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Serious, serious pizza

  • g

I've lived in New England for about fifteen years now, having been a native of Pittsburgh, PA before that. The one thing that I've still not been able to find is a replacement for my absolute favorite pizza on the planet: Vincent's Pizza on Ardmore Boulevard (Forest Hills, PA on the outskirts of Pittsburgh).

If you haven't been to Vincent's, it's going to be hard to visualize the product, much less the actual restaurant (think 60's bar, velvet paintings, smoke, grime, and truck stop, and you'll get close... but not entirely there). Essentially, Vincent turns out an italian pizza with a thin crust under the toppings and a MUCH bigger crust on the edge--it's nicely singed, so there's lots of texture and nutty flavor, but the interior of the crust is very moist and bubbly (almost like foccaccia). Vincent loads the toppings on to the point where one slice is enough for a large meal. Best of all is that this is a pizza that freezes well, and the leftovers are at least as good as the fresh pie, if not better. It's greasy. Very greasy. ...but the grease mingles nicely with the toasted flour under the pizza, and you end up with nice texture and flavor out of that combo.

I've found a few pizzas around here that I really like. Mike's in Davis is a good thin crust cheap eat, as is Cafe Avventura in the Garage in Harvard Square, but neither of them gets the outer crust or the toppings right. Pizzeria Regina's original location turns out a crust that's nearly what I'm looking for, but it's just not big enough at the edges (nor do they heap on the goods the way Vincent does). Unfortunately, a lot of the pizza around here seems to be of the "Town House of Pizza" Greek variety, which doesn't float my boat.

I still haven't made it out to Santarpio's, which I hear is good, but the descriptions I've heard don't offer hope of a match of the Vincent's style. Any ideas, anyone?

Link: http://www.realpittsburgh.com/enterta...

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  1. Have you tried Pinoccio's in Harvard Square? It's on a little side street off JFK St. They sell Sicilian style as well as more traditional -- the crust is fabulous and the toppings. . .we'd lived here for 30 years and didn't know about it -- we were introduced by our 15-yr-old son. The place is a total dive when it comes to atmosphere, but the pizza is the best I've ever had! Let me know how you like it.

    9 Replies
    1. re: sbraverman

      I would have to disagree. I think Pinocchio's pizza is just awful. Gummy crust, dried out toppings, and they often don't even take the time to properly reheat it, so it's often served lukewarm. Stay away at all costs!!!

      1. re: Helen

        An all time favorite of mine is the original Pizzeria Regina on Thatcher St. in the North End. The atmosphere has been the same for 50 years and so has the quality of the pizza. Another good bet is Circle Pizza on Hanover St. in the North End. Both places serve traditional pies. You won't find smoked salmon or leeks as toppings in these places.

        1. re: Frank

          Frank, are you totally sure about Regina's quality not declining? I'd heard from multiple sources that it took a nasty dive about ten years ago and is now a shadow of its former self.

          Any other opinions out there?

          ciao

          1. re: Jim Leff

            I'd have to side with Jim on the Regina issue. I never got to eat there ten years ago, but simply considering the fuss surrounding it and the legends you hear of the crust and taste...well, it fails miserably. For me, the pizza standard-bearers are the New Haven places in their heyday and places like the Star Tavern in East Orange New Jersey. Few, if any, Boston places equal this thin-crusted, greasy goodness. Emma's is in a league of it's own, but in the high-falutin' pie sense of the word. Santarpiro's seems to have potential, but never quite hits it. The experience is great, though. Boston's just not a pizza town.

          2. re: Frank

            overwhelmingly Pizza Regina, the original one in the end, hidden away from the main drag though..ask and be delivered to one of the best pizza's in boston...advice though...order it "Well Done" other wise it comes out tooo sloppy...
            last time i was in the north end Circle Pizza was closed...otherwise i would have recommened that one as well...
            other best bets...Bella Luna in Jamaica Plain...(and you can go bowling there afterword at the Milky way downstairs...and for best bets...i still love the pizza in my home town of Springfield , MA (they haven't got much else other than good pizza but...) i like the Red Rose on Main Street or Primo's on Worthington Street (near the police HQ)

