Sunday, September 27, 2009

L&B Spumoni Gardens

Today I took a trip out to Bensonhurt, Brooklyn to finally experience Spumoni Gardens, where many claim the best Sicilian slice is served. Ludovico Barbati (L&B) started Spumoni in 1939, purportedly out of a horse drawn carriage like the one seen on their logo.

Without a doubt, Spumoni Gardens has one of the more unusual dining and ordering layouts I've experienced in New York. There's a sit-down restaurant line, take out ordering line, Italian ice order line, and pizza line. After standing in the wrong line (twice), I was really feeling like an out-of-towner amidst locals shouting shorthand orders (now I know how it feels to be a tourist at Pat's in Philly).

Holy hell, that's 30 uncooked pizzas. This gives you a feeling for how fast they go. L&B is a big family eatery, many people ordering full pies to go. They offer "round or square" (plain or Sicilian) but the slice, half sheet, or full pie with the option of a few toppings. I ordered slice of each.

First off, neither of my slices were reheated and were tepid at best. Is it really so much to ask for you to reheat a room temp slice in one of your 20 ovens? Slightly insulting as far as pizza service goes.

The plain slice: meh. Maybe the temp affected my judgement, but it just semeed soggy and dull. It looks great though, right?

The cornicione was decent; a nice combo of chewy and crispy. However, the sauce, cheese and undercrust were uninspiring. No big deal, Spumoni Gardens is famous for their squares anyway.

Maybe not the most photogenic slice, but pretty tasty. Comprised of a slightly sweet sauce, a thin layer of cheese, and an almost fried-like lip of crust.

Not too greasy, the slice's strongpoint is the bottom-most layer of crust.

It starts as crispy on the bottom, then starts to blend into a firm but chewy layer before transitioning into the more fluffy, bready crust one comes to think of in a Sicilian slice.

Overall, and I'll probably catch some hell for this, L&B Spumoni Gardens was tasty, but a little overrated in my book. I'm willing to bet there is some variation in quality and taste between individual slices and ordering a pie to go fresh out of the oven, but that's no excuse for inconsistency. Currently, my favorite square is at Artichoke, but I've yet to try the highly regarded Di Fara or Veloce.

On my way out I ordered a second square, this time requesting a reheat, and was met with a brief resentful glance.

Sorry, I like my slices hot. Still worth the trip.

Pizza Moto

Earlier this month I covered Finger Lakes Flatbread, my first experience with mobile pizza ovens. Though the concept may sound gimmicky at first, one bite of Dave Sclarow's Pizza Moto proves the quality rivals that of any Neapolitan pie in the city.

This is apparently Dave's third oven. After building two brick ovens, both succumbed to the batterings of New York's pothole-ridden streets.

(courtesy of NY Times)

Now the oven is made of diamond-plated steel, complete with a cool facade and built-in thermometor to prove it's 800 degree environment.

All the pies are made on sight by Dave and three others. While it only takes each pie a minute to cook in the oven (literally), there was about a 20 minute wait from start to finish (Dave's gotten quite popular at the Brooklyn Flea). The menu is nice and simple - Margheritas and white pies only, with the option of adding pepperoni.

Dave cut his teeth around the corner at Franny's before going solo. It's fun to watch him build the pizzas- the dough (a wet, cold-rise recipe that has to be 'fridged overnight) looks like a cloud that he gently pokes before adding the gravy and tasty mozz. I asked the very busy Dave a few questions, but I've heard he's weary of pizzaphile freaks like myself so I kept it short (as if my picture-taking didn't call enough attention to itself).

Once the pie comes out, there's a mandatory Parmesan coating (ala Franny's), oil dousing, and quartering before finally being ready for consumption.

Oh yum. The pie was fantastic! Pardon my lack of a good medium shot of the pizza, but it was totally overexposed. The cornicione was delicious- maybe a tad over-charred but not enough to really affect the flavor in a negative way.

So fluffy; so chewy. Some of the other pies that came out after mine had some more serious burns on them, but since it wasn't my pizza I'm going to look the other way.

Delish. My only criticism would be I wish they'd throw a little more basil on there, but I'm just being picky. Dave and the Pizza Moto oven and crew can be found at the Brooklyn Flea Market in Fort Greene on Saturdays and under the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday. Not only is this an incredible and tasty pie, it's nearly half the price and half the wait of many of city's hottest Neapolitan joints.

Get one and chow down!

