Ah, my first pizza review in the big apple. What would have otherwise been a depressing, rainy day turned into the beginning of a wonderfully edible adventure. It's only appropriate that I start my New York pizza search at the Pizzeria that claims to have started it all, Lombardi's.
Located in little Italy, Lombardi's was started by Gennaro Lombardi, a neapolitan immigrant, in 1905. This pizzeria has a long and extensive history, most of which can be found in framed pictures on the wall. I don't want to go too deeply into its past because I'd rather talk about the pizza, but one interesting fact about Lombardi's that made me smile is this: For almost 80 years Lombardi's stayed in the same building, until, according to our waiter, the vibration from the 6 train broke its coal burning oven. The owners refused to use an electric oven in its place and shut their doors until they found another location with a real, coal burning oven.
What we ate: A half and half combination of
the classic margherita and Lombardi's own "Gennaro" white pie.
Let's start with margherita. With fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, and basil, these ingredients were neapolitan through and through. Since returning to the states, I'm often hesitant to try this simple type of pie in the fear that, well, I'll actually taste the quality of the ingredients. Ever wonder why most american pies are flavor chameleons, constantly changing their toppings? Last time I checked BBQ chicken and pineapple were the "it" toppings, though, they might now be outdated. It's not simply because it's "gourmet" or "original", though that's definitely part of it. It's often because the overall quality of ingredients is so bad that if you were to sample a margherita type pie with only three ingredients from say, Domino's, you'd quickly realize how processed, bland, and unimpressive the ingredients actually are. So they pile high the "gourmet" ingredients in the hopes of hoodwinking our taste buds and tricking us into believing that we're eating "flavorful" pizza. But I digest.
The margharita pie at Lombardi's actually was flavorful. The mozzarella melted into pretty white puddles - looking more like flower peddles than cheese - and was used sparingly enough, allowing the tomato sauce to shine through at points; creating a nice white and red contrast. The cheese was creamy while still remaining cohesive. The tomato sauce added a pleasant tang towards the end of each bite though I'd prefer to trade in some of that tangy for salty. The basil, which was visibly present on each slice, left my taste buds searching for its strong, spicy aftertaste. I never found it.
I wasn't as excited about the white pie. This pie had mozzarella, ricotta, and romano cheese, with garlic infused olive oil and a few strips of scissor cut basil. But it was hard to taste anything besides the ricotta. Usually, I have a beef to pick with ricotta on pizza. Instead of acting as a mild medium to balance stronger flavors, it overwhelms the palate with its
creaminess. This pie was no exception. The romano and mozzarella fell by the wayside And the basil? What happened to the basil?
If the ingredients on the margherita and white tasted neapolitan, the crust that supported them tasted like it was from New York. It was golden- brown, salty, pliable. Yet it was tough enough, I imagine, to be thrown like a frisbee. When we were finished, I slide my leftover slice into my message bag like I would a paperback novel.
But the crust's strength was also its weakness. It felt too dense, too heavy. I stopped after two slices, under protest from my stomach.
Go to Lombardi's. Order the Margherita. Watch them cook your pie in a 1000 degree coal-burning
oven. Enjoy the fresh mozzarella, rich tomato sauce, friendly environment, and smile when you
can do it all for under twenty bucks.