypnotizing mosaic of slices (currently 30), catalogued with pseudo-scientific precision. Every post has a picture of the slice on a paper plate, followed by the date, time, location, ranking, review, and final recommendation. His meticulous process ensures that multiple locations of the same franchise are reviewed. “I try to hit three to four places a week,” said Balagtas, who works for a snowboarding company based in Soho and has a designated section in his wallet solely for singles (a.k.a., pizza money). Sometimes, he’ll hit multiple spots in one day.
What makes his mission particularly admirable is its singular focus on one type of food. It is a feat of willpower and endurance, above all else. “I run marathons, and those are long and drawn out. So I’m used to time-intensive tasks that require training and patience.” We touched base with the Pete Wells of dollar slices to ask him about why he started, his most recent findings, and the challenges associated with eating this much pizza.
The dude can chow down: Balagtas eating eight slice in 28 minutes.
First things first: Why start this?
I had a really late night at work back in August, and I didn’t have anything to eat. I went and got a dollar slice around the corner, and I thought, “I could probably eat this all the time.” My friend challenged me that I couldn’t eat at every dollar pizza joint in the five boroughs, so we made it official with a hundred dollar bet. I had to figure out a way to systematically track all of my purchases, and Instagram made the most sense.
What’s your methodology? How do you find places, and what’s your rating scale?
I use Yelp for the majority of my findings. Instagram is useful too. You can search hashtags and find geo-tagged locations. I’ve definitely skateboarded around the city and stumbled across places by sheer accident. According to my Yelp research, there are approximately 2,500 pizzerias in NYC. I went through each place, one by one, to see if they served dollar slices. It’s a painstaking process.
I use a rating scale of one to five, with one being the lowest, to test three components: cheese, sauce, and crust. I’ve worked out a system where I eat a slice the same exact way every single time and makes notes of each bite. I do it for consistency: If I drink soda with one slice, then it might skew the way I review it. I test the fold of the slice and the grease content. Halfway through the slice, I hold the pizza on its side to see how much drips on to the plate.
What are your key findings so far? Do certain areas yield better slices than others?
The places that are more frequented by tourists and get a lot of foot traffic tend to be better because I think they have to be. Chains tend to be moderately consistent. You’ll notice with a place like Joey’s Pepperoni that the location over in Gramercy, which is a more residential area, sucks compared to the ones with tons of pedestrians. And sometimes it just depends on who’s making the actual pizza. Technique is important. I’ve seen this really good guy at a 2 Bros. location. He kneads the dough into a really thick crust—it’s almost deep dish.
Date: 12/16/2014 Time: 1:00 PM Location: 2 Bros. Pizza, 601 6th Ave., Manhattan Cheese: 4 Sauce: 4 Crust: 4 If you have read the review from earlier and happen to read this review, today was a 2 Bros. type of day. The initial bite on this slice was soft. Upon inspection of the bottom of the slice I found it nice and crisp with some excellent oven marks. The first fold was very crispy and the grease drip was almost non-existent. The third bite was flavorful with loads of sauce and flavor on the fourth and fifth bite as well. The end crust remained crisp and flaky for a good exit. Very pleased with the quality at this location. Recommend: Yes #dollarpizzaslicenyc #pizzabilitiesareeendless #livefasteatpizza #pizza #instapizza #pizzagram #nycdollarslice #nycpizza #dollarpizza #pizzaslice #pizzaparty #pizzalove #pizzaporn #pizzapics #pizzaislife #dollarslice #dollarslices #dollarslicepizza #nycpizzagram #newyorkpizza #nypizza #newyorkcity #newyorkstyle #nyceats #pizzalover #ilovepizza #lovepizza
2 Bros. Pizza on Sixth Avenue received a rare 4-star rating across the board.
What makes a perfect dollar slice, and what are the problems you usually encounter?
A slice has to have great coverage of cheese, seasoned sauce throughout, and a crust that will crisp off a little when you fold it, but still hold the weight of the pizza—it can’t be razor thin so that it flops. Up until this point, I haven’t rated anything a five yet. There are two different slices that got fours across the board: Roll and Go on Canal, and the Port Authority food court. I don’t think anyone will sweep five across the board. I just can’t imagine someone packing a perfect slice in one dollar. The five-star dollar slice is the one that tastes like a three-dollar one.
I’ve noticed that everyone tends to skimp on cheese, probably because it is a higher priced item that goes into the pizza. But for the most part, I tend to complain about lack of flavor. When I take a bite crust that has no taste, I think to myself, how hard is it to sprinkle salt or garlic powder? I just don’t understand it sometimes. If I were making a sauce and it didn’t taste like anything, I’d put some seasoning in it! Why doesn’t this happen?
Do you see the dollar slice as a threat to pizza culture?
Look, I love places like Grimalid’s and L&B Spumoni Gardens, but I don’t feel like the dollar slice is doing any harm to these places. Just because there’s a McDonald’s, doesn’t mean it’s hurting business at 5 Napkin Burger. I respect other pizzerias, but I also think its good for the industry. It keeps people engaged with pizza.
Eating pizza multiple times a week sounds like a dream, but we also know it takes a lot of mental strength. Have you hit any walls yet?
The long-term scope of this project isn’t really so bad; it’s more the day-to-day. I recently thought about what I wanted to do for lunch, and pizza was the last thing on my mind. But I had to get over that hurdle. I know around the 75 review mark I’ll be sick of it; I’ll just want a burger or something. So that’s why I pack four reviews into one day, so I don’t have to eat pizza over the course of a week.