Thursday, June 25, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I met with Scott Wiener this afternoon. Scott is the founder and tour guide of Scott's Pizza Tours of NYC. After a few days of playing phone tag, we were finally able to meet up and discuss our mutual enthusiasm for pizza. We met at John's pizzeria on Bleecker street and split a delicious sausage pie (Scott's recommendation). We talked for over an hour about different pizza styles, pizza's origins, its cultural relevance, and of course, our personal history and connection to pizza. Scott possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of not only how pizza evolved (and still is evolving) but is also able to accurately and clearly define the many different styles of pizza (neapolitan, chicago-style, roman etc). He knew, for example, that mozzarella comes from the italian word mozzare, which means 'to cut' while also being able to tell me exactly which type of canned tomato we were eating at John's.
What a pleasure it was to finally meet and talk with someone who loves pizza as much as I do. Scott, while very passionate, is not overbearing in his expertise. This was a nice contrast to the pizzaioli I worked under in Naples. I'm very excited to explore and learn about pizza with Scott. For those of you who want to really learn about NYC pizza you need to go on his tour:
Monday, June 22, 2009
I'd like to thank everyone who responded to my note on facebook about where to find great pizza in NYC. The feedback has been overwhelmingly wonderful. I have a lot of eating and writing to do. Secondly, I'd like to encourage everyone out there in the Salted Espresso world to keep the comments and recommendations coming. You can post them in the comment section here. It may take me a bit of time, but I'm going to eat every slice of pizza in New York City. Please help me find them all.
In a little bit, I'm going to post a review on Famous Joe's pizza. I've been told that Joe's is major stop for any serious slice lover. It was because of this that I was bit hesitant to review Joe's this early in my NYC pizza escapades. A lot of what I studied and learned about pizza in Naples doesn't altogether apply to NYC city slices. A lot of the neapolitan pizzaioli (pizza masters) that I encountered and studied under would be quick to scoff at the yellow cheese, the electric oven, and pepper flakes that one finds so in most New York pizzerias. I know that many of them wouldn't call it real pizza. But I think this attitude is only detrimental towards my ability to review pizza, fairly. And besides, there are over 8 million New Yorkers out there who I think would strongly disagree with the old masters. Why can't you have your neapolitan pie and eat your New York slice, too?
That being said, expect my first slice review to be up soon.
Next to Ray's, Famous Joe's is probably the most obvious spot to start my New York Slice education. It holds a cult status among New Yorkers in the west village as being the "real deal" without being ostentatious in the process. Unlike some other famous pizzerias (which will go nameless in this post), Joe's hasn't become a caricature of itself. Joe's occupies a small outlet on Carmine street just off of Bleecker. It's so unassuming that I almost missed it from the street. Inside, the walls are unadorned and there are no big tables. You've got to eat your slice standing up or sitting on a high stool.
When I asked for a slice of cheese pizza, the cashier asked me if I wanted a slice with mozzarella or a just a "cheese" slice. This confused me a bit. Isn't mozzarella the standard cheese for pizza? When I asked about the difference, he seemed a bit flustered and never really answered my question. He just kept saying the word "fresher" to describe the more expensive slice. My guess: the "fresher" slice, with big, white globs melted all over the top, used a higher quality mozzarella while the other slice-cooked with a shredded, yellower cheese- used a less expensive, more processed mozzarella.
The slice on the left is the one with "fresher" mozzarella
So what did I order? One of each, of course. When in doubt, always order both. As I carried my lunch across the street I wondered which one would be better. The slice with white globs was more aesthetically pleasing, more comparable to the type of pizza I've been trained to make. The neapolitan snob in me had already picked a favorite. But I was surprisingly disappointed. The cheese on the "mozzarella" pie, as I guessed, was fresher and of higher quality. But fresh mozzarella is only as good as its other ingredients, and in this case, it drew attention to the blandness of the tomato sauce . The sauce had no tang or salty tweak to it. It was flatly sweet from beginning to end. The mozzarella did taste better, but only at the overall expense of the pizza. I then realized why there were countless containers of garlic powder scattered across the countertops.
If the pie with real mozzarella was boring, how would the "other" mozzarella pizza hold up? Surprisingly well! The yellow, processed cheese has a secret weapon that the fresh mozzarella can't account for: more grease. This slice was greasy- greasy enough that afterwards my paper plate could have been used as a pane for a circular window. Fortunately, grease does more than just give you heart attacks; it tastes delicious while doing so. The grease drew attention away from the mediocre sauce, which is a good thing, I guess.
It feels counterintuitive to say but in the case of Famous Joe's, the fancy, more expensive slice with "better" cheese isn't always the better choice at all.
Friday, June 19, 2009
What's the difference? I would like some feedback on this one. After living in Naples for 5 months, my standards for judging a pizza are probably very different from most New Yorkers.
