Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review: Bar 35, Honolulu HI

In 49 states, "Hawaiian pizza" implies pie topped with ham and pineapple. But in Hawaii, a state blessed with deep and varied culture, what other pies stand out? What do the locals eat?
"Veggelicous" - from
I found a well-written article about the best pizza on the island of Oahu, and narrowed my choices down to those in Honolulu. Not surprisingly, none are in the tourist-heavy Waikiki area. With three colleagues, I set out for Bar 35 in Downtown Honolulu.
Exterior of Bar 35 on N. Hotel St
Bar 35 in on narrow Hotel Street in the Chinatown district. A narrow front leads into a deep space, with a large bar and dining area in front. Toward the back there are two semi-private rooms with cozy seating and bead curtains. Further back is a large patio area.

On this Thursday evening visit, we opted for one of the back rooms because the main dining area was full with patrons.
Front room
The pizzas, which give a slight nod to Roman-style al taglio pie, come in regular (personal) size and large. We ordered a mix of four personal pizzas to share, each one began with a base of tomato sauce and mozzarella

  • Veggelicious, with zucchini, olives, mushrooms, basil, and sesame oil 
  • Deep Forest, with prosciutto, mushrooms, and EVOO
  • Sweet Bangkok, with Chinese sausage, chili sauce, and cilantro
  • Simple Pleasure, with basil and EVOO

Bar 35, despite its pizza reputation, is bar first and pizzeria second. There was a great variety of "happy hour" (until 9pm) drink bargains, including a wonderful beer selection and $5 drafts. We all drank beer, from a simple Belgian style blonde to a rich bottled stout, and the selections were terrific.
Sweet Bangkok
Each pizza was built on a very thin, almost cracker-like crust. The closest comparison I would make is Jules Thin Crust, another pizza that shares the thin crust, elongated oval shape, and exotic gourmet toppings. Is it pizza, is it flatbread? Labels not that important!
Simple Pleasure
My choice was the Sweet Bangkok, and it was a pie where the unusual toppings and flavors clicked very well. I might change it only by adding a spicy element. I rarely choose a veggie topped pie, but the Veggelicious was a success. The vegetable toppings were applied in proportions that did not overwhelm the thin and somewhat delicate crust.
Underside of the crust
The most complex flavors were found on the Deep Forest pie, where the cured meat and the mushrooms supplied the maximum umami. The Simple Pleasure pizza (we'd call it "plain" on the mainland) offered the best chance to savor the crust, which was a little crisp, a little chewy, and flavorful on its own.
John with our server
In the final analysis, Bar 35 is a great space with a hip crowd, wonderful drinks, and very good pizza to go with those drinks. I'm not sure what it would require to elevate this from excellent to destination pizza; perhaps reduce the sauce, cheese, and toppings load to let that crust shine a bit more.
Any visitor to Honolulu should grab the chance to get out of the tourist area of Waikiki and see a bit more of Hawaii as the locals live. Bar 35 is a great choice to drink in the vibe of the local bar scene, have superb beer at bargain prices, and eat some very good pizza while you're doing it. 

Bar 35 Honolulu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 5, 2016

Feature Story: Norma's Pizza, Manheim PA (Roots Country Market)

Disclaimer: This is not an objective review. After three visits to Norma's Pizza, I'm both a fan and a friend. My wife and I got to visit Norma on her Saturday "day off" when she was preparing dough for her regular Tuesday sale day (Roots Market is open only on Tuesdays).
Boardwalk pizza
Although Roots the Market was closed, there was a huge Arts & Crafts Fair being held on the grounds over the long Labor Day weekend. The arts fair was kind of fun, but it was our 90 minutes with Norma that made the 3-hour round trip worthwhile.
Snipping the basil
In previous visits, I had sampled (and loved) her "Boardwalk" style pizza, which also later doubled as her "New York" style pizza that won her the Caputo Cup and great acclaim. Just as wonderful, though, was her Detroit style pie, a thick but airy crust baked in a deep square pan with its cheese, topped with tomato sauce only after it comes out of the oven, then cut into just 4 rare and wonderful rectangles. See all the pics and review HERE.
Detroit pizza from prior visit
We didn't give Norma much advance notice that we would be at the Craft Fair, but she graciously offered to have us enter the empty market so that she could make some pizza for us. The dough was a day or two short of its ideal rise time, we learned. 
Mrs. PQ slicing the first pie
First, she made her signature boardwalk pie, and topped it with a special variety of spicy cup pepperoni. Beyond its perfect (yes, literally perfect) crust that was crisp, yet airy with great hole structure, Norma does not use mozzarella like many pizzaioli. I won't reveal her cheese(s), but her selection works great on this classic pie. We ate way too much, knowing full well that another pizza was on its way.
Brilliant crust, crisp and airy
Recently, she acquired and cleaned up some vintage deep-dish pizza pans, and she's been experimenting with a Sicilian pizza. This one is big enough for 9 slices (instead of 4 for the Detroit), and there is a different hydration in the dough. She bakes it with just the cheese, then removes it from the oven, added some cured meat and tomato sauce, then returns it to the oven for a finishing bake. Like the Boardwalk pie, she finishes it with snips of fresh basil.
Sicilian pie, before slicing
The Sicilian was a bit more dense than her Detroit pie, but it sported a similar cheesy-crunchy cornicione. She added one more kind of cheese to this pie, and the blend of cheeses, sauce, Calabrian chili oil, salami, and basil was just singing on the palate. Another brilliant pizza by Norma.
A peek under the hood
All of that and she sent home the leftovers slices with us, as well as 2 frozen doughs which she sells so that you can attempt this level of greatness at home. A perfect day with a wonderfully gracious host and pizza maker.
A great pizza day
Since her Caputo Cup fame, Norma often faces more pizza demand than she can meet on any given Tuesday, especially for those who want a whole pie. Part of the problem is that this "Best NY Pizza in the World" is also value-priced at just $2 per slice. Given the demand for this world-class pie and the quality of her ingredients (not to mention the 5 days each week she works just to sell pies for 12 hours every Tuesday), I'd recommend a price increase if I was her accountant!

