Thursday, January 1, 2015

Review: DiMeo’s Pizzaiuoli Napulitani, Wilmington DE

Among Philadelphia's growing number of authentic Neapolitan pizza restaurants, Pizzeria DiMeo's enjoys a solid reputation for its Andorra location. Insiders know, also, that the father and son owners (Pino and Antino DiMeo) have opened another Philly-region location in Wayne - Arde Osteria & Pizzeria

This DiMeo team has yet another venue, in nearby Wilmington DE with DiMeo’s Pizzaiuoli Napulitani. Given the great reputation of the Andorra DiMeo's, we headed for this Delaware location after a visit to the nearby Winterthur Museum and Gardens.

The modern storefront, on busy Market Street, led us into a long and narrow space, with the kitchen and pizza counter separating a small front dining area from a larger seating space in the rear. I had anticipated a more cozy or rustic space, but this looked like only a mildly upscale version of the typical strip mall pizza joint. Another surprising aspect - for a pizzeria calling itself Neapolitan - is that pizza is sold by the slice. The pies on display looked little different than those of the typical suburban slice shop.

I took some encouragement from the menu, where the pizzas are divided into "Le Pizze Napoletane" and "Le Pizze Americane." Perhaps, I thought, the counter stuff is just a compromise for patrons interested in a cheap and fast slice, and the "real" Neapolitan stuff can be made to order from the menu?

The Neapolitan pie menu offered some intriguing options. We choose a full-size pie and we were able to do half-and-half of two different offerings. We chose the Napoletana (san marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto di parma, arugula, shaved parmigiano reggiano) and the Fica (fig spread, mozzarella di bufala, prosciutto di parma, arugula, truffle oil).

Although I usually disdain the greasy garlic knots offered at strip mall slice joints, the small "Rotolini" swirls at the counter here looked especially appealing, and they were offered as pepperoni rolls or broccoli rolls. We ordered a mix of those for an appetizer, and they were superb. 

Rotolini close-up
They seemed to made from pizza dough, rolled with cheese and pepperoni or broccoli, and baked to a brilliant golden brown with crisply charred bottoms. Served with a nice cup of marinara sauce for dipping, each bite offered an external crunch with an inner tender dough bite with the added flavors of cheese, pepperoni, or broccoli. These were terrific, but we managed to stop after sharing three of them.

Our pizza arrived soon after. Despite the significant differences of the two halves of our pie - tomatoes and shaved parm on one half versus fig spread and truffle oil on the other half - the shared toppings of arugula and prosciutto made it tough to visually distinguish the two sides of the pie. 

This pizza, although beautiful to the eye, was clearly not a Neapolitan pie. Its size alone - somewhere in the 16" - 18" diameter range - disqualified it. The overall shape of the crust was more akin to that of a New York style pizza, with a thin crust and a thicker cornicione, but not the fat puffy handle of a Neapolitan pie. However, although the crust was sturdy enough to support the toppings, it was a bit softer and more pliant than other top-end thin crust pies. In look and in texture, it was mostly a New York style pizza.

I began with a slice of the Fica. Unlike the bold flavor combinations I've had elsewhere with similar toppings (such as the fig jam, onion, and Gorgonzola pizza at Jules Thin Crust), the fig spread here served to provide a hint of sweetness that played very well with the savory prosciutto. I loved this slice, but I confess that I ate it so fast that I did not notice if the truffle oil was a distinct factor. The prosciutto was wonderfully flavored, but it was cut a little too thickly and applied in large slices. For toppings that you cannot bite through, I prefer them to be cut into smaller, bite-size portions - but this is a minor quibble.

On a related note, I love arugula and the flavor that this spicy green lends to pizza, but it usually floats on top (and falls off inelegantly) while eating. I'd improve that here (and everywhere that arugula is offered as a topping) by chopping it a bit and adding some oil to help it adhere to the pizza. Again, a minor quibble.

