Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Lee's Tavern, 60 Hancock St, Staten Island NY

I've read some online reviews of the pizza at Lee's Tavern, a corner bar and grille joint off the beaten track (as much as you can be) in Staten Island. On a Sunday afternoon, it was time to try it out on the drive from Brooklyn back to the pizza desert (West Chester, PA). 





It may be a cliche, but Lee's surely falls into the category of "neighborhood gem" and I sure wish it was in MY neighborhood. The corner taproom where locals go, everything is casual, folks are friendly (at least until they get drunk), and someone with a real talent is preparing bar food, be it burgers or sandwiches or pizza. It's so easy to miss from the outside; there are a few low-profile neon signs inside the windows. I didn't see any discernible exterior signs announcing suds or pie.



When you enter, there is the bar on your right, some tables on your left, and then you pass thru an archway into a larger dining area. All of it done with vintage style dark wood and dark paneling. At a little past opening time (noon) on a Sunday, the place was very quiet when I entered. A few at the bar, one other table occupied. While I ate, a baseball team came in ("Lee's" on their shirts) and gathered amiably around the bar.

Lee's Tavern on Urbanspoon

I knew I was a stranger in this place. Sometimes, that gets you some circumspect treatment. But here, the large and affable bar man came over to take my drink order and bring a menu. I settled for a lemonade and I ordered the large pie with sausage (just $10 per pie and $2 for the topping). A bar pie is also offered for $5.75 and I got one to go. The toppings offered included most of the standard ones, red OR white onions, and some specialty pies with stuff like clams or chicken on top.


My pie came pretty quickly. It looked promising, with a nice golden browning to the crust and the cheese. It was piled generously with real Italian sausage. In fact, this was the best sausage topping I've ever seen or tasted outside of DeLorenzo's (full review HERE) on Hudson St. in Trenton NJ. 



Sausage pie

The pie truly had the classic "bar pie" cracker-thin crust. It was devoid of char on the bottom, but it was cooked to about perfectly to a nice golden tan and it had great flavor. At the cornicione, there was no bend or chewiness -- it crumbled just as a cracker might but with tons of flavor.




The sauce sparkled, with a deft touch of sweetness and saltiness. The cheese seemed to be conventional mozzarella or mozz blended with another cheese. What I discovered as I eagerly wolfed down half a pie was that Lee's has achieved the same magic as Totonno's (full review HERE) in Coney Island; namely, the lyrical melding of crust, sauce, and cheese. The whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts.




Don't confuse Lee's with the artisanal output of DiFara (review) and Forcella (review), both of which use so many ingredients imported from Italy. At the incredible $10 a throw, Lee's is taking good but not boutique ingredients and using some kitchen skill to crank out the consummate bar pie. The best I ever had, prior to this, was at the Ivy Tavern in Trenton. That, however, was over 25 years ago. I see that the Ivy still makes pizza, so please chime in (comments section below this post) if you can tell us how good the Ivy is in 2011.

Monday night, I reheated 2 leftover slices on a perforated pizza pan (375 degrees for 12 minutes). And the magic occurred all over again. This pie was bursting with flavors, all of them good.

In addition to the sausage pie for me, I took home a personal size meatball pie for my daughter. She has the habit of eating cold pizza for breakfast. Cold pizza is good, but I always take the time to re-heat (and NEVER in the microwave). When she told me, I lamented that she missed the wonderful crispness of the crust. However, she said that the pie remained "Sooper crispy. The fridge did not mushify it." That is one remarkable pizza crust!

Destination pie? Absolutely. I gotta say yes. Best. Bar. Pie. I've. Had.

We are awarding nine stars to Lee's Tavern. 

Need to know more?  Here's a nice profile, with some history and a slide show, at nymag.com/listings/bar/lees-tavern/

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