Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Salvatore of Soho (Staten Island)

En route to Brooklyn's Dyker Heights from PA via NJ, I've been making some minor detours to sample the top-end pies of Staten Island. Previously, I've had pizza from Lee's Tavern on Hancock Street (click for review) and Denino's (click for review). Both were superb! Lee's is the best bar pie I've ever had, and Denino's is another wonderful old-school pie with a thin crisp Trenton-style crust.

Salvatore is a relative newcomer, but arguably even more "old school" in that they have a coal-fired brick oven in which they craft true Neapolitan pies. In my lifetime, there have been a lot more places offering Trenton and New York style pizza; crafting pies more "true" to pizza's home in Naples is a more recent trend (and a good one!)  

The difference is mostly in the crust. The best old school pies have a golden look to them when baked; the crust is crisp outside and densely chewy inside. A Neapolitan crust is whiter, but with lovely leopard spots on the upper surface and underside too. It is softer and lighter; it does have chewiness but not much crispness. It's wonderful, but for me it will never surpass Trenton style.

From their website; click to enlarge

Their website tells us that "Master pizza maker Salvatore Ganci perfected his skills in the art of pizza making during his years at the legendary Lombardi’s" -- hence the "of Soho" for this Staten Island eatery. I called ahead for my pie and an order of spaghetti bolognese for EPBAC (eats pizza but avoids cheese). I was told that they would not bake the pie until I arrived, because it's best eaten right out of the oven and it takes only 3 minutes to cook.

The whole pie
I was surprised to find that Sal's was a tiny place at the end of tiny strip mall at 1880 Hylan Blvd. It was cute, narrow and deep. It was a slow week night, only a few other customers. I don't think there could have been more than 8 tables or so. The staff were quite pleasant and efficient in preparing and packaging my order to go. As I exited, a woman drove up and asked me if they sell slices. I told her I don't think so, but that they offer a small pie and it cooks in three minutes. Even though I had yet to taste the pie, I had high expectations. I opened my pizza box, showed her the pie, and told her "you owe yourself a chance to taste this pizza." She was sold upon visual inspection and went in to order. I hope she liked it!

A closer view
It was probably only 20 minutes over the Verrazano to my Brooklyn destination, but I know I did the pizza a grave disservice. It steamed and cooled in the box. Ravenous, I wolfed down a couple of slices that tasted wonderful but the crust was rubbery. I noticed that they forgot to add the sausage I had ordered (Denino's screwed up my toppings order too). I decided to reheat a few slices in the oven. That made a huge difference. The pie lost its excess moisture, the crust came back to a much more desirable texture, even picking up a light crisping without losing its al dente chew.

Sal tells us that his pizza is "created with Imported Italian tomatoes, homemade mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, freshly grated parmigiana and topped with fresh basil. Then it is flash-baked in a very high temperature coal-fired oven." The sauce and tomatoes were indeed excellent, and after the re-heat the elements were in perfect harmony. Like every Neapolitan pie, this one was a little wet in the middle, but not soggy as some can be.
Nice char on the underside

All told, this was an excellent pizza and I am pretty sure it would be considerably better to eat it right there when it comes out of the oven. I give Salvatore's of Soho 8.5 stars. The pasta was quite good, also, EPBAC reports.

Spaghetti Bolognese
This is a gem of a place and even in pizza-rich New York, it should be crowded every night. Kudos, Salvatore.

[UPDATE: Sadly, Salvatore's has closed. Maybe Staten Island wasn't ready for Neapolitan style?]

Salvatores of Soho on Urbanspoon

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