Located east of Morningside Park—just a 10-minute walk from Morningside Heights, but seemingly a million miles away from campus—lies a small gem in the guise of Pizzeria 123.
The pizzeria boasts a wide range of offerings, from burgers to hoagies, from salads to sandwiches. All are moderately priced, and the pizzas are especially reasonable, with a basic 16-inch pie running for $11.
The toppings available are a pleasant change from the normal pizzeria fare. Well-cooked eggplant stands out as particularly excellent. Bacon, rather than being served as bits, comes in crispy strips. The pepperoni is thin and not particularly spicy—with a flavor not unlike that of salami—while the sausage pieces are remarkably thick slices of seemingly whole sausage rather than the ground-up norm.
With a crisp yet flaky outside, and a waffle-like doughy center, the crust at Pizzeria 123 is the star of the show. It handles copious amounts of grease, and even after 20 minutes, it never gets soggy, though it is certainly damp. The crust also has a very pleasant starchy flavor, but at times this could overpower the other components of the pie.
The cheese is the weakest part of the pizza—neither the cheese-sauce nor cheese-topping interfaces are particularly strong. The cheese itself has a nice texture, but is not flavorful on its own. However, this isn’t unpleasant, as it calls attention to the fine texture and taste of the crust. The sauce cooperates with the cheese in this general trend toward blandness, which can only be alleviated by the excellent toppings.
The establishment itself is friendly, and the service is quite fast. On one particular day, there was a constant flow of people moving between the street and the restaurant, which was operating on the fine line between active and too busy. On a sunny day, the lively street scene on Frederick Douglass Boulevard is a wonderful detour from Morningside Heights.
Harlem is unfairly pigeonholed as a culinary vacuum by the denizens of Columbia, but Pizzeria 123 is certainly worth the walk.