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In New York, it's Lombardi's (and DiFara); Philly has Tacconelli's, the Trenton area has DeLorenzo's, New Haven has Frank Pepe's. Boston has the terrific Santarpio's, but the flagship pie for this town since 1926 is Regina Pizza, in the North End.
From that original location at 11 1/2 Thacher Street, Regina has leveraged its popularity and today there are over 20 locations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Seven years ago, I got a slice from "Regina Pizzeria" (the name for Regina's quick service locations) in a food court at a Boston shopping mall. I found it to be unremarkable - not meaningfully different or better than Pizza Hut.
That is why I first targeted Santarpio's when visiting Boston two years ago. However, on my latest trip, I felt I was overdue to visit the original Regina Pizza location in the North End. I've heard more than once that the pizza there is better than the other locations.
|Waiting for Regina Pizza|
We arrived around 6:15 on a chilly Saturday in October. The entire North End was abuzz - locals and tourists were flocking to the high end Italian restaurants and pastry shops as well as to the Bruins game at the nearby Boston Garden. We paid $30 to park a few blocks away.
We found a long line outside, and it grew yet longer after we joined it. It took about an hour to reach the front door (the last few feet, you get the benefit of standing under heat lamps). Once inside, we were seated quickly and our server arrived promptly.
|Old-school radiator next to our table|
The interior is a rustically attractive place, with a happy bustling ambiance. We ordered a large pie with half sausage (the waitress assured me that it goes on the pie raw) and half meatballs (like the sausage, house-made). We each ordered a glass of wine. The mid-grade red was served at room temp; the low-end house Chianti was served cold, an odd habit also practiced at Rossi's Tavern, Trenton's famous hamburger joint.
The pie came relatively quickly. It looked promising but not pretty; the generous meat toppings were scattered unevenly across the top. When we removed our first slices, we saw lots of cheese and sauce oozing onto the serving pan, which can be a sign of an overloaded pie.
|Sauce and cheese overflow|
The first bite told me the the sauce was good. In fact, the sauce was superbly rich and tangy without being salty or spicy. The crust was a bit drowned (but not soggy) on the first bite of each slice, but every inch closer to the cornicione yielded a bite more al dente, with real crunch and good chewiness.
Equally important, the crust had a wonderful flavor on its own. The cornicione was thick, crunchy on the outside, densely airy within. One of the best pizza crusts I can recall, and it is the crust that really sets this pie apart. The underside had an almost perfect char.
The cheese was good, but it was a role player. The crust and the sauce are the stars. The meatballs were clearly high quality and smartly seasoned, but they lose points for being sliced too thinly. We would have preferred big fat half-globes of meatballs to the thin slices that got a little too dry in the oven.
When a great pizza place puts Italian sausage on a pie, they shred or rip the raw sausage onto the assembled pie, and the sausage cooks in the oven. This yields odd-sized and shaped sausage on the pie, but near-perfectly juicy and savory bites. (I prefer not to think about the fat that cooks out of the sausage and leaches into the pie, though of course it enhances the flavor).
Here, oddly, the thick and juicy sausage chunks were uniformly cube shaped, which made it appear that the sausage had been pre-cooked before being added to the pizza, but the flavor and texture signaled that indeed the sausage was uncooked before the pie went into the oven. I'm confused, but this was top-notch. I did re-arrange the sausage chunks to get a more even distribution.
Often, an overload of sauce and cheese is a sign of an unskilled pizzaiolo, or an attempt to disguise an inferior crust. Clearly, the crust needs no protection here, and the overload was tolerable. Sometimes, the messy aspect of eating pizza can be a good thing, and it was here.
Regina Pizza clearly deserves its lofty reputation; this is destination pizza and easily worth the wait. If I get a chance, I will again try another location to see how it measures up to the original Thacher Street location. Boston's North End is a foodie's dream destination; if you go, try to leave the car at home.