BABY DOLL PIZZA openly claims to offer "authentic New York-style pizza," which is a sure way to get anyone who has spent any time in New York City to prime a withering sigh and dust off their parochial cynicism. This pizza can't just be objectively evaluated, it must also be measured against a difficult standard—a standard that has a lot of baggage. Rose-colored glasses and regional pride can make it hard to give a distant pie a fair shake, but it's human nature to defend traditions we know to be right. It's how we have things like an intact version of The Odyssey and children who can recite George Carlin's telling of "The Aristocrats" verbatim.
Here is what I do know: If Baby Doll had a window downtown, it would sell "walkin' around" slices by the thousands each day. A large wedge of their commendably thin, supernaturally even pie stays crisp and stiff to the tip, folds beautifully, and weeps but a tear of grease when compressed upon itself. The leopard-spotted undercrust is nearly as brittle as a cracker, with mere millimeters of dough for chew on top. A scant layer of barely herbed and extremely simple sauce is brushed on—stained, really—and then topped with a thin veil of cheese that adheres so well it can't easily be pulled off.
The crust itself would seem under-salted if not for the toppings, and could ostensibly benefit from the flavors of a longer fermentation, but as a part of the whole—which is how you eat pizza—its nutty character is well developed, its texture is good, and it does its job well. It doesn't have the moistness and chew of a Neapolitan-style crust, and the crumb structure is denser, but that's what makes it what it is: a well-engineered, highly portable, clean-eating slice.
Whole 18" pies start at $17 for cheese, and an interesting assortment of toppings add $1-3 each. The gluten-free pie is 12" and starts at $9. The roster of 10 specialty pies shows imagination, with a combination of bacon, sautéed mushrooms, fresh garlic, chopped walnuts, and chopped dates ($22) topping the "didn't sound like it would work but it did" category. More traditional assortments, like bacon, sausage, roasted peppers, onions, and mushrooms ($23), might sound like a bit much for the paper-thin crust, but the toppings are cut and portioned in synch with the pie's structural integrity.
The gluten-free pizza was, like so many gluten-dependent items re-engineered to omit that fundamental protein, a different beast entirely. They do oil the bottom to help it fry and crisp a bit, but on the whole it's no more interesting than freezer pizza.
Four sandwiches ($6-7) and four salads ($5-6) complete the menu, along with some unremarkable garlic knots ($2.75) that you can fiddle with if you don't think you're getting enough bread. These sides miss their intended marks in a predictable variety of ways. The rolls for the earnestly filled sandwiches are weak and seem like the bagged variety, which is too bad, because the Italian meat sandwich (salami Toscana, finocchiona, mortadella, Mama Lil's peppers, lettuce, tomato, onion, mozzarella, Italian dressing) has the makings and heft of a solid hoagie. The meatball sandwich gets a nod for house-made meatballs of brisket and short rib, but the cook times and mixing of the meat is off, resulting in both firm grains and soft textures that aren't nice separately or together.
The salads are fairly perfunctory. The Caesar ($5) gets points for being tossed with its dressing—something an alarmingly high number of places don't think is important—but those points are rescinded for basing the emulsion on too-dominant olive oil, and lacking richness and acid. The Greek salad ($6) is similarly forgettable.
The space is best described as minimalist, done in the "decorated by some dudes who didn't know their mom was coming" sensibility of interior design. Baseball cards with Jeffrey Tambor's face lovingly glued to them, customer-decorated pizza boxes, limited mix-and-match seating... you get the picture. This is a perfectly good utilitarian room for a casual pie and a pitcher, or a quick solo slice.
Baby Doll Pizza does offer delivery on the Eastside, in an area roughly described as "between 2nd and 60th, south of Broadway and north of Powell." The owner suggested they might tighten that up as time goes on, so get it while the getting's good, because this is the kind of pie that can handle time in a box, and also reheats beautifully in a toaster oven or a hot, dry pan.
Is it New York style? Yes, it is, and it's the best version I've found here. More importantly, it is, objectively, a well-executed pizza—uncomplicated, delicious, and fairly priced.
Draft beer and soda available (including Rochester root beer, for aficionados), with a small selection of wine. Open Mon-Thurs 11 am-midnight, Fri-Sat 11 am-3 am, Sun 3-11 pm.