UWS Pizza: Celeste’s and Dean’s Pies are a notch above

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While the search for the best pie on the Upper West Side continues, Celeste and Dean’s provide quality and affordable options a notch above most of the neighborhood slice joints.

Celeste’s Wood-Fired Margherita ($11.00, Cash only) covered with fresh, fragrant basil:

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Dean’s Old Fashioned Sicilian aka Grandma ($16.00) and a slice from their Large Old School Round ($16.00):

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NYC Food Guy attended a pre-New Years Eve dinner at Celeste with seven friends. The small restaurant seats around 50 people and space was tight. I’d heard good things about the pizza and decided the Margherita (tomato, basil, fresh mozz) would be kindest to my stomach. Another intriguing choice was the Quattro Sagioni (prosciutto, mushrooms, tomato, artichokes, and mozz) but too many toppings on any pie, especially a small, thin one is asking for a messy pizza disaster.

The pie, as seen above, arrived steaming and the aroma from the fresh basil was deliciously intoxicating. Before I began eating however, I requested some parmesan cheese, and to my pleasant surprise was greeted with a gluttonous helping of freshly shaved parm:

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Without being too self-reverential, NYC Food Guy made another great call. The freshly grated parm melted into the fresh mozzarella and provided a latticework that encapsulated the basil into every bite. It was pizza harmony in action right before my eyes.

The pizza itself was delicious. The crust was hearty without being doughy. It stood the test of it’s juicy, copious toppings without falling apart. It was light and airy yet received a nice, steady char on it’s underbelly, giving it some stability, as you can see below:

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The pie itself was the size of a dinner plate but for $11 you can’t really go wrong. Based on my 7 friends’ reactions to their dinners and appetizers, I can only recommend the meat plate ($9.00) with thin slices of prosciutto, salame, capocollo and soprassat and the Salmone Croccante, crispy roasted salmon with sauteed spinach and roasted potatoes. I didn’t have a taste of either but both dishes looked fresh and my friends devoured them hastily. King of Ketchup’s chose deep-fried buffalo-ricotta balls for an appetizer, as recommended by Rob & Robin of nymag.com, and was disappointed with the two barely-fried gobs of tasteless buffalo ricotta he paid almost $8 for. His Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina ($9), potato dumplings with tomato sauce and basil, looked like a meager portion of gummy, tacky-sauced disappointment. James, a Washington, D.C. native, made a questionable call ordering the Tagliatelle con Gamberi E Verza ($9.50), egg noodles with cabbage, shrimps, and pecorino and was pleasantly surprised to find a spicy-sauced, delicious pasta dish.

Celeste is a decent UWS date spot but it fills up quickly and is cash only, so get there early and don’t forget to hit the ATM beforehand.

Dean’s, on the other hand, was filled with families full of little kids and babies at 7PM on New Year’s Day. Walking through an enclosed outside dining area, not suitable for winter, King of Ketchup, my family minus my brother, and NYC Food Guy ambled past a fully stocked wood bar to the dining room in the back of the restaurant. Two gas-burning brick ovens lie in the front of the room, the mouth-watering scent of cooking pizzaemanating from their fiery hearths.

Crowded and understaffed on New Year’s Day, the service naturally suffered. Our waiter was hustling just to get our drink orders while tending to his other tables. We received some decent bread but unfortunately Dean’s does not serve butter to tables reserving it for cooking purposes only. Disappointing; the bread was pretty bland and doughy and definitely could have benefited from the addition of some fatty goodness. The Sicilian pizza, as you’ll see in a moment, also suffered due to the restaurant’s chaos; the crust was overly burnt as if it had been removed from a coal oven not a gas oven.

The Old School Round pie arrived first, half peppers ($2.50 per topping for half or whole):

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The thin slices of green and yellow pepper were weak but the slice itself was pretty tasty. An ample amount of fresh mozzarella covered the pie while the spare slices of fresh basil made up for the ordinary sauce. My first slice was thin enough to fold under the pressure of the sauce and cheese but my second slice was crisp, light and well cooked.

NYC Food Guy eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Old Fashioned Square Pizza, Dean’s Grandma slice, which I’d read on Grub Street uses the same recipe as Adrienne’s Pizza Bar; no coinicidence considering co-owner Mirene Angelis’ brother is Nick Angelis, the man behind Nick’s Pizza in Forest Hills, Rockville Center, and the Upper East Side. Mr. Angelis is serving as “free consultant” to his sister and her husband Nick Tsoulos, owner of the Patsy’s chain and co-owner of Angelo’s Coal Over Pizza with Mr. Angelis. Some serious pizza pedigree.Dean’s and Adrienne’s Grandma Pie, considered one of the best and most unique in all of New York by NYC Food Guy, features 5-cheeses: Padano, salted and unsalted Pecorino, grated Grande mozzarella, and fresh mozzarella. Bubbling and smoky, the pie is served in an aluminum tray with crisp cheese around the edges of the thin, airy and slightly puffy crust:

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The crust was charred and smoky on the corner slices…

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…As well as the middle slices of the pie:

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The slightly smoky flavor of the 5 cheeses melded perfectly with the charred crust to create a Grandma Slice like you’ve never tasted before. NYC Food Guy wouldn’t even bother with the Old School Round pie, just go right for the Grandma pie. Although Ed Levine calls Dean’s “semi-serious” because it’s a just cog in the wheel of the Angelis-Tsoulos pizza empire, NYC Food Guy would say until further notice, Dean’s has the best Grandma Pie above Lincoln Sqaure.

The search definitely continues to find the NYC’s best pizza but until the next discovery or disappointment, Celeste and Dean’s provide two delicious, high-quality, and affordable pie options that are both a big step above any slice joints on the UWS.

Celeste (Pies, Cash, take-out only)

502 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10024
between 84th and 85th St.

212-874-4559

Dean’s Family Style Restaurant and Pizzeria (Pies only)
215 W. 85th St., New York, NY 10024
b/t Broadway & Amsterdam

212-875-1100

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2 Responses to “UWS Pizza: Celeste’s and Dean’s Pies are a notch above”

  1. grandma Says:

    that’s not a grandma slice buddy…that’s a regular pizza shaped like a square. big, big difference.

  2. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Grandma-

    I know where you’re coming from, Dean’s Grandma looks nothing like your typical slice-joint Grandma Slice. This is Nick Angelos’ recipe for Grandma Slices however, and when creating a pizza empire like he has (3 Nick’s stores plus Adrienne’s Pizza Bar), you need to set yourself apart. I’m not an authentic Italian food expert but I do know they call this the “old fashioned Sicilian”, maybe this recipe speaks to something that has been passed down through the ages and we’re only now becoming lucky enough to try it.

    Regardless of the name, it’s delicious, so get out there and try it.

    Happy Eating,
    NYC Food Guy

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