Friday, October 13, 2017

Fiore's

If you've been to Greenwich Village and walked along Bleecker St., maybe you've walked by Fiore's Pizza, maybe you've turned your head or even grabbed a slice, or maybe you didn't even know it existed at all.


In a neighborhood saturated (but not overly-so) with so many pizzerias and slice joints, Fiore's may not command the same status of household names like Joe's or John's, but the quality is there if you look for it.


Formerly the mediocre-at-best Pizza Booth, retired firefighter Steve Cunningham opened Fiore's a few years back in honor of his best friend Mike Fiore who tragically perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Mike had always dreamed of opening a pizzeria but never got the opportunity, so Steve did the next best thing by opening a joint in his name. I don't know where Steve learned to make pizza, but he's definitely doing something right.


Get a load of those 'ronis! Let's punch in for a close up:


That's what I'm talkin' about - nice curl and cuppage with a hint of char on the edge. I love the pepperoni slice here much more than their "plain," which they technically call a Margarita [sic]. Both employ fresh mozzarella rather than it's more orange and oily low-moisture brethren, something I respect but wish there was more of on the plain.


Having been here several times, I've noticed some inconsistencies in that their Margherita slice doesn't always come with basil, but when it does, it makes for a much more balanced experience.



While the pepperoni slice takes the #1 spot for me, I really love their "Grandma" slice, which to me is much thicker than most but employs the same toppings and flavor profile. Think of it as a Grandma, but with the thickness of a Sicilian square.


Beautiful hole structure, combined with a crispy bottom and a zing of oregano yields a really nice end product here. All the pizzas are baked in a truly-awesome Fish revolving oven, which has multiple decks that cycle up and down and around again for maximum space for full pies and slice reheats providing a nice consistency across the board.


Next time you're in the neighborhood, tune your nostrils to the frequency of the baking cheese, sauce and dough wafting out the open windows of Fiore's. Order a slice or two, let yourself get hypnotized by the endless loop of pizza in that oven while you wait, and pay your respects to Mike while you scarf those killer 'ronis.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Song' e Napule


After hearing some rumblings in the pizza community of a pizzeria on Houston Street that slid under my radar, I tucked the intel in my back pocket and added it to my "Pizzerias to Investigate" list. Just as the name was fading from memory, I happened upon Song' e Napule by happenstance, as if the almighty Pizza Gods were trying to tell me something.


As it turns out, they were: "Eat some pizza," they whispered, or perhaps that was my stomach talking. Regardless, I found it impossible to resist stopping into this tiny joint, and the moment I traversed through the door I was transported straight to Naples. Just like many of the pizzerias up and down Via Tribunali, the walls were adorned with scenic photos of the Amalfi coast and the requisite autographed photo of Napoli legend Diego Maradona - but as is always the case, it was the wood-burning oven that caught my eye.


Originally an outpost of the Upper East Side's popular pizzeria Mezzaluna, Song' e Napule came under new ownership with Neapolitan Ciro Iovine and his wife, Austria. Ciro's jolly demeanor immediately sealed the deal as he slapped me on the back and pulled up one of the few remaining chairs for me at lunchtime and without a moment's lapse I ordered the ol' scientific control, a classic Margherita.


What a fine specimen! In typical fashion the pizza arrived in 2 minutes, but not before I was given a basket of sourdough and ricotta (as if scarfing this whole pie alone wasn't enough for lunch). Look at that beautifully puffy cornicione!


Absolutely gorgeous, with leopard spots to boot. Ciro proofs his dough for 72 hours to get a result like this - there truly aren't any shortcuts employed here, and the flavor of the crust was deep and sweet with plenty of moisture retained from the hot, short bake.


I also have to say - this to me is the perfect amount and distribution of basil. In an ideal world, I want a piece of that green with every mouthful for a fully-balanced bite, not one dinky leaf per quarter of the pizza. Other Neapolitan joints take notice!


Already bursting (I wolfed more of that sourdough than I should have), the meal ended with an unexpected Strawberry panna cotta dusted with powdered sugar. I'm no connoisseur when it comes to Italian desserts, but this was divine. The total? $12 for the bread + ricotta, Margherita, and dessert! That's a fair price just for the pizza, but the added courses and outstanding quality make this a total steal.

Now if only they would accept credit cards...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ben's (W. 3rd)

In my experience, whenever Ben's Pizza is brought up, the conversation heads one of two ways: either one is confused and asks, "wait, Ben's of Soho, or Ben's on West 3rd Street?" or there is no confusion at all, and one instead asks, "why would you go to Ben's when Joe's is one block away?" Both are good questions indeed, and begs a third question: "who claims Ben's Pizza is the most famous pizza in the world?"


