LOCATION: La Pizza Fresca (21st Street and Broadway, NYC)
GUEST(S): Terry Jinn, Maiko Kaneko, Maddy Mako, Jess Lane, Alan Fessenden, Paul Connolly, Violet Krumbein, Louie Pearlman
ORDER: 2 slices of Margherita, 1 slice of Biana Neve, 1 bite of Emilia
PIZZA REPORT: Old country flavor for my new country taste. La Pizza Fresca prides itself on serving authentic Italian pies. Sometimes, like today, my suburban upbringing and immature palate get the better of me. Having never been to Italy, I must say that the pizza of my youth is many evolutionary steps away from what they serve at La Pizza Fresca. Some pies differ more than others. The Margherita, for instance, gave me what I wanted at a higher quality. The cheese was fresh mozzarella, the sauce was made with San Marzano tomatoes, the crust was hand sculpted and cooked in a wood burning oven to perfection. I loved it. The Emilia, on the other hand, gave me a gag reflex. The Bianca Nieve, something in between. As for any pie other than a Margherita, read the ingredients carefully. Since I didn't, I was left to dicipher everything on my own. "Bianca Neve" I translated as "great cheese but watch out for the garlic." As for"Emilia", well, that must be Italian for "Balsamic Vinegar" which is English for "Sean won't like it". Everyone else at the table seemed to love it so I cannot help but recommend it for others. But, If you're anything like me, stick with the Margherita.
ATMOSPHERE: Clean, classy, and comfortable. La Pizza Fresca's owners keep the place looking sharp. White table cloths, fancy dishes, fine wine, an imported wood burning oven and a well dressed wait staff are a few of the nice touches that qualify La Pizza Fresca as a great date place. It's not cheap but it's a lot less than a trip to Naples and La Pizza Fresca is the next best thing.
VERDICT: 4 out of 5
MISC.: Terry Jinn, Maiko Kaneko, Maddy Mako, Jess Lane, Alan Fessenden, Paul Connolly, Violet Krumbein, Louie Pearlman talked about violet crumble, Halo 3, sliceny, enrichment programs, odd jobs, and New York Japion. Maiko Kaneko is a reporter for New York Japion and is doing a story on Pizza Month which should be appearing in this Monday's edition. Oh yeah, the newspaper is written entirely in Japanese.
LOCATION: Arturo's Pizzeria (Thompson and Houston, NYC)
GUEST(S): Rachael Mason, Ben Hauck
ORDER: 1 slice of sausage and peppers
PIZZA REPORT: Superb! Arturo's pizza is made just the way I prefer it. The coal fired crust is thick and sturdy yet soft when served. The cheese, though not fresh mozzarella, is not overused and floats amongst a sea of tomato sauce. Furthermore, the toppings (sausage and peppers in my case) are cooked by themselves and distributed evenly throughout the whole pie. If your taste buds are anything like mine, go to Arturo's...and never leave.
ATMOSPHERE: Art is the perfect prefix for "Arturo's". Sure, it's the guys name that established the joint in 1957 but he's also an artist. The interior of Arturo's is his gallery. It's almost like he is aware he has mastered pizza and is moving on. Meanwhile, live jazz echos through the store. It could be the jazz, the food, the wait staff, or a combination of all three but something sets the mood of the room to "good time" and keeps it there until you leave. Come here with a date and make an evening of it.
VERDICT: 5 out of 5
MISC.: Rachael Mason and Ben Hauck and I talked briefly about the pizza before I ran off to darts. I wonder where the conversation went from there after I left.
LOCATION: Two Boots (3rd Street and Avenue A, NYC)
GUEST(S): Stuart Hillman
ORDER: 1 slice of Bayou Beast, 1 slice of Mild Margherita
PIZZA REPORT: Oldie but a goodie. Normally I do not like old pizza but Two Boots makes a quality product that tastes almost as good old and cold as new and hot. I think this is because the toppings are so unique here. Two Boots is named for the geographical shapes of the locations that influence their pizzas - Italy and Louisiana are both shaped like boots. Although I am forever indebted to the Italian mainland for creating such a perfect food, the Cajun flare on my Bayou Beast really set it apart from any other slice I have had all month. Toppings such as andouille, bbq shrimp, crawfish, and jalapeno blend together with the mozzarella atop a very thin yet firm crust to produce a delectable slice of pizza. The only thing that could have been improved was the age of the slice. Order a pie as opposed to a slice and you won't be sorry. My Mild Margherita slice was served on a square Sicilian slice with marinara, fresh mozzarella, and basil. I know, Siciliy is not part of the boot of Italy. You are right. Sicily is the ball the boot is kicking into the Mediterranean. Had my slice been prepared perfectly, I would have written "GOAL!" but it wasn't. The cheese was either not in the oven long enough or the oven was not hot enough. Instead the pieces of fresh mozzarella remained hardened gelatinous masses. Granted they tasted delicious but the consistency was a bit distracting. Once in my mouth, the combination of the flavors did work really well together and the crispy outter shell/crust proved to be a good vehicle for getting these flavors to their destination. All in all, Two Boots makes some pretty solid pizza.
ATMOSPHERE: Now I know, Sunday on the Eve of Halloween Eve is astonishingly crowded. The streets of the East Village and Two Boots itself was swarmed with costumed people. Since we elected to go to the slice place (across the street from the sit-down place) there were fewer seats, all of which were occupied when we arrived. Being filled to capacity also meant the level of noise was a little ridic' (ridiculous). The saving grace was the Mets pennants hanging down from all around the interior of the store. Now when I think Two Boots, I think Amazin'.
VERDICT: 3.5 out of 5
MISC.: Stuart Hillman and I talked about marching bands, wall hangings, and even spoke to some random patrons that happen to be sitting next to us. Oh we also used, misused, and abused the word "nefarious".
ORDER: 2 slices of Margarita, 0.5 slice of grandma
PIZZA REPORT: Freshly prepared or prepare for disappointment. I had a little of each, very little of the latter. Il Forno, the name of the brick oven according to the woman behind the counter, has the words "Grandma" and "Margarita" displayed prominately. The woman further informed me that these were Corona Pizza's signature pizzas. Rather than decide, I orderd a fresh Margarita (spelled here like the drink) pie and a reheated Grandma slice. The method of heating/reheating made all the difference. Both slices had fresh mozzarella cheese, a brilliantly red tomato sauce, and a sturdy brick oven crust. The grandma slice, in addition to these ingredients, had a layer of regular shredded mozzarella. Since it was reheated, however, this additional layer had a very rubbery consistency that was very distracting. Furthermore, the sauce pockets on the grandma slice were smaller and more dried up resulting in less sauce. Although I was not a fan, the grandma slice did provide the perfect foil for the freshly cooked Margarita pie. The sauce was plentiful and evenly distributed as was the cheese which, by the way, was all fresh mozzarella. Corona Pizza makes good pizza, so long as its consumed quickly.
ATMOSPHERE: When you crave some good pizza after watching a great Mets game, Corona Pizza is the place. Your walk from Shea will take you next to the Unisphere, the Queens zoo, and Flushing meadows. If its the offseason or you are more of an Italian Ice fan, you will be happy to know that the Lemon Ice King of Corona is across the street from Corona Pizza. No frills inside though. You got an old dirty sign with the menu, a greasy glassed-in counter-top with partially served pizzas, paper plates and a 10 table eating area. The music volume fluctuates as does the employee banter - all of the makings of a classic New York pizza joint. If you're in the area and craving a piece of New York, stop by Il Forno...er is it called Corona Pizza?
VERDICT: 3 out of 5
MISC.: Erik Marcisak and I both accidently wore our Mets hoodies. Not surprisingly, we talked about the Mets but also managed to address the larger issues of Italian Ice and magical girls. Here we are outside the Lemon Ice King of Corona.