NOT Ray's

As the age-old debate and confusion ceaselessly rages over Ray's Pizza, raising common questions, "Where is the Original Ray's?" "Is Original Ray's the same as Famous Ray's?" "Who the hell is Ray anyway?" (27 Prince St.; there is no consistency between any of Ray's NY locations; there was no Ray, only a Ralph), one pizzeria sets itself apart from the dizzying crowd with a single word. Not.

See what I did there? Since the mid-90's, Not Ray's of Fort Greene, Brooklyn has been been steering clear of the misunderstood Manhattan pizza "chain" under the guidance of the restaurants founder, Ray ...? The irony is as thick as their square slice-

To reiterate, the only known man named Ray involved in the perplexing NY pizza franchise is the guy who founded Not Ray's Pizza. Just go with it, okay? The Sicilian square was a little on the bland side (break out the Parmesan and red pepper). In fact aside from a satisfying bottom crust crunch, this piece was downright boring.

The plain slice was a minor improvement over the square with a slightly 'peppy' sauce that had a bit of a kick. The cornicione was thin and typical but delicious nonetheless. The slice was on the greasy side- after folding for consumption, the "pizza canyon" yielded a waterfall of orange grease:

Woof. Greasy indeed, but honestly still tastier than 90% of the Ray's in Manhattan. After all, this is NOT Ray's! Though my vegetarian diet prevented me from trying, I was told the lasagna slice was delicious (and unique!).

The meat looks a bit sketch, but meat toppings on slices almost always look sketch in my humble opinion. The real winner of the outing was the fresh mozzarella slice-

I'm always happy when slice joints offer a 'mozzarella slice' in conjunction with their plain slices. While some places offer basil and chunky tomatoes to go with their higher-grade cheese, Not Ray's just threw on a healthy sprinking of oregano before baking, and it tastes fantastic.

Less greasy, more flavorful, and crispier than it's plain counterpart. I highly recommend it. Not Ray's may not have the notoriety or history or claim to fame held by it's misnomered rivals across the river, but at least it doesn't involve itself with the confusion and controversy.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mayor Bloomberg: What Are You Doing?

Today the NY Times reported seeing Bloomberg grabbing a hot slice at Staten Island's Denino's Pizzeria. Then he added salt, six shakes-worth to be exact!

(Courtesy of Gawker)

Trans-fats, nicotine and soda are apparently the bane of a healthy existence, but ruining a great slice with enough salt to cause type II diabetes in a small elephant is apparently no big deal.

Not only is it unhealthy Mr. Bloomberg, but coming from a pizzaphile, it's insalting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Avalanche Pizza

I just got a nice email from John Gutekanst who runs multiple-award-winning pizzeria Avalanche Pizza in Athens, OH. This place looks awesome- a million toppings, specialty pies, and what I find most remarkable: a willingness to make a variety of regional-style pizzas. Where Chicago deep dish pizzerias and New York Neapolitan joints tend to strictly stick to what they know, John seems to have mastered the thin crust, the deep dish, and the Neapolitan. What better a location to do this than exactly halfway between the Big Apple and the Windy City?

John also just started a blog of his own, Pizza Goon, which follows his adventures in pizza-making and experimenting. The guy obviously has an obsession with fresh ingredients and loves making pies- looks like I need to take a trip out to Athens.

As John puts it, "Semper Pie!"


After two failed attempts at trying to give Lucali a shot in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, a friend and I finally managed to grab a table and order one of their highly acclaimed pies (call and put your name in, then kill an hour at the bar). Unfortunately, my camera died after taking my first shot (damn you Fuji!), so I'm going to have to do some photo borrowing-

(courtesy of NY Magazine)

Whadd'ya know? It's the same table I sat at, so pretend you're there with me. We ordered a standard Margherita, and were encouraged to order a calzone as well. How any two people can scarf one of these pizzas and a calzone is beyond me. Minutes after ordering, it arrived.

So much bigger than I had imagined! I suppose I was expecting a 12" Neapolitan-sized pie, so I was stoked by its actual size. The cornicione is two inches wide, crispy and bubblier than anything I'd ever seen, while the crust was thin and chewy (to get specific, a one inch "tip sag" after folding the slice). The end crust tended crack and crumble towards the end but the pizza was fantastic. They brought us an extra plate of basil (I wish it had been more evenly distributed) and we chowed down.

