I’m ashamed for calling myself a pizza fanatic yet never visiting Chicago in the past 10 years. It’s a good thing that shame has ended, thanks to a couple days I spent in the Windy City this past November while touring in support of my new book. I hit TONS of pizzerias and the vast majority were facilitated by a true pizza hero names Jon Porter. I first met Jon years ago, just as he was starting a company called Chicago Pizza Tours. Our companies are not related, but I consider him a real pizza brother. Since he started the company, we’ve met several times and even spent some quality time at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas a few years ago! But after all that, I’m proud to say I have FINALLY experienced the fruits of Jon’s labor and the tour was awesome. Here’s the scoop.
Tour tour met at Pizano’s Pizza and Pasta, a pizzeria that belongs to one of the most important families in Chicago pizza history. It’s located at a super central location, so very easy to find for an out-of-towner such as myself. It was there that we met Jon, who owns the company and runs lots of the tours, and a tour guide who works for him named Jonathan (I know that’s going to be complicated, but I’ll stick with those name variations). Jon took a back seat and let Jonathan run most of the tour and he was awesome. Super relaxed and informal enough that you didn’t feel like you were receiving a lecture.
Jonathan gave us some info about Chicago pizza history before bringing out not one, but TWO tastings. Chicago has a reputation as a deep dish pizza town, but there is a native thin crust style thats at least as important. Pizano’s makes both so we tried a slice of each. Both were really good! But the tour has four pizzeria stops so we hit the road as soon as everyone finished because there was no time or stomach room to waste.
The tour rides all over Chicago and stops change all the time, so we cruised around in Dough Force One, a swanky mini coach that fits around 16 people. While driving, Jonathan (and sometimes Jon) gave us some great Chicago history. I loved the tour because it was so much more than just pizza, so you could learn a ton about the city while also hitting some serious pizzerias.
My favorite stop of the day might have been our second pizzeria. It’s a little walk-up spot called Italian Fiesta. It’s famous for being the favorite pizzeria of the Obama family, but there’s not a single sign bragging about it. Very cool little place with a killer thin crust pizza.
But as much as I loved Italian Fiesta, I was most interested in deep dish. I knew about the big nationally-known places like Uno and Gino’s East and Giordano’s, but one name kept popping up when I asked serious pizza freaks for advice: Pequod’s. It’s a cool spot with a perfectly casual atmosphere and gnarly pizza. There’s one in Morton Grove but we hit the Chicago location.
Check out this slice, overflowing with big chunky sausage and framed with a crunchy caramelized crust. It’s beautiful. I’m writing this as it’s snowing outside my window and all I want to do is crawl inside it and take a nap.
But the tour is not just about pizza that’s indigenous to Chicago, it also covers pizza styles that are not native to the city. Neapolitan pizza is exploding around the country and Chicago has a few solid spots for it. We stopped at Nella’s, where we had the pizza Margherita. This was a nice comfort slice because it wasn’t loaded with toppings, as the other Chicago pizza has been on the tour. That made it the perfect palate cleanser!
After those four stops, just every single person on the bus full and ready to hibernate. I loved it, not just for the pizza but also for the super well-rounded education about the city. I can see it being just as interesting for locals as it was for me as a tourist. In fact, there were at least two locals on the tour when I took it and they LOVED it! Good pizza, good info, great tour guide(s)… thanks to Jon and Jonathan and William the bus driver!
I’ve been saying it for a while now: New York needs a deep dish pizzeria. The mark of a good pizza city is variety and while NYC has a good amount, we’re missing a very large piece of the pizza style pie. Yes, I’ve seen the various Daily Show pieces about how deep dish isn’t even pizza and I do feel strange being forced to eat my slice with a knife and fork, but every slice has its place and I truly believe deep dish pizza is an acceptable format.
Chicago has its fair share of New York style pizzerias, but most New Yorkers have never experienced deep dish pizza because we just don’t have access to it. Sure, there are a bunch of Pizzeria Uno (oops… I mean Uno Chicago Grill) locations around the city but they are only in pizza deserts where you have no other option. But all of that has changed. In the midst of all the Chicago-NYC pizza hubbub on The Daily Show, a tiny bar/restaurant opened in the Soho/South Village nook on Macdougal just south of Houston Street. Emmett’s has about six tables and a bar, not too dissimilar to the original Uno in Chicago. But there’s one major difference: Emmett’s makes a great pizza.
The space is adorable, complete with a rad green glider bench out front. But there’s no loud proclamations boasting about deep dish pizza, it’s much more subtle. Two brothers run the place and they’re all about Chicago pride. It’s probably wise to keep the place understated. Tensions could produce a dangerous situation.
Most wanna-be deep dish pizzas just have a thick crust, but that’s garbage. Emmett’s is the real deal, with a dense biscuity crust covered with stringy cheese, loads of toppings and a highly seasoned plum tomato sauce. I really enjoyed the robustness and zing of this sauce, it’s a great counterpoint to the usual laid back tomato of most New York pizza sauces.
I loved the chunky sausage. It was perfect for the pie and totally reminded me of the sausage I ate on Chicago pies in November. It balances the dense crust in a way thin crumbly sausage cannot. But the crust was the real telltale sign that whoever is back there making these pizzas has done some serious Chicago pizza homework. The owners are a pair of brothers from the Windy City and they clearly have their pizza act together in a way I really respect.
The rest of the team agreed and the four of us took down an entire large pie. That’s not a big deal for a NY style pizza, but more than one slice of this stuff creates a seriously different experience. But as you can see from the photo above, people in New York just cannot be restrained by the tyranny of a knife and fork. I think all of us went for the open-face hand-hold method for at least a portion of each slice.
This is the perfect place to hole up on a cold night. It’s tiny, so get there early. Deep dish pies take a while to bake, but there’s a good beer selection to keep you company. If you get annoyed at the 45 minutes it takes to make your pizza, just remember it’s wayyyy shorter than the flight to Chicago.
Every month, TEAM SPT gets together for an evening of intense pizza study. Past events have brought us to New Haven, canned tomato tastings and pizza making workshops. Last month we agreed it was time to get our hands dirty and do some serious trench work, so we ordered pizza from all the major chains within delivery distance of my Brooklyn apartment and conducted a not-so-scientific chain pizza showdown.
First up was Little Caesar’s. I thought they had gone out of business years ago, but it turns out they’re the third highest grossing pizza company in the country! Locations are scattered in NYC and really only in low-income neighborhoods in the outskirts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. I get it — they have a “large” pizza (it’s just 14” as opposed to the usual 16-18” large) for only $5 and there’s little to no wait time to get a pizza. It’s clearly going to be a low-quality pizza, but not everyone wants imported Neapolitan flour and San Marzano tomatoes. Fast food pizza is a necessary evil.
Truth be told, I had only had LC’s once before and I completely forgot about it until weeks after we tried it - so this felt like it was my first taste. It was the first pizza of our test because LC’s doesn’t deliver (they’re take-out only) so we picked up a HOT-N-READY® pie. I have to admit, I was pretty excited to finally try Little Caesar’s. It’s the closest pizza to my apartment and I felt guilty for walking past it every day. I was also pretty hungry, so they clearly had the best positioning of the night.
While I’d never eat this again on purpose, I thought it wasn’t the worst of the night. The CSR (cheese-to-sauce ratio) was pretty even. I might even say it was the sauciest of the night. Shredded low-moisture mozzarella has a tendency to slurp up sauce and I was surprised at LC’s moisture level. The crust was floppy and soft, as expected from the conveyor oven bake, and the cheese had a reasonable pull without getting in the way. The pie’s temperature upon arrival was 130 F, which (SPOILER ALERT) turned out to be the average for the night.
Overall, I’d call this a very solid desperation pizza, one you only fall back on when all else fails. You’ll feel guilty immediately upon taking the first bite, but you’ll move on with your life and pretend it never happened.
The second pie of the night was from Domino’s. We wanted to order the exact same pie from each place, but I think this one’s technically a specialty pie. I have a longer history with Domino’s than I do with the others we ordered for this test. My family never ate it when I was a kid. I remember the family mantra “Domino’s tastes like cardboard” and that alone prevented me from ever ordering it even in my darkest hour. Then Domino’s famously changed their recipe in 2009 and I felt it was my job — no, my responsibility — to give it a go. If the new version was an improvement, I’m glad I never had to deal with the old version. A couple years passed and decided it might be fun to get to know the pizza industry better by working some pizza jobs, one of which was as a delivery boy for my local Domino’s. I worked for about three weeks and made just over 100 deliveries.
I spent a total of two days in Chicago last month and managed to visit 19 pizzerias. It was my first time in Chicago since 2003. I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews, so think of these more as abbreviated recollections of my experiences at each place. I might do more in-depth reports later but people ask me about pizza in Chicago so often I just want to use this as a quick reference guide. It’s split into two parts because Chicago pizza is too massive to fit into one post. See part 1 here. The post is organized with a description first, then a photo below. Enjoy!
Marie’s Pizza & Liquors Marie’s is an absolute gem, owned and operated by the same family since 1940. It’s a good 20 minutes north of the Loop, so don’t expect to stumble upon it if you’re wandering around downtown Chicago. This is a real joint -oozing with the “this is who we are” honesty that makes me fall in love with some restaurants even before I taste the food. It’s more like a bar with tons of seating than it is a pizzeria. The seating of which I speak is luxurious plush red vinyl and I really do need to post more photos of the interior. The pizza is typical tavern style thin-and-crispy cut into squares. Truth be told, it’s not the most remarkable pizza in the world, but Marie’s is off the charts on the vibe-o-meter and a real piece of Chicago’s pizza story.
Pizzeria da Nella Cucina Napoletana Regardless of the city’s reputation as a deep-dish town or its true roots as a thin crust refuge, Chicago has some very non-Chicago pizzerias. Nella is a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria. They have it all: the wood-fired oven, “00” flour, imported tomatoes. But sometimes having all the goods doesn’t necessarily make a great pizza. Keep in mind I am basing my entire opinion on one visit in the middle of the day, but this was not a stellar pizza. The oven seemed low and the pizza, which usually takes about 90 seconds in this oven, clocked in at 2:30. That’s a big difference and resulted in a dry crust. Some might even prefer this over traditional Neapolitan but I give a low score on execution of the style.
Pequod’s Pizza Want a serious deep dish pizza the locals actually eat on purpose? Pequod’s is it. There’s cheese shoved up between the crust and the pan (like Detroit style) and it caramelizes in the most beautiful way imaginable. Some even order it with extra carm for a degree of intensity rarely displayed by mere mortals. I had a pie with sausage and pepperoni, (aka just the basics for a meaty midwestern appetite) and really loved how the crunch of the crust combined with the soft padding of its cheesy surface. It had less sauce than other deep dish pizzas and generally felt like the badass of Chicago’s pizzerias.
Piece Pizzeria Here’s another non-Chicagoan pizzeria in the Windy City, one that’s all about New Haven, CT. If you’re not familiar with the style, you need to head to Pepe’s and Sally’s on Wooster St or Modern Apizza on State Street in New Haven RIGHT NOW! Piece dishes up huge dense-crunchy crust pizza in big trays like Frank Pepe’s. Their pies are topped with restraint rather than maladroit. The place has a very active feel, almost like a sports bar but without too many televisions. I thought the pizza was totally solid and I’d definitely be here all the time if I lived in the neighborhood. It’s the kind of place to enjoy with a big group of friends, as I did with my buds Patrick and Kristy, the wonderful couple who designed and built my beautiful pizza tours website!
I spent a total of two days in Chicago last month and managed to visit 19 pizzerias. It was my first time in Chicago since 2003. I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews, so think of these more as abbreviated recollections of my experiences at each place. I might do more in-depth reports later but people ask me about pizza in Chicago so often I just want to use this as a quick reference guide. It’s split into two parts because Chicago pizza is too massive to fit into one post. Description first, photo below. Enjoy!
Pizzeria Uno I hate to start this way, but Uno was the worst deep-dish I tried in Chicago. We ordered the Chicago classic onions-peppers-mushrooms-sausage-pepperoni (someone referred to it as “sticking to basics” — WHAT?!?!) and it was a soppy mess. You can see the runoff in the photo. Veggies were basically raw because they’re topped toward the end of the 45+ minute bake. I don’t need to ever go back.
Pizzeria Due As its name suggests, Pizzeria Due is the second location of the more familiar Pizzeria Uno. They’re located a block away from each other. Even though the managers claim the pizza is identical, my experience found otherwise. I tried them both back-to-back and liked everything about Pizzeria Due MORE than Pizzeria Uno. If you’re on a Chicago pizza pilgrimage you’ll have to go to both, but save more room for Due. It’s a serious deep-dish pizza.
