Tag Archives: Pizza

Pizza Interloper on Arthur Avenue

27 Sep

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, once a prominently exclusive Italian/American neighborhood, has over the past couple of decades, opened its welcoming arms to immigrants from other countries, in particular Albanians.

Arthur Avenue: where pizza and bureks live in harmony.

Arthur Avenue: where pizza and bureks live in harmony.

You will also now find Mexican and Japanese restaurants nestled side by side and close to both an Italian cheese store and a dried sausage place where they co-exist peacefully.

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But Arthur Avenue can be fickle about newcomers. Several years ago, McDonald’s made an attempt to infiltrate the block. Thankfully they were soundly rejected.

No love for McDonald's on Arthur Avenue.

No love for McDonald’s on Arthur Avenue.

And then a legendary downtown seafood joint, Umberto’s Clam House;  it’s legend born from the graphic and gruesome blood and tomato sauce murder of a famous mobster, tried to make it in the Bronx on Arthur Avenue on the site of what once was a live poultry store.

Tourists came, but no mobsters.

Tourists came, but no mobsters.

Umberto’s tenure on Arthur Avenue was longer than McDonald’s, but whether it was just because most people can’t name the mobster who was gunned down at the original Umberto’s it was so long ago, or that the ghosts of thousands of butchered chickens have cursed the location, it is now gone, replaced by a “Mediterranean” restaurant.

So today, with so many very good, established pizza options on the block…

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Cafe al Mercato

Cafe al Mercato

…should Arthur Avenue accept this new interloper from downtown?

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Can another pizzeria survive on this glutenous stretch of landscape?  Will the display of co-allegiance to the Garden State forever diminish the reputation of this fabled establishment? And finally, will the restrictive and somewhat haughty “no slices” policy be amended to reflect the open door sensibilities of the neighborhood?

Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

Today’s Slice: The Broccoli Rabe

10 May

 

 

 

 

In the previous  installment of “Today’s Slice,” here on Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries, I visited Full Moon Pizza on Arthur Avenue for the Spinach and Artichoke Slice ( see Artichoke and Spinach Pizza). In that post I mentioned Cafe al Mercato and the mini pies and square slices they sell from their booth  inside the Arthur Avenue retail market.

Cafe al Mercato

The preferred slice at Cafe al Mercato is, undoubtedly, the broccoli rabe slice. And I’m not alone. When I last visited, the broccoli rabe was piled high on top of the booth counter in anticipation of being applied to many thin, square slices.

mercato

What makes Cafe al Mercato’s broccoli rabe slice so good starts with the broccoli rabe, cooked tender, but not overdone, topped with slivers of fresh mozzarella. All of this is applied to a thin, yet durable, crunchy crust cooked in a traditional “slice” pizza oven as opposed to a fancy, imported wood Neapolitan stove.

Cafe al Mercato

If you have an aversion to broccoli rabe or anything green, the simple, “regular” slice with tomato sauce and mozzarella will bring back memories of “homemade” pizza. And when I say homemade, I mean what my grandmother used to make in an old cookie pan, rolling out the dough, topping with her sauce and adding a few slices of  Polly O Mozzarella. All of it cooked in her basement oven. It wasn’t pizza as we were used to from the pizzeria, but we never complained.

The Cafe al Mercato unbeatable combination.

The unbeatable combination at Cafe al Mercato.

Cafe al Mercato
2344 Arthur Avenue
Bronx

 

 

Today’s Slice: Artichoke (and Spinach) Pizza

12 Apr

artichoke slice

 

The array of pizza slices available at so many pizzerias here in New York is staggering. I usually just glance at them and wonder at the sometimes bizarre combinations. I judge a good slice on the basics; crust, sauce, and cheese. My pizza education was very specific. I was weaned on either “regular” or “Sicilian”  slices.

