Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: Lorenzo's Pizza, Philadelphia Italian Market

The Italian Market, the famous stretch of 9th Street in South Philadelphia, just celebrated its 100th Anniversary. published a nice article HERE detailing its history and current state.

On a recent warm spring day, we walked the entire stretch - from Pat's & Geno's (tourist cheesesteaks) at Passyunk Avenue on its southern edge to Sarcone's Deli on the northern terminus.

Rocky's famous run through the 1970's Italian Market

In that general area of South Philly, one can find a lot of worthy pizza places. Santucci's (briefly reviewed HERE for its appearance at the South Philly Pizza Olympics), the hipster spot Birra, the old-school red gravy restaurant Marra's, and the widely-known corner shop Lorenzo's Pizza, at 9th and Christian Streets.

I've walked past Lorenzo's on several occasions, with little to indicate that it might be worth a visit. Online reviews are mixed, but I decided that I finally needed to experience this pizza. We stopped in and sampled a plain cheese slice.

The friendly counterman popped a few slices into the oven and they were quickly ready. Perhaps a little too quick, because the pizza was somewhere between warm and hot.  It was a big slice for its modest $2 price.

My expectations, too, were modest. We were delighted, then, to find that this thin-crust pizza had an almost ideal balance of crisped edge bottom and a sturdy chewiness as well. The sauce was sweet and lively, and the standard mozzarella cheese blended into that mottled orange that characterizes most pizza.

A look at the nicely charred undercarriage revealed that this was not a mass-sourced dough, and that there is some skill in the preparation. Great crust, punchy sauce, and cheese as a role player. This was a true throwback slice, and a reminder that at one point many decades ago it was easy to find a genuine slice of good New York style pizza.

Lorenzo's in the Italian Market is a gem of a find, and a grand bargain for a two-buck slice. We're at a stage in the nationwide pizza renaissance that you can find a decent Neapolitan pie in almost any major city, but a good slice remains a rarity, even in New York. Simple, elegant, classic. We loved this pizza.

Lorenzo Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 1, 2015

Review: Primanti Brothers, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Primanti Brothers are famous for their Pittsburgh location and the habit of putting cole slaw and french fries into a variety of sandwiches. Elsewhere on this blog, our Western PA correspondent shared a review of the food at the Grove City PA location. He gave the pizza there a B+ rating. Primanti Brothers has 19 (and counting) western PA locations, as well as two in West Virginia and two in Florida. 
Click on any image for full-size resolution

South Florida is blessed with a lot of great pizza, and on a recent trip to Fort Lauderdale, we experienced some very good coal-fired pie at Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza. Walking the beach, I spotted the Primanti Brothers location on North Atlantic Boulevard, which runs parallel to the water. I had modest expectations for a chain location this far from the original spot in Pittsburgh's Strip District, but I was curious about those famous sandwiches.

This spot looks like an old greasy-spoon luncheonette, and it had its own casual charm. We arrived early afternoon on a Sunday and the place was busy at the counter, but we easily found a table. The overworked waitress was friendly and helpful. We decided to split one famous sandwich and one slice of pizza. 

We saw a whole pie when we entered, and it looked ordinary - large and unremarkable, like the countless mom and pop pizzerias using low-end mass-sourced ingredients. When I learned that the sausage topping is applied pre-cooked, we opted instead for a pepperoni slice. 

It appears that they make only plain pies, then toss on the toppings when your slice is re-heated in the oven. Another otherwise-excellent pizzeria does that too - New Park Pizza, in Queens.  It's a terrible habit - the meat should spend the entire time with the pie.  But it's less of a sin with pepperoni than with sausage.

Our slice came out quickly, and it was huge, dwarfing the standard paper plate. The pepperoni had yielded generous puddles of orange grease that stained the plate (no objection to that). 

Taking some quick photos of the underside before we ate it, I could see that something special was going on. The crust was thin, with a generous puffy cornicione. It sported a lovely char underneath, and it was rigid and crunchy while retaining an al dente inner chew. It was a classically rendered New York slice. 

