So, with old man winter throwing some crotchety lashings of windy cold into the early March air, the morning started off with my 6:30am bus arriving late in Baltimore. Did not depart until nearly 7:30.
I got to NYC too late to join the folks at Artichoke, which is one of my favorite squares. It was Artichoke, along with DiFara, which influenced me to add a little more olive oil to my pan and achieve more of a crunchier outside shell in my square. Sorry I missed the crew here.
After a D Train ride to Coney Island, Totonno's was just opening when I arrived, with Paulie Gee, Johnny W, Norma and Steve already there. Totonno's was nice and warm inside....to which one of our group mentioned "I think it's warmer in this room than it is in that oven". The rest of the crew spilled inside and it was great to put a face to everyone's names.
For some reason the bench flour used this day was off the chain. Without a slotted peel to launch the pizzas, far too much bench flour was left on the finished pizzas....giving some slices the look of a cracked riverbed that has gone far too long without rain. The flavor note it left was a tad bitter for me. The lip was more of the brown of an everyday NY-Style slice, without the darkish caramel-licorice hues that typify the Totonno's pizza. Granted, you are eating a youngish dough at Totonno's when eating pies early in the operating schedule, but the flavor profile of the crust was off....anemic compared to two previous trips. And there was much more of a dried out, rigid crunch to my slices that is not the norm.....a testament to the lower temps in the oven.
In short, I was very disappointed and would not make a trip out to Coney Island to eat the pizza served on this day. And I've heard the pies lately look more like what we were served. Not a good omen if true. Pics of the heavy benchflour on my slice and a comparison of the pizza we were served and a pic I took from a visit to Totonno's on 4/15/2010. Different pies.
L&B is what it always is. It is never a square that drops the total flavor bomb of the Artichoke or DiFara squares, it has more finesse....I personally really like the contrast in style. A slight undercooked gumline just below the sauce as Chau mentioned...characteristic of the square here. As Bob mentioned, the cheese does get lost under the sauce, but I really like the clean, bright sauce on this pie. I'm not a big fan of overly herbed sauces on a Sicilian. The clean sauce and the light crumb with the saltier hits from the pecorino do it for me personally. If I was forced to choose one, I would likely choose the Artichoke or DiFara square, but it really is a subjective case of apples versus oranges. The being said, L&B remains one of my benchmarks for the style.
New Park. The burnt undercarriage was a bummer, but I still really enjoyed this pizza because I could envision what it would taste like if the top was cooked just as it was with the bottom not cooked so much. Nothing extraordinary about the sauce or cheese, but of a good quality. Sauce could have perhaps used a touch of oregano and a competent mozzarella (Grande?). To me, for the NY-Style, the top of the pie was baked dead on.....cheese just starting to brown and the oil just starting to seperate. I personally do not like it when oil freely drips off of the pizza during a vertical hold and thought the New Park bake in this aspect was about spot on. The bottom was burnt.....I would not have been happy serving this personally because of the burn.....and yet surprisingly I really liked the pizza none-the-less. The crispy shell with the soft crumb was nice. Perhaps a tad thick, but not too thick. I can't wait to try this again without the burnt bottom. Scott, you have no idea how lucky you are having places like Pizza Town and this so close. In a NY-Style pizza wasteland like Baltimore, even with the burnt bottom, the New Park pie would be akin to a USS New Jersey class battleship doing battle against a tug boat.
In my pizza world fantasy, places like New Park, Best, Joe's (on a good day), Sacco (on a good day), etc. represent what a baseline pizza should be. Not necessarily earth shattering, but just really dependably solid, tasty and well executed pizza. Such a seemingly simple and beautiful thing (nothing simple about it in reality). It really effing pisses me off that douchebag chain pizza is the model for so many mom-and-pop independents in many parts when these types of proud shops should be the model.
I really cannot wait to try Pizza Town now. Probably as excited to eat NY-Style pizza at P-Town as I have been to eat that style anywhere.
Was great to meet everyone, although not enough time to chat with everyone. That's what next time is for!
EDIT: Actually, it was Craig and Gene waiting at Totonno's, not Norma and Steve.