Coalfire This was the first pizza I had on this trip and I was really jazzed up when I got there but I still think it would have been my favorite pizza in Chicago even if I tried it last. I know what you’re thinking, this is basically a New York coal oven pizza and NOT a typical Chicago style pizza. You are correct, and maybe that’s why I loved it. But it’s in Chicago so it belongs on this list. It’s a domed wood-burning oven but they keep a mountain of bituminous coal piled into the back of the oven for that dry heat. We use anthracite in NYC but Chicago doesn’t have easy access so they go with the lighter coal with more moisture content by default. Great crunchy-yet relenting crust paired with creamy fresh mozzarella, a sharp sauce and post-oven basil.
Everything you need to throw your own tomato party!
Every month I assemble TEAM SPT for some extreme pizza excitement. Last month’s mission was all about the tomato. We talked some tomato history and genetics along with a tasting of several grocery store brand canned plum tomatoes. Pizzerias need the consistency of tomatoes that are canned in season. They use plum tomatoes because they contain less water than the big round guys. That’s why we need to stay on top of the tomato product universe and all that it offers.
Here are two fresh tomatoes, one from my local grocery store (left) and the other from the Union Square Green Market (right). My grocery store carries Canadian tomatoes that are picked green and gassed with ethylene to redden the skin. It was hard, mealy and off-color. The lovely red tomato on the right is from a farm in Pennsylvania. It was picked when ripe and brought to market within 48 hours. It tasted WAY better! Too bad you can only get these in season, otherwise the canned tomato wouldn’t be such a big deal.
We tried a few different tomato brands in a blind tasting similar to the massive ones I did in 2010. I put different products from the same company against each other. These two products from La Valle are different. The can on the left is DOP San Marzano tomatoes and the can on the right is straight peeled plum tomatoes. The DOP tomatoes are more expensive, but is the taste really that different?
Miriam and Joe did the tasting, I prepared the test. They were given a series of white cups, each holding a whole plum tomato straight from the can. I labeled the cups A-E and hid the original cans in the kitchen. These tomatoes were right from the can with no rinsing or anything. I wanted Miriam and Joe to taste everything about the product.
I’m hitting the road this month to bring the pizza box love to a few cities around the US. Each event will feature a talk about pizza and pizza boxes followed by some pizza tasting! I’ll also be eating a bunch of pizza in each city before and after the events to keep in touch by tweeting @scottspizzatour and we’ll meet up!
Monday, November 11 - Chicago Pizza Tour (Chicago, IL) We’re hitting four pizzerias in 3 hours aboard the Dough Force One. This is a rad tour and I’ve been waiting YEARS to take it. Buy tickets here.
Tuesday, November 12 - 57th Street Books (Chicago, IL) Pizza talk + tasting from Edwardo’s Natural Pizza. Details here.
Wednesday, November 13 - Comet Ping Pong (Washington, DC) This one’s going to be extra awesome because we’re doing a pizza box design contest and the winner gets a free bar tab. Plus there’ll be pizza on hand and books for sale via Politics and Prose. Details here.
Tuesday, November 19 - Otto Pizzeria (BU Campus - Boston, MA) No messing around, this event is AT the pizzeria! We’ll have a tasting and talk about pizza, pizza boxes, etc. It’s sponsored by Brookline Booksmith, so books will be available. Details here.
Tuesday, November 26 - New York Public Library (NYC) I’ll be giving a lecture about the history of the pizza box at the Mid-Manhattan branch. Details here.
Check out this episode of my favorite podcast, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, in which Jeff and I discuss my new book Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box, available in bookstores and internets everywhere Nov 5. We talk about a lot of specific boxes and I thought it might help to post photos of them here. They’re in the same order talk about on the show. Your life hasn’t been this easy since Jeff released enhanced editions.
We’re talking about a fantastic NYC pizzeria called Ben’s (on Spring St). Try their Sicilian pizza, particularly the Palermo. As for the box, see if you can spot all the differences between their old box and the new one!
This is the historic predecessor to the modern pizza box. The stufa is made of copper and pointed at the top to allow for better steam release than what we use to transport pizzas today.
