Patio Pick: Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern brings NY-style pies to Cumming

Open in Cumming since 2019, Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern specializes in New York-style pizza. Pictured are the meat lover's pie dubbed the Bronx (top) and the veggie-filled Queens (bottom). (Courtesy of Paula Pontes)
Caption
Open in Cumming since 2019, Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern specializes in New York-style pizza. Pictured are the meat lover's pie dubbed the Bronx (top) and the veggie-filled Queens (bottom). (Courtesy of Paula Pontes)

Credit: Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

If you like talking pizza, Cary Lee will talk your ear off. After all, he’s been in the business for 36 years, the last two as the co-owner of Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern in Cumming.

He takes his craft seriously. “It is not a fast food. It is a gourmet food. Americans have turned it into fast food,” he said.

Yet fast-food pizza is where a teenage Lee got his start. His initial job at a Domino’s in Smyrna was to take phone orders, but making pizzas was his real interest. He took a cue from a co-worker named Chaz who was speedy at pizza assembly and ultimately caught the attention of his superiors. “Management was like, ‘You are abnormally fast,’” Lee recounted.

Lee estimates he has worked at more than 120 pizzerias. “I grew up poor and popped around all over the place,” he said. “I got to see so many different styles. I learned something from every place I worked. Sometimes, it was learning what not to do.”

He counts Peter “The Pizza Whisperer” Taylor among his most influential instructors. “He taught me in-depth about pizza,” Lee said of Taylor, currently chef-owner of Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar in Tampa. The pair first connected when Lee worked in Tampa making Connecticut-style pizza at Alessi’s.

Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern is where Lee has put his cumulative knowledge of pizza-making to work since opening the restaurant in April 2019 with business partner Brian Williams.

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Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern in Cumming offers sit-down service and a full bar. (Courtesy of Paula Pontes)
Caption
Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern in Cumming offers sit-down service and a full bar. (Courtesy of Paula Pontes)

Credit: Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

Five Boroughs bills itself as a New York-style pizzeria, but Lee divulged that the thin-crust product is technically a hybrid of two Neapolitan descendants: New York and Connecticut, aka New Haven.

“It’s a little heavier on the sauce and lighter on the cheese,” Lee said of Five Boroughs pies. “It’s more well-done, and I deliberately push air bubbles to the rim of it. You can get one bite that’s chewy, one bite that’s crispy. Once you eat bubbled pizza, you really like them.”

I really did like the Bronx, essentially a meat lover’s pie topped with pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, ham and bacon. I liked its foldability, and the balance of meat toppings, cheese, sauce and crust.

Lee prides himself on the quality of ingredients at Five Boroughs. No tomato paste — only fresh tomatoes. Ditto with herbs. Grande brand mozzarella is “hands down, the best shredded mozzarella cheese,” while imported pecorino lends “a little salt kick” that “gives the pizza balance” — know-how he acquired from his days slinging CT-style pies.

Balance is a big thing for Lee. “Balance is how my food tastes good. … You can taste the dough, sauce and cheese and all are very balanced and level all the way across.”

The Queens pizza, essentially a deluxe veggie, was piled with spinach, onion, mushrooms, green pepper, black olives, sliced tomato and artichoke hearts. Unfortunately, the produce tended to slide off the crust.

Using workhorse brick-lined, gas deck Marsal ovens touted for fast, even cooking, Five Boroughs offers nearly a dozen combination pizzas, each a playful reference to a borough, neighborhood or landmark in the Big Apple. There is also a build your own option; select a sauce (tomato, white garlic, or pesto) and toppings divided into two categories: Lower East Side and Upper West Side. The latter are slightly fancier and cost a little bit more. Gluten-free and cauliflower crusts are also available for an upcharge.

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Diavolo Peppers, featuring red peppers stuffed with honeyed goat cheese and served in a spicy fra diavolo sauce with crostini, are a popular starter at Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern. (Courtesy of Paula Pontes)
Caption
Diavolo Peppers, featuring red peppers stuffed with honeyed goat cheese and served in a spicy fra diavolo sauce with crostini, are a popular starter at Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern. (Courtesy of Paula Pontes)

Credit: Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

On a rainy Saturday evening, steady takeout traffic kept the Marsal ovens busy in the kitchen. And, while most of the carryout crowd walked away with 12- and 16-inch pizzas, Five Boroughs offers more than that. It’s a full-service sit-down spot with a stocked bar and a menu of Italian American starters, soups, salads, sandwiches and pastas.

While you’re waiting for that pizza, snack on an order of Diavolo Peppers, baked Peppadew peppers stuffed with honeyed goat cheese in a delicious spicy fra diavolo sauce with plenty of crostini, all showered with Parm. An appetizer of fried calamari was airily crisp rather than grease-heavy or rubbery.

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Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern offers covered patio seating with a fireplace and mounted TVs. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)
Caption
Five Boroughs Pizza Tavern offers covered patio seating with a fireplace and mounted TVs. (Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com)

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The patio is a draw, too. When Lee and Williams took over the space, which has previously been home to a sushi bar, a couple of Greek concepts and most recently Italian restaurant Grazie Mille, they transformed the front into a 32-seat covered patio complete with a stone hearth. Weekends bring live entertainment, and a couple of TVs were recently installed outside to please the sports crowd.

I lucked out with the pleasing-est of servers: a cheery fellow named Dallas. Selling the menu at Five Boroughs is the only restaurant job this former door-to-door Kirby vacuum salesperson has had. He’s a firm believer in the product and this place. And if “balanced and level” is key for Lee’s pizzas, Dallas does his part. Soon after my party was seated, he noticed that the table was wobbling and quickly jammed a coaster under one of the legs. There’s more than one way to avoid a sliding pizza.

FIVE BOROUGHS PIZZA TAVERN

Menu: New York-style pizza plus Italian American appetizers, pastas, sandwiches

Alcohol: Full bar

What I ordered: Diavolo Peppers ($9), Fried Calamari ($12), Queens pizza ($17), Bronx pizza ($17)

Service options: Dine-in and takeout; delivery through most third-party delivery services

Mask policy: Not required for staff or guests

Address, phone: 1370 Buford Highway, Cumming; 470-695-4011

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Website: fiveboroughspizzatavern.com

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