Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Song' e Napule

After hearing some rumblings in the pizza community of a pizzeria on Houston Street that slid under my radar, I tucked the intel in my back pocket and added it to my "Pizzerias to Investigate" list. Just as the name was fading from memory, I happened upon Song' e Napule by happenstance, as if the almighty Pizza Gods were trying to tell me something.

As it turns out, they were: "Eat some pizza," they whispered, or perhaps that was my stomach talking. Regardless, I found it impossible to resist stopping into this tiny joint, and the moment I traversed through the door I was transported straight to Naples. Just like many of the pizzerias up and down Via Tribunali, the walls were adorned with scenic photos of the Amalfi coast and the requisite autographed photo of Napoli legend Diego Maradona - but as is always the case, it was the wood-burning oven that caught my eye.

Originally an outpost of the Upper East Side's popular pizzeria Mezzaluna, Song' e Napule came under new ownership with Neapolitan Ciro Iovine and his wife, Austria. Ciro's jolly demeanor immediately sealed the deal as he slapped me on the back and pulled up one of the few remaining chairs for me at lunchtime and without a moment's lapse I ordered the ol' scientific control, a classic Margherita.

What a fine specimen! In typical fashion the pizza arrived in 2 minutes, but not before I was given a basket of sourdough and ricotta (as if scarfing this whole pie alone wasn't enough for lunch). Look at that beautifully puffy cornicione!

Absolutely gorgeous, with leopard spots to boot. Ciro proofs his dough for 72 hours to get a result like this - there truly aren't any shortcuts employed here, and the flavor of the crust was deep and sweet with plenty of moisture retained from the hot, short bake.

I also have to say - this to me is the perfect amount and distribution of basil. In an ideal world, I want a piece of that green with every mouthful for a fully-balanced bite, not one dinky leaf per quarter of the pizza. Other Neapolitan joints take notice!

Already bursting (I wolfed more of that sourdough than I should have), the meal ended with an unexpected Strawberry panna cotta dusted with powdered sugar. I'm no connoisseur when it comes to Italian desserts, but this was divine. The total? $12 for the bread + ricotta, Margherita, and dessert! That's a fair price just for the pizza, but the added courses and outstanding quality make this a total steal.

Now if only they would accept credit cards...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ben's (W. 3rd)

In my experience, whenever Ben's Pizza is brought up, the conversation heads one of two ways: either one is confused and asks, "wait, Ben's of Soho, or Ben's on West 3rd Street?" or there is no confusion at all, and one instead asks, "why would you go to Ben's when Joe's is one block away?" Both are good questions indeed, and begs a third question: "who claims Ben's Pizza is the most famous pizza in the world?"

I don't have an answer to that one, but I'd be willing to guess it's Ben himself. That said, while Ben's may not be the greatest slice in the neighborhood, it serves an important role and well, dammit it's an institution in its own right. I've tried tracking down the history of the joint, but it's a bit fuzzy. Apparently it was formerly called "Ben and Frank's Pizzeria" but I can't find any sources on that. They also claim to have been established in 1956 while Buzzfile has them listed as starting in 1965, but this image of Macdougal Street from 1966 shows what Ben's used to be: a drug store-

See it all the way on the right? Mysterious indeed. History aside, Ben's has become a staple of NYU students, New Yorkers in need of a carbo-load after a night of drinking, and if you're Louie C.K., a crucial pre-show bite before your set:

So what's the pizza like? Depends really - I've found Ben's to be incredibly inconsistent. These are both plain slices from different days:

Woof! Talk about a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, ammiright? One day the plain can pass as pretty decent, while the next day it looks as hungover as the patrons from the night before. Even the better looking 2nd take was a bit over-reheated on the bottom.

Meanwhile their square starts promising with a half-decent rise and an airy, light crumb...

...but frequently gets overcheesed in one uniform whitewashing:

Goo! While Ben's may never be my go-to spot in this neck of the woods, I'll hit it from time to time like checking in on an old friend - even if that friend claims they're the best in the world and their history is shrouded in mystery.
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