LITTLE ITALY -- Ask devotees of the original Ray's Pizza what makes a perfect slice, and you'll get any number of answers: just enough oil; a ridge of oven-fresh dough; or a rich, creamy layer of cheese. The city may be full of imitators, they say, but there's nothing like the original.
"You come down here and it's hot out of the oven, and the cheese is really creamy," said Randy Warshaw, 27, who lives on the Lower East Side. "The other chains are exactly that--chains."
Long-time fans and newcomers alike crowded into the Little Italy pizzeria for a last taste of Prince Street's reigning plain pie, tucking into $1.50 slices to bid farewell to a neighborhood institution.
Rays -- which was opened in 1959 by Ralph Cuomo and spawned dozens of imitators across the city -- was expected to serve its last slice Sunday night because a legal dispute with the building's landlord forced the 52-year-old institution to close.
"I've been eating in this restaurant for 20 years," said long-time local Peter Ferraro, who'd brought his dog Dino along for a nosh. "I'm heartbroken."
The eatery was only serving plain slices Sunday, which didn't deter the steady stream of customers.
By early afternoon, manager Carlos Ecalada said they'd had a light rush, but most diners had little trouble finding a seat. He said they'll keep churning out pies through the day until they run out of ingredients or the cooks collapse from exhaustion.
"We want to cry right now," he said.
Krissa Saldana, 26, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, said the pizza is just part of Ray's appeal. She and Sommyr Pochan, also of Greenpoint, said they came to Ray's for the characters.
"It's a pretty good mix of people," Saldana said. "Original neighborhood people, tourists, new people."
Ferraro said the closure was emblematic of what's happened all around his neighborhood in recent years.
"Things are changing," he said. "A lot of little Italy is going away--it's really sad to see."