Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: Joe's Pizza, Philadelphia (Rittenhouse Square)

Driving from the western suburbs into center city Philadelphia, we decided we'd grab some pizza for lunch on a summer Saturday. We did a quick Internet phone search to find good pizza, previously untried, near City Hall. 
The usually-reliable Thrillist had a compact list that included several of my favorites in town, such as Nomad, Zavino, Pizza Brain, and Beddia (the latter two not really close to City Hall).
Included on that list was Joe's Pizza, a slice joint near Rittenhouse Square. Thrillist noted "At Joe’s, it’s your standard, no frills pizza, but sometimes that’s just what you want." 
I was hoping for an experience like I'd had at other east coast slice shops, such as Tommy's Pizza in the Bronx or New Park Pizza in Queens. 
Joe's was pretty big inside, with nicer-than-average booths and decor in two dining rooms. No table service - you order at the counter whether you are dining in or taking out.
For our group of three, we ordered a large pepperoni pizza (after determining that the sausage topping was standard grade pre-cooked stuff) and a slice of the white pie with ricotta, just to try it.
A quick note on the white pie - it was pretty bland. There was a generous mix of mozzarella and lumps of ricotta, but it needed garlic, salt, or something to make it more than a ghostly grilled cheese.
The red pie was big - about 18" - and generously covered with thinly sliced standard grade pepperoni. The pie had some eye appeal, with a nice golden brown cornicione.
The crust was thin, a little crisp and a little chewy, and sturdy enough to support the toppings. It was tasty enough that we ate the bones, but it did reveal itself to be mass-sourced dough. This is the same crust you get at dozens of mom and pop shops and local chains. I'd guess it came from Sysco.
Likewise, the tomato sauce was mild and the cheese was a role player. It was all expertly rendered and balanced, but it was a pretty standard pizza; only the orange grease leaching from the pepperoni gave it any zest. Still, I eagerly ate three slices, because even ordinary pizza is still pretty good. 
Nicely cooked crust
However, within a few blocks there are many other pizza shops making distinctive destination pizza. I understand that in addition to this standard pie that we ate, Joe's makes a Philly tomato pie - from scratch - but that you have to call ahead two hours to get one.

With excellent friendly service and an attractive dining room, Joe's is a decent, if unremarkable, pizza stop in this part of center city Philadelphia. A good slice shop is hard to find. Much better is nearby SLiCE for Trenton style tomato pie, or Lorenzos in Philly's Italian Market. 

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Pizz & Via, Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg, a city of about a half million people, is the second largest city in Bavaria (after Munich). Americans know about this city primarily because of the Nuremberg trials, when German officials involved in war crimes were brought before an international tribunal at the close of World War II. The city's history, though, goes back at least 1000 years. 

We visited the medieval Nuremberg Castle and the nearby Albrecht Dürer House, adjacent to the Main Market Square. In this pedestrian-friendly area of cobblestone streets, we found an open air market selling fresh fruits and vegetables to the locals and souvenirs to the tourists. 

It was there on the Königstraße that I spotted Pizz & Via, a genuine pizzeria that appeared to be run by Italians.

The Nuremberg Castle
To my surprise, the front of the long and narrow restaurant featured a display counter with a wide variety of pizza available by the slice, very much in the American fashion. 

I later learned that a slice costs 4 euros, and a whole pie is only 8 euros.  But we were in slice territory, and we paid the "tourist premium." My sense is that locals sit down and eat, whereas tourists grab a slice and go.

I ordered a pepperoni slice and a sausage slice, and the counterman heated them and then cut each of the huge slices in two at my request. I took them out to the plaza on a sunny July afternoon to share with my 5 traveling companions.

On both slices, the thin crust had a good flavor on its own, a bit chewy, a bit salty. The crust was floppy but not wet or limp. In a nutshell, it was better than most American pizza, but not a crust to compare to the wonderful crisp dough at Denino's in Staten Island.

The pepperoni slice was the standout, featuring superb cupped spicy pepperoni applied generously. The cheese and the red sauce were role players, applied in good proportion for a very well-balanced slice. 

Here I was in Nuremberg Germany, eating a slice of pizza made by Italians, and it was very much a classic New York slice.