It is truly a treat and a privilege to chat with Norma and eat that astonishing pizza. Put it on your bucket list.

Norma's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: The Copper Oven, Ovid (Finger Lakes) NY

A recent Finger Lakes vacation landed us in the center of a region offering a lot of terrific food and wine (and beer and spirits) in addition to the hiking, waterfalls, river gorges, and lake activities. Our home base was a cabin just off Rt. 89 in Ovid, NY, along the shores of Lake Cayuga. That put us about a half hour from Ithaca to the south and Lake Seneca to the west. 
"The Godfather"
At nearby Lucas Vineyards, we'd experienced great BBQ and wine on the lawn with live music. Just minutes away on another night, we found superb charcuterie with flights of hard cider while listening to the old-timey music of the superb Miller's Wheel band at Finger Lakes Cider House.

The bar was set pretty high, then, when we were drawn to visit The Copper Oven (at Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery) by the small "Wood Fired Pizza" sign out on the edge of the highway. The winery and restaurant are housed in an eye-catching red barn that is perched on a rolling hill with terrific views of Lake Cayuga.
Dog-friendly rear deck dining
"They didn't give me any pizza"
We called ahead to be assured of an outdoor table where we could bring our dog. It was a warm but beautiful night for our party of four. We selected three of the four pies on the menu, each made with the surprising choice of cheddar cheese:
  • FunGuy with crème fraîche, mushrooms, chives, smoked salt, and and truffle oil
  • Summer's Bounty with crème fraîche, Roma tomatoes, corn, basil, and lemon salt
  • The Godfather with red sauce, Italian sausage, peppers, and caramelized onions

We started by sharing some superb salads of local greens topped with beets and goat cheese, and we ordered a bottle of Cuvée Red, a vineyard blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and chancellor grapes. It was an excellent $15 pizza wine.
House Sangria

This limited-menu pizza restaurant was built around that copper oven. According to the website, "The core of our 6,000 pound Le Panyol oven is made up of Terre Blanche (white earth), a kaolinic clay that has been specially harvested in France since 1840 for the many special properties that make it ideal for wood fired cooking."
"Summer's Bounty"
Our server told us that the pies bake at 800 degrees, so these are Neapolitan in style if not in name. Owner/chef Mary Jane Challen-Kircher takes a "hyper-local" approach to crafting these pies and the few other dishes on the menu. 
"Fun Guy"
Each pizza was bigger than a typical personal size, irregular in shape, probably 13-14 inches in average diameter. The pies cook in that wood-fired copper dome, and they come out thin, crisp, and sporting some lovely char on the edges and underneath.

The crust was identical, and spectacular, on all three pies. Unlike the typical Neapolitan, there was no soupy wet spot in the center. Each pie had an ideal proportion of toppings to that thin crust, so that it was balanced in both flavor and texture.

It's hard to pick a favorite here. The Godfather was the most traditional, and the quality of the toppings was evident in every bite. Most surprising was the Summer's Bounty, but the crème fraîche was the right ingredient to help the Roma tomatoes and sweet corn succeed on a pizza.

Getting a very slight edge as overall favorite was the FunGuy, because the flavors of the cheddar, mushrooms, truffle oil, and chives were in such harmony. Bursting with umami to complement the perfect texture. And, on each pie, the cornicione had its own excellent and full flavor.

In other parts of America, folks are paying $100 a seat for this kind of artisan-and-farm-to-table meal. Beyond being a spectacular meal, this was also a wonderful bargain. Destination pizza, lovely outdoor setting, good service, good wine.
The Copper Oven

It's hard to go wrong in this stretch along Lake Cayuga, but The Copper Oven was our top can't-miss dining and pizza destination.


  The Copper Oven Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato