Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Metro Pizza

Here's a question I've often asked myself: where can one gamble away all your money in a matter of minutes, drink openly on the street, find just enough money lying around to buy two pizzas and four beers, all while sweating to 110 degree heat?

Las Vegas, of course! Earlier this summer I found myself in Sin City for work, and what business trip is complete without sampling some of the local pizza fare, ammiright? Before embarking, I knew my top priority would be Metro Pizza, established in 1928 in it's early form by the fathers of John Arena and his cousin Sam Facchini.

(courtesy of Metro Pizza)

In 1980, John and Sam ironically left New York City and bought "Original New York Pizza" in Las Vegas, which would eventually become Metro Pizza. There's a great interview with John on Pizza Therapy; I really admire the guy's devotion to pizza and making a quality product.

Penny Pollack and Jeff Ruby listed Metro Pizza in the nation's top 10 pizzerias in their book Everybody Loves Pizza- and one look at Metro's menu might give you an idea why: on a similar but completely different note to Tony's Pizza Napoletana in San Fran, Metro offers an impressive variety of pizza styles.

Along with their own unique style of pizza, John and Sam offer Chicago-style stuffed pizza, speciality pies inspired by pizzerias across the globe, and classic New York-Neapolitan pizzas a la Lombardi's and Patsy's back east. That being said, I don't think I visited the "right" Metro Pizza, which was located inside of a combination casino/motel/brewpub.

I knew instantly that something was amiss when I took a seat (one of about 10) after ordering, but was told I had to move if I wasn't a paying customer of the adjoining budget steakhouse. This was primarily a take-out only joint, and its menu sadly did not have the latitude that their website (and presumably other locations) suggests. Oh well, I ordered two personal pies: one plain, one sausage, and two beers. And yes, I was alone, just me, myself and pint.

25 minutes later, here it is: very cheesy, very bubbly, and very... good. I know, it doesn't look like a pizza from a top-tier pizzeria (and it's probably the exception considering their impressive menu), but it was shockingly light and perfectly cooked.

This combined with another two beers (on the house!) I was given once my pizzas arrived (did I mention it was buy one-get one Tuesday?) brought my total tab of two pizzas and four beers to... $11.28. WHAT?! As weird as this place was, I loved every part of it.

Would I rank Metro in the top 10 of American pizzerias? From this visit, no, but I won't rest until I return and have the proper sit-down Metro Pizza experience.

Zero Otto Nove

My beloved pie-eyed followers, I have returned! My goodness have I lost track of time, and just in time for my favorite time of year- the leaves are changing color, the weather is just chilly enough to wrap yourself up in your favorite cozy hoody, and there's an excuse to eat pizza everyday for NATIONAL PIZZA MONTH!

Not too long ago I trekked up to the Bronx's Italian neighborhood near east 187th st. (yikes that's a hike!) to the area's pizza-dominated street, Arthur Avenue. Sitting amongst legendary pizzerias like Mario's and Coals lies Zero Otto Nove, or 089.

Despite a full-fledged neighborhood street fair happening just around the corner, I was able to get into ZON without too much of a hassle. After a refreshing Stella at the bar, I was tapped by the hostess and led through a cramped, dimly-lit hallway to the main dining area, and boy was I taken back when I got to my table-

The entire restaurant is styled just like a back alley in Naples, complete with faux-posters advertising imaginary events, forced perspective, street lamps and fake windows!

These pictures truly don't do the space justice; the place is very dark and there wasn't enough light to use my wide-angle lens, but just to give you an idea of the capacity of the joint, there's a second story, complete with a balcony:

You sure don't see this everyday in New York; in fact I can't even imagine what it would cost for a place this big in Manhattan. What's nice is the fancifully-deco'd oven, which commands the attention of the entire dining area. I'm not sure who makes the oven (Acunto?), but it's absolutely smashing, and there's nothing I love more than a pizzeria with the oven in plain view. It's kind of like when a magician rolls his sleeves up before a trick to prove there's nothing awry.

I was pretty damn hungry, so I didn't screw around and ordered right away: a Margherita (surpirsed?) and the "patate salsiccia e provola," aka a white pie with smoked mozzarella, sliced potatoes, and sausage.

Beautiful! Another thing I love: six slices instead of the usual four typical with most Neapolitan-style pizza. The pies were out in a jiffy (as they should be), but I really cannot express how sharp the wait staff is at ZON. The place was jam-packed, and yet seemingly every time I took a sip of my water it was instantly refilled. Attentive, but not pushy or too aggressive.

Seriously, look how gorgeous this pie is! I should explain at this point that "089" is the area code of Salerno, Italy- the birthplace of restaurant founder Roberto Paciullo. Salerno has even garnered its own variation style on the Neapolitan pie, typically crispier and thinner in the middle (if you can believe that's even possible to make a Neapolitan pie thinner).

Immediately after the Margherita arrived, so did the other pie:

Disclaimer: I only ordered the sausage on half, this isn't standard. Another fine looking pizza, waiting to be scarfed.

Just about halfway through housing the pizza, a nice young gentleman stopped by the table just to make sure everything was to our liking- another impressive sign of pizza professionalism. Check.

While Zero Otto Nove may be a bit over the top with its decor; some may even call the style too cheesy (ha!), but I'd be lying if I didn't, if not for just a moment, feel convinced I was chowing down on authentic Salerno pizza in a moody back alley in Italy.

Diss it or dig it, there is no denying one thing: Roberto has got not just a great pizza, but a great restaurant on his hands, and it is absolutely worth a trip, no matter where you're coming from.
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