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
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?”


Scott’s Pizza Tours will be holding a “Slice Out Hunger” fund raiser for City Harvest on May 27 at GAP Adventures in NYC from 6:30 to 9 PM. We’ll have pizza from New York’s finest pizzerias available for $1 per slice. Most of these places don’t even sell pizza by the slice, so this is going to be a real treat. Our goal is to raise a billion dollars.

We’ll also be hosting an exhibit called “Pizza Boxes of the World,” which features several international pizza boxes. So far, we have boxes from Hungary, China, and today’s SPT mailbag contained a bunch of boxes from the Czech Republic! They are all beautiful and they will most certainly blow your mind.

Event Information:
Thursday, May 27
6:30 - 9 PM
GAP Adventures
364 Avenue of the Americas

San Francisco Pizza Safari Part 3

This may have been a trip to California, but there sure was enough “New York Style” pizza to make me double check the time zone. I ran into some great slice shops, notable pie spots, and even a few gnarly piles of goo masquerading as pizza. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights.

Rotten City Pizza is located in a nondescript building in Emeryville, just east of the bay. I had received many tips about this place so I figured it would be worth the long rainy walk from the BART station. The rain dried off as soon as I walked inside and saw the lovely display of freshly baked pies. I saw some beauties, but this was just one stop in an eight pizzeria day so I had to stay focused. I ordered a slice of Margherita and a Funghi (tomato sauce, mozz, provolone, parmigiano, roasted cremini mushrooms, toasted garlic chips). Both slices were excellent, but the Margherita had some lovely structure from a brief reheat. These are some serious “New York Style” slices and I highly recommend stopping by next time you’re in Emeryville looking for some grub. Just check these ladies out:

I tried some other attempts at “New York Style,” which apparently gets translated simply as “pizza-by-the-slice.” Lanesplitter does a pretty grimy version, as does Nizario’s. Both are good for late-night stops but neither require photographic evidence. One the other hand, I do find the need to display a crime against pizza in the form of two college town favorites. Fat Slice and Blondie’s are of the last-resort variety of pizza. I had heard their names bandied about too much to not check them out. Don’t make the same mistake. Here’s what we’re dealing with:  

Not only are these thick slabs of industrial strength cardboard completely flavorless, they’re also $3.50 each! I guess you’re paying for all that cheese, which reminded me more of the rubber soles of my shoes. Wow, I am embarrassed to even put these photos on the same page as Rotten City. Please forgive me.

You can’t talk about “New York Style” pizza in San Francisco without mentioning Escape From New York. With six locations in the Bay Area and a few more in Portland, OR, EFNY puts out some completely passable slices. I went a little stir crazy and ordered a specialty slice on top of my standard cheese slice. Why not? After all, I’m on vacation! Both were good, but the potato and garlic was exciting. The Godfather is ready to dig in!

Moving right along, let’s take a moment to discuss a New York style pie joint that’s new to the scene. Emilia’s is a one man operation where phones are answered, pies are baked and cash is taken by owner Keith Freilich. Using a conventional gas oven, Keith manages to get some nice color that truly welcomes the New York comparisons. It’s also pretty classic that he only accepts cash. Maybe the system will change with the addition of more staff, but it seemed like there was a pretty specific method to ordering pizza. You have to place your order at least an hour in advance, and you are then given a pick-up time. You have the option of sitting at one of the three tables inside, but I took mine to-go. Just take a gander at this baby and you’ll see how serious this pizza scene has become with the addition of Emilia’s. 

In the past few years TONS of quality pizzerias have opened in and around San Francisco. The amazing fact is that there are so many styles to choose from! You’re not stuck with gourmet artisinal blah blah blah, which most east coasters think they’re in for when heading to the Left Coast. There’s a whole landscape happening out west and something tells me it’s just starting to heat up. That about does it for the Bay Area “New York Style” pizza wrap-up, but stay tuned for one more installment from San Francisco before we dive deep into the pits of Los Angeles.

Matzo Pizza is gross. It’s usually a piece of matzo with sauce and cheese melted in a toaster oven and almost always becomes too soggy to pick up. Since I have been avoiding pizza all week in observance of Passover, I decided to experiment a bit. Armed with some all purpose flour and a dream, I set out on a voyage of culinary discovery.

I have said this a thousand times: I am not a pizza maker. But I’ve been reading so many books lately about dough and bread history that I just had to take a stab at this ancient flat bread. It’s really great for the impatient among us because you have to get your dough into the oven within 18 minutes of combining flour and water, after which time wild yeast may begin to feast on starch and ruin the whole setup by leavening your dough. I didn’t use kosher flour or anything, so my pizza wasn’t completely right for Passover consumption. Whatever.

First I lined my lowest oven rack with four six by six inch unglazed quarry tiles and preheated to 500 Fahrenheit, the max on my dial. After about 45 minutes, I combined a cup of flour with about a half cup of water and mixed for about five minutes. This gave me enough dough for four tiny matzos. First, I baked the cracker on one side before flipping it over and sticking it back in the oven with cheese and tomato added. The tiles lose a bit of heat so I had to rotate through different areas to stay on the hot spots. The pre-baked crust is probably the best of the bunch, but I had more experimentation ahead of me.

Next, I tried baking the whole thing together. This resulted in a slightly gummy center, but really wasn’t bad at all. Either way, the underside was nicely charred and the entire pizza held up pretty well.

I wouldn’t enjoy this kind of crust under normal circumstances, but it has been a week since my last slice and I’m starting to get the shakes. This video captures the testing phase of my final experiment, a matzo pizza baked on oven tiles with cheese and tomato layered on top.