We saw one staffer opening the huge cans of tomato product, Saporito brand. The sauce and cheese were both role players here - no outstanding characteristics other than blending perfectly and providing proper balance to this slice. We immediately regretted not ordering more slices, but we did need room for the sandwich.

We had chosen the "Pitts-burger" which is the #2 seller (though the menu fails to inform what is the #1 selling sandwich). It was a normal size hamburger patty with provolone, cole slaw, tomato slice, and a pile of french fries encased in two thick slices of soft Italian bread.
The "Pitts-Burger"

The patty was good, not amazing. I removed about two thirds of the fries to eat on the side (heresy to Yinzers). I was skeptical, but the combo was very tasty. The cole slaw was a little sweet and finished with vinegar, not the mayonnaise style. That sweetness played nicely with the saltiness of the other ingredients. The fries had good flavor but I would have liked them to be a bit crispier.

I can recommend the sandwich, and it cost less than $7. The slice of pizza came to about $3.30, which is not bad given its size. And it was delectable. It qualifies as destination pizza, and that's pretty good for a place with more than 20 locations that doesn't even specialize in pizza. Great crust, ideal balance -- it was a New York slice better than 95% of slices actually served in New York. It compares favorably to the wonderful NY style pie at Wiseguy NY Pizza in Washington DC.

Primanti Brothers on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Review: Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza, Fort Lauderdale FL

Given the pizza renaissance taking place across America, I am no longer surprised to find great pie outside of the traditional pizza belt cities like Philly, Trenton, New York, New Haven, and Boston. One area with a terrific concentration of destination pizza is the Atlantic Coast in South Florida.
Luigi's Coal Fired Pizza, Fort Lauderdale

South Florida is home to the wonderful chain Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza. Boca Raton is host to two other first-rate coal oven pizza joints - Nick's New Haven Style Apizza and Tucci's Fire N Coal Pizza. In Delray Beach, Scuola Vecchia is turning out the best Neapolitan pizza I've had anywhere.

Thus, a recent trip to Fort Lauderdale again opened up possibilities for some great pie. I didn't have much chance to get out of my hotel due to business obligations, so one night we ordered a takeout pizza from Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza, which is located with dozens of other great restaurants on Las Olas Boulevard. Luigi's does not deliver, but they partner with "Delivery Dudes" who add a modest service charge; the pie arrived at our hotel in under an hour.
Click on any image for fill size resolution

I wanted the Margherita - but with sausage. However, Luigi's won't make any alterations to that signature pie with tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. In haste to get some cured meat on my pizza, I ordered one with four meats - sausage, bacon, meatballs, and pepperoni.

Takeout pizza is never ideal, because the pie steams in the box, and that affects the texture of the crust. And this pie arrived looking beautiful, but the first third of each slice was wet and floppy. I don't blame that on the pizzaiolo - it was a result of the overloaded meat toppings and the time spent in the box.

After the first few wet bites of each slice, the coal-fired crust really began to shine. It had excellent flavor and superb texture; the cornicione was a delight.
Coal oven at Luigi's other location in Delray Beach

However, something on top was seriously amiss. I love salt - I usually add salt to a slice of pizza. But this pie was bracingly briny. By a large margin, it was the saltiest pizza I've ever had. It was at the upper end of my salt tolerance; I think some would fail to finish a slice because of the excess salt.
Underside of crust, great coal oven char

Perhaps the four meats - especially the bacon - leached a lot of salt into the pie, and perhaps the cheese and sauce had their own sodium contributions. The extreme saltiness did not ruin the pie for me, but it was a major defect.  

The meats were quite good, otherwise.  The cheese was good too, although perhaps applied a bit too thickly. The sauce had a good tang, but salt was the dominant impression to each bite.

Overall - I think this is a great pizza that suffered two major insults. First was the time spent in the box, and second was that salt overdose.  I'd gladly try it again, but in the restaurant and with some pre-bake caution about the salt. Luigi's is crafting a top shelf crust in that coal oven, and that takes you 80% of the way to destination pizza.

I recommend Luigi's - but be sure to ask them to temper the salt when making your pie.

Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon