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North End Regina's: The Contrarian View

Luther Feb 21, 2007 02:58 AM

I braved the icy sidewalks last Saturday to get a margarita pie at Regina. It had been a couple years since I'd last been, so I figured it was time for a re-evaluation. Waitresses were curt bordering on surly. Kids were screaming unrestrainedly. Soda was $1.35 for a little cup, and the lines were hella dirty. Diet coke tasted like orange-sprite-diet-rootbeer. On to the pizza...

I can tell that this pizza is made with some care, which can't be said for plenty of pizza in this town. It's made in a straightforward Italian style, with no infringing Greek elements, which can't be said for plenty of pizza in this town. Really, aside from that, this pizza is a glorified slice-joint pizza.

The crust is far too bready for a proper pizza. The floor of the oven isn't hot enough- they let the crust get dry and crunchy, basically overcooking the pizza, but it never gets a proper blistering on the bottom, just an even browning. The crust is on the thick side and dusted with quite a bit of flour, and it saps the moisture from my mouth. The sauce is a very respectable tomato puree, but the cheese lacks a fresh flavor. A margarita especially should make use of a cheese with a high grease and moisture content. The overall experience is on the dry side. The crust has a robust flavor, but it's more of a yeasty/bready flavor than a soulful pizza sourdough type flavor.

This pizza is simply not worth $16. I would say, more like $12. You can get an equally competent pizza at T. Anthony, Presto, or sometimes Pino's for $9-10ish. T. Anthony is the crust flavor champion, and they use a properly wet cheese, but their sauce is oversweetened and overspiced. Presto has the best-textured crust, but it lacks flavor. Pino's is a little unusual and inconsistent, but when it's good, it's the type of unique pizza you can be proud exists in your hometown.

Sigh.

Also, I got a slice at Bostone the other day. I definitely dig the atmosphere in there. $2.65 with tax for a slice that's 1/4 of a pizza is a good deal. I'd say it's an average NY-style slice: decent cheese, bready-soft-crispy crust with insufficient gluten extension, waaaaay overseasoned sauce. Especially in the center of the pie, there's far too much use of the dry spices. The dude at the register seemed to be trying real hard to make everyone happy, even though there were a couple of order confusions while I was there.

  1. Infomaniac Feb 21, 2007 05:53 AM

    One pizza in the last couple years at Regina's is certainly worth an opinon. Sorry your pie was not up to par.

    My view on North End Regina's is more on a long history of growing up in the Boston area. Frequent visits as a kid with my father, with the guys when I was going to school, and now bringing my young family here.

    I'm not claimiing that Regina's or Santarpio's is the best pizza in Boston, and the oldest pizza joints do not necessarily mean they are the best, but because of their place in Boston's pizza history and local native traditions, they have become the Holy Grail for pizza joints in Boston.....and until the day I die, when I hear the word pizza joint, I see the original Regina's, or Santarpio's in my mind, and I know exactly how their pies are going to taste. Not much has changed at either location in the past 40 years.

    Sure I've had some pies from both places that were not up to par, but nothing that would change my view of either place, or keep me from breaking a ritual or tradition. Thats probably a reason why I never order anything other than Regina's Original Pie $12.00 (sometimes with pepperoni $14.50).

    If I had were to quibble about anything at Regina's north end location, it wouldn'r be the waitresses, the screaming kids, or the fountain soda....it would be about the size of the bathrooms. I tell my daughter the reason the bathrooms are so small is because obesity wasn't a problem 75 years ago.

    16 Replies
    1. re: Infomaniac
      chowciao Feb 21, 2007 06:41 AM

      I also had the thought that Regina's is all about their original pies - cheese and pepperoni! I've had NY pies (even went to Arturo's this weekend), but still think Regina's is as good (if not better) than anything I've tried there. As far as the screaming kids, crowds and surly waitresses...well, to me that just adds spice to the sauce - it's a pizza joint, not 5 star dining.

      1. re: chowciao
        Karl S Feb 21, 2007 03:28 PM

        Agreed. I wouldn't dream of ordering a margherita at PR to gauge the pie; that's gourmet pizza land, not authentic Italian-American land.

        The crust is non-pareil for flavor; too much sourdough flavor becomes an obstacle to the tradition. I've had mine blistered quite nicely.

        1. re: Karl S
          Luther Feb 21, 2007 05:24 PM

          Uhhh... are you kidding about the margherita? "Gourmet pizza?" We aren't talking Emma's or Figs here. No goat cheese, no roasted vegetables, no nuts. It's basil! It's the original Italian pizza flavor!

          If I'd realized it was $4 cheaper to get a pie without basil, I probably would have gone for plain. Every time I've been in the past, it's been with a topping fanatic, ordering something with ricotta or sausages or something like that.

          1. re: Luther
            Karl S Feb 22, 2007 01:48 AM

            No, I am not kidding. Margherita is an Italian pizza benchmark, not an Italian-American pizza benchmark. Yes, there is a difference. The use of fresh mozzarella dictates a different optimization of oven temperature and crust density than for classic Italian-American cheese pizza.

            1. re: Karl S
              hiddenboston Feb 22, 2007 05:18 AM

              I also like the fact that they only clean the oven once or twice a year (I know that they clean it on Easter). All the grit and ash in the oven add to the taste of the pizza at Regina's; that's why the other Regina's aren't as good (they don't have that classic old oven).

              1. re: hiddenboston
                MichaelB Feb 22, 2007 01:03 PM

                I'm a little dubious about the oven-cleaning hypothesis. Wouldn't that mean that pizzas immediately after Easter would be missing something, with steady improvement through the year as the dirt built up? I think it's simpler: the people at the original simply care more about putting out a great pizza every time; the kids who work at the Burlington Mall just aren't that invested in the details. The oven matters but the pizza-maker is paramount.

                And I completely agree with Karl S. that Italian pizza and Italian-American are totally different things - it's lame of Regina's to offer a margherita without doing it well, but their plain cheese is the benchmark. Jeffrey Steingarten actually discusses the differences (at LENGTH, of course) in his essay "Perfection Pizza," in his second book.

                1. re: MichaelB
                  hiddenboston Feb 23, 2007 05:09 AM

                  That's why I don't go to Regina's in April. ;-b

                  Perhaps it's a combination of both: The use of an old oven (much like how an old fireplace seems to "feel" better than a new one) and the fact that they do care about making the best pizza possible there. Whatever it is, the only Regina's I will go to is the one in the North End.

          2. re: Karl S
            limster Feb 21, 2007 07:25 PM

            A margherita is as basic as it gets in Naples, but it's really hard to find a decent one in this country -- for example, the mozzarella is entirely different, and here it's usually chopped up, rather than baked into lovely pools of white on a pizza.

            I care more about the texture of the crust than its flavour, but I find the version at Regina's too thick for my taste. I do lke the quality of the toppings, especially the olive oily sauce. But I prefer a crispy thin crust with a bit more blistering, usually requiring a request for "well done".

            Antico Forno's crust suits my tastes more, but their sauce is too wet and the pizza is soggy in minutes. The first few bites once it's out of the oven is great though. Occasionally a slice at Ernesto's would be very nice, possibly because it was re-baked and a bit more brittle.

            1. re: limster
              Rubee Feb 21, 2007 07:38 PM

              What would you order at Ernesto's? Many CH's I respect like it, and I've only been there twice so I don't want to rule it out....

              1. re: Rubee
                limster Feb 21, 2007 07:45 PM

                I tend to get pretty basic slices at Ernesto's, typically slices of cheese. The toppings aren't much to write home about but the crust can be good.

                1. re: limster
                  Luther Feb 22, 2007 03:04 AM

                  I like Ernesto's... I just wish they would use a better quality cheese. Whatever they put on there has a distinct American-Provolone kind of flavor to it. Also, yeah, it's better when they reheat because you get more crisping action.

                  1. re: Luther
                    b
                    BJK Feb 22, 2007 05:12 AM

                    Agreed. Great for a slice of something simple. Less great for a fresh pie.

                    BK

        2. re: Infomaniac
          Luther Feb 21, 2007 08:25 AM

          I wish that thing were $12. Is that the price of a small? The large margarita (16") is $16.

          1. re: Luther
            Infomaniac Feb 21, 2007 08:33 AM

            The large original is only $12.00....small original is $7.50

            1. re: Infomaniac
              Luther Feb 21, 2007 12:34 PM

              "Original" meaning just cheese, right? Are you telling me I paid $4 for a handful of chopped basil?

              1. re: Luther
                Infomaniac Feb 21, 2007 12:48 PM

                Yes...The "Original" is just cheese. I never ordered a Margherita before so you could be right about the extra $4 for basil, which I agree would be a little excessive, unless there is some other type of cheese added.
                I think toppings are an additional $2.50 per topping though on a large.

        3. hiddenboston Feb 21, 2007 07:07 AM

          To each his or her own for sure, but I still think that Regina's is #1 or #2 (depending on my cravings that day) for pizza in Boston. As much as I love The Paddock in Somerville and the Lynwood in Randolph, Regina's and Santarpio's are always at the top for me.

          Now if you start talking about Pepe's in New Haven, then it's a whole new ballgame! ;-b

          1. t
            trembler Feb 22, 2007 06:57 AM

            have to agree with the main point- regina's is just ok. its status here (legendary) has always perplexed me. i dont want to indulge in the old new york/boston pizza comparision but there are 75 ny pizza joints that are better. and, as relates to the 10 best, there is no comparision.

            7 Replies
            1. re: trembler
              hiddenboston Feb 22, 2007 07:06 AM

              trembler, which NY pizza places do you consider to be a lot better than Regina's? I like Grimaldi's better than Regina's, and Arturo's, Da Nico, and Joe's are fairly close, IMO. But 75 places that are better? I definitely want a list!

              Would you put Regina's at or near the top as far as Boston is concerned? Personally, I waver between Regina's and Santarpio's, with the rest being further back in the pack.

