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Pizza reviews: Lombardis/Di Fara/Sally's/Pepe's

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  • LVI Oct 25, 2005 01:01 PM

I recently decided to take it upon myself to figure which pizza place in the NY/CT area had the “best” pizza. In order to judge them properly one must be able to eat them all within a fairly short time period. I tasted a plain pie and when available, 1 clam (white only) pie. I was afforded that opportunity this past weekend and must pass along my findings. On Friday I ate @ Lombardi’s in NYC. I had always thought that Lombardi’s served a good pie but seemed to be over rated. And my findings did not disappoint me. The pie was good, nothing great. Over the past several visits I have noticed that no particular care is given to the cooking pies. It seems that the business has gotten in the way of properly cooking the pizzas. Get them in and get them out, which is too bad given the quality of the ingredients. The sauce and cheese all seem to be in good proportions. The same problems plague the clam pizza. The crust was unevenly/undercooked. The toppings were true to form, very fresh but very poorly arranged (there was actually a piece that didn’t have ANY clam on it whatsoever!) I will say that Lombardi’s is at the bottom of my small survey. On Saturday we did back to back Sally’s/Pepe’s of New Haven CT tasting (my babysitter Friday night provided me with the “secret” # to Sally’s to “reserve” a table). Again we ordered 1 plain pie and 1 clam pie. After a 1 hr and 15 min wait our pies were delivered to our table. Upon 1st inspection both seemed perfect for our liking. My 1st bite into the crispy garlicky clam pizza provided me with nothing but disappointment. The clams seemed to lack any real flavor and my wife went so far to say they tasted “canned”. I had to agree. The pizza itself was perfectly cooked and had it not been for the offtasting clams this could have been very close to perfection. Next slice came from the cheese pie. This to me was as close as you get to a perfect plain pie. Perfect balance of sauce to cheese. The crust was perfectly charred and crisp. I think the dough could have had a little more salt but it was delicious. My only gripe would have been the temperature. I do not know if they waited for the clam pie to come out of the oven or if it was put on a cold tray, the pizza should have been piping hot and it was not. It was closer to tepid than hot. Be that as it may, it was a stunning pizza. I have always thought that Pepe’s was the be all and end all of pizzas. On occasion (as rare as that may be) the pie will be a little thick and uneven in the crust. That was not the case on Saturday. Again we ordered 1 clam and 1 plain cheese. The interesting thing to note was when we left the sign on the door indicated that they were not serving clam pies. During our visit they ran out and therefore were no long available. I wonder if Sallys ran out of fresh clams and just substituted canned clams? Anyway, both pies came to the table piping hot and full of flavor. 1st bite was out of the clam pie and I was in heaven! Crisp, clam/garlic/olive oil flavors abound! That clam pie is to die for. The cheese pie was also delicious. Although a little thicker than Sally’s, it did not suffer from the same Lombardi-like undercooking. It was perfectly charred with the right amount of chewy/crisp crust that I like. All in all, a better experience than Sally’s but the plain pies were very close (I’d give the nod to Sally’s on this visit to the plain pie). Last and by NO means last was Di Fara in Brooklyn on Sunday. I have read and read about Di Fara for quite some time but have never found myself on or near Ave. J in Brooklyn. That is probably my single biggest mistake…not getting here sooner. Although Di Fara does not have a clam pizza, this, IN MY OPINION is the greatest singular expression of pizza I have EVER eaten. Those looking for atmosphere look elsewhere! Dominic De Marco has been making pizza here for over four decades and by the looks of things, NOTHING has changed. He makes (at least the day I was there) all the pizzas himself. He uses genuine buffalo mozzarella that he slices in his hand. All ingredients are genuine top quality and each pie he makes he takes his time. He also tends to the pizza oven which insures that each pie is cooked to perfection. When the pie comes out of the oven it is piping hot and perfectly cooked. Dominic then hand grates romano cheese that you can sprinkle on top. WOW, what a pizza. The perfect balance of flavors, heat and texture. Without question the best of the tasting. I will say that it has ZERO atmosphere and can be slow. But it is worth the wait. To truly experience this pizza do not be tempted to take out. It MUST be savored as soon as it comes out of the oven. Those trying to judge this pizza after putting it into a cardboard box will not experience this slice of heaven properly.
Please understand that I judge pizza by MY tastes. I grew up in CT and believe real pizza is thin crusted and crispy. I spent 15 years in Chicago. To me Chicago deep dish pizza is the antithesis of what pizza should be. But yet people there seem to love it and HATE NY style pizza. So this just goes to show you: it is all subjective and all comments should be taken as such!

