Pizza, in my not terribly humble opinion, is the greatest food human kind has ever produced. I could probably eat it every day and be perfectly happy. Once a year Tracy and I set aside a week of pizza exclusivity in which we quest, search, and seek for new pizza experiences. Here is the tale of the tape from Pizza Week 2012.
Barb’s (Rocky Hill): Barb’s Pizza of Rocky Hill used to be Barb’s Pizza of West Hartford which, as I understand it, used to be the “original” Harry’s Pizza of West Hartford before Harry and Barb divorced. Harry’s became Harry’s at Bishops Corner, which has stood atop our Pizza Rankings for years. But we wanted to see how things turned out on the other side of the marriage, so we trekked down south of Hartford to Barb’s new, oddly out-of-the-way location to check it out. We had a Margherita out on the deck in the shade, kicking off Pizza Week in high style.
- Crust: Bears a family resemblence to Harry’s but was considerably lighter and airier. I found it to be a really nice change-up. Something new.
- Cheese: Low-moisture mozz, which is unusual for a Margherita, but it worked on this pie. Just the right amount, too. You could see the sauce poking through all over the place.
- Sauce: Semi-sweet with a very nice fresh tomato flavor to it and a lovely, light texture. Generously applied, too.
- Toppings: The tomatoes failed to pop. You could tell from the color of the slices that they were from big, bland, agribusiness orbs. The basil, which is usually applied at the end of the bake on this style pie, looked like it had been boiled for an hour. They fell down here.
- Grade: A- (They nailed the fundamentals, and that’s what counts.)
Joey Garlick’s (Farmington): A budding Connecticut pizza chain, currently with two locations but everything about their presentation says there’s some corporate ambition there to go bigger. We went to the Farmington location out on Route 4. The clientele skewed towards the retiree set and the music was a crappy mix of golden oldies, but otherwise it was a comfortable, pleasantly-appointed place. Our waitress rocked.
- Crust: Kind of a bar pie crust. Cracker-like at the edges, which is a nice variant in small doses, but the middle had a bit of a flat, dead-weight feel to it.
- Cheese: Fresh mozzarella, a little salty and properly browned in a few spots, just the way we like it.
- Sauce: Somewhat heavy in texture, but it had a nice, zippy spiciness to it. Not sure if it was freshly made. I got a not-made-on-premises vibe. But I could be wrong.
- Toppings: Sausage and roasted red pepper, both of which sizzled and burst with flavor. Noms.
- Grade: B (Good enough that, if we were driving by and we were hungry, I’d stop.)
Red Rose (Springfield, MA): This was an audible on our part. Originally we planned to swing by Naples in Farmington before the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, but the weather stunk up those plans. Instead, we headed to Springfield for this big, bustling pizza palace that Tracy remembered fondly from her youth. Funny thing about childhood memories, though: sometimes they don’t stand up. Such was the case here. Red Rose’s pizza is what I’d call “family style”. You should know that I rarely use that term kindly. This is grandma’s country kitchen pizza. This is pizza for people who like the idea of pizza but don’t want to be troubled with actually tasting anything interesting. You know, like Budweiser is to beer.
- Crust: Puffy and flaccid for the most part, with just a bit of crispness and a few bubbles at the edges. Somewhere between bakery style and Greek.
- Cheese: Heavy handed in application while ultra-mild in flavor. It would please an inexperienced child’s palate, I’m sure. Or anyone else who is generally taste-challenged.
- Sauce: Acidic with a tomato-paste texture that didn’t help to redeem matters.
- Toppings: Peppers, sausage, and onion here. A bit undercooked? Or maybe overcooked? Let’s go with poorly cooked. They didn’t jump off the pizza at me, is what I’m sayin’.
- Grade: D (No plans to go here ever again.)
Mulberry Street (Manchester): This place caught me off guard. It landed on the Slice Blog’s list of the Eight Best Pizzas in Connecticut, so we drove over to Manchester to check it out. I expected to walk into a normal pizzeria and just sit down. But “The Mulb”, as it turns out, is both a pizzeria and a bar. You enter through the latter, which was packed when we arrived, and make your way to the back to put your name on the waiting list. OK then, sure. If you’re going to wait half an hour for a table, doing it in a bar beats doing it out on a sidewalk. (I’m looking at you, Frank Pepe’s.) When we eventually did sit down, we fell in love with the atmosphere. The dining room is dim and cozy with the pizza kitchen occupying one corner. The hostess who seated us turned out to be the owner, and she was all over the place, busing tables, chatting up the customers, and keeping things moving.
- Crust: Another bar pie crust, but more lively than Joey Garlic’s version of the same. Crispity, crunchety edges but with some decent texture and a charred, earthy flavor throughout. I believe it’s what your neighborhood marketing exec would call “artisanal” these days.
- Cheese: Fresh mozzarella, a little salty and properly browned in a few spots, just the way we like it. (Yes, I copied that verbatim.)
- Sauce: We ordered the “Goodfellas” which had, not really a sauce, but a layer of crushed Neapolitan tomatoes. Great choice by us.
