NOOOOOOOO!!!

It looks like I flew too close to the sun. My beautiful tomato garden has been destroyed. Who’s to blame? I’ll tell you who: nature. For the past three days, New York has experienced weather more suited to Seattle. It’s constantly damp and gross, which is not good for adorable tomato plants. To be quite honest, I hadn’t checked on them for days. Rain means I don’t have to water them, right? NOPE! Rain means I should have thrown a tarp over them to stop wicked infiltration of unsolicited irrigation. I looked out the kitchen window this morning and saw this…

Those plants are supposed to stay vertical. I carefully tied the indeterminate vines to stakes with strips of pantyhose, as not to cut into the plants and prematurely end their lives. It looks like the weight of water droplets along with gusting winds was enough to take the plants down.

This is the reason great tomatoes are grown in Southern Italy and California’s central valley. Those regions don’t get rain in the summer, so controlled irrigation is possible. We’ll have to wait for next year to test the assumption that volcanic soil from Mt Vesuvius creates perfect growing conditions, but what good is soil below if your plants are at left vulnerable to nature from above?

Upon closer inspection, I found evidence of destruction left by yet another of nature’s dark warriors: rodents. It looks like a real jerk scampered around taking a single bite out of each ripe tomato.I know the photo seems blurry but I just wanted you to experience what it looked like through tear-filled eyes.

I was afraid this might happen so I’m glad I picked a few tomatoes while they were ripe, but it looks like the plants are out of commission unless I can fix them up tomorrow after the rain stops. In the meantime, I grabbed any untouched fruits and brought them inside. Now I have to learn how to can tomatoes. Sounds like a great project for tomorrow!

Here they are, the lonely soldiers who made it through the Great Tomato Ravaging of 2010. I’ll have more updates after tomorrow’s plant fixing / tomato canning operation is complete.

Happy Birthday Bus Driver Ronnie!!!

The captain of the NYC PIzza Bus is an important element of the pizza tour. Today (August 4) we honor his bravery, his wisdom, his courage, and his mad driving skills. Ronnie knows the streets of New York as if he built the roads himself. His favorite slice is none other than the glorious square at L&B Spumoni Gardens and he absolutely HATES french fries on pizza.

Happy Birthday Ronnie!

Tomato Update: They’re Turning RED!!!

I know I know - they are supposed to turn red, but this has been a long and tedious process so I am entitled to celebrate. People freak their baby’s first haircut or the funny position in which they found their dog sleeping, but I have no baby and I have no dog. Instead, I have nine tomato plants growing in an improvised plot behind my Brooklyn apartment. What started as a handful of seeds is now taking up significant space in my backyard. Some of the plants remain barren but others are starting to show me they mean business and I’m ready to cash their lycopene-filled checks at the bank of my belly.

I still have a few weeks to go before these suckers are ready to eat, but I’m really excited that they are starting to ripen. I see more baby tomatoes popping up every day and I think things are going to really kick in as we approach August. Some helpful YouTube videos showed me how to prune the plants and I have been paying careful attention to extraneous branches that grow off the main vine. The idea is to pinch off the unwanted bits so that all sugar is diverted to the tomato-bearing arms. It’s my first time growing tomatoes so I’m trying to do everything I can to learn the ropes in preparation for next year’s garden.

  

The photo on the left shows a couple San Marzanos just hangin’ around and turning red, much to my delight. A mysterious variety ripens in the other photo — on of my neighbors must have forgotten that she left this plant in the backyard so I assumed responsibility and it is now producing the loveliest fruit of the bunch. I’m pretty amazed because the bulk of growth happened when I was out of town for a couple of days, thus unable to obsess over watering and pruning.

Perhaps patience is the secret ingredient for a successful tomato crop, but my built-in recipe includes heaping helpings of nervousness and torment. I’ve just heard too many horror stories of unwanted backyard guests enjoying tomato season more than the humans who made it possible and I’m getting more afraid of the inevitable tomato thief with every day that passes. Because as the tomatoes ripen and turn red, they become even more appealing to The Enemy. I’ve read a few tips about keeping rats away, from cayenne pepper spray to Irish Spring soap. You can see the chicken wire cage I built in the photo above, but I’m not convinced it’s going to do much. If I disappear for a couple weeks, it just means I’m sleeping with the tomatoes.

If you have any tips for keeping The Enemy out, I’m all ears.

FREE Tour with Creator of 30-Day Pizza Diet

Pizza often gets pegged as a fattening fast food but one pizzeria owner from Florida is turning that assumption on its head. Matt McClellan, owner of Tour de Pizza in St Petersburg, FL, created a diet that pairs pizza with a brief daily workout and the results have been staggering. Over the course of 30 days, Matt lost 24 pounds and shaved 86 points off his cholesterol.