(courtesy of This Little Piglet)

Mark Iacono, with next to no experience making pizza, opened Lucali's doors in 2006 to reportedly preserve his favorite childhood candy shop from becoming a fast-food franchise. The atmosphere was really spectacular; it felt like an old true pizza parlor. It's decorated with some sparing choice pieces of Americana, a tin ceiling, and Mark right in plain sight stretchin' dough and throwin' cheese.

(courtesy of Goodies First)

Like many NY pizzerias, many swear by it while others are underwhelmed. I personally thought it was a delicious and unique take on the "New York Neapolitan." And check out that oven!

(Courtesy of Fredricksblogger)

Unfortunately Lucali isn't having the greatest year. A fire closed it's doors for a few weeks in July, and there is word that a member of the Colombo crime family is falsely employed at Lucali while on parole. But every silver cloud has its lining (I still don't get that phrase)- the fire allowed Mark to fix up and open a back garden, and a second Lucali is rumored to be opening in South Slope.

Definitely worth checking out, just don't forget to BYOB!

Update: Chris Iacono's new South Slope pizzeria is to be called Guissepina's on 20th & 6th ave.- not sure when it's opening, but the space looks a lot better than it did a few months ago.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Okay it's no secret: I effing love Sammy's. I was first introduced to it's killer slices five years ago and have been making annual pilgrimages ever since. It's my favorite NY slice outside of the city.

Not the greatest picture, I know, but let's go inside, shall we?

You can say that again, Don Corleone! Just check out all these radical pies!

For research's sake, I got a plain slice and a white slice. While the selection of toppings is great, they could carry themselves on their standard cheese alone.

Oh my god. Does that not look delicious? Computer: MAXIMIZE

I highly suggest you click on the picture for a higher-res version. Then imagine taking a huge bite of this awesome slice. Oh and I hope you like amazing crusts, because it's crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Oh man.

I went for the white slice first- it's an incredible slice, but I had to save the best for last. It has ricotta, mozz, Romano, and garlic and the same delicious crust as it's sauce-covered brethren.

You can see it was cooked on a pizza screen which I know some people frown upon, but it's working for Sammy's. Oh did I mention that Sammy's has the most epic selection of pizza posters ever? Or did you not see the Godfather on the way in?

That's Spitzer, Bush, and Giuliani totally housing NY slices next to a sign that reads:
"This picture does not reflect the views of Sammy's Pizzeria. We just want you to know that politicians like pizza too."
On my way out, I grabbed one more slice for the road and snagged a pic with my favorite poster in the whole world.

Every summer I take a picture with possibly the zaniest promotion for pizza ever created.

Just what the hell is going on in this poster? Who is holding the phone? Why is that guy taking a bite of her slice if he has his own? Why doesn't he just hold those flowers with his other hand instead of under his arm? The photographer of this image is certainly straddling the line between genius and insanity.

Every year I offer to buy it, and every year I am refused. The poster truly belongs here; such an epic poster needs to be at an epic pizzeria. I love you Sammy's.

Edit: photo from the 2010 and 2011 pilgrimages:

Finger Lakes Flat Bread

So as I was nodding my head to The Hold Steady's positive jams and sipping Ithaca Beer Co.'s delicious Cascazilla at The Positive Jam with some friends, I didn't think the day could get any better. Until I caught sight of this:

A mobile (!!) wood-fired brick oven. I was complete. Finger Lakes Flat Bread make a variety of delicious, crispy thin crust pizzas (yes, PIZZAS- I've seen my fair share of flatbreads trying to unfairly call themselves pizzas and these are definitely worthy of the distinction to be called pizzas). "Menu" here courtesy of Ithaca Pizza Review.

All the "flat breads" are assembled just to the side of the oven, then tossed in for about a minute and a half.

I ordered the Margherita and was delighted by its oblong, irregular shape. Even cooler, it was cut in a zig-zag shoelace-style pattern fresh out of the oven!

The mozz was uniformly delicious and stretchy, and the bottom crust perfectly charred.

Light and crispy, but not so much that it was a cracker with sauce and cheese on top. The thin cornicione had a nice crunch to it to compliment the more moist center of the pie - with slices this small you can really get a great bite of both the center and edge of the pizza.

After speaking with FLFB's founder, she told me the mobile oven came all the way from Cali (couldn't tell me where exactly). She frequents the weekly Ithaca Farmer's Market and other random events like The Positive Jam. I've been meaning to check out Dave Sclarow's more DIY Neapolitan version of this at the Brooklyn Flea Market- looks like I know how I'm spending my weekend!
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