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  1. Thanks - good thing I have a monthly metro card to take me out to Brooklyn this weekend

    1. b
      Bill Strzempek

      Hey, a really delightful review! Can you provide the addresses for Sally and Pepe's in New Haven? Thanks for all the arduous "work". (p.s. have you linked this to the New England board?)

      1. One big difference I noticed between NH and NY is that you judge NH by their clam or "plain cheese" while in NY it's with a Margarita (sauce/fresh moz/basil).

        imo, Sally's is better then Pepe's (crust is another level), both their clam pies are very good... but the average cheese and unbelievable amount of olive oil added to the "plain cheese" leave them short in comparison to the best of the best NYC margaritas.

        Great review though, thanks!

        1. I agree that by plain pie standards NY is far better than the New Haven group. But the clam pizzas up there are awesome, I like Pepes better than Sallys - add some bacon to the clam and you have a match made in heaven. However, I always find my jaw to be killing me after eating there - anyone else find this?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Wingman

            "However, I always find my jaw to be killing me after eating there - anyone else find this?"

            no, but the crust at Pepe's is noticably tougher then NYC style, or even Sally's.

          2. I personally think that sally's is the best pizza I have ever had, but that of course is completely subjective.

            1. I prefer Pepe's to Sally' in NH but....Don't miss Roseland Apizza up the road apiece in Derby CT. They have a fresh clam and a plain rosemary garlic pie that are delicious.

              Last time I went, I risked my life getting there in an ice storm and p.s they were packed with brave pizza lovers.

              1. I agree that Sally's plain is def. better than Pepe's plain. I'm not a big fan of clams, so...

                However, I must say that Sally is *always* freggin closed! Whenever I go to NH I try going to sally's and it's closed, so I go to Pepe's (which is still awesome--and yes, my jaw does her after eating NH pizza, the dough/crust is delicious and crispy but on the inside also tends to be quite chewy--which is a mixed blessing (I end up enjoying the taste a lot more by consistently chewing my food like i'm supposed to, instead of inhaling it--sometimes I forget =] but has the side-effect of making my jaw hurt after the meal... oh well...)

                I personally have not tried pizza as good as Sally's or Pepe's yet, in my entire life--I have high hopes for Di Fara and I'm sure it rocks the house, it gets such enormous praise it has to be legitimate and godly.

                I Went to Grimaldi' s for the first time recently with two friends and I'm sorry to report that the pizza was way undercooked and essentially resembled something I could have ordered at my apartment from the pizzeria down the block...

                As for the "famous" "Lombardi's" in soho that i've been twice... what a joke... it didn't hold up to Sally's or Pepe's. The dough, sauce cheese and cooking technique were not even in the same vicinity.

                I really look forward to going out to Brooklyn this weekend to finally check out Di Fara!

                [This is my first post here on these forums =]

                Sally's takes the cake for me, hands down... Their pepperoni, and every other pizza, is brilliant!

                7 Replies
                1. re: fizure

                  "that the pizza was way undercooked and essentially resembled something I could have ordered at my apartment from the pizzeria down the block..."

                  the more toppings you get, the more undercooked it is likely to be toward the middle, that much is true (and the nature of high heat coal oven pies in general).

                  That said, unless the place you order out from down the blicl is coal oven with comperable ingredients to grimaldi's, the rest of your coment si ludicrous.

                  1. re: M

                    Okay... I went a little overboard, just because I was so disappointed with the Grimaldi's pizza (and I'm convinced that most of my disappointment lay in the fact that the pizza was categorically undercooked. Not just the pizza with three toppings... but the plain cheese one also...)

                    However, I stand by my statement... that the pizza I order from Adrienne's "Pizza bar" on Stone St in FiDi. was better than the pizza I had at Grimaldi's. (I don't think Adrienne's has coal, they have "brick-lined gas-fired ovens" according to SliceNY.) The thing that really upsets me is that Grimaldi's wasn't even crowded when I went there, and the pizza's were *still* taken out to soon. I've read comments elsewhere on the interweb about people having problems with Grimaldi's not cooking their pizzas long enough--I wholehearedly agree. Grimaldi's is okay, but it is no Sally's or Pepe's by a long shot--at least not from my trip there... I'll give it another shot though.

                    Speaking of NH, does anyone ever go to Louis Lunch? That little old lady once screamed at me when I asked for some ketchup... "WE DON'T NEED KETCHUP HERE! DON'T EVEN ASK! READ THE SIGN!"

                    heh...

                    1. re: fizure

                      Love Louie's Lunch. Have you tried a burger (or better yet, pig in blanket) at the Doodle? Tasty...

