Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: Giuseppina’s Pizza, Brooklyn NY

Marc Iacono is the famously erratic chef behind the iconic celebrity-magnet pizzeria in Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens neighborhood. I once attempted to get that pizza - so prized by Beyoncé and Jay-Z - but found it closed during hours when it should have been opened. Iacono has been in a knife fight outside his restaurant with a mob-connected felon; more recently, he closed his Brooklyn Lucali temporarily to open a Miami outpost.

For a recent journey to Queens from Pennsylvania, I scouted out the pizza joints I might stop at in Staten Island or Brooklyn. Several intriguing options, but then I saw that Marc Iacono's brother and former Lucali pizzaiolo Chris Iacono had opened his own pizza and calzone place in South Slope, Giuseppina's. Reports are that the pizza is more or less identical to those at Lucali, but without the long lines and random closings.

We arrived in early afternoon on a Saturday, after the normal lunch hour but ahead of dinner time. There were only a few other patrons in this warm and cozy setting, so we were quickly seated and placed an order. 

Taking guidance from the reliable SeriousEats website, we ordered a red pizza with all-beef pepperoni. Giuseppina's offers garlic and fresh basil as no-charge additions, so why not?

The pies bake in a large brickface oven; I could see both burning wood and a gas flame working inside the hybrid oven. We ordered a beer (bottles only) and an excellent "Manhattan Special" espresso soda. We could see the pizzaiolo in the open kitchen space with the oven behind him, and our pizza was soon ready.

Every pizza succeeds or fails based on its crust, and it's hard to improve on this report, written by Sam Sifton in the New York Times: "The crust is chewy, pliant, with a dull complexion that belies its great flavor." Indeed, the crust looked like a huge circular piece of lavash cracker, with the broadest cornicione I've ever seen.
Under the hood
Despite its lackluster color, the crust sported several large promising bubbles at the edges. In the center, the crust was soft without being wet. A few bites in, that gave way to a perfect mix of crunchy and chewy, a very thin but sturdy base. And at the cornicione, it remained thin but developed a cracker-like brittleness without the cushioning of sauce and cheese.

The tomato element is a dense cooked sauce, but it is a role player. The second star goes to the cheese. Standard American pizzas are loaded with salty-but-bland aged mozzarella. Hipster artisanal pies often merely substitute bland-and-not-even-salty fresh mozzarella. Here, the pie sports a richly flavored blend of fresh Italian bufala and American aged mozzarellas, topped (post-bake?) with Parmigiana Reggiano.
The undercarriage
The all-beef pepperoni was curled, crisped, salty, earthy, and it added an element of flavor that popped with each bite. The taste of the dense sauce and cheese blend recalled those at Beddia Pizza in Philadelphia. There were even similarities to the thin, crisp, rigid yet chewy crust. State of the art stuff here.

The fresh basil was applied generously, but in large clumps that might have worked better if chopped a bit more. I could not detect the garlic we has requested, and I suspect it was omitted. Neither of these quibbles matter much, because this was simply wonderful and uncomplicated pizza. 

Even though Neapolitan pies remain on the front line of the pizza Renaissance, they can rarely measure up to the kind of pizza you get at Beddia and Guiseppina's, because a Neapolitan crust doesn't provide the al dente satisfaction. 

I'm always delighted when I can get a world-class pizza like this without enduring long lines. There's even free and reasonably open street parking in this quiet neighborhood. This is destination pizza.

Review: The Salty Pig, Boston MA

The universe of excellent pizza keeps expanding. In Boston, I've had the legendary pies at Regina, Emma's, and Santarpio's. I've had the world-class new pizza at Picco and Coppa, just one block apart in the Back Bay. With a little research, I found one other pizza destination - The Salty Pig - that was within walking distance of the Hynes Convention Center.

The Salty Pig is not, technically, a pizzeria. According to their website, the restaurant has "an emphasis on charcuterie ... in the form of house made meats and hand selected cheeses designed to be mixed and matched to create personalized charcuterie boards. Fresh, locally grown seasonal ingredients rotate frequently to make stone-grilled pizzas, hand made pastas and regional Italian entrees."
The pizza prep area
On a wet and cold night in late March, I arrived with two colleagues. We ordered some draft pints from the short but solid beer selection, such as Allagash White and Solemn Oath's "Punk Rock for Rich Kids," a single hop Belgo-American pale ale. 
The arugula salad
I began my meal with an $11 arugula salad, and it was excellent mix of fresh greens, garnishes, and a zesty dressing.

