Strangely enough, this mission may have been the one I was looking forward to most on the trip – and the way it came to be was a bit of a story in itself. My good foodie friend Theresa Miller and I always try to get together for some sort of foodie adventure at any trade show that we find ourselves at. The original conversation centered around a tasting at Per Se – after doing some reading and seeing my schedule start to fill up for the night we both had available, I asked “Hey T – whattya say we get a car, and we go on a search for the best NYC coal fired pizza and maybe get a hot dog or two on the way?” Theresa agreed that she’d get the car, I’d buy dinner and our plan was made.
So – on the night in question, Theresa and her lovely friend Ann showed up at The Australian with an Escalade, a drive and a plan. We’d open the evening heading to Lombardi’s in Little Italy, followed by a jaunt across the Brooklyn Bridge to Grimaldi’s, then on to Papaya King for a Papaya drink and a hot dog. Since we were having a contest to decide who our NYC Pizza King would be, we set up a criteria. We’d get the same pizza at Lombardi’s and Grimaldi’s and make the call which one took home the prize. We opened at Lombardi’s where – after a 20 minute wait for a table to open (and some Chianti drinking) we ordered up a meatball and mushroom pizza along with a house salad (shareable) and some more wine. The house salad was awesome with fresh greens and a dynamite house dressing, but it turned out to be totally unnecessary filler.
Lombardi’s pizza offered excellence in it’s simplicity – it was very simply fresh dough (made daily) with a simple sauce of San Marzano tomatoes and salt (no herb or spice blend) topped with cheese and homemade meatballs and fresh mushrooms. The real stars at Lombardi’s are the crust – which is perfectly crispy and blistered by the hot coal fire and has a taste that is unlike anything you will get anywhere but in one of the few NYC Pizzerias that are still licensed to operate coal ovens, and the sauce. It’s a prime example of how simple and awesome ingredients are key to Italian cuisine. The meatballs were awesome as well – all and all Lombardi’s was a winner, but what do you expect from the restaurant that was New York’s first pizzeria -opened in 1905?
On a bonus note, while we were waiting for our table, T walked across the street to Rice to Riches and brought back sample sized packs of Rice Pudding. We tried Coast to Coast Cheesecake, Cinnamon Sling with Raisins and Chocolate Chip Flirt – the winner for me was the classic Cinnamon Sling – it’s the way I make rice pudding and I’d rather it be served warm. All were excellent for the sweet tooth.
Next up – we headed to Brooklyn to check out one of the other claimants to the “Best in NYC” Pizza crown – Grimaldi’s. I’d read about the long lines and wait times you could encounter at Grimaldi’s if you came during dinner hours, and although we hit there late on in the dinner rush (9 ish) the line up was out the door and down the block and the sign reading “the line is for take out too” was not encouraging. I decided to get creative and called in my order from the line. A cook who was out having a smoke commended me on the move and told me to go ahead and pay. Once I got inside and paid, I was told the pie would be ready in 10 minutes so we took a spin around the block. I was bummed to find out that meatballs weren’t available so we settled on Pepperoni and Mushroom.
The Pizza from Grimaldi’s was good – very good with a similar crust (coal fired ovens are the bomb) in terms of the smokey flavor, but lacking a bit in the crispness we’d experienced at Lombardi’s. I’ll give some slack because we took this pizza to go and the crust might have been sogged a bit by steam in the paper wrapping they used. The sauce was totally different though – Grimaldi’s added to the San Marzano tomato sauce and added some oregano and other herbs and spices – it was good, but as a bit of a purest, I thought Lombardi’s simple approach was better here.
The winner of our “Best Pizza in NYC” expedition that night – Lombardi’s – both were great pizza, but Lombardi’s really stood out – the simplicity and honesty of their ingredients really showed through.
More on the hot dog segment of the adventure later.