PIZZA REPORT: Oven question solved! Coal-fired brick ovens are great but they're also illegal. Due to pollution, no new pizza place can open with a coal oven unless 'grandfathered in'. Nick's pizza has a solution. Their cynderblock material oven powered by gas comes about as close as possible to coal-fired brick oven pizza with what some would argue as an improvement. The two noticiable differences are that the edges are only slightly charred and the pizza crust, as a whole, remains soft and chewy even as it cools. Nick's, in the tradition of the better known pizzerias, also uses high quality ingredients. My cheese slice was evenly topped with fresh mozzarella cheese and shredded basil. It was delicious. The pepperoni slices were pretty solid but suffered from a case of too-much-too-centered. This caused one of my slices to fall apart and make a mess. Of course, pizza is one of those messes I don't mind cleaning up.
ATMOSPHERE: All the comforts of a date place. Nick's ovens serve both form and function. In addition to cooking near-perfect pizza, they provide a beautiful backdrop for the seating area in the front of the store. The comfortable temperature inside, despite the chilly weather outside, almost makes it seem you are being warmed by the very visible flames in the back of the twin ovens. The soft background music, nice wait staff, clean interior, great tasting pizza, and reasonable prices make you wonder how come there isn't a line out the door. Then you realize there is another equally pleasant seating section in the rear. If you want good and you want it now, go to Nick's!
VERDICT: 4.5 out of 5
MISC.: Ron Taylor and I talked about beer, Steve McQueen, motorcycles, and IPA.
LOCATION: Bella Vita (58th St bet. 6th and 7th Avenue, NYC)
GUEST(S): Mathew Stillman
ORDER: 1 slices of pepperoni, 1 slice of fresh mozzarella
PIZZA REPORT: If I would have read my pepperoni slice before I ate it, it would have said said something like "You will enjoy fresh mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and plenty of hand cut pepperoni if you choose to eat me...ps this slice will self-destruct." And self-destruct it did - but for all the right reasons. Too much pepperoni. Not just any pepperoni but the extra spicy kind you rarely find anywhere but hanging in a deli. The grease from the pepperoni contributed to the collapse of the slice but, more importantly, it contributed to its deliciousness. Moisture from the grease kept helped revitalize the slice when it was placed back into the brick oven. My cheese slice, on the other hand, was not so lucky. Despite having fresh mozzarella cheese and a uniform crust, the sauce dried out in the cooking process. This likely occurred for two reasons. First of all, the sauce towards the edge was not covered due to fresh mozzarella cheese being centerloaded. The second reason was that my slice came from an old pie. Centerloading and age are a tough double-whammy to overcome. I prefer too much pepperoni. That was a good problem to have. Making the best of the situation, I used some of the pepperoni surplus to help stomach the old dried up cheese slice. Mission accomplished!
ATMOSPHERE: Although Bella Vita cannot assure you of a "beautiful life" it can assure you of a quick better-than-typical New York slice which is beautiful in itself. Tucked in the center of midtown Manhattan a mere block from Central Park South, you would not expect to find a pizza place that sells high quality brick oven cooked pizza at an affordable price. Well, start expecting! The dining area consists of only a few tables but the small size enables the temperature to be comfortably regulated by the heat from the brick oven in the back. If you're in the area and want a beautiful slice beautifully quick, then stop by Bella Vita.
VERDICT: 3 out of 5
MISC.: Matthew Stillman and I talked about convertibles, central park, bikes in the city, and then we went in a pedicab. Here is a photo of our view from the pedicab.
LOCATION: Palmira's (Clark Street and Hicks Street, Brooklyn Heights, BROOKLYN)
GUEST(S): Miranda Smith
ORDER: 5 slices of cheese, 1 slice of spinach and sausage
PIZZA REPORT: Looks great, tastes adequate. When ordering pizza at Palmira's, make sure you add a topping (or two). The toppings are well prepared, well distributed, and...well, the best part of the slice. I found my single slice of spinach and sausage to be the most enjoyable. I did still consume five other slices of fresh mozzarella but the sparsely applied sauce on the conventional oven crust left several of my taste buds un-stimulated. Though I am unsure of their scientific name, I am pretty sure I know what would have satisfied my wanna-have-more-tomato-sauce taste buds, in particular.
