Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Park Pizza

For far too long, I've had New Park Pizza on my list of slice joints to hit up. Queens residents won't shut up about it, Paulie Gee swears by it, but I'll tell ya- unless you have a car (and who does in this city?), the place ain't easy to get to.

Check that neon steam! Located in Howard Beach, Queens, NPP isn't too far from JFK airport- which is exactly how I ended up there. We all know food at the airport is more often than not pretty horrendous; truer words couldn't be spoken about Fort Lauderdale's Jet Blue terminal. With my stomach grumbling and hot 'za on my mind (and more importantly, a car waiting in NYC), I decided the time had come for my belly to get to know New Park Pizza.

NPP proudly displays the '94 NY Post article declaring it the best slice in Queens (alongside Di Fara in Brooklyn and Sal & Carmine's in Manhattan). So what makes New Park 'fuhgedaboudit' great? For starters, they cook their pies in a gas-fed brick-lined oven cranked to the max.

Additionally, they have a standard gas deck oven used explicitly for reheats, yielding one mean slice:

...Okay, well two mean slices. New Park has come under a bit of fire lately from some of its long-term patrons who claim the quality of the pies are becoming increasingly inconsistent, often times under and over-cooking the pizza. I understood the controversy when the undercrust on my slices came out much darker than I had anticipated.

Woah, you don't see char like this on your average slice. Upon scoping this out, I gulped hard. Was it nicely charred, or brutally burnt? I really wanted this pizza to be all that it was cracked up to be.

I took one bite and it was all over. I was pie-eyed and in love. No, the dark undercrust wasn't burnt and had just the perfect amount of flavor and rigidity to support the magic happening on top.

The dough has just the right amount of balance to offer staccato salt notes coinciding with chewy sourdough tones. The cheese, while nothing special (low moisture full fat aged Mozzarella) is perfectly cooked and the staple of such a NY slice. And the sauce? Naturally sweet and tangy with what tastes like a hint of black pepper and oregano.

This is what NY pizza is all about, folks, plain and simple. New Park, let's hang out more often. It's a shame you're such a pain in the ass to get to. Is investing in a Zipcar membership just for pizza a sign that I have a problem?

If scarfing this pie is wrong, then I sure as hell don't want to be right.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

No Name Pub

When you think Florida Keys, I bet you imagine sunshine, lush blue water, coconuts, and maybe some seafood or a Cuban sandwich. If I'm correct in guessing that, then you clearly haven't been to the No Name Pub in Big Pine Key.

Are those... dollar bills stapled everywhere?

Yep, estimated at somewhere between 75-85,000 of them. I've seen currency plastered on restaurant walls before, but this is ridiculous! At the recommendation of a friend, I was told I had to stop through No Name on my way down to Key West recently. Had he not mentioned it, I never would have found the place, which is part of their allure.

In case you can't make out their slogan, it reads, "A nice place if you can find it." If it weren't for my GPS, I surely wouldn't have. Tucked away in the most remote of places on Big Pine, I was literally driving through people's backyards to get there. Why? Pizza, of course!

Yes, this pizza is served on circular piece of plywood and accompanied by classiest styrofoam plates. Hey I'm not complaining, dive bars are my comfort zone! No Name first opened as a general store in 1931 before adding an eatery in '36. After going through permutations including a brothel and a hide-out for drug smugglers, No Name eventually came into the restaurant/bar combo form it is now.

One quick glance at the crust will tell you the pizza is cooked in a circular pan, which coupled with the fact that it's a thin crust pie, gives it a pretty unique identity. That being said, however they bake this thing could stand to be a little hotter on the oven floor. Case in point-

I ordered a half cheese/half sausage pie, which wasn't too shabby depending on what you analyze.

The sausage had a nice fennel flavor to it and were about the size of marbles. I'm a large-chunks-of-crumbled-sausage kind of guy, but anything is better than those dense flat cuts of sausage seen on most by-the-slice pizzas.

Resting atop the sausage is one solid layer of stringy mozzarella. There's a possibility that they blend the mozz with another white cheese- maybe provolone or white cheddar, since the stuff definitely has mass.

The sauce, while mostly bland, had a slight zesty kick to it that suggested they tossed in some oregano and little red pepper flake.

This is quintessential bar pizza- boring, but fun, filling and perfectly pairs with an ice cold beer. The crust was the biggest disappointment, and almost felt and tasted like bad, undercooked frozen pizza.

That being said, I still had a blast at No Name and the pizza, while unimpressive, seemed perfect for that moment in time. Would I go back?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wonder Bar

Unless you're from Massachusetts, chances are you're going to mispronounce the municipality of Wonder Bar's home city- Worcester. Contrary to accepted pronunciation practices, grammar rules and common sense in general, the town is not "war-ches-ter." No, you'd be way off. In your thickest Bostonian accent, say it with me now: "wuh-stuh."

Based on the way the "er" becomes an "uh," maybe they should rename the place Wonder Bar Pizzer. My sister and her family live just outside of Worcester, so there was no debating whether or not I was going to check this place out. Funny enough, in the 13 years I've been trekking through this town and occasionally grabbing pizza, Wonder Bar had never entered into the equation. Not until I met J Spillane at Coalfire in Chicago last December had I even heard of the place.

Built in 1922, Wonder Bar remains virtually unchanged by time. It even smells old (I actually mean that as a compliment). Grab a seat on one of those rad stools at the bar and scope out the coolest guitar ever created:

WHAAAAAAAAT?! This killer axe was custom made for Wonder Bar by a regular patron. Check out the pizza cutter on the end, and there's even char marks on the crust! Speaking of which, you can see where the artist got his inspiration by ordering a pie (or three) from the waitress.

By default, I had to order a plain cheese- well as a half-pepperoni/half-sausage. Y'know, for research's sake...

...and lastly a fresh tomato and broccoli pie for good measure. I think we got all of our bases covered here. The sausage was just the way it should be- large chunks with hints of fennel, collectively adding a flavorful zing to the pie without ultimately overpowering it.

I didn't get a chance to check out the oven, but from what J and the bartender could tell me, it used to be coal-fired until somewhere in the 50's when, for cost-efficiency reasons, WB had the beast converted to a gas feed. Bummer, but to be quite honest you can hardly tell the difference when a pizza with just the right amount of char is placed right in front of you.

This is quintessential bar pizza in a quintessential New England bar. It doesn't get much cooler than this when it comes to hometown flavor and experience, and Wonder Bar has all the right moves.

As you can guess by the look of the pies, it's not Wonder not a slice was left by the time the tab came.

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