I enjoyed the Fica, but the Napoletana side was even better. The piquancy of the San Marzano tomatoes and the shaved parmigiana gave this slice a rich depth of flavor. Still, for both sides of this pizza, the crust was the most interesting element. It can best be described as a hybrid. My sense is that it is crafted much as a Neapolitan dough would be, but something changes when it is made into a full "American" sized pizza. It had all the flavor of a Neapolitan crust, but none of the puffiness, little of the softness, and none of the typical leopard-spot char. But it had a bit of crispness, a lot of pliancy, and it served perfectly as a base for the high-end toppings.

This pizza is tough to categorize, but more than any other style, it seems to be New York pizza and a very good rendition. It does seem to be altered to serve to customers who are not ready to take the leap from a slice joint to authentic Neapolitan pizza. We had terrific service, there is wine and beer on the menu, and street parking was not too difficult. Clearly not Neapolitan pizza, but excellent pie nonetheless. 

We had a few slices leftover, and I reheated them a few nights later. I ate another slice of the Fica pie, and it was wonderful. The re-heat is not always a fair test of how good the pizza was coming out of the oven, but here the flavors (and texture) were still in A+ mode. This pizza looks conventional, but it's great stuff.

DiMeo's Pizzaiuoli Napulitani on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 26, 2014

The 14 Breakout Pizzas of 2014

The best annual recap of pizza comes from Adam Kuban, with "8 Pizzas That Haunt My Dreams." Adam is in fact living the dream, having made the transition from pizza writer to pizza maker with his popup pizza in Brooklyn. His tradition inspired my own annual list, based on the discoveries documented here at Pizza Quixote

Three and a half years into compiling a pizza blog, and there are no signs that I'm running out of new places worth trying. Some are the venerable places with well-deserved legendary reputations, and others are new places that have sprung up during the ongoing pizza renaissance. Amazingly, I had to omit some pretty good pies to get this list down to just fourteen.
At Napolese, Indianapolis, IN

Honorable mentions go to Napolese in Indianapolis IN, Grotto Pizza in Dewey Beach, DE, and Tony Boloney's in Hoboken, NJ. Click on any of them to see a full review.

Here they are - the Breakout Pizzas discovered in 2014. Go get some! Click on any pizzeria name to get the full review and pictures. These are not the best pies ever, but they are the unforgettable pizzas of 2014. All fourteen of these are included in our list of 100 Pizzas Worth the Calories

14) Clank's Bar, Marcus Hook PA.  Clank's was on my radar for a long time. There is always something special about a neighborhood taproom that is turning out a great pizza. The very best of that breed is Lee's Tavern in Staten Island and their brilliant bar pies; at Clank's, it's a thick pan pizza with a dense sauce and the cheese underneath.
Pan pizza at Clank's Bar

13) Rosati's Authentic Chicago Style Pizza, Bloomington IL. This local chain makes both a deep-dish and a thin-crust party-cut pie, which I sampled and enjoyed. If you are on the east or left coast, you may not know the wafer thin pizzas of the Midwest, cut into bite-size squares, but they have earned a spot on the list of great pies.
A party-cut slice at Rosati's

12) Barbuzzo, Philadelphia PA. Have you ever seen two wonderful pizza joints that are adjacent to one another? Probably not even in Naples! But Philadelphia has just that on 13th Street, where Barbuzzo turns out some lovely Neapolitan pies right next to Zavino. Both are small but lively spaces with a bit of sidewalk space for al fresco dining.
Neapolitan pizza at Barbuzzo

11) Vecchia Pizzeria Napoletana, Phoenixville PA. Vecchia is another of the growing number of authentic Neapolitan pizzas being made in the US. They imported the materials and the oven maker for their dome oven that cooks pies in 2 minutes at 900 degrees. This tiny borough is fortunate to be home to Neapolitan pie every bit as good as places in Philly and Brooklyn.
Margherita con soppressata at Vecchia