ATMOSPHERE: Palmira's provides an elegant yet family-friendly dining room. The lamps scattered throughout cast a soft light filling in where the candlelight from the tables does not. There are also couches and tall plants filling out the space between the bright white clothed tables. Fabric napkins, heavy silverware, and regularly refilled water goblets make you think you are in a place way to fancy to serve $7 pizzas - but the menu confirms otherwise. The wait staff was extremely helpful and suggested several items that were not pizza, indicating that pizza was not their signature dish. After eating, I should hope so much. That being said, everything inside was so nice, I cannot help but recommend Palmira's for its ambience, just not for its pizza.
VERDICT: 2.5 out of 5
MISC.: Miranda Smith and I talked about Astrology, the letter "ess", women's intuition, luck, and enemies.
LOCATION: Ray Bari Pizza (3rd Ave and 56th Street, NYC)
GUEST(S): Kristina Sepulveda, Erin Rose Foley, Tiffany Morningstar, Linda Fessenden, Jen MacNeil, Mary Regan, Michelle Dobrawsky, Cat Kemp, Kevin Dannenberg
ORDER: 1 slice of cheese, 1 slice of Sausage, Peppers, and Onions
PIZZA REPORT: Displays great, tastes mediocre. In line for pizza you have the choice of slices from about 7 different pies. They all look pretty good lit up under the lights. Even after being reheated, they come out not only looking good but smelling good. Something happens somewhere between purchasing the slices and the first bite to make the slices much less appealing. My cheese slice, for instance, seem to age about 3 hours in 2 minutes. I still ate it though. The sauce was sweeter than typical tomato sauce which I did not mind. While the cheese was well distributed and the crust firm and foldable, total package just did not measure up to a typical NY slice. Fortunately, I had another slice which contained red peppers, green peppers, onions, and sausage. The toppings alone were my favorite part. Although the traditional oven cooked crust was a thicker, doughier, pan-style, it still provided a solid foundation for the numerous toppings, shredded mozzarella cheese, and aforementioned sweet sauce. Even though the slice "hit the spot", I typically look at toppings as a way to cover up for poor quality standard pizza ingredients. Because of this and the inexplicable aging process, I would not recommend Ray Bari pizza unless you crave mediocrity.
ATMOSPHERE: This Ray Bari (assuming there are others) is a great place to meet up with friends. It is spacious, inexpensive, bright white and clean with plenty of seats and tables of varying sizes. Also, there is a great mix of music piped in. Either the speakers are a bit blown out or the radio station is slightly mistuned but you get the gist of what song is being played. Because of the size of the place, layout, and location, there is a risk during lunch hour it may get swarmed with people. It sort of has feel to it like that of a high school cafeteria. I knew I wasn't in high school though, I mean in high school, girls never at my table.
VERDICT: 1.5 out of 5
MISC.: I thought I was going to meet up with one guy but was greeted by 8 girls. It was the best Pizza Month surprise of 2006. The previous best was discovering a hidden sauce patch on the underside of a piece of crust. Kristina Sepulveda, Erin Rose Foley, Tiffany Morningstar, Linda Fessenden, Jen MacNeil, Mary Regan, Michelle Dobrawsky, Cat Kemp, and Kevin Dannenberg talked about "Ladies Night", Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, gender requirements, pregnancy rules, and the law. Here is a photo of the girls putting their hands on me...
LOCATION: Lombardi's Pizzeria (Spring and Mott Street, NYC)
GUEST(S): Matt Floyd, Valerie Taylor
ORDER: 3 slices of cheese, 1 slice of Pepperoni
PIZZA REPORT: I love Lombardi's pizza. I will gladly join the countless masses of people that have uttered that phrase over the past 101 years. The fresh mozzarella cheese patches topped with diced basil, floating in a sea of specially seasoned tomato sauce was absolutely mouth watering. The fact all of this rested on a soft and warm coal fired crust was just perfect. My Margherita slices held their shape when I held them by the edge of the crust proving what a solid foundation the coal-fired crust provides on top of being so delicious. The slice of pepperoni did not pass the solid foundation test but most certainly aced the taste test. One could say that hand cut pepperonis were a bit heavier in both weight and flavor. Both pizzas had some charring around the outer edges which I see as a kisses from a coal fired brick oven. I can't blame the oven for moving in on such great looking pizzas.