            1. re: BostonOpus
              p
              Peter B. Wolf

              How can anyone say that Springfield only has PIZZA. I know there is good pizza, and Rose's is the best, since SIANO's in Chicopee (Mike's or Peppi's) and probably Nardie's are gone. What about The Student Prince and Fort Restaurant on Fort St. 413-734-7475, for Continental, German leaning, Cuisine. If Ruppert would still be alive he would find you and drag you in to taste some of their food. It is great. I used to be the Head Chef there, a few years back, ask Rudi, Peter or Barbara, or Hubie the Chef for me by name, and you will get a good seat!. Copy this posting and bring it to them as hard copy! Peter

              1. re: Peter B. Wolf

                my bad, its been a few years since i lived there, and fogot about the prince...my deepest apologies to the late ruppert...
                and in addition springfeild does have good italian food in general...not much else to see there, except the hall of fame (if you like basketball

                1. re: Peter B. Wolf

                  if you are looking for a great pizza,try lynwood cafe in randolf.the crust is the best,nice and thin and doesn't flop.expect a 45 min. wait on friday and sat. night after 6:00.

                  1. re: nobluff

                    I heartily agree re: the Lynwood Cafe in Randolph. Went for the first time last week and had their special pizza with anchovies. Crust, cheese and toppings were darn near perfect!!!

        2. I've heard great things about Galeria Umberto in North End. Because they're only open during lunch time, I've never managed to make the trip. Please go eat there and debrief.

          Thanks.

          1. Try Emma's in Kendall Square. I've written about it below a few weeks ago.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Larry

              Emma's is a definite favorite. I loved their Huron Ave location, and haven't had a chance to get to them since they moved, but have heard it's just as good as ever. I'm going to check out Pinocchio's again. I had a slice there once, and it wasn't bad, but it was a long time ago, and I think it was an off-time (3PM or so), so it wasn't as good as it could have been. I'm curious about Galeria Umberto, and will check that out soon. Thanks, everyone!

              1. re: Gabe Handel

                If you get pizza at Pinnochios in Harvard Sq, make sure to get the thick crust, not the thin. They reheat the thick crust for you which makes the crust on the bottom nice and crispy and rebubbles the toppings. Almost no one orders thin crust pizzas there, so they tend to sit around.

            2. Do try Santarpio's. The ambience will be a closer match to what you've described than anything else in town. It's loud, smoky, none too clean and covered with boxing posters. At the bar, you can overhear tidbits of the most fascinating conversations (women and gambling seem to be the favorite topics, along with darker hints about why the owner had enough clout to fight the city's plan to build an overpass on his property instead of at its current nearby location). The pizza itself isn't as large or as heaped with toppings as you might like, but the crust is a joy - thin and chewy, with just the right degree of char. Good tomato sauce/cheese ratio too.

              Your best bet is to go with fewer toppings. An everything pizza I ordered arrived disturbingly underdone (and garnered disapproving commentary from the regulars who believe quite firmly that a mass of toppings usually means someone is trying to camouflage low quality crust and sauce). But the plain cheese and the garlic and onion pizzas are marvelous. They also have excellent wood fire-grilled lamb tips and sausages, served simply with a hunk of bread and hot peppers. Enjoy.

              13 Replies
              1. re: AirportGirl

                Where is it located? You've peaked my interest and I really want to try it. I've just moved to the Lawrence area and I haven't had time to thoroughly explore Boston yet, but Santarpio's seems like my kind of place. Is it easy to find?

                1. re: fladd

                  Still haven't been there, but it's right next to the airport. Just go through the Callahan tunnel toward the airport, and immediately turn right when you exit the tunnel. It's supposedly impossible to miss.

                  1. re: Gabe Handel

                    The gigantic Santarpio's sign is the first thing you see when you take the local exit at the end of the Callahan tunnel. You really can't miss it.

                    1. re: AirportGirl

                      Santarpio's is brilliant.

                      BUT DON'T ORDER TOPPINGS!

                      I've been eating there since I was 5 years old, and I learned this important guideline early on.

                      1. re: john

                        Well, I finally got out to try Santarpio's. It was pretty good, but I don't think it's my Boston area favorite. The meat kabobs looked fabulous, though, so I'm sure I'll go back to try those out.

