Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Search Continues

I had lowered my expectations. No longer was I looking for great pizza.

An adequate pizza was all I hoped for. So I walked into the New Jersey Pizza Company in Flagstaff with a jaded attitude. Albuquerque had promised me authentic New York style pizza and failed to deliver. So, could a small restaurant (seating for twenty-four) in a small strip mall (shared with a chiropractor and the Hopi Navajo Observer) in a small mountain town (less than 53,000) in northern Arizona really come through?

The front of the restaurant, with the paint of its Italian mural beginning to peel, didn’t tell me much. The mural depicted such recognizable scenes as a gondolier in Venice, an Alps mountain skier, a cyclist, a street market, a cathedral that could be either St. Peter’s or Saint Mark’s, and a water scene (we couldn’t figure out if this was to be Lake Como or the Mediterranean and the Cinque Terre). Also prominently depicted was Luciano Pavarotti.

But upon entering, the aromas were promising. We took a seat and Chuck asked our server Eddie if this was really authentic New Jersey thin crust pizza. Eddie responded in the affirmative and explained that one of the owners, Seth (shown on the left with Eddie) was from Boston, the other partner was from South Jersey, and he, Eddie, was from Long Island.

The menu contained a long list of specialty pizzas, but I tend to be a pizza purist. I either want the classic Margherita (tomato, cheese, fresh basil) or sausage with cheese and tomato sauce. Although I must admit that were I with someone (Tom – I’m talking about you) who appreciates mushrooms and anchovies or a white clam pizza, I’m there with you. So we went with a twelve-inch Margherita and a twelve-inch sausage, both with the house-pulled fresh mozzarella. Could the two of us eat that much at one setting? Yes, without batting an eye.

We started with the Margherita, since I think that the less “stuff” on the pie the more the skill of the pizza maker is revealed. I was a little disturbed when I saw the thick and puffy outer crust. But after removing a slice and taking a bite of the thin and crisp crust, I began to believe. I usually don’t eat the crust edges but this tasted like fine crusty, yeasty bread. So throwing concern about carbs aside, I ate most of it.

The sauce was perfection. Light and smooth and applied with a judicious hand. I asked Eddie if this was a fresh uncooked sauce, and he replied in the affirmative. He explained that the owners used San Marzano tomatoes and added garlic, seasonings, and a little red wine and never cooked the sauce until it was put on the pizza and went into the oven. To me, this is the difference between a great sauce and a so-so sauce.

Rather than forming the long rubbery strands that you get from commercial mozzarella, the fresh cheese melted into a film of dairy goodness. And the basil was so sweet and aromatic that only a small amount was needed to get the full effect.

We had asked Eddie to stagger the baking so that both pizzas did not arrive at the same time, so after we finished the Margherita, he brought forth a truly fine sausage pizza. The sausage is Schreiner's Sicilian fennel sausage made by an Arizona meat company. I know that I have repeatedly said that I don’t like slices of sausage, but in this case, the form was immaterial. Lean, savory, and with a light fennel taste—this was superior sausage.

This was pizza. Pizza so good that we plan to make the thirty-seven mile drive back to Flagstaff – mainly to eat pizza. This was 5.0 Addie pizza.

Finally, I want to quote two statements of philosophy from New Jersey Pizza Company’s menu:
“Mothers and Fathers: grow vegetables and flowers whenever possible, and your great grandchildren will grow up in a world with more compassion, love and understanding…”

“Our efforts are dedicated to the small family farmers, ranchers, artisan cheese makers, laborers and cooks of the world, whose endless work, wisdom and passion make it possible to bring this food to the table…”

Flagstaff sits at the base of the San Francisco Peaks. We drove past the Peaks on our way back to the park--with the memory of a successful search lingering on our taste buds.

No comments: