Scarr’s Pizza lets the New York slice speak for itself.
It’s a small shop nested between Chinatown and the Lower East Side. From down the street, the white sign with loud, orange letters that spelled “Pizza” felt like a shining beacon in the distance. Let’s face it: I don’t go to New York City often. While back home, I’ve been surviving off Papa John’s for the last few years. This unique blend of cheese and sauce would be my first authentic New York slice in years.
Even before I entered the pizzeria, I could see straight into the kitchen from the front window. Busy chefs were kneading dough and baking pies before my very eyes. Once inside, the bright midday sun vanished, and I entered a much warmer, intimate space inside Scarr’s Pizza. I immediately spotted a framed poster of the Spike Jones’ movie “Do the Right Thing,” and I reminded myself to watch it sometime.
I slid into a booth in the far left corner and let my eyes wander. The combination of the dark wood panels and the dim lighting created a comfortable, snug atmosphere. It felt like a warm fireplace surrounded me. Probably the pizza ovens. Then came the pizza.
The slice I had was called the “Hotboi.” Beef pepperoni and jalapenos, drizzled with Mike’s Extra Hot Honey. Honestly? Scarr’s Pizza is haunting me. I’ve been thinking about that slice ever since I had it.
The first bite gets that wonderful, spicy honey and the soft touch of sauce and cheese, but then a second later, the crust crackles against your teeth and perfectly balances it out. The next bite throws in that extra kick of pepperoni, and in an instant, I was smitten with the flavor.
The owner of Scarr’s Pizza, the wizard of crust, is Scarr Pimentel, a 40-year-old Dominican-American. For the past five years, Pimentel has put his love for pizza and New York City into his pizzeria.
Do the Right Thing
Hailed as the best pizza in the world, these thin slices of dough, sauce, and cheese are one of the greatest prides of New York City. But in a city famous for its pizza, competition is stiff for the throne.
There are approximately 1,800 restaurants that serve pizza in New York City. The title of “best pizza in New York City” floods endless top 10 lists. How does Scarr’s Pizza stand out in the crowd?
“I love my business,” said Pimentel. “And nobody can compete with us in terms of dough. Like nobody.”
You can trace the incredible slices at Scarr’s Pizza to their fresh-milled flour, right in the pizzeria. Beneath Scarr’s Pizza, Pimentel mills the wheat berries himself, creating an organic and healthier dough, perfect for pizza.
“It wasn’t a gimmick,” he explained. “It adds nutrients back into the dough. You get what I’m saying? It increases the flavor of the pizza, gives it that ‘oomph.’ Plus, it’s healthy for you,”
For their first few months, Scarr’s Pizza had milled 100% of the flour themselves. But while even wizards have their limits, Pimentel refused to back down and stuck to his principles. He managed to find a farm that mills fresh flour, perfect for the vision at Scarr’s Pizza. For almost a year, Pimentel experimented with the new treatment until he found a mixture that was just right.
“I mean, it took a learning curve, and we settled on a perfect technique and recipe,” said Pimentel. “You can’t get what you need working with other flour. You could get away with it, but it’s not gonna be the same. And you can taste it. There’s places that use better quality of flour, but it doesn’t taste like a New York slice. They’ll maybe compensate with toppings.”
The New York Slice
Like many New Yorkers, pizza was a staple for Pimentel. Born and raised in Manhattan, Pimentel had a lifetime of experience to form a reliable opinion on the state of New York Pizza.
Laughing, he recalled how incredible New York City pizza was when he was younger. “We could hate the guy who owned the spot,” said Pimentel. “He could be racist. He could be this, he could be that, but if his pizza was fire? We’d go in.”
Growing up, Pimentel was drawn to the restaurant environment; he would get his start at Lombardi’s, the legendary New York pizzeria that claims to be “the first pizzeria in America.” It was here that Pimentel fell in love with the art of pizza and learned his craft.
“I learned everything,” he said. “It’s not like we measure stuff. Just eyesight, working with the feel. It’s not like ‘here’s a recipe.’ It was like, here’s a cup of coffee. You put two of that in here. Here’s a five-gallon bucket. You fill that up to there. Really old-school way of doing it.”
His experiences immediately reminded us of a single image. “Like, you don’t see a grandmother measuring stuff! She just grabs the stuff, pinches it, and throws it in there! They don’t measure nothing!”
With all that he learned, I had to ask about what he thought was the perfect pizza.
“It’s just the basics,” said Pimentel. “A lot of people don’t know what a good dough is, but a lot of people just love a sweet sauce. A lot of people just love a ton of toppings on a pizza. My personal preference is just the perfect harmony of cheese, sauce, and a really good crust.”