The sausage slice was good, but less successful. There were huge chunks of pre-cooked sausage, but this white pie lacked any punch beyond its meat topping. The white sauce was mild, and the entire slice was overloaded with cheese, white sauce, sausage, cherry tomatoes, and undercooked big chunks of onion.  

Not only was it floppy and difficult to eat, but the toppings load made part of the crust soggy. We enjoyed it, but the slice embodied almost every mistake made by American pizza shops.
"Eco-friendly" pizza boxing
Given our time constraints, grabbing a slice was our only option here. I'd love to come back at evening time, get a table in the cozy interior, add some adult beverages, and savor a full pie or two.
The adjacent piazza and market
All told, this was the best pizza we had on our swing through Germany, Austria, and Hungary, but it won't make you forget the wonderful stuff we found in Italy a few years earlier.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: Unser Dorfladen - Bavaria, Germany

On a summer trip to Germany, we spent several nights in the remote and hilly Bavarian village of Aufseß (Aufsesse). 

Not far from Bayreuth, home to Richard Wagner and a grand opera house, Aufseß is a quiet and delightful place with a population of about 1300 who can enjoy great food and very local beer at the town's brewery and restaurant, Brauereigasthof Rothenbach

Beyond that brewery and a few other gasthaus establishments, there aren't many local services. Filling the gap for Aufsessers is Unser Dorfladen. I wasn't clear if this small grocer was a mom-and-pop store or a branch of a German 7-11 type convenience store. Turns out it was neither. 
Unser Dorfladen is co-operative village shop that follows the original one in Gottwollshausen, founded in 2005. The objective is "to ensure the basic supply of food and articles of daily necessity, with fresh baked goods, fruit, vegetables, dairy products and other foodstuffs at reasonable prices." 

It's a grass-roots "eat local" operation, offering products from the region and a wide range of organic, fair trade and "demeter" products. In Germany, the demeter “biodynamic” certification requires biodiversity & ecosystem preservation, soil husbandry, livestock integration, and prohibition of genetically engineered organisms.” 

Because small villages can't support a supermarket and many of the older local shops closed, Unser Dorfladen aims to fill the gap and thereby "secure and maintain the quality of life in our sub-regions." 
Yeah, but how was the pizza? 
Keep in mind, this is a small cooperative grocery in a remote German Village. We stopped in for a few staples and I was drawn to the baked goods counter near the register. Among the local partners for Unser Dorfladen is Bäckerei Spreuer (Spreuer Bakery). Next time I need to try their zwiebelkuchen (German onion pie), but on this visit I was delighted to see some attractive slices of square pan pizza in the counter display. 

One serving was a generous size, roughly equivalent to two standard slices. It seemed to be designed for eating at room temperature (as are so many foods outside the USA) so we ate it without reheating. 

The crust was medium-thick, a bit crunchy, and sturdy enough to support its toppings. It did not much resemble pizza dough or even the kind of bakery sheet bread used for a Philly tomato pie or an Old Forge pizza tray. The texture was oddly somewhere between toasted black bread and a biscotti! 
Some curious perforations under the hood
The crust was tasty on its own, even as it made an odd base for a slice of pan pizza. I could imagine this crust served instead with jam and butter at breakfast. 

The tomato sauce was a role player, as was the liberal amount of cheese on top, which seemed to have a Gruyere character; perhaps inspired by flammkuchen, the crisp and smoky German pizza. 

What made this slice distinctive was the topping of ham and mushrooms. The sauce, cheese, and toppings were applied is proper proportions so that the pie was well-balanced in terms of flavors and textures.
The castle in Aufsesse
Like much of this pizza I experienced in Germany and Austria (there seems to be pizza shops all over the cities), it was better than 95% of American mom-n-pop stuff, but not as memorable as iconic pizza like Al Forno in Rhode Island, Lombardi's in NYC, DeLorenzo's in Trenton, or Picco in Boston.

All told, this sturdy square slice was a tasty variation on a pizza theme. Not many American small towns have pizza this good or the great variety of local goods that a co-op like Unser Dorfladen can offer. Ausgezeichnet!