Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Brooklyn Kitchen/Roberta's Pizza Class

While cruisin' for homebrew supplies on the Brooklyn Kitchen's website last week, something caught my attention. At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me- could it really be? A two-hour class taught by Roberta's Chris Parachini on how to make Neapolitan-style pizzas in a home oven?

What a happy coincidence, since I totally have not been making three pies a week for the past five months. Okay maybe I have been, but I haven't been gaining much ground in my battle to make a better pizza. I needed guidance, and this class at BKitchen became my support group.

Brooklyn Kitchen just opened up a new location on 100 Frost St. in Williamsburg, practically under the BQE. As I mentioned, they have a decent selection of homebrew supplies, plus miscellaneous cooking untensils, butcher shop called The Meat Hook, and brand new cooking labs, where the class took place.

The first thing I hear when I walk in was, "Welcome, want a beer?" I knew instantly I was in the right place. Chris runs the class with his chief pizzaiolo from Roberta's, Angelo. They make a great team, and it's laughably clear that even when he's not on the clock, Angelo can't escape Chris's highly-detailed scrutiny.

That's Chris taste-testing Angelo's red sauce, not gesturing that he's going to yak into the bowl of crushed tomatoes. Considering this was the first class of its kind, I'm sure Chris wanted to make sure it all went smoothly, but his potshots at Angelo were all in good fun.

I have to admit that I was a tad worried going into the class that it wasn't going to be worth the cost of admission ($75). After I signed up, I sent the link to Adam @ Slice, and five minutes later Pizza Blogger replied with a how-to video of Chris making pies at Roberta's. Had I just wasted my money?

Definitely not. While the video has some great tips, you can't boil a two-hour class down to a six-minute clip. Angelo and Chris give everyone special attention and were able to right some of my pizza-making wrongs. That alone made the class worth it to me (but then again, I'm in the fringe group of weirdos that makes more pizzas at home than I know what to do with).

Since dough takes time we didn't have to ferment and rise, we set our dough balls aside while Chris brought out some already-risen dough he made the night before.

I love the re-purposing of a spackle knife as a dough scraper. Makes sense though, right?

After Angelo walked everyone through the delicate stretching process, we started making our pies. Did I mention we got to use Roberta's home-made mozz? Here's my pie, pre-basil/pre-oven:

I wish I could show you the "after shot," but with all the commotion and so many pies, I lost sight of it after it came out.

Needless to say, everyone went a bit wild with the cheese. Fine by me!

The difference in crust "puffiness"/hole structure between these pies and the ones I've been making is drastic. Despite my better efforts, my crusts have been dense and bready. This is what I've been after:

My only wish was that we talked a little more about home oven conventions and how to get the most out of them. I know it's a big subject to cover considering everyone's oven is different, and Chris did a good job of discussing stones, ceramic tiles (what we used), and basic airflow/convection, but after reading some of the techniques home-bound pizzaiolos Pizza Blogger and Foolish Poolish have been using, I think the class could benefit from a quick chat on broilers and stone placement in the oven. Woof, run-on sentence much?

In the end, I can't recommend this class enough to anyone who is interested in making great pizza at home, or anyone who just loves pizza. It's a great facility, with great company, taught by great teachers. I went out and bought some new flour and yeast last night at Buon Italia and made some dough; considering how impressed I was with the results from the class, I may not be leaving my kitchen for quite some time!

Monday, January 18, 2010


Well, I did it. I went to Roberta's. Finally. What a cool place! Sure, the neighborhood is slightly industrious/sketchy, and if you weren't looking for it you'd easily miss it, but once you're there and you're seated, the warm, welcoming atmosphere washes over you like a cozy blanket.

I met some good pals for Dunch (or is it Linner? Fill in the blank with your own lunch-dinner permutation), and we immediately made ourselves at home. Never mind the fact that it was only 3:30, ordering a growler of Six Point Sweet Action ale hit the spot as we waited for our individual pizzas. Cool growler, cool mason jar-glasses, cool everything.

As per usual, I ordered a Margherita, no frills. No matter, this was one fine pizza-

So fine in fact I couldn't help myself from scarfing a slice before taking my obligatory wide shot of the pie. Roberta's takes the road less traveled and does the six-slice-cut, something I'm becoming more fond of over it's four-quartered relativ- MY GOD, scope out that slightly burned mozzarella!

Get outta town, so smooth. The crust was perfectly charred on both the bottom and top. The undercrust had a very nice 'firmness' to it, making the pie feel less sloppy and generally cleaner with very little 'tip sag.'

Two of my other friends ordered Margheritas with "prosciutto crudo." Never having heard this term before, our waitress explained that 'crudo' means "after the oven," where as it's counterpart 'cotto' means, you guessed it, "before the oven." We'll see if that ever enters my pizza lexicon, but I have my doubts...

