In Midtown, Growing a Greener Pizza

For eco-minded eaters, Midtown East has long been tough territory for takeout. But on 56th Street near Lexington Avenue—the land of both Bloomingdale’s and Bloomberg News—sits the two-yearold Certe Pizza, an oasis for hungry locavores.

For eco-minded eaters, Midtown East has long been tough territory for takeout.

But on 56th Street near Lexington Avenue—the land of both Bloomingdale’s and Bloomberg News—sits the two-yearold Certe Pizza, an oasis for hungry locavores.

We mean that literally, considering the walls of this modern pizzeria—it’s certified by the Green Restaurant Association—actually sprout herbs.

Old ricotta tubs hold leggy rosemary in winter and bushy basil in summer, hydrated with help from a rainwater collection system chef and owner Edward Sylvia had installed. (Whatever’s left gets used to wash the floors.)

Despite the fact that this shop is barely bigger than a Quiznos—which is exactly what it used to be—Sylvia also pushes the boundaries in his Italian-American menu. Breakfast breads are spread with fresh ricotta and chunky strawberry preserves; frittatas are fired in cast-iron pans and laced with local cheddar; Lancaster County popcorn is popped and topped with Certegrown rosemary and Wisconsin pecorino.

Later on, there’s handmade pappardelle and fat-fried arancini, the latter stuffed with grassfed beef and served with a side of Sylvia’s tomato sauce, a bright, thick, fresh creation he makes from whole organic plum tomatoes. (The discarded seeds go into the house vinaigrette; what little compost remains gets dropped off weekly on the chef’s route home to Long Island.)

And of course there is pizza, which begins with unbromated, unbleached flour and a touch of “Dominick,” the giant blob of five-year-old starter Sylvia keeps in the walk-in. The dough is slow-risen, resulting in a touch of sourness and a crispy, crackly, bubbly crust. (Remarkably, a slice of either of the two best-sellers— a margherita topped with fresh mozz from Lioni Latticini, and a ridiculously rich white pie topped with Gruyère and onions caramelized with local whiskey—is just $2.50.)

If all this seems awfully advanced for a takeout joint, consider that the spot is a side project of Certe, the nine-year-old green catering company Sylvia runs on East 55th Street. The chef, who grew up in Queens and Long Island, has cheffed at Aquavit and Petrossian and was first introduced to farm-to-table sourcing in the late 1990s, when the new culinary grad sought an unpaid position at Bouley. So when the Quiznos around the corner from Certe shuttered, he saw an opportunity to finally buy a pizza oven (catering clients like Bravo TV, Sony and UBS were already fans of the pies) and to expand his culinary “beliefs” to a new batch of Midtowners.

True, not all of the worker bees who stop by for a slice get every nuance, but they like what they’re tasting. “This is about a place,” says Sylvia, “for people who like good fresh food.”

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.