Monday, November 30, 2009

Sally's Apizza

As I write this I am heading south on I-95, getting as far away from Sally’s Apizza as the four wheels on this car will allow- from the worst pizza experience of my life.

I can already hear the cries of blasphemy, but someone had to say it.

To preface my confession, I have cut my pizza patron teeth at my fair share of long-lined NY pizzerias: an hour for a slice at Artichoke, two hours at Di Fara. I’ve tapped my toes and watched the minutes pass at these joints, but it’s always been worth it.

That being said, I’ve never waited for three and a half hours for a mediocre pie unworthy of the myriad unwarranted praises showered upon a place like Sally’s.

Where do I begin? How about at 5:07 P.M., on Friday 11/27. The day after Thanksgiving. I arrived at Sally’s on Wooster St. just as its quaintly dated sign lit up over the 30-odd people in line outside. Minutes later, Sally’s had filled to capacity, leaving me just feet from the front door, inconveniently at the front window staring at the more fortunate diners in front of me.

And that’s where I stood without moving for the next two hours. In fact, the first pizza wasn’t even served until 55 minutes after the last available table was seated. I don’t care how small your oven is or that it’s the day after Thanksgiving- it takes three minutes tops for those pizzas to cook, so why do they average one pizza every ten minutes? I stared through the glass as the shorts-clad wait staff moseyed around and performed card tricks for bored patrons as my extremities slowly turned to ice.

(the shorts-clad, card-toting jerk-off)

My heart nearly skipped a beat when a booth for four cleared out- the perfect occupancy for my party, the next in line to be seated. The staff continued to lollygag for another 20 minutes before clearing the table and seating us. Almost simultaneously, a group of six locals shadily waiting outside the confines of the line bounded inside (in front of nearly 20 people) to grab a newly vacated booth. WTF?!

(Happy customers all eating pizza. Oh wait-)

Once seated, I ordered two beers and our pizzas immediately (one medium cheese, one medium ‘plain’ [no cheese] with half garlic). After about an hour of waiting, my party began to vent our frustration which was overheard by our waiter. He asked, “Where you folks from?” “New York,” I said. “I could tell you weren’t from around here,” he said as he coldly walked away. Eat me! Sorry I’m not complacent about waiting three hours for your pizza. What a dick.

Shortly thereafter, the local line-cutters got their four pizzas. 30 minutes later, ours arrived. While I will begrudgingly admit the pizza, especially the cheese-less plain, was better than Frank Pepe’s, it was mediocre at best. To be honest, I was so famished from waiting I can’t even fully trust my taste buds.

The icing on the cake of pizza disrespect was when our waiter assumed we didn’t want change on $60 for a $47 bill. I’m by no means frugal, but when a waiter doesn’t even offer to bring change I’m insulted. 30% tip? Get real, ass.

Overall, the visit was a constructive one: between this, an underwhelming experience at Pepe’s, and an offensively burned pizza from Modern, I feel safe in never returning to this pizza-forsaken town again (at least not to eat pizza). I also feel the stigma many non-New Yorkers face waiting in line with pizza snobs, but c'mon- I felt pissed on.

(Wooster St.: getting the hell out of there)

Sally’s deserves a slogan; let me suggest one: “After waiting four hours, anything is bound to taste great!”


Between total bombs at Tacconelli's and Lorenzo's, I was about to give up on finding good pizza in Philadelphia. That all changed when I walked into Stella just on the cusp of Olde City and South Street.

Stella opened its doors just three months ago in September as a labor of love by renowned restaurateur Stephen Starr of Buddakan and Morimoto fame. The place has a funky 'recycled' feel to it, using old chalkboards and wood planks from the Coney Island boardwalk for tables (NY respect points).

Not long after being seated, I ordered one Margherita and one Tartufo (black truffle, egg, Fontina and Parmesan). As no surprise, the Margherita arrived just minutes later-

Followed shortly thereafter by the Tartufo. The waitress broke the yolk and evenly distributed it across the pie:

I'll start with the Margherita: it was better than I expected. The flavor of the tomatoes and especially the crust were divine, and the buffalo mozz didn't turn the whole pizza into a Neapolitan swamp. That being said, I do think they could have left it in that beautiful oven of theirs for 30 more seconds- while the cornicione was excellent with great hole structure, I think it could have used just a *little* more char, but I'm being petty.

I found it strange that Stella sliced their pies into six slices rather than four, though it worked out in our favor since there were three of us chowing down. I usually don't mind whether basil is thrown on a pie before or after the oven, but in Stella's case I think they should consider putting it on first.

Next came the stinky but delicious Tartufo. I think the Fontina is the primary culprit behind the pungent odor.

It actually looks pretty gross, doesn't it? I promise it's not. While I'm not usually one for straying from the Margherita when it comes to research purposes, I'm really glad I ordered this pie. In fact, I don't know if I've ever seen this on any other menu.

You can see just how fluffy the cornicione is. The egg was the icing on the cake- err, well you know what I mean. It was the best part of the pie, and gave some balance to the otherwise overwhelming truffle oil.

