Call it a slice-of-life story.
A culinary quest that began with the pandemic has taken Joel Holland around the five boroughs to taste — and sketch — the best pizza the city has to offer.
Now almost two years later, he has upwards of 400 drawings of pizzerias and other distinct storefronts of restaurants and marketplaces across the boroughs. Holland first shared his sketches on his Instagram and they will be part of his upcoming illustration book, “NYC Storefronts,” slated to hit shelves next fall.
In March 2020, the 45-year-old pizza connoisseur and professional illustrator decided to combine his passions by vividly sketching mom-and-pop pizzerias as COVID-19 steamrolled restaurants.
“I was sad about that and missing places I couldn’t go to, so I started making drawings as a response,” Holland told The Post. “It was an advertisement they didn’t ask for.”
Time to sauce things up
While the drawings began as a hobby and homage to these icons of NYC, Holland soon saw his Instagram was gaining traction from the artwork — as were the pizzerias themselves, which range from gourmet to grab-and-go.
That’s when Holland realized it was time to sauce things up by branching out to the outer boroughs to positively promote as many pizza parlors as possible through his portraiture. The illustrator has now created more than 50 pizzeria portraits.
The selection methodology was simple: He would recall prior pizza excursions since coming to the city from Pennsylvania in the mid-1990s, deep dive into the stories he’s heard of the New York pie scene’s folklore and take suggestions from his some 5,000 dedicated followers on Instagram.
Each chosen spot always has its own unique character, Holland said, mentioning that the people, the architecture and, of course, the pizza itself are all critical factors.
“It’s such a fun way to mesh with the city. It became something for everybody and a wonderful tribute to the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into these shops,” Holland said, adding that it gave him the opportunity to adventure and explore places “foreign” to him, like the Bronx and Queens, in the best ways.
“Doing this was instinctive. I like pizza, I make pizza, I’m into pizza, people talk about pizza.”
While it’s a challenge to narrow down the list, here are a few of Holland’s favorites around NYC.
Louie and Ernie’s in the Bronx
Holland first discovered this jewel of the East Bronx in 2006 on a frigid day. A fan of the pizzeria’s unusually low facade, he said that the shop’s atmosphere was simply ideal. “People talk about it as a ‘Mount Rushmore’ of pizza,” Holland said. “They’ve got a great pie, regular folks and the Giants game was on. What more could you want?”
1300 Crosby Ave.; 718-829-6230, LouieandErniesPizza.com
Joe’s in Manhattan
“It is the New York slice. It’s the Godfather, the No. 1 slice in the city. It never disappoints, it’s always good,” Holland sounded off on this iconic spot, mentioning he would eat at Joe’s before moving to NYC in the early 1990s.
7 Carmine St.; 212-366-1182, via Instagram @JoesPizzaNYC
Manero’s in Manhattan
Holland discovered this Little Italy slice shop after first having it delivered during the pandemic. Delighted to see the cheesy aura of a pie “bursting out of the box,” the artist became a dedicated regular. “It’s flavorful, charred right, a very pretty pizza,” Holland said, mentioning that he’s befriended owner Roman Grandinetti.
113 Mulberry St.; 212-961-6183, Maneros.Pizza
Mano’s in Queens
This Queens joint was recommended to Holland by some fans he described as “way more into the pizza game than even me.” With its distinct green, white and red exterior, Holland found Mano’s aesthetically pleasing. And the pizza is just as delightful. “It’s on level with some of the best pizza in the city. It tastes special. It’s a well-balanced slice.”
62-98 Forest Ave.; 718-418-1112, via Yelp at Mano’s Pizzeria
Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Brooklyn
On a snowy day, Holland brought his children along to first try what’s revered as one of Brooklyn’s best. He sampled the “Hellboy Slice” topped with Mike’s Hot Honey and pepperoni and was “blown away.” Another reason Holland adores Paulie Gee’s is because it’s sold at Knicks games. “You don’t have to settle for bad pizza at MSG.”
110 Franklin St.; 347-987-3747, PaulieGee.com