I don't have an answer to that one, but I'd be willing to guess it's Ben himself. That said, while Ben's may not be the greatest slice in the neighborhood, it serves an important role and well, dammit it's an institution in its own right. I've tried tracking down the history of the joint, but it's a bit fuzzy. Apparently it was formerly called "Ben and Frank's Pizzeria" but I can't find any sources on that. They also claim to have been established in 1956 while Buzzfile has them listed as starting in 1965, but this image of Macdougal Street from 1966 shows what Ben's used to be: a drug store-


See it all the way on the right? Mysterious indeed. History aside, Ben's has become a staple of NYU students, New Yorkers in need of a carbo-load after a night of drinking, and if you're Louie C.K., a crucial pre-show bite before your set:


So what's the pizza like? Depends really - I've found Ben's to be incredibly inconsistent. These are both plain slices from different days:



Woof! Talk about a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, ammiright? One day the plain can pass as pretty decent, while the next day it looks as hungover as the patrons from the night before. Even the better looking 2nd take was a bit over-reheated on the bottom.


Meanwhile their square starts promising with a half-decent rise and an airy, light crumb...


...but frequently gets overcheesed in one uniform whitewashing:


Goo! While Ben's may never be my go-to spot in this neck of the woods, I'll hit it from time to time like checking in on an old friend - even if that friend claims they're the best in the world and their history is shrouded in mystery.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Bar

Before I begin, if you've read any of my past reviews of other New Haven pizzerias Pepe's, Modern, and Sally's, you'll know that this is not my favorite Za-Town. "Overhyped," "arrogant," and "inconsistent" are all words I have definitely used to describe New Haven's collective pizza-consciousness, that was until I visited Bar and my life changed a little.


A good friend, having heard my woeful tales of sub-par pizza experiences in New Haven, said that I just had to try Bar's signature 'bacon & potato' pizza. Now as much as I love pork and taters, successfully dropping mashed potatoes onto a pizza is no easy task without turning the whole thing into a carbo-loaded hammer to the face, so I was weary before I ever set foot in the door.


Pump the brakes. This place is a brewpub, too? No one told me that! Maybe this New Haven adventure will be a little easier to stomach than I anticipated. Opened in the mid 90's, Bar looks like (and likely was) carved out of an old car garage or dealership of some sort. That said, their coal-burning monster of an oven looks like it's been hidden away for centuries-


Not too shabby! After downing an AmBAR ale (their pun, not mine), I cut to the chase and ordered a cheese (remember: a "plain" in New Haven does not come with mozzarella) and a bacon-potato pie, and proceeded to poke around the larger-than-expected space while I waited.


With a large open space tucked away behind the oven and brewery, Bar is also apparently a nightclub on weekends. I'm not a club kid, but if you've got the space you might as well use it! After just a few minutes, my babies arrived.


Despite not touting the same kind of history as it's historic pizza-slinging brethren, Bar has all the same features and requisites needed to classify this pie as New-Haven style. Aluminum trays with wax paper? Check. Slightly oblong and cut maniacally? Check. Coal-oven cooked, bespeckled with charred bits of cornmeal on the bottom?


Check! You'll notice I went with basil on half, not something I usually do at all when in NH but I was curious how they would distribute the green stuff. In my book, they passed the test.


While admittedly the cheese pizza here isn't as good as Pepe's or even (begrudgingly) Sally's, it's still pretty damn decent. I think it could have used another 45 seconds in the oven, but I'm not really complaining.


Regardless, whether I was ready to admit it or not, the real star here truly is the bacon-potato pizza.


Maybe it doesn't look all that great, but trust my stomach on this one. I think a part of why this pizza works is largely due the light and airy crust they have going on. Anything thicker and I'd feel like I was chowing down on a deep dish or pan pizza.


The potatoes are soft, mashed, and surprisingly still moist despite the cook in the arrid 800 degree oven. The bacon, which is distributed well and crumbled to a perfect size, stays crispy atop it all.


I'll admit it - Bar has pulled New Haven as a pizza town back from my 'dead to me' list. I'm a sucker for a good pizza and a well-crafted pint. Bar has masterfully straddled the old world and the new, combining classic technique and style with a modern palette and approach. While this was my first visit, it certainly won't be my last.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Osteria

I don't know about you, but when I think of American cities, especially those that dot the east coast, I think of them as characters. Each individual in their own right with their own respective history, architecture, and most importantly their "pizza identity." With the massive migration of the late 19th century, many Italians landed along the eastern seaboard, and many of them left their culinary mark on their new hometowns. Connecticut has their New Haven Apizza, Boston has the original Pizzeria Regina, New Jersey has their tomato pies, and of course New York has its own legendary pizza history.