Looks pretty damn crudo to me. Oh and check out this little guy!

Pizza wart! (please tell me I coined that phrase; I'm definitely adding that to my terminology). Another friend ordered the delicious "Madd Martigan" which is comprised of mozzarella, mushrooms, pesto and artichoke-

Perfect combination and amount of toppings in my opinion- well blended and not too heavy. You know how I feel about overwhelming a pizza with too many toppings.

Roberta's is unique in that they have a small greenhouse out back to serve as a supplementary source for their toppings. I say supplementary because, as I understand it, most of the produce comes from Greenpoint's Rooftop Farms, which is awesome and exactly what it sounds like. I wish more restaurants and pizzerias bought their produce from this place... And did I mention Roberta's has their own radio station?!

I think that may be the first radio-pizzeria fusion ever. I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Scott's Pizza Tour

How did you spend your downtime between Christmas and New Years in 2009? I'll tell you how I spent part of mine: on pizza tourism. Did I just make that term up? It's catchy, isn't it?

At 11am I met up with twenty or so strangers in front of 53 1/2 Spring St. Any pizza fanatic worth their weight in dough knows this is where American pizza was born in 1905- Lombardi's original address (now a bar). What did the bunch of us have in common? We were all about to embark on a three hour tour (insert Gilligan joke here) of pizza history, led by none other than Scott Wiener of Scott's Pizza Tours.

After rallying everyone together and prefacing the tour, Scott took us down the street to Lombardi's current location for a slice.

While we warmed ourselves in Lombardi's back alcove, Scott began spitting facts and dates like no one's business. Seriously, this guy knows everything there is to know about pizza.

Almost as soon as we were seated pies were brought out to each table. I hadn't had a Lombardi's pizza in a long time, so it was great to have it once more (note to self: Lombardi's needs its own entry here). Just look at it-

As everyone chowed down, Scott took everyone back one table at a time to check out the oven (it's hard enough to fit a 20-person party into a pizzeria, let alone the kitchen). Scott's enthusiasm was kicked up a notch to meet the intensity of the hustle-and-bustle of Lombardi's kitchen-

After filling our stomachs with a hot slice or two, we popped back outside to brave the cold. Seemingly out of nowhere, Mr. Wiener stops us on a side street to give us a brief explanation on the differences between anthracite and bituminous coal :

There he is holding some memorabilia from his trip to Scranton's Anthracite Museum. FYI, anthracite coal is what is used in cooking pizza since it's (relatively) cleaner burning. As tempted as I am to post all the pictures I took, I don't want to divulge every aspect of Scott's bodacious tour.

After a couple P.P. I.'s (pizza points of interest), we headed for the west village for our next stop on the tour and my favorite NY slice in the city, Joe's Pizza.

Hey look! There's Scott grabbing a table from a very packed Joe's filled with lunch hour patrons. Scott calls ahead to each pizzeria to give them a heads up that he and his entourage are on the way, so by the time we get there the pies are fresh out of the oven and ready for consumption.

There's Jack in the middle, it was his 9th birthday! Man, I wish that's how I spent my 9th birthday, what more can you ask for? Once the pizza was served, a grabbed a slice and stepped to the side to take a phone call and unknowingly at the time became the example of how to fold your slice and multitask.

If I lived outside Joe's, I'd be this overweight too. Once we cleaned our plates, Scott returned the table back inside and we walked all of two blocks to John's, which had an even longer line than Joe's.

To kill time while we waited for our pizza, Scott hopped down into John's cellar to show us, once again, some coal-

There are heaps and heaps of it down there. Not before long, our pies arrived, much to the chagrin of patrons in line.

Pizza monster! I've never had John's at this location (only the 44th St. "Church of Pizza"), but it was definitely my favorite slice of the tour.

Man, feast your eyes on that! Oven-fresh sloppy and full of flavor! In the end, Scott's Pizza Tour was a blast, no bones about it. I went in (naively) expecting just to eat some pizza and hear the all-too-familiar history of New York pizza, which is definitely what I got, but so much more. Scott is truly entertaining and full of tons of pizza trivia you've never heard before.

I can't stress this enough, especially to locals: become a NY pizza tourist, and let Scott be your guide!


When you hear "Pizza Capital of the World," one might think of quaint Naples with historic pizzerias, or a bustling New York City with thousands of people grabbin' a slice to go, or even Chicago with a family sitting around a massive deep-dish pie.

But you would be wrong. The (self-proclaimed) Pizza Capital of the World is nestled between mining-scarred hillsides and defunct blast furnaces just outside of Scranton in Old Forge, Pennsylvania.

(courtesy of passion-4-pizza)

As far as I understand, the only credential Old Forge has for this outlandish claim to fame is that they arguably have the largest pizzeria : inhabitant ratio... hm, okay. I'm not quite sure that's a qualifier for the title, but it adds to the small town's allure regardless. I decided to check out Revello's, Old Forge's most popular pizzeria.