Here’s a strange box from the Faroe Islands, an actual country north of Scotland that has funny telephone numbers.
As you’ll hear in the show, Luca Ciancio is my favorite Italian pizza box artist. He’s designed over 250 images like this and they are all amazing. Keep in mind this isn’t for any particular pizzeria, it’s a generic stock box! Much better than the “Hot and Tasty” or “Only the Finest Ingredients” we get in the US.
The Walker Lock is the most common box type. I am in awe of its simple elegance. The Walker Lock is essentially the rollover self-locking mechanism that keeps most of the nation’s pizza safe and secure during transport.
The Chicago Folder is a useful box for thick deep-dish pizzas. It’s more rare than the Walker Lock and costs more to produce.
Jeff and I talk about my favorite new pizza box technology and right now I’m super into this VENTiT box from India. It uses standard corrugated boxes with ports cut into the different layers of paper in such a way that they don’t line up - that lets steam out but keeps heat in! Amazing.
*Listen to the Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show for more information about these and other boxes, as well as other non-pizza box related programming.
I wrote a book about pizza boxes. It comes out Tuesday, November 5 (one week from today). I’m super excited about it.
Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box presents over 100 amazing pizza boxes from around the world and tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the history, art and technology of mankind’s most under appreciated art form.
Find out more about the book on my website, which has page previews, purchasing information and book events in YOUR TOWN!
Pre-order your copy TODAY from McNally Jackson (signed copies!), Amazon, or get 40% off with promo code PIZZA when purchasing directly from my publisher Melville House! It will also be available in Barnes and Noble bookstores and indie shops everywhere.
I was cleaning out my office today when I found some old blood work documentation. In 2007 I worked a job that kept me mostly at a desk with no constant access to pizza. My TC (total cholesterol) was 182, HDL (good cholesterol) was 52 and LDL (bad cholesterol) was a slightly alarming 116. The results in June 2012, after running pizza tours for a few years and consuming 15-25 slices per week, show TC down to 159, HDL holding at 52 and LDL down below risk level at 95 .
From left: Jared, Miriam, Colin, Joe, Scott (I am not in this photo)
Every month or so, Team SPT gets together for a serious info-session so we can sharpen our collective pizza edge. August’s trip was a no-brainer once I found out pizza guides Miriam and Joe had never been to New Haven, CT. Our tours happen in NYC but cover as much of the pizza spectrum as possible. Rather than sit them down at SPTHQ for a slideshow of the various apizza locations in and around Wooster Street, we piled into the car and made the short drive up I-95. This is our story.
Because of our Saturday tour schedule, we were unable to leave Manhattan until about 3PM. That worked out just fine because Sally’s Apizza doesn’t open until 5PM, so we arrived just on time to join the line at exactly 4:30. Sally’s has the most abbreviated schedule of all the pizzerias in New Haven, so we knew we had to hit it with more precision than the other places. Five of us drove up in my sweet 2004 Nissan Sentra: SPT tour guides Miriam and Joe, guide-in-training Jared and Joe’s husband Scott. We met up with New Haven tour guide and historian Colin Caplan, our spirit guide through the context of each pizzeria and how the city itself impacted the dish’s local variation. He also cleared something up for me: Why do they call it apizza in New Haven? Apparently the Italian population of New Haven is from Amalfi and their dialect includes the term apizza (pronounced ah-beetz). Thanks Colin!
The profile of Sally’s Apizza reveals their oven!
Before we even joined the line outside the pizzeria, I showed Miriam and Joe the building’s profile, which tells a great deal about what’s going on inside. Sally’s uses a coal-fired oven, which was added after the building’s construction. You can see here that the 3-4 story building drops to a single story extension that ends with a tall chimney. That extension is the oven. Coal ovens are large and burn in such a way that the coal gets loaded into the front and exhaust escapes out the back. It’s hard to see this in New York because the buildings are built so close together. New Haven has space, so you can stand in the parking lot and look at a piece of architecture that reveals something about historic pizza technology!
But we didn’t spend all our time in the parking lot. Once inside, we ordered two small pies: one regular (no cheese) and one with mozzarella (mutz). The second was probably my favorite of the entire trip so check it out of you’re looking for one stop in New Haven. The interior is amazing, with a mix of “here are some old photos and articles about us since we opened in 1938” and “we don’t redecorate or clean” that’s both charming and alarming (ie the bathroom). I love this place for all its charm and, of course, for its excellent and honest pizza.