Matt’s currently biking up the East Coast, stopping at pizzerias along the way to share his story. The journey ends in New York City on July 4, where he’ll be capping off his tour with a Scott’s Pizza Tour! Here are the details:

Matt and Scott’s HEALTHY Pizza Tour
Monday, July 5

3:30 - 5 PM
FREE!!!
Meet us at the corner of Bleecker and 7th Ave South. We’ll hit a couple pizzerias along Bleecker Street and talk about Matt’s diet.


*Follow Matt on Twitter @tourdepizza

Tomato Update - GROUNDED!

Sometime in mid-March I planted a bunch of seeds I purchased from Tomatofest in California. Seedlings of several varieties sprouted: San Marzano, Super San Marzano, San Marzano Redorta and Roma. I spent weeks keeping their Styrofoam cup homes in direct sunlight and out of harsh temperatures. There were several times I thought the plants had stopped growing, only to find major developments the next day. This week, I took a big step and transplanted my little darlings into the Earth.

My neighborhood in Brooklyn has an industrial past, so I don’t trust the soil in our yard. I brought in some soil through some friends who are doing a massive gardening project in NJ and let it warm up in the sun for a few days. The next challenge was finding something to put the soil into, so I kept my eyes peeled and found a bookshelf on the streets of Soho right outside Lombardi’s! I dug up a hole in the yard in an area that gets the most sunlight and nested the bookshelf/raised bed into its new home. I’m only using the frame of the unit, so there is no back and only one shelf in the center for support.

These tomatoes are supposed to have lots of room, so I kept the plants super spaced out. I’m probably giving them too much space but I really want them to have a shot at survival. I covered the soil with black plastic to keep weeds out and moisture in. It will also help to keep the soil warm, which will make the tomatoes happy!

I’ll be modifying the setup a bit over the next few weeks, adding bamboo support posts for the plants and some chicken wire around the outside of the raised bed.These things have survived longer than I thought they would so I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll make it to harvest in late August. 

Slice Out Hunger Raises $1600 in Two Hours!

On Thursday, May 27, SPT and GAP Adventures joined forces to raise money for the homeless and hungry by harnessing the powers of pizza. We collected pies from some of the city’s top spots and offered slices for $1 each. Donations came in from Lombardi’s, NY Pizza Suprema, Arturo’s, Luzzo’s, Joe’s, John’s of Bleecker and Lazzara’s.

Since we had lined up about 45 pies, our main concern was finding enough people to eat all of them. So we were a bit overwhelmed when the event began at 6:30 and huge line formed out the door. All of the pizza was gone by 7 PM and reinforcements were called in from Joe’s, Ben’s, Lombardi’s and NY Pizza Suprema. We ended up eating all 65 pies, raising $1600 for City Harvest. Because of our love of pizza, we are putting 7,272 pounds of food on the tables of people who need it.

Our exhibit of international pizza boxes (and menus) was also a huge hit. We had submissions coming in right up to the last minute and more are on the way for next year’s event. Please contact me if you have a box you’d like to submit.

We also raised money by selling $1 raffle tickets. Prizes ranged from SPT tickets and shirts to GAP Adventures travel coupons to pizza books to passes to the Vendy Awards! We even had some great prized donated by PMQ’s Pizza Magazine.

Huge thanks to everyone who attended, especially our pals in the pizza blogosphere. You can read their accounts of the evening at Passion4Pizza and Me Myself and Pie. And just in case you’re curious, this is what the aftermath of a huge pizza party looks like.

San Francisco Pizza Safari Part 4

The time has come for the final installment of my San Francisco Pizza Safari. Between February 19 and 24 of 2010 I visited over twenty-five pizzerias and lived to tell the tale. I’m leaving some out of this four-part series because they’re either not exciting enough to mention or better suited for future posts. This final piece will tackle four pizzerias of note in the San Francisco Bay Area.

First up is one of the most anticipated stops of my entire trip: Cheese Board Collective, an offshoot of the renown cheese shop/bakery of the same name. The Cheese Board is a co-op, so it is owned completely by its members. They produce one type of vegetarian pizza daily and they rotate pies from day to day. This makes ordering a breeze because you just say how many you want and whether or not you’ll be staying to eat. Easy as pie!

The slices are great because they cut a single slice into two, so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck! There were a bunch of cooked and par-baked pies sitting around in piles and that got me a little down, but the pizza is pretty delicious. The crust left something to be desired, but I didn’t expect it to be revolutionary. This may be the most “California” slice I had on the entire trip because it embodies the west coast pizza virtues of topping experimentation and crust anonymity. You know what I mean. Overall, a great experience and something you need to check out when in food-crazy Berkeley. 

