Co (Company): Top-Notch Neapolitan Pizza, Off the Radar
Neapolitan pizza, as a food group, has witnessed a serious resurgence in Manhattan over the past couple years. Motorino, Keste and most recently Donatella have received pages upon pages of press for their authentic Neapolitan pies. Co or Company, the brainchild of Sullivan Street Bakery’s Jim Lahey, opened in early 2009 and has stealthily become a neighborhood favorite ever since.
On the quiet corner of 24th and 9th Avenue, Co is very much under-the-radar with little more than a small hanging sign announcing its presence. Inside, the 54-seat dining room at Co exudes warmth, looking somewhat like a sauna (though, you know, without the oppressive heat), with contemporary wood paneling, a long rustic communal table, and soft low lighting emitted from contemporary rectangular chandeliers and industrial chic pendant lamps. The look is simple, casual, comfortable, homey without being chintzy, sleek and clean without being cold or impersonal. Near the door is a tiny bar, with just four or five seats for those seeking a solo meal or glass of wine; the bartender is chatty, good company for those waiting for friends or just looking for conversation.
The food at Co is rustic Italian, with a focus on Lahey’s funky neapolitan pizza baked at 700 degrees in a wood-burning oven imported from Modena. Start with a pizza bianca, a small white pie served with coarse sea salt, olive oil, and ricotta, if you’re willing to pay the extra $8; it’s a significant upgrade from the typical bread & butter boredom and a great way to sample Lahey’s impressive bread-making skills. It would be silly to visit Co without trying one of their round pizzas.
There’s one for every taste: the Rosa for purists, served simply with crushed tomato, garlic, oregano and chili, the Margarita for traditionalists, the Meatball for carnivores, packed with bits of veal meatballs, the Brussels Sprouts for the adventurous types, layered with bechamel, parmesan, lardons, chestnuts, red onion and chili. The Stracciatella is a masterpiece with rounds of mellow stracciatella melted over a white base, fresh and bright crushed tomatoes, the refreshing bite of arugula, and a shower of fresh ground black pepper – perfection! For those seeking a funkier blend between French and Italian flavors, the Flambe is marvelous, a rich and smoky bechamel base with crispy lardons, bursts of nutty parmesan and fresh mozzarella, and silky and slightly sweet caramelized onions. The diversity of Lahey’s Roman-inspired pies can be overwhelming for first-timers, yet truly exciting for those up to the challenge of choosing one or two.
Co is a welcoming sort of place, meant for groups of friends to congregate and enjoy good and simple food. The service is efficient and warm, the kitchen speedy, and the mostly local crowd civilized, and congenial. Co is pleasantly under-the-radar, devoid of the rabid crowds loitering outside Keste or the long waits at Motorino; Lahey’s labor of love has a quiet confidence about it that puts patrons at ease. With no pretensions and few irritating quirks, Co is a lovely choice for pizza lovers uninterested in fighting or waiting for their fix.
Perfect For: pizza fiends, a quiet dinner in the neighborhood, the 3rd or 4th date, solo meals, those-in-the-know seeking food off the High Line