Nice speckles of char, eh? The oven is right at the front of the joint, surrounded by a large prep station and three guys hard at work (two prepping, one tending the oven).

My only disconcerting feeling about the place was a question that didn't start nagging at me until I left: who's behind this pizza? Did Starr create a pie he was happy with, then train a dedicated stand-in pizzaiolo? Where'd the dough recipe come from? Who taught these fine gentlemen to make such a great pizza?

I'm a huge supporter of the owner-operated pizzeria business plan- it puts a face as to who's responsible for what you're eating, and they're exactly that: responsible for every pizza that comes out of the oven. I loved Stella and I'll definitely be back, I just wish I knew who was responsible for the product.

Lorenzo's and Sons

Being a former Philadelphia suburbanite, I was recently roaming the city of brotherly love questing for a hot slice. After catching a couple flicks I wandered down to South street, and the first place I hit was Lorenzo's and Sons.

What guy wouldn't stop in to a place with a sign like this:

...and what women in her right mind wouldn't be drawn in by this?:

Okay, the second sign is a bit odd, but L&S seems to have their marketing scheme down pretty well. Unfortunately I can't say the same for the pizza production skills. The slices at Lorenzo's and Son are without a doubt larger than usual, to the point where (and I've never seen this before) they feel compelled to fold the tip back on itself:

Strange, I know. I didn't get a picture of it, but the counter top has no pizzas on display (maybe the city's Dept. of Health has already gone to town), in fact they may only sell plain slices. Regardless, the pizza sucks. There was no discerning taste from the cheese, sauce or crust. Boring with a capital B. Just a block west of L&S is Jim's Steaks, one of Philly's best-respected cheese steak havens.

With the proximity of these two food establishments, it's not unusual to see someone eating a "Philly Taco." Yes, it sounds like some sort of immature sexual innuendo, but I assure you the real thing is grosser than imaginable:

(courtesy of Slashfood)

I know. You don't even have to say it. At least Lorenzo's pizza serves some purpose...

La Villa

The other day I managed to lug myself all of six blocks to a nearby pizzeria that I had heard some positive reviews about from my fellow Park Slopers, La Villa.

Adam @ Slice reported some mixed reviews based on some home-delivered pies a while back, so I decided I had to experience La Villa 'in the flesh.' Just one problem: what the hell should I order? Villa boasts five different incarnations of a Margherita and it was making my head spin. Despite their descriptive explanations, I had to get some clarification from my waitress:

Napoletana - a fresh ingredient take on New York pizza (grated whole-milk mozzarella) with San Marzano tomatoes
Margherita D.O.C. - 'New York Neapolitan' (ala Luzzo's & Lucali) pie with homemade mozzarella, basil, and S.M. tomatoes.
Mozzarella di Bufala - same as above, but with buffalo mozzarella
Siciliana - typical deep-dish Sicilian square with grated whole-milk mozz.
Focaccia della Nonna - The grandma slice, substituting sauce with crushed S.M. tomatoes and in an atypical circular rather than rectangular appearance.

I ordered the Bufala but they were outta the cheese, so I opted for the D.O.C., and it was fantastic:

It's out of focus, I know, but you get the idea. Man, this had to be one of the lightest pizzas I've ever had, and I mean that literally- every time I served a slice I thought it was going to float away.

The crust is nice and charred and airy. I have to admit, I had low expectations for a place that serves much more than just pizza.

I think my only complaint, and I'm embarrassed to admit this, is that it needed salt. I know I'm eating my words a bit after giving Bloomberg hell a while ago, but I'm just telling you what my taste buds wanted.

La Villa uses a wood-fired oven assisted by gas to keep the oven consistently hot.

It looks strikingly similar to Black Sheep's oven- anyone know what these are called?

With four other Margherita varieties left on the menu, I know I'll be back. At least four more times...

Black Sheep

Sheesh! I haven't updated this thing since October 31st? I've been slacking, and I'm embarrassed. Worry not, I'm back with another midwest recon mission, this time from Minneapolis' acclaimed Black Sheep pizzeria.

It must be nice to live in a city where there isn't a moratorium on coal-fired pizza establishments, but looking back on the brutal winters I suffered growing up in this city, I'm not quite sure I would endure the freezing oppression for a pizzeria. Then again, I didn't get to personally try this great-looking pizza:

While the industrial interior of this place is befitting of Minneapolis' warehouse district, I wish I could say it looked as great as the pie above-

Atmosphere aside, great pizza is great pizza no matter where you eat it, and apparently this one killer pizza. Black Sheep utilizes a coal and gas coalescent (see what I did there?) oven, which combines the temperature consistency of gas ovens...

...with the sought-after taste of coal ovens:

What I find interesting about Black Sheep's menu is the absence of a Margherita pie. Trustworthy Twin Cities pizza blogger Aaron Landry suggests ordering the tomato and oregano pie (cheeseless) and adding smoked (or fresh) mozzarella and garlic (this pie had fresh tomatoes on half). Yummy. That oven of theirs seems to toast their pies rather nicely:

Between these pictures taken kindly by my family and the rave reviews from across the board, it's beginning to look like I'm going to have to brave the cold soon enough and try it for myself.
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