Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Patsy's Pizzeria

There are some legendary pizza places in New York City, and some of the oldest are Lombardi's, John's (Bleecker Street), Totonno's (Coney Island), and Patsy's in East Harlem. After the widow of the original Patsy sold the business in 1991, there has been some dispute as to which is the original Patsy's or which of the current locations is best.
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In 2008, I stopped in at the original location (East Harlem) for a slice on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. The pie from this grandfathered coal oven was remarkable. It took me way back to the pizza I first knew in the 1960s, with a thin but dense and firm crust. I haven't yet been back since starting this pizza blog, but it remains a high standard.

On a rainy summer June weekend, we were visiting friends in Throgs Neck, the eastern edge of the Bronx. Our host suggested that we take the short drive to New Rochelle to dine at the newly-opened (April 2015) Patsy's Pizzeria outpost there, and we gladly agreed.
At the bar

This location seems to be fully authorized by the East Harlem original. Patsy's in New Rochelle occupies a lovely harbor front spot with nice views and plenty of parking. We were lucky that our friend Ken was acquainted with mixologist Luigi, who made us some incredible custom drinks that he created on the spot just from learning our taste preferences. 
Our pizzaiolo, Sparta

Sparta, mixologist Luigi, Ken

While seated at the bar, we had an up-front view of the hybrid oven (gas/wood) and the art of the pizzaiolo, Sparta. He was cranking out one pie after another, and crafted a sample pie for us - traditional red pie on one half, and white pie (mozzarella and ricotta) on the other. 

Our party of five inhaled that "appetizer" pizza with our drinks, and we were seated at a regular table shortly after.
Enjoying the customized cocktails

Inside the hybrid oven (from http://www.patsyspizzerianewrochelle.com)

Oven is located directly behind the bar

We ordered a nice bottle of California zinfandel to go with our dinner: Chicken Scarpariello, Pappardelle with scallops, one white pizza with garlic, and one Margherita with fresh mozzarella and sausage.
Chicken Scarpiarello

A few words about the non-pizza foods: the chicken dish featured on-bone chicken with artichokes, spicy cherry peppers, and a lemon butter sauce. It was delightful, and a great throwback to the times when you could get real chicken dishes in a restaurant beyond boneless-skinless-tasteless chicken breast. 

Pappardelle with scallops

The pappardelle was perfectly al dente, and the big juicy scallops sported lovely brown sear marks, but the kitchen was a bit too liberal with the butter or olive oil. I don't want to think too much about the calories in that dish. 

I rarely choose a white pizza, but the half-white sampler pie was a big hit with our group. This one was even better with the added garlic. The pie, unlike Patsy's in Harlem, was straight-up Neapolitan. Sparta told us they cook in 80 seconds, and it had the classic pale crust with beautiful char marks on it. 

The bottom was crisp, but this crust was soft and pliable without any soupy wet center. The delicious cornicione was not as puffy as some other Neapolitans, but in general this crust was nearly flawless. Beyond its ideal texture, it carried its own standout flavor.

The duo of mild mozzarella and ricotta made for a delicious and creamy texture, and the garlic added the spark it needed. For me, it was further improved by adding both salt and red pepper flakes. Easily one of the best white pies I've had.

The Margherita was made with that same perfect crust, excellent fresh mozzarella, and a tangy red sauce that was a cooperative role player here. The sausage was genuine Italian stuff, but crumbled a bit too small.  

I'd love to see the sausage applied in big chunks, but perhaps 80 seconds is not enough time to properly cook bigger segments of raw sausage. Every bite was gleefully consumed by our group.

Patsy's earns an A for ambiance and for service. This place was bustling with happy patrons all night, and the attentive staff deserve a lot of credit for that. The regular menu dishes were excellent, and those alone are reason enough to eat at Patsy's. But I came for the pizza, and it delighted me. It was not an imitation of the Patsy's in East Harlem -- it is a top-flight Neapolitan that stands on its own merit. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: Seventh Hill Pizza, Washington DC

Washington DC is a great destination for a thousand reasons, but the pizza there is rarely celebrated. However, on past visits we found three destination pizza joints: Wiseguy NY Pizza, 2Amys, and Comet Ping Pong.
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For my latest trip, we targeted Seventh Hill Pizza, located in Capitol Hill on 7th Street, which is also the current home of the Eastern Flea Market. It was a great part of town, vibrant with young professionals, hip shops, and trendy restaurants.

We arrived for lunch on a sweltering June Saturday, and we just beat a long line of mostly take-out diners. We scanned the interesting list of pizza varieties (each available in 8" personal or 12" sharing size) and opted for a 12" Potomac Ave pie. It featured an olive oil base, mozzarella, parmesan, felino salami, arugula, and pecorino. Service was fast and friendly.

I hadn't realized it, but this pie did not include any tomatoes or tomato sauce. It arrived as a lovely round of golden crust with a few char marks, very pale cheese, brick-colored rounds of salami, and a huge mound of arugula that had been applied post bake.  The lump of greens was ungainly, but we managed to distribute it evenly over the 8 small slices.
Great char on the undercarriage

The crust set the tone, and it was superb. It had the look of a Neapolitan, but it was more dense, more firm, and more crisp. It had a terrific flavor, too. I think the olive oil base did a world of good for the crust.

On top, the three cheeses practically burst with a salty tang - I have to think it was the pecorino that made it sing. Even with three cheeses, it was not a gloppy overload, and it had a crispy chew from browning in the wood-fired oven. 

Not surprisingly, the excellent salami added another level of flavor and texture. The arugula was more a garnish than a key component, but it did lend a bit of balance.

We wolfed this pie down quickly - every bite was a treasure, including the crunchy cornicione. It was a tad pricey at $16 for a 12" pie, but a good value nonetheless.  

Truly destination pizza, and second only to 2Amys of the pies we've had in DC. Toss in the nice ambiance and the pleasant vibe of the neighborhood, and it's a great place for a repeat visit.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: Uno Pizzeria and Grill - Flatbread Pizza

Recently, I was happy to find an enjoyable rendition of Chicago style deep-dish pizza at a Newtown, PA location of the Uno Pizzeria and Grill national pizza chain. You can read that full review and see pictures HERE.
Veggie flatbread at Uno

Among our four members at that lunchtime meal, two ordered "flatbreads" and they were kind enough to share. I was able to sample a simple tomato sauce and cheese flatbread, and one topped with a veggie mix that included fresh tomato and eggplant.

Both arrived as large ovals - big portions for one person at lunch. Visually, they were a bit like Roman style pizza and the oval flatbread resembled the offerings at Jules Thin Crust.

The crust was a delightful surprise - it was properly thin, with a serious crunch on the bottom and a pleasant chewiness.  From the underside, the crust reminded me of pizza from California Pizza Kitchen, a large chain that makes not-lousy pizza.

As with the deep-dish that I had ordered, both of these pies sported an appropriate amount of sauce and cheese to maintain good balance and to prevent excess moisture from soaking the crust. The sauce was lively and a little spicy - a much bolder offering than I would expect from a national chain.

Underside of the crust

Much like my deep-dish, these "flatbreads" (oval thin-crust pizza, actually) were tasty, balanced, and a good value. Kudos to Uno Pizzeria and Grill for succeeding in both its deep-dish and thin-crust offerings. I'd never choose it over destination pizza like La Porta or Motorino, but you can count on a satisfying and quick lunch at Uno.

Uno Chicago Grill on Urbanspoon