Pizza Tour 2.0: Bronx Edition

This weekend Scott & I went on our second Scott’s Pizza Tour, but this time we did the bus tour – 4.5 hours and 4 stops (the other option is a walking tour; 3 stops). Though the destinations change every time, we knew this one was headed to the Bronx. I’d never really go up there otherwise, so this was the perfect chance!

Like all of Scott’s Tours, we started out at Lombardi’s, the first licensed pizzeria in North America. Though this happened in 1905, I actually learned today that they were closed for a bit and only opened back up in the 90s. Cuuuuurious. I also took notes this time around in my handy SPT journal – so get ready for some detail!

Their pizza cooks in 3 minutes, and has an extremely thin but still chewy AND crunchy crust. The longer the pie cooks in the oven (and 3 minutes is on the longer end for coal-fired ovens), the firmer the crust is. I found that our pie had more sauce and less cheese than usual – I’m a cheese girl all the way, screw sauce if I have to choose one! Lombardi’s uses fresh mozzarella, and the sauce was sweet but slightly tart. Scott and I agreed there was less char than we remembered, but that can also be attributed to the heat of the oven at this particular time. Lombardi’s keeps their oven running at all times, and the temperature changes depending on time of day. I also learned that Lombardi’s doesn’t cook their sauce – a technique I think I might try!

Our second stop was Patsy’s in East Harlem. I’ve heard so many good things about Patsy’s and even though it’s technically in Manhattan, it’s always been too far for me to venture. But alas, not today – not on pizza bus tour day!

One of the best parts of Scott’s tours is that you more of an inside look at how the pizzerias are run. We literally went into the kitchen at half of the places. Above, you can see a dough machine at Patsy’s and the flour they use to make their pizzas. It was super fine; I had last seen “00” rated flour in Italy – so this is legit.

Here’s the oven at Patsy’s – their pizza cooks in 2 minutes and, like Lombardi’s, is coal-burning. The faster bake gives it a softer crust, but it was still crunchy in parts, especially around the edges.

The crust was very charred, and the cheese stringy – Patsy’s uses low-moisture mozzarella instead of fresh. It was more “wet” than Lombardi’s pie because of this, and also because there was a lot more sauce. The sauce was savory and rich.

Alright, so now we’ve moved out of Manhattan and into the Bronx. As soon as Scott mentioned Arthur Avenue, I know what was next: Zero Otto Nove. I’ve been to the one in Manhattan on 21st, but nothing’s like the original! They had such a cool setup – bar and lobby in the front, then a long, narrow hallway to a larger, open courtyard-esque area in the back. The name Zero Otto Nove – which translates to 089 in Italian – signifies the area code of the region of Italy where they’re from: Salerno. I LOVE TRIVIA.

We were seated up above in a separate area and could look down on the pizza-making. Scott and I were tasked with timing the pizza in the oven – our average was around 1 minute, 35 seconds. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT? You can barely microwave anything decent in that time. But their oven is wood-burning, and dome-shaped so that it heats faster.

This is Neapolitan-style pizza, JUST like Italy. They put some olive oil on before it goes in the oven; and of course use fresh mozzarella. The wood-burning oven gives an excellent char to the chewy, fluffy crust and their sauce is a bit salty (good thing!). Because it cooked for so little time, the crust was definitely softer – which just makes me eat faster. They top it off with just a sprinkle of parmigiano-reggiano cheese once it’s out of the oven. I’m obsessed – I may have volunteered to take an extra slice that was left over…

Scott was very diligent in the pizza-timing. We caught on to their technique – put it in the oven for about 40 seconds, take it out to turn it around, back in for a bit. It seems that the tops were finishing first, so they would take them out of the oven for about 10 seconds, then put them back in. So interesting!

Here’s the oven at Zero Otto Nove. Thanks to Scott’s fancy tools, we were told that the inside was an average of 848 degrees Fahrenheit – which is actually lower than the temperature of Patsy’s and Lombardi’s, which were over 900.


Our last stop was at Louie & Ernie’s, where we finally got a good helping of traditional, New York-style pizza. The people inside were really confused by our large group, but didn’t hesitate to offer up suggestions and sing L&E’s praises!

Traditional New York-style pizzas like this one are cooked in deck ovens (probably what you’re most used to seeing in pizza joints) around 550 degrees Fahrenheit – therefore they cook for longer and have a crunchier crust. I loved this crust, the edges were basically cracking off it was so crunchy. As you can see, they’ve got some seasoning in there – oregano, black pepper. This was the only pie I had to blot since it was so oily – but what do you expect from a NY slice? It was super cheesy (low moisture!) making the sauce not so present, as it actually ends up blending with the cheese when it cooks. I will say this – it was really consistently cooked, and my fellow tour-mates agreed!