                        The pizza was definitely quite good, and it was better with fewer toppings than with many (as so many folks here indicated). We tried a plain cheese and a pepper & onion, and the plain cheese was a far cry better on consistency (the other ended up a tad soggy). The crust was really unique. Thin, but dense and chewy, and with a really crisp exterior. Lots of cornmeal on the bottom. It was a good crust, but while the crunch was good, it lacked some of the elasticity and bubbliness that I like in a pizza crust. The cheese and the sauce were very good. The sauce wasn't that tinny, sweet stuff that you so often get at your version of the "Town House of Pizza," but rather it was a simple italian plum tomato.

                        The setting was just as described. It was a bit too cold, so we wore our jackets (for some reason, I have a mental association of warmth with the best pizza places -- perhaps it's the ovens).

                        The cold pizza test, this morning, went well for the most part. Unfortunately, though, Santarpio's didn't use a pizza box for our leftovers. Instead, the slices were piled on top of each other in a standard styrofoam take-out box, so the crusts got soggy from the toppings below them.

                        Overall, this was a pretty good pizza joint. I'd go there again (and I'll definitely try the kabobs). However, I think that Regina's North End location beats it (at least for the style of pizza that I love).

                        1. re: Gabe Handel

                          Your suspicions were correct - the bar-b-q is really great. They serve lamb, sausage, or a combo of both. I like the sausage better than the lamb, which I found a bit fatty. The italian sausage is very tasty, with fennel and tasty black pepper. It's served with a hard italian bread and some really yummy pickled hot peppers.

                          Caveat - stuff from the grill can take a while to cook. Often, your pizza arrives first. It's good to get your grill order in with you initial drink order.

                          caveat #2 - i've been going to Santarp's since I was 5 years old, and I swear they have some of the same old waiters there. Some of these guys were just as cantankerous in 1978! Have another bottled domestic beer, put another Sinatra tune on the jukebox, and assume the proper attitude.

                          1. re: JJ

                            Excellent recommendations about Santarpio's. I grew up and still live in Connecticut, and I can tell you that Santarpio's is the only pizza joint that can take a seat with the great pizza joints of New Haven.

                            Santarpio's is wonderful, the staff is crabby, a true Boston experience I hit every time in town. The sausage bar-b-que is a must, the secret is the sweet tomato sauce, that's what makes Santarpio's pizza special, most great pizzas depend on the bread and having minimal sauce, but not Santarpio's, their pizza is just magic!

                            1. re: Captain EO

                              Can anyone tell me whether this place is reachable by subway? Which station is closest? Maverick or Airport? Can you walk there from one of those stations?

                              1. re: Stevens

                                by subway go to maverick when you get out on the street stay to your right and walk straight down chelsea street for 1\2 to 3\4 ? of a mile or so its on you right before the overpass

                                1. re: scott

                                  Can anyone give directions from the north? I'd be coming down 1A.

                                  1. re: C. Fox
                                    s
                                    Scott Mccarrick

                                    follow 1a all the way to the airport, but instead of going up to the left towards the airport stay to the right.take your first left and right at the light.follow that st. till it splits[rite in the middle is a roast beef place]go to the left of the RB place,you will be on chelsea st follow chelsea st till you see Santarpios on your left. you can park on the left under the bridge. ENJOY

                                    1. re: Scott Mccarrick

                                      Thanks! I'm going to the airport today. I'll be saving my appetite for a li'l side trip!

                2. re: AirportGirl

                  Was stranded in Boston for a few hours last weekend and decided to try Santarpios. Loved it! I won't say that it was the best pizza I've ever had (though is was damn good!) but the atmosphere of the place was great. I like joints where real people go to really eat, not to play pretention games. This was certainly that. I don't live close enough to become a regular there, but I'm definitely going back whenever possible from now on.

                3. I think the best pizza is at Cafe Louis. It is grilled over wood coals and is very thin and crispy. It is not just boring mozzarella either. It is the same pizza as Al Forno restaurant in Providence.

                  1. Check out Amici's in West Medford, right on High St. I go there every now and again to taste pizza the way I remember it from my CT/NY upbringing. I order and consume a whole small pie, and every ambrosial bite glides down my throat like a blessing and fills my stomach and my soul with deep contentment.