10) Pica's, Upper Darby PA. Pica's is legendary in this Philly suburb, and it got a big boost when Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey shared some Pica's pizza on Fallon's TV show. Like Clank's Bar, Pica's makes a pan pizza that is "upside down" with the cheese under the sauce. It's kind of a Philly thing and it's a cousin to a Philly tomato pie, with that thick and airy bakery style crust. Very old school, very red gravy, the kind of place that never changes.
Pan pizza at Pica's

9) Bufad, Philadelphia PA. Philly's gentrifying Loft District is home to Bufad, which offers Neapolitan pies and square al taglio cuts. It's a cozy space with great service. Roman-style pizza is still largely undiscovered in America, but Bufad is helping to change that.
Al taglio at Bufad

8) Regina Pizza, Boston MA. We paid $30 to park and then stood in line for an hour on a cold October night to get a pizza at the original location of this legendary Boston local pizza chain -- and it was worth it. This pie goes shoulder to shoulder with the old time classics such as John's in Manhattan, Totonno's in Coney Island, and Frank Pepe's in New Haven. Major props for keeping the quality so high while churning out so many pies for locals, college kids, and tourists.
Lined up for Regina Pizza in Boston

7) Joe & Pat's, Staten Island NY. Across the nation, pizza lovers are mostly aware of the great pies in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but Staten Island can be overlooked. However, with Lee's Tavern, Denino's, and Joe & Pat's, Staten Island is home to world-class old-school pies. You don't have to stand in a line to get this pie - but it's good enough to warrant that kind of demand.
Underside of a slice at Joe & Pat's

6) Nomad Roman, Philadelphia PA. Philly has truly become a pizza destination town. Legendary Tacconelli's, upstart Pizza Brain, Trenton-style tomato pies at Gennaro's, Bufad, and plenty more. Nomad is already established in Philly with its funky pizza wagon, and two fixed locations making state of the art Neapolitans. At this newest location, the pie is a thin crust Roman style. Not Roman al taglio like Bufad, but a round pie that took me back to Le Montecarlo in Rome. This pie is so light and thin and yet substantial in flavor.
Roman pizza at Nomad

5) Lucca Grill, Bloomington IL. Bloomington is a lovely town that is home to State Farm and Illinois State University. Because it is more than two hours from any major airport, it has a low profile. But the locals and visitors are glad it has some stellar versions of the thin-crust party-cut Midwestern style pizza that you can get at more famous places like Vito & Nick's in Chicago. A delightful venue with great pizza and great service.
Top and bottom of party-cut slices at Lucca Grill

4) Lombardi's, Manhattan NY. The place where pizza began in America, according to many accounts. Like Regina in Boston, Lombardi's is a major tourist attraction and they are cranking out LOTS of pizza. We went on a lovely warm August Saturday at lunch time, and our pie was rock solid. Even though the oven-charred crust had some droop, this pie was exceptionally well-balanced. Is it Pizza Mecca? Not quite, but serious pizza eaters need to visit at least once.
A slice at Lombardi's

3) Pizzeria Vetri, Philadelphia PA. Yet another destination pizza in Philly. We tried the superb Neapolitan pie, which is pretty much the same as the pizza at Marc Vetri's upscale Osteria venue. But I nearly fell off my chair swooning over the al taglio cut with soppressata. This expensive slice was art-gallery beautiful to see and even better to eat. Walking distance from the new home of the Barnes Museum? Bonus!
Al taglio at Vetri, pretty enough for framing

2) Norma's Pizza, Manheim PA. Lancaster County is home to the big-portion meat-and-potatoes Amish style dining; hence it was an unlikely spot for destination pizza. You can get it only on Tuesdays (when the Roots Country Market is open), but Norma Knepp is crafting some brilliant Detroit-style and "Boardwalk style" pizzas there in her tiny shop. She's been dubbed the "Dough-Li Lama" and she's a genuine pizza scientist. Easily my favorite pizza experience of 2014. Get some yourself!
Boardwalk pizza at Norma's