But times have been changing in New York City. For Pimentel, the quality of pizzas has been on the decline for some time. The changes in quality and ingredients just couldn’t match the prime of New York City pizza, and the trend is more widespread than anticipated.
“90% of pizza places are mediocre or bad, compared to what it was 15 to 20 years ago,” said Pimentel. He then doubled down. “Most of these places wouldn’t be able to survive back then.”
“I used to eat pizza all the time,” said Pimentel. “I think at some point in my life, I think my body was like ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ The flour that most places use, I can’t eat it anymore because it’s laced with chemicals. They cut out all the nutrients, and it sits on shelves for years. God knows for how long.”
The differences in taste and nutrition might be obvious to a pizzeria-owner like Pimentel. It might even stand out to older New York City residents, but would it be obvious to the everyday customers?
“You could get away with it,” Pimentel admitted. “The general public, they don’t know what they’re looking for. Most of New York is people that didn’t grow up here. They’re coming from cities and towns that have sweet-ass sauce and, like, a terrible crust.”
This is where Pimentel’s milled flour comes into play. His dedication to making quality pizzas is nothing short of admirable at Scarr’s Pizza. “I spend about $1 a pound on flour,” he said. “But the other pizzerias probably spend about 10 cents a pound of flour. So it’s a huge difference.”
Despite my lack of experience with New York City pizza, when I first tasted a slice of Scarr’s Pizza, I could distinguish it immediately from the slices I was used to eating. Instead of the floppy dough, I had back home, Scarr’s Pizza had distinct crispiness that perfectly matched the smooth texture of cheese and sauce. If this pizza is anything close to Pimentel’s perfect vision of a New York City slice, I’m afraid my expectations for all future pizzas have gone up considerably.
But Pimentel’s criticism of New York City pizza comes from a place of love and pride: “At the end of the day, no matter how bad the slice shops are in New York, it’s still better than everywhere else in the world.”
The Face of Culture
Scarr’s Pizza officially opened its doors on March 1, 2016.
But there was no fanfare. Nothing spectacular.
“I just opened the doors,” said Pimentel. “I didn’t even tell my friends. They’re still mad at me, to this day, that I didn’t invite them down. Family too! I just opened the doors.”
From this silence, Scarr’s Pizza burst onto the scene through the sheer flavor of their pizza. Word started to spread about their slices, and in a matter of months, business was booming for Scarr’s Pizza. It seemed that Pimentel’s vision for the restaurant was coming together.
“I just wanted a spot where everyone feels welcome,” said Pimentel. “I really wanted a spot where everyone, whether it be a tourist from Japan, whether it be a hood dude from uptown or the BX, when they come in here, they have a good time, and you know, that’s why I try to keep the prices as low as I possibly can. I just want everybody to come and enjoy, that’s all.”
Down in the Lower East Side, Scarr’s Pizza felt right at home for Pimentel. There was nowhere more perfect for his pizzeria.
“I’ve always been in Manhattan,” said Pimentel. “I loved Manhattan, always growing up, so it had to be here, no matter what. I spent a lot of time down here. I loved being out here with the culture. Down here, it was black, Spanish, Asian, everything. Everything was down here.”
Scarr’s Pizza also happens to be one of the few minority-owned pizzerias in New York City. As a result, he’s come to expect some surprised faces when customers learn that a Dominican-American man owns Scarr’s Pizza.
“We got a couple racist instances, where we got people who come through, and they go ‘oh wow! Who made this?’” said Pimentel. “They think an Italian made the food for whatever reason, but like me? They’re like ‘but you’re not Italian,’ and I’m like ‘nope.’ They’re like ‘wow! I enjoyed it!’ and I’m like ‘what does that have to do with it?’”
Despite the assumptions, Pimentel certainly doesn’t feel like an unfamiliar face in the crowd either.
“Pizza might have been brought in by Italians, but at the end of the day, when I was growing up, the pizza was made by Mexicans, Greeks, always in the back,” said Pimentel. “Our pizza’s not an Italian pizza. It’s a New York-style pizza. It’s the pizza that was born in New York.”
And what could be better to represent New York City than pizza? The number of cultures and inspirations behind the creation of pizza are buried far beneath its Italian origins. Each of its traditional components came from a different part of the world, evolving with new styles and ingredients over time.
The earliest flatbreads were found in Egypt and the Middle East. Mozzarella was first made from the milk of water buffalos in Italy. Tomato sauce wouldn’t exist until European explorers brought back tomatoes from the Americas. When you consider all the classic toppings like peppers, mushrooms, and controversially, pineapple, the scope of influence on pizza expands even further.
But there’s one last ingredient in the classic New York pizza: New York City. A distinct style unique to this region, no one makes pizza like New York City. Especially not in Italy.