San Francisco Pizza Safari Part 2

They say the best cure for a pizza hangover is more pizza, so Day 3 of my San Francisco pizza bonanza started right where Day 2 left off. The Godfather made a delicious breakfast of leftover focaccia topped with an egg! The most impressive part of the process was when he donned his cheese grating glove, which he has been using ever since “The Incident.” You can draw your own conclusions as to what that means.

After jump-starting the day with focaccia, we rocketed toward our first pizzeria: Pizzetta 211. This place only has four tables, so get there early to avoid the lunch rush. We were lucky because the rain kept our wait time to a minimum. Pizzetta changes its menu to reflect whatever is in season, so don’t expect to see these pies available every time. We went for three pizzas: a Margherita (listed as “tomato, mozzarella, basil”); a pie with house made sausage, green garlic, fingerling potatoes and shaved Parmesan; and one with fresh farm egg, braised fennel, onion, currant and ricotta salata. All three were delicious, but I preferred the sausage pie. I have really come to appreciate good sausage after having too many disappointing “mystery meat” experiences on my recent New Jersey Pizza Patrol trips.

The incredibly high quality toppings on these pies were the star of the show, so I almost wish we picked a funkier pie than the Margherita. But as you can see from the photo below, it was the favorite pizza of the two most adorable pizza pals I met with on the entire trip: Kai and Ming.

I practiced some self-restraint and donated the leftovers to my companions, then hopped into the car and headed North to Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur. This place was recommended to me by a serious pizzanatic and SPT alum named Joe. The best part of taking trips like this is meeting up with the people who told me to visit these pizzerias in the first place! Besides Joe, I was also joined by PizzaHacker and Brian and Ramona (they got engaged on a pizza tour a few months back). More on all these pizza buddies later, but now we’ve gotto get to the PIZZA!

Since there were so many of us, we were able to order more pies to sample. We went with a Margherita, Marinara, Marin (roasted garlic, young organic potato, mozzarella, Parmesan, rosemary oil), Cannondale (house made sausage, roasted peppers, roasted onion, mozzarella and basil) and Surly (hog island clams, tomato sauce, garlic, soppressata, pecorino, parsley, Calabrian chile). Pizzeria Picco is definitely on my list of top Bay Area pizzerias. Unlike many of the other NEOpolitan spots, Picco pays a lot of attention to the crust in both its flavor and texture. They bake in a wood-fired oven using a softer flour than most of the like-minded places I visited in California. The crust is soft and interactive, with plenty of bounce-back in the rim. Toppings are applied very evenly and with great attention to balance as to avoid compromising the other ingredients. I don’t really like to think of these pizzas as having toppings, which usually makes me think of a cheese pizza with a bunch of things on top to substitute flavor that was lacking in the original pizza. Spots like Picco and Pizzetta have instead constructed entirely new structures atop a non-intrusive bread base.

The pizzas are all great and the menu cracks me up (on the bottom it says “Salad on pizza is always OK!”) but you cannot leave without getting some Straus Dairy soft serve with olive oil and sea salt. It is absolutely amazing! If you don’t want olive oil on your soft serve, it’s perfectly acceptable to go with caramel instead. I’m reliving the flavor sensation as I type this. Oh no, I just drooled on my keyboard.

The final stop of Day 3 has been at the top of my list since the moment I started planning. A16 began serving Southern Italian cuisine to San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood in 2004 and continues to appear on everyone’s “must eat” list. We ordered a classic Margherita as our first pie but our second pie selection was a real doozey! There’s an item on the menu called “Trust Your Pizzaiolo” and I knew from the moment I read those words that I just had to try it. It’s my personal philosophy to “play with trust” so this option sounded thrilling! The pie we received was called the Widowmaker: tomato, garlic, dry chili, fried Calabrian chile, panchetta, sausage, mozzarella, grana padano and arugula. WHOA!!!!! Yes, seriously a rad pie. Just like Picco, the pizza here sticks closer to the Neapolitan tradition. Just check out all those blisters caused by radiant heat off the dome of A16’s wood-fired oven! Definitely a great end to a thrilling pizza day.

Day 4 begins with a bang: Chez Panisse. San Francisco takes a lot of pride in its food, having developed a real appreciation for fresh and locally sourced foods. While heavyweights like Wolfgang Puck often get the credit for applying this concept to pizza, the true source is Alice Waters. Established in 1971, Chez Panisse represents the origin of California cuisine. Their menu changes seasonally but there is always a pizza on the list. Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce the thick smoked bacon, egg, parsley pizza…

Simple. Elegant. Classy. After eating pizza at Chez Panisse, I can see very clearly how spots like Pizzetta 211 came to be. Even though I enjoyed the pizza at Waters-derived restaurants more than those at their origin point, they only stand on the shoulders of a giant. Before we split, there was just enough time to eat a glorious apple-cherry tart and the BEST ice cream I have ever had. I know you can’t taste it by licking your screen, but we also eat with our eyes.

The next pizzeria is the complete opposite of Chez Panisse. Every time I have guests on the tour from the Bay Area, they all recommend Zachary’s for Chicago style pizza. I’m not a big fan of deep dish, but I just had to see what all the hoopla was about. Sure enough, it was the real deal! These pies are so THICK they have to be cut with a machete. And they take about forty minutes to bake in the revolving deck oven, which spin pies around as if they were riding a Ferris wheel. It’s so cool!

The crust is actually much thinner than I anticipated, with tomato taking up most of the vertical real estate. I can see why there’s so much of it, since the tomato is incredibly tart and tangy and delicious. The big difference between deep dish and other styles is the crumbly, biscuit-like consistency of the crust. You have to cut it with a fork and knife and the last bit really snaps when you break through the final barrier of bread. It’s something altogether different and deserves respect, even though it is not my personal favorite.

There are still two more days of Bay Area pizza to report PLUS a Los Angeles pizza roundup so stay tuned for more hot pizza action!