Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let’s Talk About Crust…

pizza crust that is.

For my purposes, I have divided pizza crust into four sub-groups.

First, there is the Chicago deep dish pizza personified by Pizzeria Uno and Lou Manati’s and its close relative, the Sicilian pizza. Unpalatable and unacceptable.

Second, there is the New York pizza with crust about a quarter of an inch thick but pliable and foldable. Since the slice can be folded, it is never as crisp as I would like. The only exception is the crust at New Jersey Pizza Co. in Flagstaff, AZ, the Number Two on our list of favorite pizzas.

Third, there is the very thin crust you find on brick oven baked pizzas. While the outer edges of the crust will be crisp, the high baking temps leave the center crust “flabbier” than I like. Our Number One pizza ever--the Bianco at Settebello in Salt Lake City-–is a brick oven pizza.

Fourth, there is the Chicago thin crust. You didn’t think Chicago has a thin crust? You’d be wrong. Cracker thin and cracker crisp, this is my favorite and is the style served at Oregano’s Pizza Bistro in Scottsdale, AZ.

When we saw Guy Fieri visiting Pizzeria Luigi in San Diego on an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, I knew we had to give it a try. Since the pizza was described as New York style, I pretty much knew what to expect.

“In 2004 Pizzeria Luigi™ opened its doors atop Golden Hill, San Diego and has been firing up award-winning thin crust pies ever since…Proprietor Luigi Agostini lived in Varese, Italy until the age of 23. In search of adventure, Luigi took a chance and left his small hometown for San Francisco. There, he began what would be years of cooking and pizza making in restaurants from Los Angeles to Hawaii, and finally San Diego, before opening his very first pizzeria in Poway, California.

“Luigi was a resident of Golden Hill for five years at this time, commuting daily to the San Diego suburb pizza shop. While business was good, and Luigi’s pies were popular, something was missing… According to Luigi, Golden Hill reminds him of his hometown in Italy; a small community where everyone knows each other, walks, rides bikes and scooters, and frequents local, independent businesses. Luigi wanted a piece of that pie…A short time later, Luigi sold his pizzeria in Poway and took up shop in Golden Hill” (from the restaurant’s web site).

San Diego Eats It describes Pizzeria Luigi as “a casual place. Just your typical storefront with some tables and chairs and a counter dividing the dining room from the open kitchen. Nothing special from a decor point of view. The staff is just what you'd expect to see in Golden Hill: young people with tattoos and shaggy hair. The patrons are not much different…”

When we arrived just after 1:30 p.m., we caught the end of the middle-aged-men-business crowd and the start of the young-person-after-school crowd. Both groups were short on the tats and shaggy hair. But the scarred cement floor, IKEA-resembling tables and chairs, and the flyers advertising for local band gigs all hinted at Pizzeria Luigi being a young person’s hang-out.

The menu isn’t just pizza. As alternatives you can order stromboli, calzones, meatball subs, panini, pasta, and lasagna. But Luigi didn’t name his restaurant Pizzeria Luigi for no good reason. Pizza comes in two sizes – an eighteen-inch whole or by the slice. Special pizzas include: the Mona Lisa with pepperoni, sausage, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and black olives; the Capone with pepperoni, sausage, and meatballs; the Leonardo with mozzarella, grated Parmesan, and pesto sauce; the Michelangelo with spinach, mushroom, tomato, bell peppers, and black olives; the Margherita with fresh sliced tomatoes and fresh garlic; the Donatello (no sauce) with ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and grated romano cheese; and the Vegan (no cheese) with black olives, artichoke, spinach, tomatoes, and onions.

As much as I enjoy trying new foods, when it comes to pizza I am a creature of habit. The good news is that Chuck is also. So it would be the whole white (no tomato sauce) Margherita.

The pizza had more positives than negatives. First, the abundant amount of fresh basil had been applied after the pie came out of the oven, so it retained its fresh minty, peppery, and lightly anise flavor. Second, the garlic on this pie didn’t come from a jar. (I find the earthy almost musty flavor of processed garlic to be nasty.) Third, the tomatoes were of the Roma variety, so they didn’t leak a lot of tomato juice that would make the pie watery. Fourth, there was slightly more cheese than I like but not so much to make the pizza inedible.

And now for the crust. I found it somewhat disappointing. It wasn’t all that crisp and was somewhat tough and chewy. And, it didn’t add any flavor. The highlight of a New York pizza is supposed to be the crust, and I don’t think that this one lived up to its promise.

Judging from the on-line community, there is some debate whether Pizzeria Luigi or Bronx Pizza is best. I don’t think that we’ll make it to Bronx Pizza on this trip, so won’t be able to weigh in with my opinion. So, for now, I’ll give Pizzeria 3.5 Addies and leave it at that.

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