“Not even Italy has the slice shops,” said Pimentel. “The slice shop was here, in New York. Slice shops are New York City culture. We all grew up in New York, and this played a pivotal part in our lives.”
Whatever the public’s expectations might be, Pimentel and his pizza are true to New York City. His passion and love for the culture have been met with incredible support from the community, but there was still one last wall on his way to the top.
Scarr Pimentel: Bulldozer
Scarr’s Pizza has been reviewed and highlighted on countless food media sites. Bon Appetit, Eater, and Munchies have all made content with Pimentel and his unique, milled-flour slices of pizza. But it wasn’t always like that for Scarr’s Pizza.
“They blacklisted us when we first opened,” said Pimentel. “I wasn’t part of the circles.”
His claim seems consistent with the content from these sites. Many popular food media sites waited for more than a year before releasing anything about Scarr’s Pizza. Munchies posted their “Chef’s Night Out with Scarr’s Pizza” video in 2017. Bon Appetit wrote their first article on Scarr’s Pizza in 2018. Eater made their first video about Scarr’s Pizza in 2019.
With a hint of righteous pride in his voice, Pimentel told the story of his rise. Through everything, Pimentel has remained headstrong in his principles, refusing to budge an inch. As firm as he was about his flour and techniques, Pimentel has refused to bend his knee for favors and press.
“These places got posted in this social media, they’re in this magazine, but that’s them doing things for their friends,” said Pimentel. “They’ll send emails like ‘I’ll give you free food, hit me up.’ I do none of that. We work ourselves as hard as we can, and we’re gonna make it on our own merit.”
Pimentel was confident in his principles, determined to stand out on his own terms.
“I just don’t agree with these methods,” said Pimentel. “You gotta kiss the rings, but I’m gonna treat you the way I want to be treated.”
But despite his refusal to plead for publicity, one internet search is all it takes to prove that Scarr’s Pizza has kicked down locked door after locked door. Out of sheer will and love for pizza, Scarr’s Pizza carved itself a place in the pantheon of New York City pizzerias, and the incredible slice I had tasted ended up on many Top 10 Best NYC Pizza lists, including on Thrillist, the New York Times, and Delish.
“I bulldozed my way through,” said Pimentel. “They never accepted me before, so they’re going to have to accept me now. If they don’t open up a lane for you, create your own lane. That’s what I did. I didn’t depend on nobody. I just did it on my own.”
His frustrations boiled over onto the media companies themselves.
“The other food media companies, it’s the same people,” said Pimentel. “90% white, white people doing Asian food. They’ll be like, ‘we’re looking for content.’ You got a whole city. There’s a hundred thousand other restaurants. Why is it the same five people that you hang out with? Eating for free at restaurants. I know this! I’ve seen it! I’ve been in these spots, and I see you eating for free.”
Racism and unfair representation persistently plague food media. The summer of 2020 saw one of the greatest uproars in food media when staff at Bon Appetit exposed the company for its racist and discriminatory practices. The New York Times has a substantial number of ethnic recipes written by white authors, although more credit has been given to authors of color with an “adapted from” title.
The problem seeps much deeper than just recipe credits. Food media needs writers and gatekeepers who respect and explore different cultures. These platforms should provide a space where diverse voices and foods can find the representation that they deserve.
“I would personally love to see a media company that’s about ethics and morals,” said Pimentel. “But first, I haven’t really encountered one yet, to be honest.”
For restaurants like Scarr’s Pizza, their support instead comes from the community around them.
Pimentel shouted out several other restaurants and their owners in the area for all their love, like Sabrina De Sousa at Dimes. “We’ve been friends way before she even opened up Dimes, which is surprising to a lot of people, but yeah, we’ve been friends for a long time. She’s an amazing person, her and her husband.”
But Pimentel’s hopes are still left in question. Media companies provide a voice for many of these restaurants. They showcase cultures and stories of the people behind the meal, but when these platforms are compromised by racism and unfair practices, could Pimentel’s vision ever come true?
EatNom will build the supportive community that Pimentel hopes to see. As a growing food media platform, EatNom is dedicated to sharing the food stories tied to the core of our cultures. With so many underrepresented voices and backgrounds, EatNom highlights these stories and shows that food truly is the great connector. With all of the love that restaurants like Scarr’s Pizza have shared with us through food, it’s time that we serve them for once!
New York Defined
Scarr Pimentel and Scarr’s Pizza stood strong from the start. With high-quality ingredients and aggressively independent standards, every ounce of their success has come from the hard workers behind the scenes and the dedication to their pizza. Quite simply, they let their pizza speak for itself. Healthier, tastier, but still top to bottom, pure New York City.
With plans to open a second location at the new food hall from Dekalb Market in Midtown, Scarr’s Pizza has set its eyes on sharing its passion for the slice with even more of New York City.