Our next stop was Frank Pepe's, the oldest remaining New Haven pizzeria. Pepe's has two locations right next to each other. The main building is the one everybody goes to, so there's always a long line. The other building - to the left of the main space and set back into the parking lot - is the original bakery Pepe worked at before opening his own place (Colin, correct me if I'm wrong about that) and was at one point a rival pizzeria but now owned by the Pepe family. I usually go to the main building, so this was my first time at The Spot (the former name of this pizza location, although not officially called that anymore). I'd taken photos through the windows but never had the chance to actually go inside!
The pizza was identical to that from the main space of Pepe’s. We had a regular mozzarella pie and the famous white clam pie. Both were excellent, but our group wasn’t all about the clams. That’s fine, more for me!
The journey continued to Modern Apizza, possibly my favorite in New Haven. It opened in 1936 - two years before Sally’s - but has changed hands and names since then. Much to our dismay, Modern was closed for their annual vacation. Watch out for August, Italians love to take a couple weeks off so it could be a mess for your pizza voyage. I regret not looking into this before we went but all turned out OK because we had time to hit Bar, a more recent addition to the New Haven pizza scene.
Bar opened about 18 years ago and it’s a huge brewpub / pizza joint that makes an updated version of New Haven apizza. The place is SO DANG HIP it was almost a 2 hour wait for the pizza, so we got it faster by just taking it to go. We took the pie back to my car and set up shop on the hood.
Along came a lovely couple that had just come from setting up for a friend’s wedding. They asked where they could find a slice of pizza in the area and we all squealed. They could not have approached a better crew. Sadly, there aren’t really any good slice shops in the area so we said the best option is to do what we did and hit up Bar. They looked so sad, it was really heart-breaking. So we invited them to join us! Without missing a beat Mrs Random grabbed a slice and Mr Random was close behind.
Pizza is the ultimate food of friendship. It’s both personal and communal at the same time and that’s what brought this entire group of pizza fans together in the first place. This moment truly defined the entire trip!
Us with the Van Der Beeks. WHAT?!?!
Our new friends were so lovely and of all the random things they could have said, they hit us with a real doozy. “Have you ever heard of James Van Der Beek? We’re his parents!” Yup. So that happened. They had a passerby take this photo and emailed it to me the next day. SO IT WASN’T ALL JUST A DREAM!
We finished up, said farewell and moved along to our return trip down I-95. It was late enough that traffic was light, so we cruised swiftly along the gentle glide of the highway. Only one stop remained in our path: Colony Grill in Stamford, CT. This place is a 1930s Irish pub that started doing pizza somewhere after WWII. It’s a thin pan pizza with cheese all the way out to the edge (it even burns a bit!!!!) and we had to have it as a nightcap.
Half sausage, all hot oil at Colony.
We did a classic order of a small pie with hot oil on the whole thing and sausage on half. The hot oil is a must here so don’t leave Colony without it! It’s a Serrano pepper-infused oil and it is delightful, especially when matched with chunks of sausage. This was a crowd favorite for sure and I’m glad we made the stop.
And so our journey came to an end as we returned to New York City filled with new-found knowledge and bellies filled with delicious pizza.
I was already planning a quick trip to Philadelphia to check out some pizzerias when my friend John called asking if I’d ever been to Marrone’s. John owns a bunch of pizzerias and one of his best customers asked him to replicate Marrone’s since it was the pizza of his youth. So I went on a mission to figure out what was going on with the pizza at Marrone’s and if it was worth reproducing.
The restaurant (more of a bar with a few pizza ovens) is located on a quaint street about 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia proper, right next to a smattering of other old school Italian businesses. Marrone’s opened in 1946, as you can see from the awesome blue sign in their parking lot (first pic). But that’s pretty much all the awesomeness you’ll find at this place.
The pizza is interesting. It’s a cheese-first-sauce-last operation and word on the street is that they use provolone cheese rather than mozzarella. I ordered a regular pie, but lots of folks go for double cheese.
It’s a pretty slow bake, clocking in at 15:30 for a small pie. It’s on the thick side, so a slow bake makes sense. The crust was pretty lame and devoid of much flavor, but the texture was a bit on the flaky side.
I took some measurements and sent them off to John along with a few frozen slices and his reading was the same as mine. This is not a great pizza but sometimes you develop a taste for something and it only grows stronger with memory when you move 2,500 miles away from it.
If Gennaro’s Tomato Pie looks and sounds familiar to New York pizza lovers, it’s because it is essentially a classic turn-of-the-last-century New York pizza. Makes plenty of sense because it was opened by the family that owns Lombardi’s in Soho. Lombardi’s became the first pizzeria in the US when it opened on Spring Street in 1905. It’s currently owned by longtime Lombardi family friend John Brescio and managed by his son Mike, who previously ran a Lombardi’s pizzeria in Philadelphia before the building was demolished to make way for new construction. Mike stockpiled some bits and pieces from Lombardi’s and reentered the Philadelphia pizza scene with Gennaro’s about six months ago. And it’s outstanding.
I met up with some friends to kick the tires at Gennaro’s. On the left is my college roommate Drew and his wife Sara. The guy on the right is my new pal Norman, who had sent me several emails over the past few months telling me about his pizza obsession and love for this new place called Gennaro’s. So we all met up, took a tour of the place and sat down for some pizza.
I’m happy to report that the pizza is wonderful. The crust is baked a bit on the well-done side but comes out perfectly in tune with the sauce and cheese. Instead of dealing with the hassle of a coal-fired oven, Gennaro’s opted for a Swedish-made Bake Master electric oven. It’s easy to manage and gives controls for separate elements on the oven’s top and bottom. But all that matters about the oven is that the pizza that came out of it was fantastic.
We tried several, but my favorites were the standard cheese pizza and the lovely pesto pizza. They’re just perfectly balanced with an even hand on sauce, cheese and additional toppings. Unlike the tricky undependable heat of a coal oven, the electric oven provides a far more consistent bake without having to rotate the pie every few seconds.
The place itself is lovely, styled as a 1930s cafe. There are old radios along the wall and piped-in radio broadcasts from back in the day. But it isn’t over-the-top kitch, it’s done tastefully and not to detract from the food.
Check out the chairs — they’re nearly identical to those found in a photo of the original Lombardi’s from the 1920s!
Gennaro’s Tomato Pie is a serious spot and a welcome addition to the growing Philadelphia pizza scene. While you’re there, be sure to try their classic desserts. There’s a pound cake, a pineapple upside-down cake, and my favorite — the layered ice box cake!
With the recent additions of Nomad, Pizza Brain, Pizzeria Beddia (which I have yet to visit) and Gennaro’s, Philadelphia is really upping its long-abandoned pizza game. Even the old standbys like Marra’s and Tacconelli’s are not loved by all locals. These new spots are exciting and different enough that the town is finally cultivating some diversity in its pizza offerings. And Gennaro’s is certainly a strong piece of that tapestry.
Giorgia Caporuscio Wins First Place in Italian Pizza Competition
Big congratulations to Giorgia Caporuscio for winning first place in the classic pizza category at the 12th annual International Pizza Competition in Italy. Giorgia is head pizzaiola at Kesté Pizza e Vino and also makes pizzas at Don Antonio by Starita, both located in New York City. She’s only been making pizza for just over two years, but clearly she’s already showing her chops.
After all the reports and rumors and even with brown paper up in the windows, I still thought there was a chance for Pizza Box. The typical New York slice shop was part of a dwindling tribe, having been in business since 1957. Box’s owner had assured me on several occasions that they were just renovating and planned to reopen in six weeks with a new layout. I was worried about the pizza changing but he seemed confident that it would just be a cosmetic alteration. About a month ago I heard from another area restauranteur that the pizzeria was not planning to reopen, so hope remained. But this week the sign finally came down and reality set in. Pizza Box is no more.
This marks another blow to the New York slice, which has been struggling against fluctuating ingredient costs and rising rents. A slice of pizza is a great deal at $2.50, but Pizza Box had two $1 slice joints within a block and bar-lined streets like Bleecker are not usually filled with the most discerning palates at 2am. And so the Pizza Box is gone, making way for a fast-food sandwich chain that’s willing to pay more in rent than Pizza Box was bringing in from pizza sales. I can’t blame them, but I certainly can mourn the loss.
I adore this simple box with the misspelled street name.
