Saturday, May 21, 2011


Before my wicked long drive out of Boston back to New York, I was weighing my options of where to hit lunch. Santarpio's has been on my list for a while but their schedule didn't fit mine, so I decided to settle for Picco in the Bay Village neighborhood.

Did I say "settle?" Man is that an understatement. I'll tell you right now: I love this place. In fact if the apocalypse were coming and I lived in Boston, this is where I would take shelter to live out the end of days. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, let me show you what Picco is all about.

Rick Katz founded Picco as an homage to two of his favorite foods and started a Pizza and Ice Cream COmpany. See what he did there? Picco (not to be confused with Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur, California) cooks all their pies in a gas-assisted Woodstone oven "well-done" as they say.

While they only feature eight set pies with an additional daily special, Picco has a well-rounded menu with plenty of room for topping additions and substitutions. The friendly gentlemen sitting across from me on his lunch break raved on how the grilled cheese here was the best he'd ever had. Even more impressive, almost everything they make is completely homemade from scratch, from the sausage to the ice cream (thankfully they don't make sausage ice cream).

Of course I ordered the Margherita, but my curiosity ordered mushroom and sausage on half (made in-house? Gotta try it). Picco also offers a killer beer selection from across the country, so I sipped my 21st Amendment IPA (*shhh* it was a company-paid lunch) just feet from the oven as I watched my pie go in and out of the oven. The result?

Yowza! To be quite honest, my first impression was not that this was the most beautiful pizza I'd ever seen, but I clearly didn't know what I was getting myself into here. After carefully inspecting and snapping away pictures in my typical fashion I finally took a bite, and goddamn was it good.

The crust has a dense, crispy shell that misleadingly gives way to one of the most savory, fluffy hole structures I'd seen in quite some time. There is a distinct sourdough taste yielded from the pizzeria's two-day cold rise treatment they give their dough, and it shows, too:

Damn! Look at that fluff! Chewy and crispy at the same time? Don't mind if I do! You can clearly see what Picco means when they say that the pies are cooked 'well-done'

Here's where I have to say it. The crust of this pizza reminded me of another that I'd had recently: the acclaimed Great Lake in Chicago. A ballsy claim, I know, but one that I mean wholeheartedly with praise for both establishments. THIS STUFF IS GREAT. After killing a slice of the Margherita (which actually lacks any basil), I moved onto the more complex sausage and mushroom half-

To be quite honest I like my sausage in large chunks as opposed to sliced, cubed, crumbled, or any other B.S., but this didn't seem to fall into any of these categories. The texture wasn't amazing, but the flavor was. You can see some fennel mixed up in there if you look closely. This pizza was officially awesome. After scarfing every last slice and killing my brew, my friendly co-diner urged me to get some ice cream "for the full experience" at Picco. Twist my arm already!

I ordered a scoop of the caramel swirl which was nothing short of an aneurism of flavor, and I mean that in the best way possible. I paid my bill, thanked the pizzaiolo for an incredible pie, and drove home five hours with a smile across my face the entire time.

Upper Crust

I get to (read: have to) travel a lot for my day job, something I often find myself doing over weekends, through extreme climates, and meeting plenty of wacky individuals. Fortunately for me, there's pizza everywhere I travel. Everywhere.

Recently I found myself in Boston for a project, and considering how weak my coverage of Massachusetts pizza is, my timing couldn't be better. I knew immediately where I was stopping first: acclaimed pizza chain Upper Crust.

I went to the flagship location originally opened by founder Jordan Tobins in 2001 in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. This place was pretty cramped with only one large communal table, but no harm no foul- you gotta start somewhere, right?

UC is strictly a gas deck oven kind of joint, which is no surprise considering they have 20 locations and counting at this point (including Washington, D.C.). This isn't a situation like Boston pizza brethren Pizzeria Regina in which the original location operates a coal oven while its franchised subsidiaries are all gas (boo)- no, from what I hear their quality control is amiably consistent between locations.

So here's the plain slice, which has a nice zing to it. From what I could tell they put some red pepper flakes in their sauce- something I don't usually dig but it works well with whatever else they're seasoning their tomatoes with. The pie itself is super thin, also something I'm not usually a fan of, but again, Upper Crust was nailing this slice.

Here's how this place operates when you walk in for a slice- every day they have plain cheese and pepperoni ("Roni" as they call it), as well as their daily special. Upper Crust has a staggering list of specialty pizzas and even more toppings and ingredients to boot, ranging from your average expectancies to toppings that some people would argue "don't belong on a pizza."

Case in point: the grilled chicken pesto pie was the daily special. I hesitated at first, but I clearly made the executive decision to order one of these guys as well. After a couple bites I had no regrets, and though I'll admit I don't order this combo frequently, it didn't quite outshine the chicken pesto slice I had last summer at Sammy's.

Nevertheless, Upper Crust makes a smashing pizza and 'gives the people what they want' by putting 53 different toppings on their menu. I can clearly see why this place has become a local favorite in such a short amount of time and how they're able to expand so rapidly.

I left with a full stomach and a realization that Boston truly has a unique pizza identity, something I was unsure of until my visit to Upper Crust. So when are they opening one in New York? "When the sox win the next World Series."

We'll see about that.


Whew! Alright, after an extensive pizza chow-down sesh in Chicago I'm finally back in New York! Just shy over an hour after landing in Newark (ugh) I found myself in my old, much beloved neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen to finally give Zigolini's Pizza Bar a proper look-see.