1) Scuola Vecchia, Delray Beach FL. My personal pizza bias is toward the thin and rigid crust styles of old-school pizzas of New York, New Haven, and Trenton. While most of the new pie makers in the current Pizza Renaissance are crafting authentic Neapolitans, none of them had been able to challenge for the top spot. However, Scuola Vecchia (Italian for "old school") has changed all that. Their Neapolitans are state of the art. 
Salsiccia pie at Scuola Vecchia

My two dining companions both felt "best pizza of my life." I'm not ready to bump DeLorenzo's or Pepe's or DiFara, but this pie is a game-changer. The Neapolitans at Scuola Vecchia are ideal in texture and moisture (a frequent point of failure for Neapolitan pies), and topped with wonderful fresh tomatoes, cheese, and savory cured meats. We were in heaven eating this pie in a crowded and noisy shop on a trendy street of this popular beach town. Scuola Vecchia is our top breakout pizza of 2014.
Interior at Scuola Vecchia

Sunday, December 21, 2014

One Hundred Pizzas Worth the Calories

It's time again to take stock of every pizza we've tried and can recommend. Here's an unbiased guide to 100 pizzas that justify the calories.
Detroit style at Norma's Pizza, Manheim PA

At the top of this list, you'll find "destination" pizza. These pies are worth not only the calories, but also the extra time and effort to get them. Truly, the Top 65 are destination pies. The others are excellent pizzas, but perhaps you would seek them out only if you are already in the neighborhood.
Oven char at Regina Pizza, Boston MA

Every pizza list has its biases. Some are blatant attempts to be controversial, in order to spark outrage. Others are "click bait" - they exist purely to persuade the reader to click through a slide show in order to maximize ad revenue for the publisher.
Joe and Pat's, Staten Island NY

At Pizza Quixote, there is no hidden motive. I care about good pizza and I hope to share insights on where to find it. This list does display my own pizza preferences - Trenton and New Haven style pies (tomato pie and apizza, respectively) dominate the Top Pies. Even with a list of 100, there is not yet one Chicago deep dish.
Neapolitan pie at Scuola Vecchia, Delray Beach, FL

The geographic concentration is slanted toward my eating opportunities - the east coast. Lots of NY, CT, NJ, PA. However, we also found great pizza in Texas, California, Florida, Ohio, Oregon, Louisiana, Tuscany, Massachusetts, Venice, Illinois, and Rome.
Lucca Grill, Bloomington IL

More than any time in decades, there is no excuse to eat crappy chain pizza, or local pie shop stuff made from generic mass-sourced ingredients. Get out and get the good stuff. And leave a comment about any of these 100 spots or the ones I need to add to the list.

Marinara pie at Nomad Roman, Philadelphia

Here is our list; you can find the full review for most of them in the geographical index on the right side of this page.

1) DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville NJ
2) DiFara Pizza, Brooklyn NY
3) Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven CT
4) Forno Marco Roscioli, Rome, Italy
5) Tacconelli’s, Philadelphia PA
6) Sally's Apizza, New Haven CT
7) Scuola Vecchia, Delray Beach FL
8) Pizza Brain, Philadelphia PA
9) Papa's Tomato Pies, Robbinsville NJ
10) Gennaro's Tomato Pies, Philadelphia PA
11) La Porta Ristorante, Edgemont, PA
12) Pizzeria Vetri, Philadelphia PA
13) Pizzeria Delfina, San Francisco CA
14) Denino’s, Staten Island NY
15) Joe and Pat's, Staten Island NY
16) Regina Pizza, Boston MA
17) Patsy’s, East Harlem, Manhattan, NY
18) Santarpio’s, Boston MA
19) Lee’s Tavern, Staten Island NY
20) Apizza Scholls, Portland OR
21) Motorino, Manhattan NY
22) Forcella, Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY
23) Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix AZ
24) Grimaldi’s, Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY
25) Totonno's, Coney Island, Brooklyn NY
26) Rubino's Pizza, Columbus OH
27) Vito and Nick's Pizza, Chicago IL
28) 2 Amys, Washington DC
29) La Montecarlo, Rome, Italy
30) Pane Bianco, Phoenix AZ
31) Nomad Roman, Philadelphia PA
32) La Villa, Morrisville PA
33) Zuppardi's Apizza, West Haven CT
34) Nick's New Haven Style Pizzeria, Boca Raton FL
35) Nomad Pizza, Hopewell NJ and Philadelphia PA
36) Modern Apizza, New Haven CT
37) Lombardi's, Manhattan NY
38) Norma's Pizza, Manheim PA
39) Arturo’s, Greenwich Village, NY
40) Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, PA and FL
41) Artichoke Basille’s, Greenwich Village, NY
42) John’s, Greenwich Village, NY
43) Osteria, Philadelphia PA
44) Cambridge 1, Cambridge MA
45) Roberta's, Brooklyn NY
46) Domenica, New Orleans LA
47) Vecchia Pizzeria Napoletana, Phoenixville PA
48) Pieous, Austin TX
49) Lucca Grill, Bloomington IL
50) Zero Otto Nove, Bronx NY
51) Stella, Philadelphia PA
52) Ramagi Brick Oven Pizza, Brooklyn
53) Bufad, Philadelphia
54) Comet Ping Pong, Washington DC
55) Tucci’s Fire N Coal Pizza, Boca Raton, FL
56) New Park Pizza, Queens NY
57) SLiCE, Philadelphia
58) Tosca Café, (Throgs Neck), Bronx NY
59) Sizzle Pie, Portland OR
60) Conte’s, Princeton NJ
61) Spatola's Pizza, Paoli PA
62) Pizzeria Pesto, Philadelphia
63) Zavino, Philadelphia
64) DOCG, Las Vegas NV
65) Tony Baloney's, Hoboken NJ
66) Ricca Pizza, San Gimignano, Tuscany
67) Tommy's Pizza, (Throgs Neck), Bronx NY
68) Russo's Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen, Houston TX
69) Green Parrot, Newtown, Bucks County PA
70) Massimo’s, Hamilton NJ
71) Bar Foscarini, Venice, Italy
72) Wiseguy NY Pizza, Washington DC
73) Barbuzzo, Philadelphia PA
74) Brick Oven Pizza 33, Manhattan NY
75) Rosati's, Bloomington IL
76) Jules Thin Crust, CA and PA
77) Rustica, Philadelphia PA
78) DeLorenzo’s Pizza, Hamilton NJ
79) Franzone's, Bridgeport PA
80) Corropolese Bakery Tomato Pie, Norristown PA
81) Pica's, Upper Darby, PA
82) Napolese, Indianapolis IN
83) Tony Roni's, Willow Grove PA
84) Bertucci’s Jersey City NJ
85) La Sicilia, Belleville, NJ
86) L&B Spumoni Gardens, Brooklyn NY
87) Clank's Bar, Marcus Hook, PA
88) Sauce, Phoenix AZ
89) Pizza by Elizabeth, Greenville, DE
90) Iron Hill Brewery, West Chester PA
91) Grotto Pizza, Dewey Beach, DE
92) The Swiss Hotel, Sonoma CA
93) Magma, Princeton NJ
94) Uncle Oogie’s, Philadelphia
95) Lenny’s, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn NY
96) Stella Rossa, Downingtown PA
97) Monical's Pizza, Bloomington IL
98) Morabito's Tomato Pie (From Costco)
99) Felicia's Pizza Kitchen, Ardmore PA
100) California Pizza Kitchen (national chain)