Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Tony Boloney's, Hoboken NJ

Because we at Pizza Quixote can't eat every pizza in America, we're glad to get guest reviews. Recently, a colleague visited Hoboken, ate some good pie, and brought some back to share. Let's get her thoughts first and then my perspective about the re-heated slices I was privileged to enjoy in my own kitchen.
"Arugula Smokeout" pie - click on this or any pic for full size resolution image


Sunny's Guest Review

"I was in Hoboken, NJ to see a family member few weeks ago. While I was in town, I decided to stop at Tony Boloney’s sub and pizza shop. Hoboken is their second location; the original shop is in Atlantic City, NJ. I have tried different subs and their Brussels sprouts pizza in the AC location and remembered it being good, so I decided to order one. 
Guest reviewer Sunny and husband Rob

"The Royal Balls pie has roasted Brussels sprouts on top of smoked mozzarella with truffle butter. I didn’t taste much of the smokiness of the mozzarella cheese, but there is definitely a dominant flavor of the truffle butter. It was as good as I remembered and I loved the roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy outer layers.
 
"Royal Balls" Brussels sprout pie
"After finishing the Brussels sprouts pizza, my husband and I decided to get a second pie and agreed on the Arugula Smokeout. Just like the name, the pizza had arugula topping all over it but the added lemon and Parmesan cheese made it even better. Obviously, this isn’t something you want to take to go because of the arugula. However because it was so good, we didn’t mind packing up what was leftover and eat it for late night snack. This is probably my favorite pizza from Tony Boloney’s.
 
The Gindolune

"Before heading back to Philly that weekend, I contacted my colleague who is a pizza fanatic to ask if he wanted to try any of the Tony Boloney’s pies. He chose to go with a Gindolune, a pie with fennel sausage and garlicky broccoli rabe with homemade mozzarella cheese toppings. 

"We split the pie and I tried it few hours after I picked it up. I loved the garlic flavor from broccoli rabe and the sausage was pretty tasty. I would like to get this again and try it fresh."

PQ Tasting Notes

This Gindolune pie was full of flavor. I could tell it was a high quality and savory sauce, and the cheese also gets high marks. Despite having eaten this pie on the re-heat several days after it had been baked, moisture from the generously-applied rabe had not soaked into the crust. 
A re-heated slice

On the perforated re-heating pan, post re-bake

The sausage seemed to be of good quality, but the pie would have been lots better if the sausage had been applied uncooked, instead of cooked and sliced. 
Underside of a reheated slice

The fundamental quality of any pie lies in the crust. From Sunny's pics, the crust looks superb. By the time I ate my re-heated slices, the taste was fine but the texture was unremarkable. I do suspect it is much better fresh out of the oven, and I hope to get there soon to verify.


Tony Boloney's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: Pica's, Upper Darby PA

Some background for my visit to Pica's Restaurant:

Beyond the conventional pizza varieties, there are thick-crusted rectangular Sicilians, thin and crisp bar pies, puffy and charred Neapolitans, thin squares of Grandma pizza, flatbread pizza, pan pizza, and endless topping varieties.

Adding even more pizza diversity are the countless regional styles. Detroit pizza, St. Louis style, New Haven apizza, Midwestern thin party-cut, Trenton tomato pie (my favorite), and the nearby but entirely different Philly tomato pie. 


The Philly tomato pie (defined HERE - also known as the Conshy tomato pie) is rectangular, pan baked, with sauce, but with just a sprinkle of cheese post-bake. 

Pica's makes a pizza that is a cousin to the Philly tomato pie. In March of 2014, Philly native Tina Fey appeared on the Tonight Show, where she surprised host Jimmy Fallon with a delivery of pizza from Pica's, her hometown favorite. 
Click on any pic for full size version

I remember 80s-vintage Philadelphia radio ads (on the Sundays with Sinatra show, hosted by Sid Mark) for Pica's Italian Restaurant. It sounded like the kind of old-world place I would enjoy, and it's been on my pizza radar for a while. I was finally prompted to visit Pica's and sample their famous "upside down" rectangular pizza.
My dining companions, Kevin and Mary Ann

I met two colleagues for dinner there on a slow Monday evening in summer. Pica's is indeed a big, old-school, red-gravy Italian restaurant. I plan to go back to sample the other fare, but this visit was all about the pizza.
Fresh from the oven

"Upside down" pizza is simply pizza where the sauce rides atop the cheese. It has the advantage of cooling quickly to avoid burning the roof of your mouth, but the distinct drawback (like a Chicago deep dish) in that the cheese never gets any delicious browning from exposure to oven air.