So what's the deal with Philadelphia? With the exception of maybe Tacconelli's (woof), it seems like Philly's new Italian population found more inspiration in the sandwich than the pizza (see: cheese steaks, roast pork sandwiches, etc.). How could this be?


Well there's no point in trying to change the past, but it's never too late to try and make up for its shortcomings. Enter Marc Vetri, renowned Philadelphia restaurateur and Italian cuisine extraordinaire. While Osteria, Vetri's 2nd restaurant, is by no means new, it certainly gives the City of Brotherly Love some depth in the pizza department. 


I haven't lived in or around Philadelphia in years, having spent most of my youth in the Philly burbs, so Osteria had been on my to-eat list for quite some time. After having tried another of Vetri's joints Alla Spina just around the corner, I knew the guy had good taste in beer and decor, but I really wasn't sure what to expect here. I ignored my better judgement and listened to my stomach; instead of ordering my typical margherita as my scientific control, I opted for the "lombarda" - a red pie with mozzarella, cotechino sausage, bitto cheese (?!) and a flash-baked egg on top.


Nice. To be totally honest, I was unfamiliar with bitto cheese - it's a hard cheese used here in lieu of Parmegiano or Pecorino, and aptly hails from Lombardy. While not quite as sharp as the aforementioned, it was subtle but added a nice little accent.


But holy shit- it's not everyday that you find a red pizza with not only sausage, but a perfectly cooked egg as well. SIGN ME UP! This is essentially a breakfast pizza plus a little tomato sauce, right?


After one bite, I quickly understood that Chefs Marc Vetri and Jeff Michaud knew what the hell they were doing. While neither were there the night I dined, they clearly train their pizzaiolos in the intricacies of a perfectly cooked pizza.


Now with the addition of Vetri's new pizza-specific joint Pizzeria Vetri, along with other fantastic new-comers Nomad, Pizza Brain and Pizzeria Beddia, I'm stoked to see Philadelphia making up for lost time pizza.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Nicli Antica Pizzeria

Continuing up the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beyond Portland, beyond Seattle, even beyond the U.S./Canada border, I found myself entering the beautiful city of Vancouver for the very first time. In the passenger seat, my beautiful girlfriend was navigating us through Gastown - the oldest part of town and original settlement of what was to become Vancouver - to a destination she would not reveal.


Lo and behold, she brought me to the only VPN-certified Neapolitan pizzeria in Vancouver, the well-regarded Nicli Antica Pizzeria. Nestled inside an old stable-turned jail for the city, Nicli owner-founder Bill McCaig did a magnificent job preserving the historical integrity of the building while simultaneously reinventing the space.


I really love the juxtaposition of the brick walls with the clean, white vaulted ceiling. And why not customize your oven to fit these aesthetics?


Gorgeous. Done so well, it feels like it was there back when it was a stable (wouldn't that be something?). Okay, enough of my blabbering about the ambiance, let's get to the pizza! Chefs Christopher Picek and David Tozer have done a great job preserving the Neapolitan authenticity required for their certification, while also getting a little creative.


Arugula doesn't get more fresh than that! After studying the menu, I ordered the obligatory Margherita, and another clever pie I've never seen anywhere else, but we'll get to that later.


Boom! Look at how vibrant this pizza is! To be honest, I usually hate when pizzaiolos place all the basil in a clump in the center of the pie, but this baby basil is too cute to pass judgement.


Awwww. The pizza, which sure enough was cooked in under 90 seconds, is exactly what I look for in an evenly balanced, evenly cooked Marg.


Soft, chewy, airy cornicione with a perfectly slightly-crispy shell, what more could you ask for in a crust? The sauce was bright, the fresh mozz not too liquidy, and a stellar balance all around. But what about this next pie?


Yumtown City. What might look like fennel sausage or meatball chunks is actually pork shoulder. Why is this not a thing?! I have to say, I love Neapolitan pizza, but at times I get a little sick of the same 10-15 ingredients that are 'acceptable' to use.


Oh yes. I'm having pizza flashbacks (the good kind). The pork was cooked to perfection, and keep in mind when pre-cooking/roasting/whatever they're up to, they need to account for an additional 90-120 seconds in a 900 degree oven, and there's nothing worse than dry, over-cooked meat.


For me, the pork stole the show, not necessarily in over-powering flavor (there's nothing I hate more than an unbalanced pizza), but as an idea. It was supported by an even layering of garlic cloves, basil, and dollops of ricotta that truly sang out in harmony.


Goodbye, pork shoulder pizza. I will miss you, but I will never forget you.
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