Canned Tomato Taste Test Results

The results of our first blind taste test of 16 canned tomatoes have been posted on Slice! We tried a variety of tomatoes from local grocery stores, supermarkets, pizzerias and restaurant supply stores. Tasters include Roberto Caporuscio (Keste), Adam Kuban (Slice), Brooks Jones (Me, Myself and Pie), Jason Fierman (I Dream of Pizza), Nick Sherman (Pizza Rules) and tomato researcher Erica Mole.

Check Out The Results of Round 1

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.

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?”

PIZZA BOXES OF THE WORLD!!!

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
www.gapadventures.com/store/newyork
www.cityharvest.org
www.scottspizzatours.com

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.