Now… I couldn’t just leave it be after 4.5 slices of pizza.. so when we were dropped back off in SoHo, I had to get a cupcake. I made Scott come with me and swung by Georgetown Cupcake on Mercer Street.

I chose the peanut butter fudge cupcake, and myyyyy god – creamy peanut butter icing, but it doesn’t overwhelm the moist chocolate cake. It did start falling apart a bit, but that was okay – I wanted to eat it more than I wanted it to stay together!

Siiiigh. A long weekend of eating, and I’m still hungry after looking at the pictures.

Victorious! Here’s me, Scott, and Scott (confusing) after the tour, with the stylish pizza tour bus. This man knows everything. Go on one of his tours; it will change your life.

Lombardi’s: 32 Spring Street; http://www.firstpizza.com

Patsy’s: 2287 1st Avenue (at 118th St); http://www.thepatsyspizza.com

Zero Otto Nove: 2357 Arthur Avenue, Bronx; http://roberto089.com

Louie & Ernie’s: 1300 Crosby Avenue, Bronx

Georgetown Cupcake: 111 Mercer Street; http://www.georgetowncupcake.com

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Don Antonio by Starita!

I haven’t updated in SO long! Last week was absolutely insane at work and I didn’t get much of a chance to write once I got home. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t eat pizza – I’ve got 4 new places (plus 1 oldie) to share with you!

After that crazy, hectic, stressful week, I was really looking forward to some pizza, so we headed to the fairly new Don Antonio by Starita near Times Square. Based on my research, it’s a collaboration between Keste’s Roberto Caporuscio (<3 Keste, but that’s for another post) and his former mentor Antonio Starita – who, as luck has it, was actually in the building on the night we went.

I really loved the whole setup, very sleek. We were seated at the back, right next to the kitchen. They even have a screen where you can watch them making your pizza – you can see it in the back left of this picture.

Our first pie was the Margherita S.T.G. (Guaranteed Typical Specialty). Tomato sauce, mozzarella, some pecorino romano, and basil. I found it a bit oily; but still delicious. At $12 it’s not a bad deal, though I probably could have finished the entire thing myself. Good-quality cheese, but a bit too much char even for my liking – as you can see, the top is burnt in one or two areas.

What I was most excited about was the Montanara pie – dough that is fried, then topped and baked in the oven. The fried dough definitelymade a difference; it was puffy and chewy and extremely flavorful. The pie itself was quite small and once again I found the oil a bit overwhelming. I don’t like dabbing my pizza, but I will if I have to – no one likes greasy fingers.

The only complaint I have about it – and this was an oversight on my part – was the smoked mozzarella. I’m not a fan of smoked mozzarella; I find that the smokiness overwhelms any other flavors that may pop out – even something as blatant as the basil. I basically didn’t read the menu, and I don’t think this is standard on all montanara pies (I’ve yet to try the ones at PizzArte or Forcella). Their menu is quite impressive overall; though I stuck to my standard cheese+tomato+dough, I saw some other rather intriguing pies come out of the oven.

Overall, a very good pre-show dinner at Don Antonio. I was surprised at how crowded it got, and fairly early too – before 6:00pm. In this area of NYC, it’s kind of slim pickings for good pizza, so Don Antonio is definitely worth your time.

Don Antonio by Starita

309 W. 50th St., b/w 8th & 9th Ave

646-719-1043

RIP: 900 Degrees

This past summer I was super excited to try out the much-hyped 900 Degrees at 29 Seventh Avenue South. Though many had cited this as a “cursed location,” I decided to take my family there for dinner before a trip to Target Free Friday at MoMA.  I mean, it’s the West Village – how bad could it be?

We got there around 5:30-6:00 PM, and it was empty. I think we were literally the only ones there. Apparently, this wasn’t a rare occurrence – though I really couldn’t tell you why. I was even worried about getting a pie, since they have a disclaimer on their menu that they only make 73 margherita pies per day. They also describe it as:

“World Pizza Cup Winner Naples, Italy
Dough Mixed by Hand Using San Felice Flour then Proofed in Neapolitan Wood Boxes, San Marzano Tomatoes Dop, Sea Salt, Mozzarella Fior Di Latte, Fresh Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil”

Sounds impressive, huh? Well, this is what we got:

Note: my family doesn’t understand my need to photograph my food before diving in; hence, the half-missing pie.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I completely enjoyed this pizza (because when do I not?). But just looking at it, I have memories of how.. wet.. it was. I tend to favor more cheese, less sauce – and this had a bit too much sauce for me.