                    1. I do not know of a place with the extra-size rim you appear to desire. But, after years of looking, I have found a place that uses genuine sliced Italian meatballs on its meatball pizza (instead of morsels of seasoned ground meat): DiPietro's on Highland Ave in the west side of Malden, near Medford. Nice thin crust (but not extra thin), nice cheese, no sugary sweet tomato sauce (pet peeve: never use tomato sauce that has corn syrup--it's revolting).

                      Another good pizza to try is the famous Zazza pizza at Caruso's on Main Street in Melrose, made only with tomato sauce, garlic, basil and cheese (the sauce is put on top of the cheese, and the cheese bubbles up through it) on a reasonably thin crust. It's quite good, but pick it up yourself, as it gets ruined if delivered.... Caruso's is also closed on Sundays.

                      1. s
                        scottm mccarrick

                        i grew up in everett been going to santarpios since i was 8 or so i find it to be the best pizza on the east coast an iv tried pizza from bar harbor (maine) to daytona

                        1. g
                          George Strovrobopolous

                          This aint your traditional pizza by a long shot
                          but Iggy's Bakery in Watertown MA makes a range
                          of sourdough pizzas that are to die for.

                          1. A few suggestions:

                            On the upscale side, Figs (Todd English's chain, in Charlestown, Beacon Hill, and suburbs)has some truly excellent pizza. Very thin crust, excellent toppings, including some unusual yet delicious combinations (the fig and prosciutto pizza is a classic). Granted, it's a gourmet pie, but a very worthy one. And the other food is awfully good too.

                            And then there is Ernesto's (formerly Giorgio's) on Salem Street in the North End, "home of the two-pound pie."(!) Fortunately, it's notable for quality AND quantity. It's got a tasty, medium-thick crust (that's the regular pizza, their sicilian is nothing special), excellent sauce, good cheese. All the standard toppings are very good, some of the unusual ones are too. The eggplant (an old favorite) is hit-or-miss -- occasionally phenomenal, often a bit too bready. Prices have increased over the last few years, but it's still pretty cheap. Be warned: a "slice" is a quarter of a large pie.

                            Neither can take the place of Vincent's (based on your description), but they both serve fine pies.

                            1. m
                              Michael Messier

                              There's a place at Haymarket (in the building adjacent to the produce stalls) that makes a pretty good, though not spectacular, pizza. Good, thin, chewy crust, some dark brown/black spots, average sauce, and most importantly, not overloaded with cheese. It's a bargain too-around $6 for a large pie.

                              1. Go to Concord Mass, The New London Pizza, is across from the train station. It is also across the street from a brick oven place, but having compared them, the New London is the place to go. I live in Marblehead, but every time I am any where near Concord, I make a special trip to the New London. Thin crust, crispy enough to pick up a slice without it drooping. I use garlic like a vegetable and they make a great garlic pizza. The sauce is delicate and never overpowering. My recomendation is: GO THERE.

                                1. I grew up less than a mile from Vincent's Pizza in Pittsburgh. For the last 19 years I've looked extensively in St. Louis, New York, Boston and (believe it or not) Hong Kong for a better pie. I have not found one. I have a picture of a Vinny pie with sausage and pepperoni on my desk so I can slobber over it every day.

                                  Boston is particularly dispappointing:
                                  Santarpio's - Ten years ago, OK, now it's no better than Dominoes. And also stay away from the impossible to chew lamb kabobs. I don't know what the big deal about this place is.
                                  Galleria Umberto - Good, but certainly not much variety and has odd hours (I think they quit when the dough runs out).
                                  There are some good 'non-traditional' pies here, such as at Figs, but for plain good pizza, it doesn't get better than the original Regina's. (Having just moved back to Boston, I do need to try some of these chow hounds suggestions, though.)
                                  It's hard to believe, but Pittsburgh must have at least five pizzerias better than anything in Boston.

                                  My advice is get in your car and drive to New Haven for either a Sally's or Pepe's pizza. In all the places I've eaten pizza (including over 200 in NY City alone - at least 10 places in each borough), the New Haven places - both on the same street - come closest to Vinny's in quality. I would often take the Sunday NY Times and get on the Metro North train (2.5 hours each way to New Haven) just for the pizza.

                                  If you plan to go to NYC for pizza, e-mail me. If I find anything worth reporting in Boston, I'll post it here.