Real, traditional, honest-to-San Gennaro New York pizza is hard to come by in Southern California, where pie-holes like Michael's and Mozza take cred for the best around.
No offense to contemporary Napolitana fans, but there is something to be missed about the many sacred traditions which originally evolved out of the Naples style, but have become lost in the New York pizzeria's transcontinental journey.
Where are the crispy super-thin crusts? The slices so floppy they require a taco fold? The casual street-side eatery at which to nab a quick lunch?
For finicky New England transplants and native West Coasters alike, all these things are found at Milana's--one of only a few bonafide New York pizza joints in the area and the only one within miles of downtown Long Beach.
Milana's pizzas, pastas and sandwiches have served as the special occasion "catering" in my office for nearly a year, but I can't help but want to eat in at their shiny new location (across the street from the old one) inside City Place.
Owned by a slicked-haired Italian New Yorker on a mission to share his hometown's signature grub with the LBC, Milana's has all the fixings of a Manhattan pizzeria, from the igloo-sized brick oven trapped in a long-and-narrow storefront to the pre-made cheese slices on display, ready for toppings.
In true NY fashion, there is only one whole pizza size (18"), but the two-slice special ($5.50 for anything but cheese) can fill up as much space as a regular pizzeria's medium, so if you're solo there's no excuse for leftovers.
If you're getting a big pie to share, you can either build your own with the selection of typical (pepperoni, olives, anchovies) and not so typical (chorizo, feta, sundried tomatoes) toppings or gorge out on some of Milana's specialty pizzas, most of which have cheeky New York-themed names.
Don't get caught up in some of the titles, though. The "4Get About the Lettuce BT" is just a bacon and tomato pizza in case your margherita needs some protein. And the "All 5 Boroughs" is a supreme pizza with fennel sausage and the usual suspects of pepperoni and olives, bell peppers and basil.
Other specialty pizzas, however, are far more imaginative than the Lombardi's menu thousands of miles away. The Hells Kitchen puts a sunny side up egg on top of a plain cheese pizza and the office favorite White Pizza is a habit-forming garlic and ricotta bomb that replaces red sauce with olive oil and drops some flecks of color in the form of a few spinach leaves.
Not into the thin crust? Order it Sicilian-style and like at other New York spots, it'll come as a rectangle with a thicker, chewier crust. Either way, the toppings will never be overdone, but perfectly spread throughout the slices so that every bite gets a full taste of all the ingredients (no sauce gushers here!).
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The only complaints usually lodged against this place come from people with beef against the Big Apple-style in general. No, the cheese will never be entirely covered by toppings and the crust wouldn't be legit if it was gooey or, on the other hand, overcooked, so stop asking.
But those who dislike Milana's can easily go fill up on greasy delivery from any one of the average cheese-n-bread pizza places that are a dime a dozen in Long Beach and leave this slice of Little Italy for those who can appreciate it.
Milana's, 165 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (562) 901-1111, milanasnewyorkpizzeria.com