ATMOSPHERE: Right mood, right location, and right time of the night. Lombardi's interior is big enough for quick corporate lunch yet intimate enough to provide the perfect setting for a romantic evening (particularly, if your date likes Sinatra). It's roomy and warm with a polite wait staff. If there happens to be a crowd, merely give your name at the front and either step up to the full bar or sit down on the benches just outside. Located just a block from Little Italy, Lombardi's somehow manages to provide great service, delicious pizza, and clean comfortable seating at an amazingly reasonable price. Go to Lombardi's and see for yourself.
VERDICT: 5 out of 5
MISC.: Valerie Taylor, Matt Floyd and I talked about Nepal, terms of endearment, Frank Sinatra, Tennessee, and pick up lines.
ORDER: 3 slices of Margherita, 1 slice of Braised Lamb
PIZZA REPORT: These Ellipses don't lie. They also don't talk, but they do taste great! The Margherita pizza came with fresh mozzarella, standard mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and sliced bits of basil. I preferred it to the slice of braised lamb because of the fresh mozzarella cheese and because, well, it did not have lamb. Do not order the lamb if you are not a fan of it. It was a good quality topping, as seems to be the norm at Waldy's. Both pizzas came with plenty of delicious tomato sauce supported by a crispy thin wood fired crust. The shape was nice change too.
ATMOSPHERE: Eat at Waldy's whenever, wherever. Once you near this quaint pizza joint tucked in between a couple of banks, the smell of the wood burning fire will bring you in. It's a pay-at-the-counter place to get high quality brick oven pizza. The dining area is small yet comfortable. There is a large flat panel television and interesting wall ornaments if you come alone and several tables if you come with guests. Behind the counter are several extremely helpful pizza cooks that welcome newcomers with patience and recommendations. Although the food is more expensive than a typical NY slice joint, it does not break the bank. A foot long, 6 inch wide ellipse (Waldy's small) is only $5. Try it out, if you're in the area. You know what? Try it out, even if you're not in the area.
VERDICT: 4 out of 5
MISC.: Corinne Harris, Rebecca Teran, Shawn Amaro talked about butts, art, butt art, New York City, and Paul Simon.
LOCATION: Grimaldi's Pizzeria (19 Old Fulton St at base of Brooklyn Bridge, BROOKLYN)
GUEST(S): Linda Fessenden, Andy Butterworth, Valerie Taylor, Matt Floyd
ORDER: 3 slices of cheese, 1 slice of pepperoni
PIZZA REPORT: Wonderful. Grimaldi's proves when the best ingredients are prepared using the best cooking methods, the best pizza will result. All of my slices contained fresh mozzarella cheese, a touch of olive oil, San Marzano tomato sauce, shredded basil leave, and superbly cooked coal-fired crust. I know this because it is all done in plain view. The one thing I could not see was the secret blend of Italian spices added to the sauce. Man, I'd love to know that secret. What I do know is that Grimaldi's is the gold standard for pizza.
ATMOSPHERE: The line is long, the seats are cramped, the waiters are forgetful, the service is rushed, and the music volume is loud at times. But, don't sweat the small stuff and once you take a bite into a Grimaldi's pizza, everything else is exactly that - "small stuff". These are Pizza people, not People people. There's a reason for the long line so what are you waiting for? Get in it!
VERDICT: 5 out of 5
MISC.: My sister (Valerie) and Matt Floyd and I arrived from distant Brooklyn where we had spent the day volunteering for NY Cares. Yes, despite visiting New York for only a week, my sister and her boyfriend began cleaning it. I should say "painting it" though since we, on behalf of the Dartmouth Alumni Club, painted murals in the halls of an elementary school (PS97).
Here my sister and I are painting Lyle the crocodile in a bath tub (I did the tree).
After pizza, the three of us and Linda Fessenden and Andy Butterworth walked along the Promenade and eventually over the Brooklyn Bridge.