Perhaps more interesting to me was the 2 1/2 foot Pizza Romana (we ordered the “Bennici” style):

Intended to essentially cover three courses, the pie is broken into three sections of toppings (once again, half-eaten before I could photograph its beauty, but all including mozzarella cheese):

On the far left: Italian Pizza Sauce, Natural Casing Pepperoni, Fresh Pinched Sausage.

In the middle: Ricotta, Garlic, Prosciutto Crudo, Piquante Peppers, Arugula, Piave

On the right: Pesto, Caramelized Onion, Robiola Cheese, Roasted Tomatoes (my favorite – I’m a pesto freak)

Everyone was very impressed with this pie, and even I, the picky meat-eater, tried out a slice from each section. 900 Degrees offered two other varieties of this Pizza Romana, which you can see on their menu here.

So why did it fail? According to Eater, it had a lot to do with how high the rent was for that space compared to how many people actually came by, poor service, atmosphere. I would have given it another shot, but hey – you win some, you lose some. I’ve got a pretty extensive list of places to go, so, moving on…

NYC Classic: John’s of Bleecker Street

Backtracking once again, the final stop on my 2011 pizza tour with SPT was John’s of Bleecker Street. The first stop had been Lombardi’s, which I loved; the second Pizza Box, your typical “NYC pizza” but nothing remarkable to me (above: Scott playing with dough in the back courtyard of Pizza Box). John’s was perfection; exactly what I was looking for at the end of a pizza-, walking-, learning-filled day.

John’s is a New York City pizza institution, if you will. Apparently, it’s frequented by celebrities such as Jack Black, Bruce Springsteen, and Jon Stewart – and there’s photos in the front window to prove it.  Speaking of Jon Stewart, I did really enjoy his Trump/Palin pizza rant (Famiglia? Seriously?).

Just look at that. Beautiful.

John’s slices are crisp and thin, “coal fired brick oven” pizza. Once again – NO SLICES, but trust me, you’ll want to eat an entire pie ($16.50 for a large). It was the first pizza I’d had in New York that I really fell in love with, and is still one of my favorites to this day. I loved that there was sauce on top of the stringy, bubbling cheese as well.

Here’s another shot from when I went back in December. Everything just works so well; and there’s char – so be still, my heart. I’d recommend getting there early on busier nights since they don’t take reservations and a line tends to form outside. I’d also recommend trying their calzone – it’s massive, literally looks like a pie folded in half – and extremely savory.

Bleecker Street itself, btw, is a mecca of wonderful foods (especially pizza). I truly wish the entire West AND East Village was right in my backyard. So many good eats.

John’s of Bleecker Street

278 Bleecker Street
(212) 243-1680
http://www.johnsbrickovenpizza.com

Parade Magazine’s United States of Pizza

I was quite pleased to find this cover of Parade Magazine sitting on my kitchen table yesterday morning. Naturally, I scanned it in to share! It gives a great synopsis of the history of pizza in the United States and also clues you in to some regional styles. Click on the United States of Pizza above or the link below to view the article.

Parade Pizza Article

Sunday Funday: Luzzo’s & ChikaLicious

SO my wunder-ful boyfriend Scott is most often the one who accompanies me on my pizzadventures, so we decided to make a day of it today before he headed back to the evil land of Grand Central Terminal.

Today’s stop: Luzzo’s Restaurant in the East Village. A cute, decent-sized place with a coal oven. I really loved the benches where we were sitting and all of the homey decor. When we got there, we were the only ones there – but it was only about half an hour after they opened on a Sunday, so…

Perhaps our favorite part was the Italian music videos playing in the background. I recognized Vasco Rossi from my Italian classes; Scott thinks they all sound like Vertical Horizon.

Their regular pie is the “bufala“: buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil. I loved how evenly cheese’d it was, almost polka-dotted with mozzarella. I personally didn’t taste a difference with it supposedly being “bufala mozzarella” (though I am a huge fan of bufala mozzarella on its own, caprese-style).

Easily cut, the crust was SO incredibly crisp that I was amazed. I’m a huge fan of crunchy, crispy things – and I have literally never had crust this crunchy. The edge, end of the pizza was still full of soft, chewy dough, but the outsides, and especially the underside, crackled away. It was thin, but thick enough to not droop underneath the weight of the sauce and melted cheese.

The bottom was decently charred to give it that smoky taste. Scott described the sauce as “tangy,” which I would have to agree to, but not in the typical sense. Whereas many pizzerias on Long Island and even in the city have a heavy, dark sauce, this sauce was light, airy, and in my mind – perfect. A good mix of sweet and savory, melting right against your tongue. One interesting thing I did notice was there was a decent amount of olive oil on the pie, a flavor that I ADORE, and perhaps what made the sauce so interesting. Most places don’t include olive oil; rather, it’s the cheese cooking that gives off that grease. I loved this sitting on the table as well…

At $21 for a 16-inch pie I’d have to say their price is probably typical of most of the Napoletana-style pizzerias in NYC.