Revello's most recent claim to fame is an appearance from Hillary Clinton while on her campaign trail in 2008-

(Courtesy of Daily Telegraph)

That face just screams, "gross, can I have your vote already?" So here's a brief glossary for Old Forge-style pizza:

"Cut" - n. a portion of an Old Forge pizza; a slice
"Tray" - n. an Old Forge pizza; red pies consist of 12 cuts, white trays consist of 8 cuts.
"Red" - adj. a style of Old Forge pizza employing a marinara-like red sauce.
"White" - adj. a style of Old Forge pizza with no red sauce; simply dough and cheese and occasionally broccoli.

When I got to Revello's, the place was a bit dead (8pm on a Sunday after Christmas, no wonder). I ordered one tray of red and asked for a cut of white, but they were out of the latter. Instead I ordered a cut of white with broccoli...

Here's the red. No, it doesn't come with missing cuts, I just forgot to take a picture before digging in. Looks just like a typical Sicilian pie, right? Wrong. Revello's (and as far as I can tell, all Old Forge joints) uses what looks like a par-baked white doughy crust that just barely seems to brown in the oven. Barely.

Sorry for the red-saturated photos, but it gives you an accurate feeling for the ambiance of the place. The "marinara" red sauce has a bland, ketchup-like taste and consistency. Not disgusting, just not impressive.

The cheese- here's where things get especially curious. Old Forge cheese is a blend of (if not completely) American white cheddar and some mozzarella they call "brick cheese" (sound appetizing?). It's thick and gooey and every bite sticks to the roof of your mouth behind your teeth. It's very... uncharacteristic, and definitely regionally unique.

Now that you understand the basics of a red pie, let's subtract the sauce:

And that's "a cut of white." It's basically grilled cheese. The bottom layer is crust, followed by the aforementioned cheese, then the crust is folded back on top of the cheese and sprinkled with black pepper and rosemary.

Like I said, grilled cheese. These cuts are bigger, and how anyone could eat a tray of this my stomach is unsure of (I couldn't even finish my cut). It felt like it needed to be served with a side of marinara. Woof.

The best way to sum up this still of pie is regional comfort food. I have friends who look like junkies in withdrawl at the first mention of Old Forge pizza- people love it, just look at Hillary's face!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pizzeria Regina

Almost two years ago, I hopped on a bus and headed five hours north to spend St. Patrick's Day in Boston. I figured New York has its wild New Years party, so Boston's St. Patty's celebrations must be out of control. Granted, St. Patrick's fell on a Monday that year- which is when I made my trip- so I wasn't exactly expecting a grand parade right off the bus, but I still can't believe how dead the city was.

A Bostonian friend and myself roamed seemingly every neighborhood of Boston in search of at least one great bar- downtown, back bay, Cambridge, and even the Italian north end, where I found myself last weekend to try one of America's oldest pizzerias, Pizzeria Regina.

Established in 1926 in an old bakery named Regina by the Polcari Family, P.R. predates NY's John's and Patsy's by three and six years respectively. The inside of the place is cramped to say the least, and reminded me of Sally's Apizza- which brought back bad memories from the month before...

Regina rocks a wood-fired oven which, as far as I could discern from our waiter, came installed in the building from the Polcari's bread-baking predecessors.

I was warned that the pizza would be thicker than NY, but that didn't worry me. What set my expectations lower than usual was the sub-par St. Patrick's Day I had years before. If Boston's heavily Irish community can't celebrate, how good can their pizza be?

Damn good.

While I was waiting in line outside carefully inspecting the menu, I couldn't decide what to order. If you know me, you know I judge a place by it's plain pie, but there had to be at least three different variations on the Margherita (the "#10 Margherita" shown above).

With my head spinning, I texted Nick Sherman from Pizza Rules! A native Bostonian, I figured he'd be able to offer some words of wisdom - "Regina? You just missed me, I was there last night! I usually just get the plain," he says (or something along those lines). Good thing I had my whole family with me; I decided to get the plain ("Original North End Recipe")...

...and the #25 Fior di Latte Pomodoro...

...and the #22 Quattro Formaggio Pomodoro

...and don't forget that Margherita up there! It's a good thing the pizza was out of this world, because we scarfed the pies down like a Houdini disappearing trick. My brother-in-law said, "if you're not going to make a documentary on this place, then I will!"

Regina boasts 20 locations, which sadly, don't all have wood-fired ovens. Just before heading over the north end's original location, I stopped in to Faneuil Hall to grab some breakfast and saw one of Regina's other locations:

While they're not technically lying by saying "Boston's Brick Oven Pizza Since 1926," there's nothing but gas-fed deck ovens back there.

Disappointing, but not St.-Patrick's-in-Boston disappointing.
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