The battle of the pie

A couple of crusty competitors pursue customers’ pizza preference under the ‘el’


Some New Yorkers might argue choosing a slice of pizza is kind of like choosing a lover — highly subjective, deliciously simple for some, profoundly complex for others.

“It depends on your taste, on what you like,” said Louis Porco, owner of Broadway Joe’s Pizza in North Riverdale ensconced along a somewhat dingy commercial strip opposite Van Cortlandt Park’s western edge.

“But New York-style pizza is what we have. It’s just a bigger slice. It’s not thin.”

Porco’s father — for whom the joint is named — opened it in 1969. Louis, meanwhile, has served up sizzling slices full-time since 1985, although he started working there on weekends while attending Salesian High School in New Rochelle.

“I think people like New York-style pizza,” Porco said. “New York is famous for their pizza. I haven’t done any surveys, but it seems like we have loyal customers and we’re doing good. So far, no problems.”

But those thick, foldable slices are decidedly different than what’s dished out at Federico Guglielmo’s Pizza Supreme — literally steps from Joe’s on an otherwise sterile corner of West 242nd Street.

Clad in a dark collared white polka-dot shirt with a crucifix dangling from his neck, Guglielmo sat at one of his nascent establishment’s sturdy wooden tables under the soft glow of Edison bulbs, amidst what smelled like simmering tomato sauce.

He chose the location because it’s a busy pedestrian thoroughfare, although a recent Friday around lunchtime seemed somewhat subdued. Still, Guglielmo himself steadily shepherded pie after pie out the door, even if inside his cavernous eatery wasn’t quite bustling.

It’s a place he’s confident he’ll sell plenty of pies.

“Riverdale is a known wealthy town,” Guglielmo said. “It’s close to the city, centrally located.” And those who call it home tend to be “serious people that appreciate good food. We should be able to do OK with them.”

The spot also is right next to the northern terminus of the 1 train line, within walking distance of Manhattan College and several high schools, which Guglielmo deemed auspicious for catering gigs.

“The area is just ideal,” Guglielmo said. “We’re getting a lot of exposure from a lot of different angles.”

But even with all the traffic, Guglielmo concedes it’s not the typical pie some students or longtime residents might be familiar with.

“We are a new construction,” Guglielmo said, “a little bit different from what is in the area,” which is “very old. Nobody really did any updating. So we’re kind of like the new, trendy location.”

If his location is new in some neighbors’ eyes, Guglielmo is no rookie in his trade. He’s racked up more than four decades of experience crafting pies since he was 15.

“It’s a family thing,” he said. His late father established a pizzeria on Morris Park Avenue after the family moved from Italy. In fact, Guglielmo hails from Naples, where he says the humble pie originated.

“With all the experience that I have with ingredients and mastery of the dough — which is one of the most important things about pizza — we’re able to bring good taste,” Guglielmo said.

But not just pizza — Supreme also offers pasta, entrees, “comfortable food, but really good quality,” including meatballs made from his mother’s own recipe. He further mines inspiration by returning to different parts of his homeland annually to gather fresh recipes, seasonings and techniques.

Pizza Supreme opened last December, and thus far business has exceeded Guglielmo’s expectations. And even with everything he’s invested into his budding enterprise — not just financially, but passion and experience — he recognizes the competition is pretty stiff in a neighborhood already saturated with solid hole-in-the-wall pie joints.

“So why would (their customers) come to me?” Guglielmo asked. “Of course, when you’re a new business, they want to come and try you. Plus, we have a nice-looking place where people can just sit comfortably and enjoy.”

He plans to introduce beer and wine by April, if not sooner, which could entice diners to linger a little longer.

“I love the competition,” he added.

“It’s the best thing because it makes me do better. It keeps me on my toes.”

While Supreme played oldies at gentle volume on a recent Friday, it was Jay-Z on tap at Joe’s, where the smaller space saw a constant stream of regulars picking up not just slices, but also beef patties, filled with spicy ground meat smothered in mozzarella cheese and piles of sausage or pepperoni.

Old photos of Yankee Stadium and former shortstop Derek Jeter adorned the walls. While those photos may have changed over time, Porco hasn’t altered the way he makes pizza. And he has reason to trust the process that’s worked for a half century: Customers keep returning.

Like Wayne Cruz, a Brooklyn-based graffiti artist and break-dancer who’s tried slices all over the city, but was in the neighborhood recently hanging out with his young daughter and son, who live in Kingsbridge.

He first tasted Broadway Joe’s more than 20 years ago. Since then, it’s barely changed, Cruz said — not just the pizza itself, but also the friendly service and cozy digs.

“This is the go-to place,” Cruz said. “Call it brand loyalty. I know them, and they’ve been here forever.”