We ordered a pie with half pepperoni, and half mushrooms. The pie arrived quickly, and one glance confirmed its unique nature. While the mushroom side looked mostly like a Philly tomato pie, the pepperoni under the sauce was visible in the way that the sauce had pooled atop each big circle (two per slice) of thin pepperoni.
A pepperoni slice

Mushroom slice

The cheese peeked out from under the sauce in only a few places. How is Pica's pizza like a Philly tomato pie? It is rectangular, baked in a pan, and the crust is the light and airy bakery style. Distant cousin, also, to the celebrated squares at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn (full review of L&B HERE). 
Crisp, airy crust

This crust was delightfully crisp and browned on the bottom and edges. The airy bakery style crust will never be my favorite - I like a more doughy chew - but this was executed about perfectly for the genre.
Busy kitchen & takeout area

The sauce was, much like the best Philly tomato pies, the star of this pie. Bold and concentrated tomato flavors.  The cheese was kind of lost under the sauce. Pica's fans swear by this style - but I would prefer the cheese on top. The pepperoni, in thin flat and wide slices, was not at all like the thick, small, curled cups found on my recent pie at Lombardi's in NYC (full review HERE).

The mushrooms were fairly standard - I'm fine with fresh or canned mushrooms on a pie.

Even with the cheese under the sauce, I categorize Pica's as a Philly tomato pie, and one of the best ones anywhere. It stands right up to great ones like Tony Roni's (full review HERE) or Corropolese (full review HERE). 
Kevin and Mary Ann with our server, John

Although Trenton, New York, and New Haven style pizzas remain my favorite due to the crunch & chew in the rigid crust, the Philly tomato pie is justly celebrated. Its lighter nature makes it a better snack or party dish. Try it if you haven't yet; and you won't find one much better than the pie at Pica's. Toss in the great service, long tradition, and old-school red gravy ambiance, and this is destination pie.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Lombardi's Pizza (Spring St), Manhattan, NY

America has some famous, long-standing, iconic pizzerias. Because most of them are on the east coast, I've visited many of the established giants of pizza (click on any for the full review and pictures) --

Conspicuously missing from that list, above? Lombardi's in New York, the birthplace of pizza in America.  Until now. 
Our pie at Lombardi's in Little Italy. Click any pic to enlarge

When any restaurant morphs into an icon mentioned in travel guides, there must be a lot of challenges in meeting the increased demand while maintaining the quality.

At DiFara, for instance, there has been no compromise. Dom DeMarco (age 79) bakes every pie himself; when Dom isn't there, no pies. And he works in one tiny kitchen with a double oven. 
Dom DeMarco, at DiFara

Other legends, like Grimaldi's, have franchised the recipe and expanded to multiple locations. Trenton's shining star, DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies, now operates out of a much larger restaurant in nearby Robbinsville NJ. The pizza is still world class, but with so many more hands involved in the production, a bit of the magic has worn off. Still, it seems like a decent trade-off to make this wonderful pie available to so many more people.




Lombardi's expanded to occupy the neighboring space on Spring Street, so it is a big pizza restaurant. When we went on a lovely August Saturday afternoon, we faced a relatively easy 20 minute wait for a table (I've waited two hours in sweltering heat for a DiFara pie). The restaurant employs a lot of hosts and servers, and I imagine quite a few in the kitchen, too. Can it still deliver pizza worthy of the heritage and legend?
Upstairs

Downstairs

We were seated in a pleasant basement-level room that featured a wall-sized wine rack, and we ordered a pepperoni pie after learning that the sausage topping is sliced, not chunked as we would prefer. Our server seemed annoyed to be working but she made a few half-efforts to be pleasant. The base price of the pie was about $23 for the large, and $4 more for the topping. Still a few bucks cheaper than a DiFara pizza.

Our pizza arrived swiftly.  It had a relatively modest amount of pepperoni, a bright red sauce, and white flags of fresh mozzarella. The pepperoni, was however, perfectly reminiscent of this pizza haiku:


crisp pepperoni
edge curled from the heat
a chalice of sweet, hot oil

Read the full "pie-ku" story at Seriouseats.com.  

The thin pizza crust was nicely charred, and had an excellent crispness, even though the crust was not rigid. It drooped considerably even though not overloaded with sauce and cheese. 


Oddly, sections of the crust gave the appearance that it had been cooked on a screen - but perhaps it acquired that dimpled look from resting on some vented surface? Lombardi's is known for its coal oven, so let's assume there is no screen in the cooking process!


We agreed that the crust was superb in both flavor and texture. No points deducted for the droop. The sauce, likewise, was deeply flavored, a rich and concentrated tomato sensation. I normally prefer conventional mozz to the fresh variety for a pizza, because the fresh version can be both bland and wet. This cheese, though, was flavorful, applied judiciously, and worked well other than a tendency for one bite to pull off the entire white flag of mozzarella.

Like so many great pies, the elements were in harmony. The flavors were correct, and the proportions of ingredients about perfect. A very well balanced pizza.

For the most part, Lombardi's pizza matches its reputation. It is truly destination pizza, it's in a great neighborhood, and it's a worthy stop for tourists and locals alike. It's not quite as over-the-top transcendent as the other pies listed above, but it's authentic old-school stuff turned out in remarkable quality at that high volume. If you are passionate about pizza, put it on your pizza bucket list.




Lombardi's Pizza on Urbanspoon