While San Francisco, it was my responsibility to check out some sourdough. Rumor has it that the Bay Area is a feeding ground for some delicious bacteria, which is why you can’t duplicate the robust flavor of local bread anywhere else. I heard about a pizzeria that uses a sourdough base of their pizzas, so I had to check it out. The Godfather and I went to Goat Hill Pizza for a taste of something different. The only sourdough crust I’ve ever had (or as bakers call it, “natural leaven”) was at New York’s Una Pizza Napoletana, which just so happens to be moving to San Francisco’s SoMa district this month!

The Goat Hill menu claims that the pizza is baked in a “traditional brick oven,” but all I saw was a conventional gas-fueled deck oven. BUSTED! But as we all know, the oven doesn’t matter as long as the pizza is great. Unfortunately the pizza wasn’t anything special. We each had a cheese slice and a specialty slice, which was actually just a cheese slice with some diced tomatoes and cheese on top. Oh well. It was worth a try.

That experiment out of the way, I headed out for a real treat. Jeff “PizzaHacker" Krupman joined me for a stop at a pizzeria neither of us had ever visited. When Boot and Shoe Service opened last year on Grand Avenue in Oakland, locals thought it was just another foot ware repair shop. It’s actually the Bay Area’s latest NEOpolitan pizzera.

One problem plaguing so many of these new pizzerias is their use of extremely low lighting at the tables. I love eating in dimly lit restaurants but it’s no good for those of us who like to document our food and write about it months later. I can’t publish the photos I took of my Margherita, potato-pancetta-fontina-rosemary, or green onion-guanciale-egg pizzas because they’re so dark. You’ll just have to trust me that they look lovely. At least the most important part of the restaurant is lit:

These San Francisco pizzerias all have a long wait but B&S was kind enough to feed us delicious olives as we marked time before being seated. The deliciousness continued with our pizza selections. All pies arrive at the table cut, but I was most impressed at the decision to cut our green onion-guanciale-egg pizza in such a way that the yolk was left intact. I enjoyed every pie but once again the toppings ruled the flavor party, leaving crust as a mere placeholder.

The final notch in my Bay Area pizza belt was marked at Beretta in San Francisco’s mission district. Once again, the menu had all the buzz words (“locally sourced,” “sustainable,” “seasonal”) and the wait was long. Thankfully, we made a reservation earlier in the day and managed to snag a spot with minimal trouble.

** For all you pizza tourists, don’t forget to call ahead to make sure you can get into a pizzeria. It can really ruin a pizza safari when pizzerias are closed or have a long wait you could have avoided by calling in advance. Planning ahead saves time in the end!

The pies are baked in a gas-fueled Wood Stone oven, which has a brick hearth and ceiling but a door wide enough to drive a Hummer through. With an oven mouth like this, you end up losing a lot of heat. This particular oven has a sliding glass door that keeps heat sealed in while still allowing you to see both the pizza and the flame. But as you can see from the thermometer below the oven mouth, the temperature is still in the 550 F range, far below what wood- or coal-fired ovens can produce.

Regardless of oven technology, the proof is in the pizza! Darkness once again prevents me from posting pizza pics, but trust me when I tell you they are just as pretty as other Bay Area spots like Gialina, Flour + Water, Boot and Shoe, etc. When you’re at Beretta, you absolutely must get the burrata. This cheese is a simple combination of mozzarella and cream in which the mozzarella acts as a shell for creamy center. Get it as an appetizer or get it on your pizza — JUST GET IT!

The Bay Area truly is a pizza wonderland and things are just starting to heat up with the impending opening of Anthony Mangieri’s SoMa resurrection of Una Pizza Napoletana. If you live in the area, get your pizza shoes shined up and ready for some dancing. If you don’t, book your flight now and plan your pizza itinerary. Trust me, you’ll be busy.

Check out this awesome article on Slice about my VERY first pizza tour! I can hardly believe it has been two years since the maiden voyage of the pizza bus. The whole thing started with a love of pizza, a bunch of awesome friends and a birthday party.

I was turning 26 and all I wanted to do was eat a ton of pizza with my buddies. My car only fits five people, and even that’s tight, so I started fishing around for buses to charter. We ended up with a school bus for five hours and hit six different pizzerias. There were almost thirty of us, so we placed orders while en route and took our pizza to go. We would finish our slice just as we rolled up to the next pizzeria. It was awesome. I even made everybody goody bags. After all, it was a birthday party!

Not much has changed since that first tour. The goody bags are fancier, we get to actually go inside the pizzerias, there is more detailed discussion of the science behind pizza, and I have a t-shirt with a logo on it. But the vibe is exactly the same. Every tour feels like a party.

If you were on that first tour, this article will crack you up. If you have taken a tour in the past two years, this article is the best explanation to the question everyone asks me: “How did you get started running pizza tours?”