But the best part of the bill? It came in this bucket.

And naturally, to follow up the pizza, I HAD to get dessert, so we made our maiden voyage to Dessert Bar, ChikaLicious only a few blocks away. There is no shortage of desserts I’m dying to try there, including the cookie eclair ice cream sandwich. Today, however, I settled (if you can even call it that!) for a delicious banana cupcake.

Nice to look at, VERY nice to eat. I have to be honest, usually I’d go with something straight up sweet like chocolate or vanilla but I was feeling a bit more adventurous, and it was worth it. Excellent icing to cake ratio; moist cake that didn’t crumble; extremely flavorful. I was really surprised at how fluffy icing is – I’ve never had anything I could actually describe as that.

I am so more than willing to go back there and try different treats. Yum yum YUM.

Luzzo’s Restaurant
211 1st Ave
(between 12th St & 13th St)
(212) 473-7447

&

Dessert Club, ChikaLicious
204 E 10th St
(between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)
(212) 475-0929
http://dessertclubnyc.com

Pizza Criteria

To make things somewhat easier to compare or judge, for my future visits I will consider:

– Crispness/crust texture
– Sauce (sweet or salty, ratio to other elements)
– Cheese (amount, texture, quality)
– Size/price

Pretty simple – just the elements of the pizza!

I almost always just order a plain/margherita style pie to have an even base of comparison – and also because that’s how I like it!

Where it all began: Lombardi’s

Well… for me, it all began at Gusta Pizza in Florence, Italy; but for New York City, it began at Lombardi’s.

My first experience with Lombardi’s (New York’s first pizzeria) was when one of my internships ordered it on my last day back in 2009. I was pretty impressed at the time, but didn’t really have a clue about what Lombardi’s was all about. My first formal visit was on the pizza tour I took with Scott’s Pizza Tours (here on out referred to as “SPT”) in March of 2010. If you really want to learn about what you’re eating, that’s definitely a great way to jump right on into it. Scott knows e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g there is to know about pizza. I’m going on another one at the end of March and cannot wait.

Lombardi’s is just plain New York pizza goodness; coal-oven margherita pies. If you’re serious about this pizza craze and want somewhere to start out, it’s pretty much the quintessential place to go. If you sit in the back room (like we did), you even get to walk through their kitchen and see the oven – awesome.

I’m personally a fan of a bit of char on my crust (which is pretty much going to happen if it’s cooked in an oven like Lombardi’s), and that’s what you get here. The mozzarella was stringy, sauce the perfect mixture of sweet and savory. However, beware: you cannot order by the slice, so bring some friends or a big appetite (though you can order it to go).

Siiiigh. Perfection.

And when you’re done, if you’re in need of dessert, swing on over to Ferrara Bakery & Cafe on Grand and get a cheminée. Not the fanciest of places, but yum to the max.

Location: SoHo/Little Italy

Lombardi’s Pizza

32 Spring Street

(212) 941-7994

http://www.firstpizza.com

Getting Serious.

I think it’s about time I get serious about pizza.

Not that I haven’t been serious – because let’s face it, I’ve been obsessed for a while – but now it’s time to do something about it. I’m starting to think that my Facebook and Twitter friends are getting a bit sick of my food posts, though honestly, it has brought a lot of old (and new) friends out of the woodwork. So many people have contacted me with places they’ve heard of, articles they’ve read, wishes to join me on my next pizzadventure. So for the people who care, I’ve created this: Have a Pizza My Heart.

Now, I don’t want to mislead you – it won’t be all pizza. It will also be delicious baked goods and, inevitably, some ranting about things that “grind my gears” (can’t believe I just referenced Family Guy – can’t believe I just pointed out that I referenced Family Guy).  I would also love to share things that friends have eaten and enjoyed – the prettier (or cheesier), the better – so feel free to send it my way!

This also means that I feel I need to get serious about actually judging the pizza instead of just taking a picture and shoveling it down my throat (which is just as fun).  I shall dream up that criteria soon. I think it’s only fair to start using this criteria on my visits after this point, as it wouldn’t do the places I’ve already been justice to fake a memory on exactly how I enjoyed their slices.

Most of the pizza I consume is in New York, though I don’t discriminate – I’ll eat it wherever I go. I have an extensive list of places I’d like to visit, as well as places I’ve already been. I’ll go back in time and remember those pies in upcoming posts.

Time to start pizzin’ (making up words, yeah!).