                      Also, I'm pretty sure you're right that Adrienne's doesn't use coal. Then again, neither does DiFara's, which I personally prefer to Grimaldi's.

                      1. re: a&w

                        I'll check out the Doodle next time I'm in New Haven... Looks awesome, thanks for the suggestion.

                      2. re: fizure

                        Please continue this discussion on our New England board so that 1. residents of new haven (or travelers thereto) can benefit from and contribute to this discussion, and 2. Manhattanites searching for local chow will find only that.

                        Next time discussion drifts, please take time to be friendly to your fellow hounds. Start a new thread on the appropriate board and announce the new thread in the old discussion, so readers along know to make the jump. There are few of us, and many of you, so we appreciate your help in keeping things at least somewhat organized!

                    2. re: fizure

                      As a New Haven native who's eaten many a pie at Sally's I'll be curious to know what you think of DiFara. I don't think it's in the same league, though obviously others would disagree.

                      1. re: Chris E.

                        I used to live in New Haven, and I have to say I much prefer DiFara's thin crust to either Sally's or Pepe's. (Then again, I was always more a Modern guy myself.) Also, while it's comparing apples to oranges, I'd take the square slices at DiFara's over any of the pizzas already mentioned.

                    3. I agree that Sally's plain is def. better than Pepe's plain. I'm not a big fan of clams, so...

                      However, I must say that Sally is *always* freggin closed! Whenever I go to NH I try going to sally's and it's closed, so I go to Pepe's (which is still awesome--and yes, my jaw does her after eating NH pizza, the dough/crust is delicious and crispy but on the inside also tends to be quite chewy--which is a mixed blessing (I end up enjoying the taste a lot more by consistently chewing my food like i'm supposed to, instead of inhaling it--sometimes I forget =] but has the side-effect of making my jaw hurt after the meal... oh well...)

                      I personally have not tried pizza as good as Sally's or Pepe's yet, in my entire life--I have high hopes for Di Fara and I'm sure it rocks the house, it gets such enormous praise it has to be legitimate and godly.

                      I Went to Grimaldi' s for the first time recently with two friends and I'm sorry to report that the pizza was way undercooked and essentially resembled something I could have ordered at my apartment from the pizzeria down the block...

                      As for the "famous" "Lombardi's" in soho that i've been twice... what a joke... it didn't hold up to Sally's or Pepe's. The dough, sauce cheese and cooking technique were not even in the same vicinity.

                      I really look forward to going out to Brooklyn this weekend to finally check out Di Fara!

                      [This is my first post here on these forums =]

                      Sally's takes the cake for me, hands down... Their pepperoni, and every other pizza, is brilliant!

                      1. Now I'm feeling extremely nostalgic for those days when Sally's was just a 20-minute walk away from me. Why did that seem like such a long trek?

                        Anyway, I'll chip in my two pennies real quick. I've been on a pizza quest as well, mostly to see if anything here compares to Sally's. The usual suspects have all been pretty good (and I agree that Grimaldi's and Lombardi's get way too much credit), but I'd also nominate the cheese pie at Patsy's (but ONLY the East Harlem Patsy's) as a contender. It's just a 20-minute bus ride for me, so I'm there almost every week, and you won't have to wait an hour like you will at DiFara (which, I admit, is just heavenly).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kimcheater

                          Maybe I was just lucky, but I went to Di Fara on Sunday @ 1pm with my wife AND 3 kids (4 1/2, 4 1/2, and 2 1/2 year olds) and we were able to get a table and pies in under 30min.

                        2. I just posted a report on a trip this weekend to New Haven comparing Sally's Apizza and Frank Pepe's Apizza / The Spot at http://www.chow.com/topics/163278?que....

                          Neither of them comes anywhere close to Nick's pizza in NYC (Forest Hills > Manhattan), or even to Luzzo's, Grimaldi's in its heyday, or Lombardi's (although I haven't been there in a couple of years). Granted, this is just based on a single visit to the pizza joints in New Haven, and any place can have an off day.

                          I think one of the main factors that puts Nicks head and shoulders above the rest is the mozzarella they use - sooo delicious. They also have much tastier sausage, although Luzzo's occasionally comes a close second in this respect. (I've only been to DiFara's once, and haven't returned because I wasn't that impressed.)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: racer x

                            In the eternal quest for the holy grail, er, slice I would have to say DiFara's, Patsy's Harlem and John's on Bleecker form the NYC holy trinity while Pepe's, Sally's and Modern form the New Haven holy trinity. I consider myself a member of both churches. I also worship Nick's, Lombardi's, Totonno's, Grimaldi's, Luzzo's, UPN, Denino's and a host of other disciples.

