Random Thoughts on Pizza

I’ve eaten pizza in four of the top ten pizzerias in America. Soon, I’ll be making the trip to NYC to check the fifth and possibly a sixth off that list.

I have plans to spend a weekend in Brooklyn, and a weekend in Boston to eat pizza. I hope to make the trek to New Haven again and explore more of the pizza there. (I have eaten at Pepe’s.)

I’ve driven as far as 2 1/2 hours one way just to eat pizza at a single pizzeria, and then I turned around and came right back.

I’ve eaten at every single Neapolitan style pizza joint within a 2-hour radius of Albany. Every. Single. One.

I’ve eaten at 95% of pizzerias that have a wood oven in the area (that I’m aware of), and at most of the wood-fired pizza trucks. If I discover a pizzeria that has a wood oven and I haven’t been, I usually go immediately.

I’ve eaten pizza at well more than 100 local places and counting.

I just spent a weekend in Buffalo, the primary impetus to go there was to eat the pizza at Jay’s Artisan, a fantastic Neapolitan style pizza joint.

I once talked my wife into spending a weekend in Syracuse to go shopping at its giant mall, but I secretly wanted to go to eat pizza.

I put all of that out there not to toot my own horn, but to list my credentials. My opinions are based on a fair amount of experience. One can disagree with me (and you should!), but my opinions are not born out of ignorance.

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Pizza Pilgrimage V – Six Days in the Fridge

Have you seen the video series Upstate Old School Vic Christopher is doing for Two Buttons Deep? In the first episode, he visits O’Scugnizzo’s Pizzeria in Utica. O’Scug’s makes a form of Utica tomato pie, and the place is the second oldest continually operating pizzeria in the US. The video is less than four minutes long. It’s worth a watch.

Barely one week after Vic’s video was posted, Daniel B. and I had some business together in Central NY (more about that at a later date), and after seeing the video, both of us were curious to visit O’Scug’s and experience the pizza.

I was not impressed, and frankly, perplexed as to why O’Scug’s is popular.

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You’re Doing it Wrong II – You’re Ruining it for the Rest of Us

This past Sunday I had the pleasure to stop into Taqueria GDL in Glens Falls. I’ve already blogged about their excellent tacos. GDL is special, and they’re doing good stuff. I love the place. But they’re not perfect, and that point was driven home to me Sunday when I placed my order. The gentleman that waited on me, who I’m pretty sure is the owner, asked me if I wanted cilantro on my tacos.

Wait! What?

Why would a transplanted Mexican making authentic Mexican food ask if I want cilantro on my tacos? Cilantro is de rigueur on tacos. It’s equivalent to asking if I want salt on my fries. That is unless you’ve eaten at too many Tex-Mex, or what are really Ameri-Mex, pseudo-Mexican restaurants. It’s likely too many customers complained after being served tacos adorned with the yummy green herb, and he’s acquiescing to their misguided request.

Shame on you cilantro haters. You’re ruining it for the rest of us.
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Donna’s Matters

Donna’s is the new Italian-American addition to Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine’s growing empire.

Typically, the opening of an Italian-American restaurant would draw disinterested yawns. But Donna’s is not typical. Donna’s to my knowledge is the first time a talented, top local chef has headed the kitchen of an Italian-American joint. Chef Nick Ruscitto is the brain behind Peck’s Arcade, which is arguably one of the best restaurants in the Capital District. He’s left his post at Peck’s and moved about a mile southeast to head the kitchen at Donna’s. And it’s a big deal.

I’m not Italian, but my step-father (whom my mother married in 1976 when I was just 10) is a first generation Italian, a stowaway on a boat, arriving in America after the war. My wife is half Italian, her father a second generation Italian. My best friend during my pre-teen and teen years was Italian, his parents’ first generation Italian’s with a discernable accent. I’m no stranger to Italian home cooking or Italian-American culture. I take Italian food and culture seriously and consider myself an adopted Italian.

I have a love-hate relationship with Italian-American restaurants. They are bastions of comfort food, and I love comfort food. But they also mostly suck, and I don’t say that lightly. They’re all the same, and it’s not a good sameness. They serve a too thick, and too sweet, overcooked, Italian ‘gravy,’ that tastes more like burnt tomato paste than tomatoes. Giant, sprawling menus often topping more than four dozen dishes. Huge portions that make even the biggest eater blush. And creativity? There is none. The dishes haven’t changed in decades. Most IA restaurants have both feet firmly planted in 1970’s gastronomy when an iceberg lettuce based salad was considered haute cuisine. And don’t get me started on the crappy so-called “Italian” bread they all serve.

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Pizza Pilgrimage IV – Dinosaur Pizza

Back in March, I stumbled on a Syracuse-based news article that profiled one of the owners of Dinosaur BBQ. The article focused on the new pizza place they were opening directly across the street from the original Dinosaur location; Apizza Regionale.

According to the article, they’re cooking the pizzas in a wood-fired oven imported from Naples. They claim to have cooked one thousand test pizzas before opening. They’re going for Neapolitan style pizza, made with ingredients sourced from New York State producers. The flour for the dough, for example, comes from a mill in Ithica.

Impressive.

I ‘m a sucker for Neapolitan style pizza, and it made for a great excuse to make a day trip out to Syracuse to try the pizza, and visit a couple of other iconic places since I’d be out that way. Wegman’s immediately came to mind as a must stop. And since I’d be passing through Utica, I thought it’d also be cool make a detour there and have chicken riggies and Utica greens for lunch.

Things didn’t quite work out as I had envisioned. It’s a day I won’t soon forget.

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Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese – A Study in Fat

Do you have any Marcella Hazan cookbooks in your collection? If you don’t you should. She is without question the Grand Dame of Italian cooking. Or perhaps I should say she was the Grand Dame of Italian cooking, as sadly, she passed away a few years ago. If you’re unfamiliar with who she is, and the huge impact she’s had on Italian fare in America, please read the wonderful bio/obituary the NY Times wrote just after her death.

If you don’t have any of her cookbooks, you should pick up what is probably her best collection of recipes, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”. It’s chock full of great Italian dishes, of which I’ve made more than a few, and they never disappoint. Plus there’s instructions for cooks of all levels on things like how to make pasta, risotto, and other classic Italian dishes. As well as information about herbs, spices, and cheeses used in Italian cooking.

The other day (and it takes almost a whole day) I decided to make her bolognese for the first time, and what I discovered, is that it’s a dish that’s all about fat.
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Hidden Gem

My wife and I had an evening without our little one. Usually we eat out when we don’t have our daughter, it allows us to eat anywhere we want without worrying if the restaurant is kid friendly, and whether there’s something she’ll like on the menu.

We had a hard time trying to decide where to go. It was a beautiful evening, and my wife suggested we eat somewhere that has a patio. So the search began. I remembered All Over Albany has an outdoor dining map. Unfortunately, their list is getting out of date, and none of the restaurants on there appealed to us that night anyway.

What I really wanted, was to eat someplace a little unique, someplace small and out of the way. We racked our brains and bandied about some ideas, but came up with nothing. I turned to yelp.

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