And what about the pizza? It wasn’t the greatest slice I’ve ever had but it was honest. It’s exactly what a New York slice should be. No fancy flour, no wood fired oven, no cheese blends — no nonsense. Just a solid pie, perfect for folding and eating on the go.
This should be a lesson to us all. Eat good pizza. Support your local pizzeria or it will disappear. Goodbye, Pizza Box. You will be missed.
Scott’s Pizza Tours guide you through the big, messy (and cheesy) world of New York Pizza.
Our sweet Pizza Journals are featured on the Scout Books website! Every person who takes a pizza tour gets a pizza tour survival kit, complete with palate cleansers, emergency pizza, hand wipe and the coolest notebook ever!!!
Mark your calendars for this year’s Slice Out Hunger fundraiser. It’s happening on October 9 at St Anthony’s Church at 154 Sullivan St (at Houston) in New York City. Doors open at 6 and over 35 of your favorite pizzerias will be there. We got Lombardi’s, Difara, Two Boots, John’s, Joe’s, Luzzo’s, NY Pizza Suprema, Sottocasa, Keste, Don Antonio, Forcella, Cowboy Pizza and LOTS MORE!
How does it work? You just show up, buy as many $1 tickets as you want, then exchange tickets for slices, sodas or desserts. Our sponsors have pledged to match every dollar we raise and all the money goes to Food Bank For New York City!
Check out our event website for more details, volunteer information and sponsorship opportunities.
See that tubby mystery layer between crust and sauce/cheese? Gross.
You know when you’re eating a slice of pizza and there’s a gooey area between the base and the topping? It’s a serious problem known in the pizza world as the gum line and it’s ruining pizza everywhere. How can this be if the exterior of my crust is a beautiful golden brown? What is this invader doing in my pizza? Where does it come from? What can we do to stop it? There’s nothing a consumer can do to prevent the dreaded gum line, but the world’s pizza makers should be aware of this common flaw.
WHAT CAUSES THE GUM LINE? There are dozens of potential causes but the bottom line is temperature. Since deck-baked pizza is baking from the bottom up through direct conduction from the oven floor, the underside is baked first. If you top your base with refrigerated sauce, cheese and vegetables, there’s a good chance you’ll form a gum line. Excess moisture from sauce and vegetable toppings also can cause a gum line by penetrating the upper layer of dough and cause it to cook unevenly.
There’s also a huge matter of dough management. Dough is alive and its temperature is super important, so if it’s sealed in a container too quickly post-mix, moisture will condense and the exterior will get sticky. Allowing the dough to sit too long before scaling and rounding it can also be a big issue because the outside warms up before the inside.
An article by Tom “Dough Doctor” Lehmann points out that too little yeast in the dough can cause an uneven bake because the dough will not rise quickly enough during the bake. The first minute or so in the oven dictates the texture of the crust, so a fast spring will produce a more open internal crumb structure. How exciting!
HOW CAN I PREVENT THE GUM LINE? Some pizzerias prevent sauce and topping moisture from seeping into the dough by applying a thin skin of oil to the surface after it has been opened into a skin. It’s the same principle behind spreading mayonnaise on your sandwich bread — fat blocks moisture. Some pizzerias are able to prevent the gum line by swapping the cheese and sauce so the cheese goes down first. I’ve never seen a gum line at Totonno’s, Grimaldi’s, Johns on Bleecker or Arturo’s - all of which apply their cheese first.
On the dough management side of the equation, pizzeria operators can cross-stack their dough trays for the first hour or so of the rise, allowing moisture and heat to escape. It all depends on where you are and how dry it is. Beyond that, it’s all about allowing dough to cool down evenly.
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT THE GUM LINE ANYWAY? First of all, they taste gross. Secondly, it’s undercooked dough and it will likely give you a stomach ache. Finally, improperly baked pizza is giving this food a bad name and MUST BE STOPPED! Too many people are used to the gum line and actually think it’s a normal part of pizza. It is not. Please help spread the word and if we work together we can stop the dreaded gum line.
Check out pizza tour guide Miriam’s amazing pizza blog! The ‘Za Report chronicles Miriam’s personal journey through the pizza universe with photos and reviews of her cheesy adventures. She’s a designer by trade and a true pizzaholic by heart so the blog both looks and reads perfectly.