                          2. thanks for the write up... imo each of these places serves a different purpose and are worthy of a visit if you are a pizza enthusiast.

                            my biggest gripe about the NH style, as someone mentioned already, is the insane amount of olive oil they add to cheese pies. That said, the clam pies are the reall deal, and sally's crust is awesome.

                            1. guess will have to get to difara, is it easy from the airport? we usually chose between john's and lombardis. a recent visit to lombardis was so disappointing we won't return (soggy crust, fresh mozarella ot fully melted) though rice to riches across the street is worth the trip.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: sadie1

                                i found a trick I use to combat soggy centers at the big coal oven places: limiting toppings on large pies and ordering smaller pies in general more often. The smaller pies seem to cook through better in general, and obviously weighing down the large, which already has trouble, with lots of toppings keeps the center from cooking through even more.

                                Not sure what the concensus is these days, but Grimaldi's should be on your list over John's as well.

                              2. First off, like all food, pizza is subjective. That being said, it is human nature for people to have preferences based on upbringing (IE,Red Sox fans are essentially taught from a young age to HATE the Yankees) or geography (Ask someone from Texas about what they think of Memphis BBQ), or national pride (ask a native Baverian what they think of Belgian beer) plus personal opinion that has been gained through life experience. If I grew up in NH than I'm proud of that and Sally's or Pepe's is the best ever. Period. Maybe my Dad took me there when I was 8 years old and I won't ever forget it. Pizza is incredibly prone to this bias. Do people from Chicago really hate NY pizza or is there a little brainwashing or city pride, or inferiority complex going on? I like all the pizza places on the list you mentioned for the way they do their OWN thing. Real pizza, Neopolitan pizza, doesn't use coal (Lombardi's), doesn't put clams on pizza (Pepe's and Sally's, and do not use a deck oven(Difara). They don't slice pizza (all above slice), they use Buff. Mozz (Difara uses a little but nobody else does) and they don't top they heavily( there only a few styles total). Based on that, we are not really eating true pizza. We are eating an American interpretation. Does that make our pizza places bad. No way! I love our pizza distinct pizza places! I don't even know what Chicago pizza has to do with Neopolitan pizza but I even joy it sometimes anyway and that is what I want when I go to Chicago. There is no best just opinion!!!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: lilwalter

                                  DiFara's isn't the only place where you can find mozzarella di bufala - you can get it at Luzzo's, to name just one other place in Manhattan.

                                  I'm sure LVI (OP) meant that <some> people in Chicago love Chicago-style deep dish pizza and hate NY-style pizza. I'm from Chicago and like both styles. In fact, the best pizzas I've ever had were at nameless pizza take-out shops (long defunct) in Chicago where they served thin-crust pizzas when I was growing up. (Also, Aurelio's pizza in Homewood, IL, where I think they used to just serve thin-crust pizzas when I was a kid.) I didn't even know about deep dish pizzas until I was a teenager.

                                2. Lombardi had great pizza, it's still good but not as good as it used to be. Sullivan St bakery now Grand Daisy on Sullivan St. has great pizza unlike any youve had unless you've been to various parts of Italy. In the boros my childhood favorite :regular" pizza is New Park Pizza on crossbay.

                                  1. Lombardi's and Patsy gromaldi(sp?) in brooklyn are my favorite for pies...Ben's in Soho is my favorite for a single slice and Sullivan Street Bakery is the best for Roman Style pizza with toppings like Artichoke and Champagne Grapes..yum!

                                    1. I vote for Sally's b... ut Arturo's (Houston Street) is not to be overlooked. Very disappointed in Lombardis the last couple of visits.

                                      1. LVI,

                                        Think we must have crossed paths between CT, Brooklyn, NY, and Chi.

                                        I love both thin crust (red and white pies), and stuffed deep dish, although agree that this is an entirely different kettle of fish.

                                        Some additional CT pies to add to the mix:
                                        1. In Hartford (on farmington avenue): Harry's and Luna pizza (3 doors down from each other), both make great red and white pies. I'd put Harry's over Pepe's and Sally's, and Luna just under the bunch. Really excellent thin crusts. BTW, I typically add bacon and garlic to the white clams.
                                        2. In Norwalk, Letiza's is also excellent. Probably a notch below those above.
                                        3. NYC area, I'd put Di Fara as a big #1, others next step down. Or course, it's not an easy get to. Recently went to Grimaldi's as part of visiting the new waterfalls, and the pie there was excellent, albeit not Di Fara.

                                        If you get to Chi, there's nothing like a deep dish, stuffed spinach and mushrooms. Edward's and Giordano's still make my mouth water!

                                        Enjoy.

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