Yesterday, I ate at Lombardi's, New York's oldest pizzeria. My mind immediately started to criticize certain parts of it (a review is soon to follow) when I realized that I have no real basis for judging New York pies. What makes a good NY pie? a bad one?
The big difference I noticed yesterday was the density of the crust. It tasted much heavier to me. After just two slices, I felt like I had swallowed a loaf of bread. Don't get me wrong. The crust was chewy, pliable, and salty enough to eat by itself. In a word, it was delicious. But in Naples, I would have been able to eat three times as many slices without so much as a blip on my digestive radar.
What's the deal?
If you had to describe your perfect NY slice, what would you say? Is it by the slice, by the pie? thicker crust? thinner?
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Ah, my first pizza review in the big apple. What would have otherwise been a depressing, rainy day turned into the beginning of a wonderfully edible adventure. It's only appropriate that I start my New York pizza search at the Pizzeria that claims to have started it all, Lombardi's.
Located in little Italy, Lombardi's was started by Gennaro Lombardi, a neapolitan immigrant, in 1905. This pizzeria has a long and extensive history, most of which can be found in framed pictures on the wall. I don't want to go too deeply into its past because I'd rather talk about the pizza, but one interesting fact about Lombardi's that made me smile is this: For almost 80 years Lombardi's stayed in the same building, until, according to our waiter, the vibration from the 6 train broke its coal burning oven. The owners refused to use an electric oven in its place and shut their doors until they found another location with a real, coal burning oven.
What we ate: A half and half combination of
the classic margherita and Lombardi's own "Gennaro" white pie.
Let's start with margherita. With fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, and basil, these ingredients were neapolitan through and through. Since returning to the states, I'm often hesitant to try this simple type of pie in the fear that, well, I'll actually taste the quality of the ingredients. Ever wonder why most american pies are flavor chameleons, constantly changing their toppings? Last time I checked BBQ chicken and pineapple were the "it" toppings, though, they might now be outdated. It's not simply because it's "gourmet" or "original", though that's definitely part of it. It's often because the overall quality of ingredients is so bad that if you were to sample a margherita type pie with only three ingredients from say, Domino's, you'd quickly realize how processed, bland, and unimpressive the ingredients actually are. So they pile high the "gourmet" ingredients in the hopes of hoodwinking our taste buds and tricking us into believing that we're eating "flavorful" pizza. But I digest.
The margharita pie at Lombardi's actually was flavorful. The mozzarella melted into pretty white puddles - looking more like flower peddles than cheese - and was used sparingly enough, allowing the tomato sauce to shine through at points; creating a nice white and red contrast. The cheese was creamy while still remaining cohesive. The tomato sauce added a pleasant tang towards the end of each bite though I'd prefer to trade in some of that tangy for salty. The basil, which was visibly present on each slice, left my taste buds searching for its strong, spicy aftertaste. I never found it.
I wasn't as excited about the white pie. This pie had mozzarella, ricotta, and romano cheese, with garlic infused olive oil and a few strips of scissor cut basil. But it was hard to taste anything besides the ricotta. Usually, I have a beef to pick with ricotta on pizza. Instead of acting as a mild medium to balance stronger flavors, it overwhelms the palate with its
creaminess. This pie was no exception. The romano and mozzarella fell by the wayside And the basil? What happened to the basil?
If the ingredients on the margherita and white tasted neapolitan, the crust that supported them tasted like it was from New York. It was golden- brown, salty, pliable. Yet it was tough enough, I imagine, to be thrown like a frisbee. When we were finished, I slide my leftover slice into my message bag like I would a paperback novel.
But the crust's strength was also its weakness. It felt too dense, too heavy. I stopped after two slices, under protest from my stomach.
Go to Lombardi's. Order the Margherita. Watch them cook your pie in a 1000 degree coal-burning
oven. Enjoy the fresh mozzarella, rich tomato sauce, friendly environment, and smile when you
can do it all for under twenty bucks.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
After a five month hiatus, the Salted Espresso is back. I returned from my Neapolitan pizza excursion in January, spent a few months pizza consulting for a pizzeria in tucson (supposedly, there actually is a market for pizza consultants), and now have moved to New York City, the world's second biggest pizza capital.
I'm very excited to be here and try all the pizza New York has to offer. If neapolitan pizza boasts tradition, new york pies boast innovation. I already heard about a cajun black chicken pizza and, believe it or not, a watermelon pizza. I can't wait to try them all.
If the New Yorkers out there have any suggestions on pizzerias to review (and I know you must have suggestions), please leave me a comment. I will happily try any slice of pie.
Places I'm planning on visiting/reviewing:
Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn bridge
Una Pizza Neapolitana
Please note that I am not looking solely for neapolitan style pizza. That would be a waste. I want those New York slices!