We fashioned a charcuterie board for sharing, with these components:

  • Finocchiona - Tuscan Dry Cured Salumi with Fennel & Garlic from Portland, OR ($7)
  • Mortadella - Bolognian Emulsified Sausage from SP Kitchen, MA, with pistachio ($7)
  • Holden Trail - Raw Sheep Milk cheese from Grafton, VT ($7)
  • Stilton cheese from Nottinghamshire, ENG ($8)
  • Marcona Almonds ($3)
  • Eggplant Sott’ Aceto ($2)
  • Marinated Olives ($4)

The charcuterie was served with wonderfully crisp diagonal slices of grilled Italian bread. Both cheeses and both meats were richly flavorful. We were pretty much unanimous that this was the best charcuterie selection we'd experienced. I was particularly taken with the mortadella, which had a wonderful garlic aroma and flavor.

The Ventresca
We ended with two of the large personal-sized Neapolitan pizzas, the Margherita (tomato, Mozzarella, basil, $13) and the Ventresca (pork belly roulade, escarole, ricotta, lemon zest, $15). The Margherita was classic in construction and execution. 
The Margherita
Like many Neapolitans, it was soft and damp in the center, but not ruinously. I did feel that the crust's flavor came up short of expectations, especially after the wonderful bread that came with the charcuterie. The pie also needed salt.
Slice of the Margherita
The Ventresca was a lot more interesting. It was fully flavored and presented a rich combination of aromas, textures, and tastes. The escarole was a particularly inspired choice, and it tasted as though it had been sauteed in a rich broth. Ricotta, because it is wet and heavy, can ruin a pizza, especially a delicate Neapolitan.  Here, though, it was applied judiciously and was in ideal balance with the other toppings.
Nice leopard spots underneath
All told, this was very good pizza, but don't go to The Salty Pig for the pizza. Go for the charcuterie. The salads were superb, the beer selection well-chosen, the charcuterie world-class, and our server Lizzy was patient and helpful. 

The Salty Pig was a warm and welcoming destination on a damp and dreary night. When pizza this good takes a back seat, take note!

Salty Pig Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review: Emma's Pizza, Boston MA

Emma's Pizza had been a mainstay in Cambridge since its opening in 1962; toward the end of 2016, Emma's moved from that college town to a corner in Boston's South End. This new location has a couple of counters, but looks to be a mostly take-out operation. Based on its long-standing reputation, I stopped in for a couple of slices on a chilly March weeknight. 
Pepperoni slice
My slice of pepperoni pizza (The Lampoon) came from a pie that had been made previously, so it went into the oven for a quick re-heat. There was a substantial amount of traditional dry mozzarella on this slice, but it was well supported by the thin, crisp, and rigid NY-style crust. The red sauce was dense, dark, and richly spiced. 

Most of the pepperoni circles were under the cheese, and they had a distinct spicy heat. Each bite yielded an audible crunch. Overall, this was a reasonably authentic rendering of a classic NY slice. I'd change it only by reducing the amount of mild mozzarella and adding a bit of a sharper or saltier cheese. 

Click to enlarge menu or any pic
My second slice (The Study Break) was topped with green peppers, garlic, and roasted mushrooms. Much as I had found a few weeks earlier at the spectacular Elio G's in Old Forge PA, vegetable toppings work best when the veggies enter the pizzeria raw and are prepped in house. Here, this trio of toppings worked in harmony to produce a surprising umami of earthy flavors. 

The crust on this slice - which has come to me directly from the whole pie baking in the conventional gas oven - was softer than the slice that had been re-heated. As much as I enjoyed it, I expect I'd like it even more with a crisping from a re-heat. 
Great looking NY-style crust
Service was friendly and fast; with tax I paid $9.26 for these two slices and a can of soda. Emma's is precisely the kind of corner spot to enhance any neighborhood with a good variety of good slices or pies for take-out.

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