Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: Bufad Pizza, Philadelphia PA

Three years of writing about pizza had led me to some firm convictions and preferences.  One of my pizza tenets had been that only a pie with a thin sturdy crust can compete for "best pizza."  For me, that meant top contenders must be like a Trenton tomato pie such as Papa's (reviewed HERE), a New Haven apizza as fashioned by Modern (reviewed HERE), or perhaps a classic "American pie" such as I found at Pizza Brain in Philly (reviewed HERE). No Sicilian thick pies or Chicago deep-dish need apply.
Antipasti, potato slice, Rosso Amatriciana

And though I love a good Neapolitan pie and especially value how the Neapolitan surge has brought back the craft of pizza-making, every Neapolitan was always a clear second to the rigid crust pies. However, in Delray Beach, Florida, I found a Neapolitan pizza so nearly perfect that it confounded my long held bias for thin, crisp, Northeast pizzas. Scuola Vecchia (full review HERE) is making the best Neapolitan pizza I've ever tried, and it can challenge any pizza, any style, any place. My long-held rigid crust bias was confounded.
Bufad, in Philly

Well. What to which fundamental pizza commandment may I still cling?  How about this Golden Rule: any pizza defined by its toppings, and not by its crust, is bound to be second rate. Get outta here with that Buffalo chicken pizza! 

Let's find out if that great truth yet stands.

On a Wednesday at lunchtime, we traveled to Bufad Pizza, just north of center city Philadelphia, at 13th and Spring Garden Streets. It was easy to find metered parking nearby. We were the first ones in for lunch, but the small venue filled up shortly after.
Great staff, wood fired oven

At the site of a former Chinese restaurant, Bufad opened in 2013. To my suburban eyes, it looks like a neighborhood on the rise, and its proximity to center city will make it an attractive and relatively affordable location. This area is Philly's Loft District, and it perhaps has something in common with Bushwick in Brooklyn and Fishtown in Philly - both gentrifying neighborhoods anchored by hipster pizza joints.

Like nearby Vetri (reviewed HERE), Bufad offers a wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and Roman-style "al taglio" rectangle slices. And it was the Roman pizza that drew me to Bufad.

In this attractive and cozy space, we saw a daily specials chalkboard. There were several attractive options; we chose a crostini trio that featured crisp yet chewy triangles topped with a creamy spread made from potato, poquillo peppers, and baccala. Other than being a tad messy to eat with your fingers, this appetizer was a delight in flavor and texture. I might have guessed the peppers in the creamy topping, but the potato and salted cod were mild and understated. I have no picture of the trio because we eagerly scarfed them down before I remembered to take a picture.

Click to see this beautiful app full size

The staff also gave us another appetizer - a luscious scoop of cold burrata cheese over warm asparagus, pine nuts, golden raisins, and some other wonderful ingredients. It was heavenly, and just a masterpiece for the eye, too.


Lunch here might be the best value in the city. We each chose the lunch special of any two slices of the "SPQR" al taglio pizza with a side antipasti salad - just seven bucks.  I opted for a slice of the potato pizza and the spicy "Rosso Amatriciana." Tracy, with the cool fingernails, chose a potato slice and one with asparagus and prosciutto.
Asparagus pie in the middle

The antipasti featured white beans, chick peas, and tiny cubes of cured meat and cheese. Dainty yet robust, it was an ideal lunch appetizer. The only change I would make would be to provide a spoon instead of a fork.
Underside, and Tracy's cool fingernails

The rectangle slices had immediate eye appeal. Potatoes on pizza is a gamble; if they are cut too thickly, they just add weight and moisture than can ruin a pie. But we had the chance to see the whole rectangle pie behind the counter, and the thin slices of potato developed a crispness that enhanced the overall texture. This slice included fennel, rosemary in abundance, and Pecorino Romano cheese. Tracy and I agreed it was wonderful, but it was the second-best slice for each of us.
Good hole structure in the crust

Tracy's other slice was the asparagus pie. Smartly, the asparagus was sliced into small pieces so there was a bit of asparagus in each bite.  The prosciutto added the right salty tang. Floating on top was some delightfully pungent Grana Padano cheese. Tracy loved this full-flavored pie; I got a taste and concurred.

My second slice was the Amatriciana, and it was the highlight of the meal. Flecked with red pepper flakes, it was spicy as advertised. It had a bit of pancetta and some Pecorino, both of which added a salty tang, but the star was the red sauce. It was thick and liberally applied in a way that might drown a lesser pie, but here it compounded the luscious nature of this slice. The red sauce was perfection, an ideal balance of sweet tomato and robust earthiness.

Wait, what about the crust? The crust - the foundation - is the most important element of any pizza, according to my last surviving pizza commandment. 

Well, it may no longer survive.

This was not a thin, crisp, rigid crust. It was not thick like a Sicilian, but about as thick-yet-light as a Philadelphia tomato pie (defined HERE).  This light golden brown crust had a good hole structure, much like the crostini we had as an appetizer.

This crust was a role player. Despite its medium-thickness, it was sturdy and almost crisp, and it provided the palette on which the pizzaolo painted the well-matched sauce, cheese, meats, and vegetable toppings. Unlike the al taglio pie I had in Rome (reviewed HERE), the crust was not thin, crunchy, or the star of the pie. It stayed in the background and let the toppings shine. It was an excellent dough and can stand on its own, but it played a supporting role.

Is this destination pizza?  Absolutely. There is a masterful touch in the kitchen here, and it's hard to imagine a better lunch experience. So another tenet is destroyed - the crust does not have to be the star of a great pizza.

I'd go back to Bufad for a hundred reasons - but the obvious one is to try the Neapolitan pies there. I did see some coming out of the oven, and they looked spectacular. Great vibe, great service, inventive and satisfying delectable fare. This BYOB is firing on all cylinders.

Bufad Pizza on Urbanspoon

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