- Toppings: Garlic and basil, with a dusting of romano cheese and some oil. Light, simple, and quite delicious.
- Grade: B+ (We would absolutely go back.)
Whole Foods (West Hartford): I’m not sure why or how Tracy got the impression that Whole Foods’ pizza was something special, but said impression led to their inclusion on the list as our “take-out because Joe’s stuck at home working on a release” choice. Wherever this notion came from, we were both thoroughly disabused of it. Dear Gods does Whole Foods make a terrible pie. We are talking industrial cafeteria pizza here. Double-plus ungood in almost every respect.
- Crust: Spongy/Bready and flavorless. No char, no crunch, no nothing. Simply a mechanism for delivering the contents riding atop it to your face hole.
- Cheese: A uniform layer of off-white vinyl. Tasted about what I imagine vinyl tastes like, too.
- Sauce: The sauce was… wait, was there sauce on this pizza? If so, it didn’t have enough oomph to escape the joyless substrate below it or the oppressive shielding above.
- Toppings: The only redeeming feature here. The pepperoni slices were super thin, extra wide in diameter, and nicely crisped, and the hint of onion whispered of better times.
- Grade: F (Only purchase this if it’s the only thing available to you and you will die if you don’t eat this very minute.)
Roseland Apizza (Derby): This place was vaguely familiar to me from my years living in Oxford, CT, just up the Housatonic River, back in the 90′s. I recalled ordering pizza from them once or twice (this was before my Pizza Awakening, sadly) so I was intrigued to see them land on Slice Blog’s list of CT’s Eight Best pizzas. Tracy and I were *both* intrigued that Slice had selected Roseland’s “plain” pie as their favorite at this particular spot. The plain pie is crust and tomato sauce with a light sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese. No mozzarella*. How could THAT be any good?! We would soon find out. (*Or, as the waitresses at Roseland call it, “MuuzaRELL”.) We actually got two small pies: One plain, one with mozz, peppers, sausage and garlic.
- Crust: Sublime. Thin, yet supple. Great flavor. A nice amount of crispiness and char with a few small bubbles along the narrow outside edge. This crust reminded me a lot of Lombardi’s in New York City. If I could perfect one style of pizza crust at home, this would be it.
- Cheese: The grated Parmesan on the plain pie was extremely subtle, adding a creamy savoriness to the red sauce. The topped pie featured a low-moisture mozzarella applied over the toppings. It was browned to a crisp in some spots, almost liquid in others, and bled out over the edges in some areas, making for a nice presentation.
- Sauce: Rich, pungent tomato flavor with some nice herbiness going on as well. Perfectly balanced and just the right weight and texture to complement that crust.
- Toppings: The sausage was mildly spicy, the green peppers popped with freshness, and the garlic was intense, almost roasted in flavor. Under any other circumstances this pie would have had us in thrall. And yet it had to take a back seat because Tracy and I were utterly mesmerized by the plain pie. It was impossibly good. For some reason, I was perfectly fine with a “red pie” (no mozz) even though “white pie” makes me cranky. The absence of the mozzarella – which tends to hog the spotlight on a typical pizza – allowed the other two elements to shine in a way you rarely taste.
- Grade: A+ (Right up there with New Haven and New York’s most elite pizzerias.)
Sally’s Apizza (New Haven): Sally’s, like Frank Pepe’s down the street, is not just any old pizza place. It’s an institution. It’s the kind of place where people are lined up outside half an hour before the doors open. And, after our first time experiencing it, I can see why. It’s a tiny place, but we were lucky enough to get in there for the first seating (this despite the dozen or so insiders who showed up and walked straight to the front of the line). The staff are all members of the late Sal Consiglio’s family. They take their time getting to everyone, and you’re advised to be patient about that fact. Just write it off as part of their quirky charm. When the pie gets to your table it will all be worth it. As we did at Roseland, we ordered one “plain” (crust and sauce only) and one topped pie.
- Crust: Stupidly thin from the center all the way to the edge. Supple in the middle, crispy and close to bar-pie-like on the outside edge. They aren’t shy about letting the edges get a little blackened either. That’s OK with me: I love my tasty carcinogens.
- Cheese: Low moisture and applied sparingly the way the Pizza Gods intended. Browned in some spots. And a note on the plain pie: Unlike Roseland there was no grated parm added here. I did miss that touch.
- Sauce: On the heavy side of light, but not pasty. Fresh tomato flavor but also very, very sweet. Nothing herby or spicy going on here.
- Toppings: For the topped pie we went with our favorite standard combo: Pepperoni and onion. The ‘roni was good but nothing special. The onions were great: shoestring thin and lightly cooked, not carmelized. Super noms.
- Grade: A (Totally worth the wait. Put it on your bucket list.)
Next Year? We’re thinking of doing Pizza Week: NYC. Yeah, that’s right. Look out, Big Apple.
BTW, here’s that post from Slice on the Eight Best Pizzas in Connecticut. If you love pizza and you’re not reading Slice, you’re doing yourself a disservice.