Grading The Cleanliness Of Pizzerias

Pizza at Ray'sRobyn Baitcher Pizzas on display on the counter at Ray’s on St. Marks Place near Third Avenue. In July, city officials released a new cleanliness rating system for restaurants. Some of the revised grades for local pizzerias were released this month.

The East Village is home to myriad iconic late-night eateries, from 5 a.m. nachos on Avenue A to curry-sauced Belgian fries on Second Avenue. But for all our dining options, many of us share a common snacking obsession: The hot, cheesy pizza slice.

In July, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a new cleanliness rating system for restaurants in New York City. Residents around the East Village have no doubt seen the department’s laminated cards – displaying letter grades of “A,” “B” or “C” – propped up in restaurant windows around the neighborhood.

Pizza shops in the area have had a tough time scoring well under the new system, in part because storing pizza slices on open display before reheating them can be a Department of Health violation.

One shop, 2 Brothers Pizza, the famous $1 slice restaurant at 32 St. Marks, had its first health inspection under the new system earlier this month. It scored 17 points – thanks to a range of infractions – and earned a “B” grade for its sanitary practices (search “2 Bros” at

Under the new ratings system, different violations correspond to different point levels. Restaurants earning 0-13 points receive an “A” inspection score. “B” is given for 14-27 points, and 28 or more points earn a “C.” Violations cited against 2 Brothers included evidence of live mice and flies in the restaurant. Sounds gross, but it’s not as uncommon as you might think.

“These are typical and very common violations. Evidence of mice activity can be enough by finding mice droppings,” said M. Ben Reich, a Brooklyn-based consultant who helps restaurants challenge their health code violations at the Department of Health’s Administrative Tribunal.

“It may very well be that one’s own food preparation conditions are no better than what was found to be considered a violation of the health code,” he said.

City residents can look up violations at by searching the name of a restaurant. For pizza, the best way to explore our neighborhood’s ratings is by visiting that site and changing the cuisine type to “Pizza” and then inputting the three East Village zip codes (10012, 10003, 10009).

Grade PendingRobyn Baitcher Signs displaying the cleanliness grades recorded at 2 Brothers Pizza (top) and Artichoke Basille’s pizzeria.

Artichoke Basille’s Pizza & Brewery at 328 East 14th Street, known to many as “Artichoke” for its trademark spinach-artichoke slices, received 37 points in a recent Oct. 18 inspection (search “Artichoke” at, giving it one of the worst scores listed on the health department’s Web site for pizza restaurants in the neighborhood.

“Rodents are prevalent in New York. We spend thousands of dollars annually on professional exterminators who come every two weeks,” said Francis Garcia, the owner of Artichoke, who noted that that timetable is “far above and beyond” the requirements of city officials. “These dollars are spent for prevention not eradication. The majority of the points we received stem from that fact that we are a slice shop. Every slice shop has pies on display and reheats slices.”

Mr. Garcia said that pizzerias are especially vulnerable to the new cleanliness guidelines.

“There are multiple ways to look at these offenses, but at the end of the day, every slice shop in New York is in violation of these requirements if they leave pies out in the open at some point,” Mr. Garcia said. “Artichoke is fortunate enough to have a constant flow of people so the pies never sit long.”

Another one of the worst offenders was Two Boots at 176 East Third Street. The shop’s general manager, Daniel Mitchell, said that its rating was partly the result of external factors.

“We have a sign that says pizza in the window is for display only,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Some of the stuff clearly was our fault. But we got written up for a lot of stuff because they’re doing construction next door.”

Messages seeking comment from the owners of 2 Brothers were not returned.

At the other end of the scale, neighborhood pizza joints to earn an “A” so far include Villaggio Pizzeria & Restaurant on Avenue C, Solo Pizza on Avenue B and Iggy’s Pizzeria on First Avenue.

But just how much stock do East Village residents put in these ratings?

“It’s the best dollar slice in the city,” said East Village resident Ricky Dweck as he devoured a 2 Brothers cheese slice Thursday night, one day after the ratings were released. “There are mice and dirty stuff all over the place. Haven’t you ever seen mice in your apartment?”

Rating the Restaurants

The East Village houses zip codes 10009, 10003 and 10012. In total, the zip codes include 65 rated pizza restaurants on the Department of Health site. However, some ratings are as old as 2009, and not all the slice shops listed fall within the boundaries of the East Village (the zip codes spill over into other neighborhoods).

When those neighborhood boundaries are considered, 11 pizza places have been inspected in the East Village since the new health department restaurant ratings Web site went live and the rating cards were released on July 28. Their rankings from lowest (best scoring) to highest (worst scoring) are:

Solo Pizza, 27 Avenue B: 9
Villaggio Pizzeria & Restaurant, 180 Avenue C: 9
Iggy’s Pizzeria, 173 First Avenue: 12
East Village Pizza, 145 First Avenue: 13
Vinny’s Pizza, 231 First Avenue: 14
Stromboli Pizza, 83 St. Marks Place: 17
2 Brothers Pizza, 32 St. Marks Place: 17
Lil Frankie’s Pizza, 19 First Avenue: 25
Two Boots Pizzeria, 42 Avenue A: 35
Artichoke Basille’s Pizza & Brewery, 328 East 14th Street: 37
Mom’s Pizza Burger Gyro, 15 Avenue D: 75