Sicilian slices

Sicilian slices

Despite my pizza purist upbringing, I’ve now learned to not totally disqualify a slice that is excessively decorated. I am a big fan of the “salad” pizza if done right. Louie & Ernie’s “white” slice is a Hall of Famer, as is the broccoli rabe pizza from Fratelli’s on Hunt’s Point (see A Slice of Ernie Ottuso Square and Bronx Broccoli Rabe From a Brother From Corona respectively).

I strayed again recently and again in the Bronx, this time when admiring the pies inside the Full Moon Pizza on Arthur Avenue.

I first experienced Full Moon Pizza probably the first time I experienced Arthur Avenue. But recently I’ve stayed away;  not because there was anything wrong with Full Moon Pizza, but preferring instead the mini-pies at Cafe al Mercato inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. The last time I was on Arthur Avenue, Cafe al Mercato was closed so I returned to the Full Moon. When I did, I noticed the artichoke and spinach pie under glass.

I wasn’t sure how long the pie had been sitting under the glass, but the slice did have to be reheated, something I am very wary of.  In this case, however, reheating did not diminish the taste. The spinach was tender, the cheese fresh, the crust baked perfectly, and the artichokes also tender and briny. But there was something else I tasted I could not identify. Something creamy, almost like another soft melted cheese addition to the mozzarella. I wanted to know what it was.

The artichoke and spinach pie minus one slice: mine.

The artichoke and spinach pie minus one slice: mine.

Behind the counter there was a man in chef whites. I can’t recall ever seeing a pizza chef wearing whites…not even the legend, Dominic DeMarco from Di Fara wears them while preparing his pies.

To the man in chef whites, who said his name was Sal (of course it had to be, see The Many Pizzas of Sal’s), I asked what went into the artichoke and spinach pie.

“We use spinach, fresh mozzarella, imported artichokes, roasted garlic, and an artichoke spread,” he told me.

So that what I was tasting that melded with the cheese: artichoke spread.

Despite my traditional pizza sensibilities, I am against any rules on what can or cannot be put on a pizza.  Some of those rigid Neapolitan pizza societies with the strict regulations on how big to make a pie; what type of sauce and cheese to use and how hot it should be cooked take it much too seriously. Not that I ever complain about the results. The addition of the artichoke spread was a welcome innovation. And I credit Chef Sal, if he was the innovator, with another revelation in my slowly expanding pizza slice world.

Full Moon Pizza

Full Moon Pizza
600 E 187th St
Bronx

 

 

 

 

 

The Fusion Files: French Pizza in Harlem by way of Africa.

1 Mar

French Pizza

I’ve noticed a few pizzerias in Harlem that have a French accent.

oui (7)At first glance, crepes and pizza might seem like a natural mix.

oui (5)And at Oui Oui there was a French/English menu where one of the crepes  was named for the largest city in Mali. Was I on to something here?

oui (6)Why order a pedestrian “Italiano” pizza when a merguez was available?

oui (9)And so I did. Not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised that the piquant sausage made of lamb and beef gave the pizza a very welcome kick to it and was, in my estimation, a worthy substitute to traditional Italian sweet sausage.

crepeThe “Harlem” crepe, however, was another story and one not worth dwelling on.

oui (3)Still, everything was made in Harlem. And what could be better than that?

 

On Pizza, Pomodoros, Putin, and Putinka

27 Nov

I’m a purist in many ways. With few exceptions, I don’t like fusion—unless I’m creating the fusion. When given the choice, as I always am, tap water works for me at a restaurant. I scoff at all the sauces presented to compliment a broiled or grilled piece of prime meat that should need no compliment.  I don’t buy flavored seltzers. If I want lemon or lime, I can easily add my own to plain seltzer.

And the same can be said for vodka. Who needs cranberry flavored seltzer when a splash of cranberry juice will suffice? That is, unless I’m in the outstanding Russian Samovar, sitting at the bar and trying to decide which of their house made infused vodkas I should order. Maybe start with a shot of ginger followed by the coriander? See, there are exceptions. I’m not totally unmovable on this.