I have to admit I didn't walk through ZPB's doors with a totally unbiased attitude. Zigolini's is located on 9th Ave. between 46th and 47th, and I used to live directly across the street. The demise of Orchard Caribbean Soul Cuisine in this location begat this pizzeria at what felt like the instant I moved to Brooklyn, so a part of me almost wanted to hate this place in order to save myself pangs of regret.

Zigolini's is a relatively traditional Neapolitan-style pizzeria and, as the name suggests, a bar to boot. You won't find any surprising pie concoctions here as most of the menu is comprised of traditional Italian toppings ranging from buffalo mozz DOC to truffle oil. Naturally I ordered the Margherita to see how it held up.

Okay. That's how this pie looks, and that's how it tasted. Not bad, not amazing, but okay.

Don't get me wrong, the mozzarella was plenty flavorful with a nice salty zing and the tomatoes were kept deliciously simple to make a decent Margherita, but the pizzaiolo here could stand to throw another sprig or two of basil on before firing up his pies. If there's one thing that gets me unnecessarily heated over a Margherita is a lack of basil. C'mon, it's a compulsory ingredient, not a garnish!

My pizza had a nice cook to it, both under and over. That being said, the cornicione was nothing to write home about. I like my Neapolitan crusts big and fluffy enough to take a nap on, and this guy just seemed flat without much discernible flavor. Again, okay.

The service? Okay. The decor? Okay. That being said, if I still lived across the street I'd be here once a week. I finally had to face the facts: a decent brick oven pizzeria had opened up close enough for me to roll out of bed into had I still lived in Hell's Kitchen, and now I have regrets about my move. Not okay.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Holy water buffalo, it's been a minute! Please forgive my absence from pizzaphilia, but I'm back to finish what I started. Last, but certainly not least on my Chicago stops is the legendary Pequod's Pizza.

If there is one thing I've learned from my Chicago pizza expedition it's that the city has an eclectic if not totally badass cross section of pizza styles. I've shown you deep dish, stuffed, Neapolitan, coal-fired, thin crust, New York-style, New Haven-style and artisanal, but forget all that. This is pan pizza.

What is pan pizza, you ask? The defining factor that sets pan apart from something like an otherwise similarly thick pizza like deep dish is the crust. Instead of pinching and pulling the dough up the side of the pan to create a crust, the pizza is topped and built all the way to the edge. The result? In Pequod's case, it's a caramelized latticework extending above the rim of the pizza.

Beautiful, isn't it? I almost didn't want to cut the pie in fear of crumbling this work of art, but my stomach got the better of me.

This pizza hands down ranks as the best deep-style pizza I had in Chicago, eclipsing my previous favorite, Lou Malnatti's. If the picture above isn't evident enough, full disclosure: I ordered sausage on top. Necessary? Hardly. Worth it? Totally.

The location I visited in the Lincoln Park neighborhood isn't the original. Burt Katz opened Pequod's in nearby Morton Grove over 30 years ago in 1970. Eventually, Burt sold the place and peaced out to start Burt's Place which he still operates today. The ownership may have changed, but the recipe and trademark crust remain the same.

This is the cleanest "cut away" I could snap in an attempt to reveal the dough to sauce + topping ratio. Pretty damn thick, but ultimately none too unbalanced. After my third slice I should have stopped, but who wants to take home one measly slice? More importantly, who could live with themselves letting it go to waste?

The aftermath. Until we meet again, Pequod's...

Piece Pizza

After spending my entire Saturday scarfing pies across the city of Chicago, I finally ended up at Piece Pizza for a nightcap.

(Courtesy of Sylvia Badon)

Let me tell ya, it's no easy feat hitting up 8 pizzerias in a day, but I never said this job was piece of cake (it's more like a piece of pizza). Against all odds, I managed to talk my stomach into just one more pizza.

Make that two. If you know your pizza styles and the picture above is any indication, Piece offers a kind of pie that doesn't exist anywhere else. That is, outside of New Haven, Connecticut.

This place is huge, as in built out of an old roofing company's garage huge. Piece was founded by Bill Jacobs, a native of- you guessed it- New Haven. After becoming fed up with what the Windy City had to offer in the way of pizza, Jacobs took matters into his own hands and started his own pizzeria to bring a taste of home to the Midwest. Sound familiar? After recruiting a friend/former Sally's Apizza (ugh) employee and a little financial help from Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, Piece Pizza was established in 2001.

Hey look! One of Rick's signature unnecessarily over-necked guitars!

Just like any New Haven (a)pizzeria, Piece nails the signature approach of white, red, and plain (no mozz) pizza options. They even serve pies on trays with wax paper, "just like home." I ordered a medium red and a medium plain with chicken

Both pies were pretty good, but to be honest didn't quite nail that New Haven flavor right on the head. The reason? Piece's huge Cutler oven operates on gas instead of the traditional coal, so you can imagine how the results might vary from its east coast brethren.

See what I mean?

Yet what Piece may lack in ozone-polluting fuel sources it makes up for in brewskis. Not only do they tout some of the city's most well-respected, award-winning craft brews, but they're all brewed in-house!

(Courtesy of Nerd City Online)

Brewmaster Jonathan Cutler (above) of Goose Island and Sierra Nevada fame joined up with Jacobs from the start ten years ago and continues to churn out stellar beer time and time again.

"I'll take one of each please."

While Piece may not have bested the very pizzerias they harken to, they still bring some well-crafted if not mostly-authentic pies and truly unique craft beer to a populace that wouldn't otherwise know what they're missing.
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