Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Lombardi's Pizza (Spring St), Manhattan, NY

America has some famous, long-standing, iconic pizzerias. Because most of them are on the east coast, I've visited many of the established giants of pizza (click on any for the full review and pictures) --

Conspicuously missing from that list, above? Lombardi's in New York, the birthplace of pizza in America.  Until now. 
Our pie at Lombardi's in Little Italy. Click any pic to enlarge

When any restaurant morphs into an icon mentioned in travel guides, there must be a lot of challenges in meeting the increased demand while maintaining the quality.

At DiFara, for instance, there has been no compromise. Dom DeMarco (age 79) bakes every pie himself; when Dom isn't there, no pies. And he works in one tiny kitchen with a double oven. 
Dom DeMarco, at DiFara

Other legends, like Grimaldi's, have franchised the recipe and expanded to multiple locations. Trenton's shining star, DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies, now operates out of a much larger restaurant in nearby Robbinsville NJ. The pizza is still world class, but with so many more hands involved in the production, a bit of the magic has worn off. Still, it seems like a decent trade-off to make this wonderful pie available to so many more people.




Lombardi's expanded to occupy the neighboring space on Spring Street, so it is a big pizza restaurant. When we went on a lovely August Saturday afternoon, we faced a relatively easy 20 minute wait for a table (I've waited two hours in sweltering heat for a DiFara pie). The restaurant employs a lot of hosts and servers, and I imagine quite a few in the kitchen, too. Can it still deliver pizza worthy of the heritage and legend?
Upstairs

Downstairs

We were seated in a pleasant basement-level room that featured a wall-sized wine rack, and we ordered a pepperoni pie after learning that the sausage topping is sliced, not chunked as we would prefer. Our server seemed annoyed to be working but she made a few half-efforts to be pleasant. The base price of the pie was about $23 for the large, and $4 more for the topping. Still a few bucks cheaper than a DiFara pizza.

Our pizza arrived swiftly.  It had a relatively modest amount of pepperoni, a bright red sauce, and white flags of fresh mozzarella. The pepperoni, was however, perfectly reminiscent of this pizza haiku:


crisp pepperoni
edge curled from the heat
a chalice of sweet, hot oil

Read the full "pie-ku" story at Seriouseats.com.  

The thin pizza crust was nicely charred, and had an excellent crispness, even though the crust was not rigid. It drooped considerably even though not overloaded with sauce and cheese. 


Oddly, sections of the crust gave the appearance that it had been cooked on a screen - but perhaps it acquired that dimpled look from resting on some vented surface? Lombardi's is known for its coal oven, so let's assume there is no screen in the cooking process!


We agreed that the crust was superb in both flavor and texture. No points deducted for the droop. The sauce, likewise, was deeply flavored, a rich and concentrated tomato sensation. I normally prefer conventional mozz to the fresh variety for a pizza, because the fresh version can be both bland and wet. This cheese, though, was flavorful, applied judiciously, and worked well other than a tendency for one bite to pull off the entire white flag of mozzarella.

Like so many great pies, the elements were in harmony. The flavors were correct, and the proportions of ingredients about perfect. A very well balanced pizza.

For the most part, Lombardi's pizza matches its reputation. It is truly destination pizza, it's in a great neighborhood, and it's a worthy stop for tourists and locals alike. It's not quite as over-the-top transcendent as the other pies listed above, but it's authentic old-school stuff turned out in remarkable quality at that high volume. If you are passionate about pizza, put it on your pizza bucket list.




Lombardi's Pizza on Urbanspoon

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