The Russian Samovar Collection

The state of today’s pizza, I’m afraid, has been a serious blow to my purist sensibilities. You enter a pizzeria now and the cold, congealed varieties presented under Plexiglas counters are staggering. The pies are covered with everything from broccoli to kale, from barbecued shrimp to Buffalo chicken strips.

I like my pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella; preferably more of the former and lighter on the latter. I have been known to throw on some anchovies to improve a mediocre pie. Beyond that, I have no interest in sausage, pepperoni, meatball, mushrooms or any of the usual toppings.

Adding to the ever-growing assortment of pizzas is pizza with “vodka” sauce—the spin on penne a la vodka. I know pizza with vodka sauce is not a new phenomenon. I guess I just put it out of my mind,  desperately trying to deny its existence despite it’s increasing popularity.

I’ve made penne a la vodka myself. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I use cheap, local canned tomatoes. Who cares about the quality of the tomatoes if I’m adding cream to it—and vodka? And when I go into my vodka stash just to have it fuse with the sorry canned tomatoes and cream I cringe. It’s one thing to waste a few splashes of red wine in a sauce, it’s quite another to use some of the precious Russian clear stuff.

Well, not always Russian. Sometimes it might be Swedish, Danish, or even from some place in Texas.

Penne a la vodka is an amiable and infrequent diversion. It’s like the undercard of a heavyweight bout; the opening act for standouts like Neck Bones Tomato Sauce  or  Neck Bones Anchovy Sauce, pesto, or the perennial champ: marinara sauce.

So why would I ever be interested in the undercard of a topping for pizza? I wouldn’t. Or I thought I wouldn’t until recently. The lure was drawing me in. Was I missing something here? And how could I comment on something I’d never experienced?

The sign said it all: “Home of the famous vodka sauce.” There was even a banner flapping in the wind above Spring Street advertising “vodka pizza.” The place was called Pomodoro and apparently vodka sauce was their trademark. If I were ever going to experience a slice of pizza with vodka sauce, I would guess this would be the place.

I surveyed the countless array of already made pies under the Plexiglas counter for the vodka pie, but my eyes, inexperienced at least regarding vodka pizza, could not identify one.

I asked the man behind the counter for a slice of vodka. He took out a pie that looked like any other “regular” pie and cut out a slice which he threw into the oven to heat. A few moments later it was presented to me.

Vodka slice from Pomodoro

My normal reflex whenever eating a slice of pizza is to grab for the red pepper flakes and sprinkle generously over the slice. I did the same here not knowing that the vodka pizza was already spicy.

The slice was coated with chunks of very good, albeit spicy, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella while the only negative was that the crust was a little on the thick side for my taste. It was a more than commendable slice. Still, I was puzzled. I admit to being a vodka pizza virgin, but was this what a slice of vodka pizza tasted like? It didn’t taste anything like my penne a la vodka. Where was the vodka in the vodka slice?

So they called it something other than what it really was. It didn’t matter. I liked the pizza and brought a few slices home to give it another shot. This time I thought maybe, instead of beer, my usual accompaniment to pizza, I would accompany the vodka slice with vodka.

For the occasion I had a Russian named Putinka in my refrigerator. An apparent tribute to Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the Putinka also billed itself as “soft,” vodka, whatever that meant. Was soft vodka the equivalent to light beer? I hoped not. And really, would the former Lieutenant Colonel of the KGB want a vodka named after him that was billed as “soft?”

Soft vodka

Either way, I reheated the vodka slice and poured a shot of Putinka over ice. I sipped and then took a bite. The vodka, soft or not, gave me the familiar and comforting burn that, I discovered, paired brilliantly with the so-called vodka pizza.

I finished the vodka and the pizza a bit too quickly and then realized something that should have been obvious to me—something that conformed to my purist sensibilities. There was no need to search out a pre-made vodka sauce pizza where, most likely, the vodka sauce wouldn’t be up to your own standards. Just like adding your own flavor to your pure vodka, you could do the same with this pizza. All you needed was a warm slice of pizza and a cold Russian in the refrigerator.

Pomodoro
51 Spring Street
NYC

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