Artist celebrates best pizza in NYC in obsessive quest

Call it a life story.

A culinary quest that began with the pandemic has led Joel Holland through the five boroughs to sample and sketch the best pizza the city has to offer.

Now, nearly two years later, he has more than 400 drawings of pizzerias and other notable windows of restaurants and marketplaces in the boroughs. Holland first shared his sketches on his Instagram and they will be part of his upcoming illustration book, “NYC Storefronts,” which will hit shelves next fall.

In March 2020, the 45-year-old pizza connoisseur and professional illustrator decided to combine his passions by vividly sketching mother-and-pizzerias as COVID-19 steamed restaurants.

“I was sad about that and missed places I couldn’t go, so I started drawing in response,” Holland told The Post. “It was an ad they didn’t ask for.”

Joel Holland
The Gramercy artist combined two of his passions through vivid sketches of mom and pop pizza parlors in NYC after venturing into (and eating) the pie joints for a flavorful art project that all New Yorkers can digest.
thanks to Joel Holland

Time to brighten things up

While the drawings started out as a hobby and a tribute to these NYC icons, Holland soon saw his Instagram getting more attention from the artwork — as did the pizzerias themselves, which range from gourmet to grab-and-go.

It was then that Holland realized it was time to put things right by going to the suburbs to positively promote as many pizzerias as possible through his portraits. To date, the illustrator has created more than 50 pizzeria portraits.

The selection method was simple: He recalled past pizza excursions since coming to town from Pennsylvania in the mid-1990s, delved deep into the stories he’d heard about the folklore of the New York pie scene, and took suggestions from his approximately 5,000 devoted followers on Instagram .

single spots

Each chosen place will always have its own unique character, Holland said, saying that the people, the architecture and of course the pizza itself are all critical factors.

“It’s such a fun way to get in touch with the city. It became something for everyone to enjoy and a beautiful tribute to the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into these stores,” Holland said, adding that it gave him the chance to go on an adventure and explore places that are “strange ” for him, like the Bronx and Queens, were in the best of ways.

“Doing this was instinctive. I like pizza, I make pizza, I love pizza, people talk about pizza.”

While narrowing down the list is challenging, here are a few of Holland’s favorites in NYC.

Louie and Ernie’s in the Bronx

sketch of Louie & Ernie's Pizza
Thanks to Joel Holland

The Netherlands first discovered this gem of the East Bronx in 2006 on a frigid day. He was a fan of the unusually low facade of the pizzeria and said the atmosphere in the shop was simply ideal. “People talk about it like a ‘Mount Rushmore’ pizza,” Holland said. “They have a great pie, regular people and the Giants game was on. What else do you want?”

1300 Crosby Avenue; 718-829-6230, LouieandErniesPizza.com

Joe’s in Manhattan

sketch of Joe's Pizza
Thanks to Joel Holland

“It’s the part of New York. It’s the Godfather, the number 1 piece in town. It never disappoints, it’s always good,” Holland sounded at this iconic spot, saying he would eat at Joe’s before moving to NYC in the early 1990s.

7 Karmijnstraat; 212-366-1182, via Instagram @JoesPizzaNYC

maneros in Manhattan

sketch of Manero's
Thanks to Joel Holland

Holland discovered this Little Italy slice shop after it was first delivered during the pandemic. Delighted to see the cheap look of a cake “bursting out of the box”, the artist became a devoted regular. “It’s tasty, charred, a very nice pizza,” Holland said, pointing out that he was friends with owner Roman Grandinetti.

113 Mulberry Street; 212-961-6183, Maneros. Pizza

Manos in Queens

sketch of Mano's Pizzeria
Thanks to Joel Holland

This Queens joint was recommended to Holland by some fans who he described as “much more into the pizza game than even me.” With its distinctive green, white and red exterior, Holland found Mano’s aesthetically pleasing. And the pizza is just as delicious. “It’s on par with some of the best pizza in town. It tastes special. It’s a well-balanced piece.”

62-98 Bos Ave.; 718-418-1112, via Yelp at Mano’s Pizzeria

Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Brooklyn

sketch of Paulie's Gee
Thanks to Joel Holland

One snowy day, Holland brought his kids to try first what is revered as one of Brooklyn’s best. He tasted the “Hellboy Slice” topped with Mike’s Hot Honey and pepperoni and was “blown away”. Another reason Holland loves Paulie Gee’s is because it’s sold at Knicks Games. “You don’t have to settle for bad pizza at MSG.”

110 Franklin Street; 347-987-3747, PaulieGee.com

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