              1. re: hiddenboston
                Karl S Feb 22, 2007 08:01 AM

                Santarpio's gets high marks for the unique lamb sausage-minced garlic-oregano flavor, but it has a flaw compared to Regina's: the undercrust is flabby (even when well done, as I usually order it), though the bones are great. Also, if I ever wanted to order pepperoni at Santarpio's (which is doubtful, considering the option of those lamb sausages....), it would be too flabby cooked under the cheese.

                1. re: Karl S
                  yumyum Feb 22, 2007 10:27 AM

                  I agree with you Karl. I like Santarpios for the sausage and lamb (and the juice glasses full of red plonk) but the pizza is simply not as good as Regina's in the North End. Every single time I go to Regina's I notice how HAPPY everyone (waitresses excluded) is from the time they order to the time they walk out. They do one thing and they do it right, and I always order mine well done. Enjoy!

                  1. re: BJK
                    yumyum Feb 22, 2007 11:41 AM

                    Sorry, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. A lovely little counter called "Pete's Meats". You can't tell from the picture but each coil of sausage was at least 10 feet long. Yay.

                    1. re: yumyum
                      hiddenboston Feb 22, 2007 11:46 AM

                      I was strolling along Arthur Avenue on Monday, braving the cold weather in NYC. Cool area! I love the indoor market on Arthur Avenue--olive oil, all kinds of meats, produce, pastries, etc. I wish it were closer to Boston.

                      I still like the North End a little better, though, probably because we have Regina's and Umberto's (and there aren't as many New Yorkers--kidding!).

                      1. re: yumyum
                        b
                        BJK Feb 22, 2007 11:58 AM

                        Oh well. You had my hopes up.

                        :(
                        BK

                  2. re: hiddenboston
                    t
                    trembler Feb 22, 2007 12:09 PM

                    personally, i think haymarket has a better slice along with il panini on hanover. i dont like ernestos or umbertos at all. so, just in the north end, it's middle of the pack. the old newbury pizza was far better, i thought. my mainstay now is armandos in cambridge (sicilian).

                    my point was that i thought it was just average. 75 might be an exaggeration but based the fact that regina's isnt on my boston top ten, i mean.
                    and compared to places like lombardys, spumoni garden, difara........

                2. MC Slim JB Feb 22, 2007 08:25 AM

                  Pizza discussions always seem to get heated quickly; feelings tend to verge on religious fervor. My own belief is that there is no One True Pizza. I've sampled all of the New York and New Haven pies mentioned here, and they each have their virtues, but calling other pizza like Figs' "garbage" smacks of pretension to authority on the subject, which doesn't seem very Chowish to me.

                  I am in the camp that sees the original Regina's and Santarpio's as good, but not The Indisputable Best in Town; they get a lot of points just for atmosphere. I'd rather have the "BBQ" at Santarpio's.

                  You tend to love the pizza you grew up on, and view other pies as inferior. Me, I haven't found one pizza that I though was so extraordinary that I felt it was worth traveling miles for. My favorite pizza changes with my mood. I just don't have the same worship for it as a food that it seems to inspire in a lot of people.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: MC Slim JB
                    n
                    Northender Feb 22, 2007 08:39 AM

                    Slim, as usual I agree with you. Having grown up in Brooklyn, I just took for granted that pizza tasted like... well pizza. The neighborhood pizzeria's were all Italian and generally all good. Ths same for bagels. There were a number of wholesale bakeries where you could pick one up late at night (for a nickle) and they were great - but again taken for granted. (today it is very hard to find a decent bagel in Brooklyn - it is just changed demographics - see East Boston today for a similar change ) But I digress.

                    I love the pizza at both Regina's and Santarpio's as well as Upper Crust and Figs. My favorites were the nightly grilled ones at Sapporito's in Hull, but that is a completely differnt style and venue for pizza. Do I miss Brooklyn pizza - sure. But if I grew up on Greek style pizza in Brighton - I might have preferred that (I certainly don't). So I think the issue is still one of provincialism which I work hard at avoiding. This is a long way of saying that I am very much looking forward to trying the pizza at the Paddock after all the praise from the Hound event.

                    1. re: Northender
                      yumyum Feb 23, 2007 05:46 AM

                      I think you'll really enjoy the pizza at the Paddock. It's hanging in there at the number 2 spot on my list, although there's some heavy competition from the thin crust baby I had at Sagra last night. However, that's a whole other style and a whole nother post.

                    2. re: MC Slim JB
                      r
                      RIChowderhead Feb 22, 2007 09:13 AM

                      Amen.

                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                        Karl S Feb 22, 2007 12:15 PM

                        It's called liminal associations; the pizza you associated with the best of growing up. I grew up on Long Island, and had pizza around the NY City area as my liminal range of benchmarks. That said, I never encountered fresh mozzarella on pizza when I was growing up; if it was available, no one I knew ordered it. Had we seen it we would have thought it odd on pizza. Not as odd as pineapple, avocado and various California or Florida atrocities we heard of from friend who move elsewhere. Or (shiver) cheddar like I encountered when I went to college in Virginia (now *there* was a forlorn pizza desert, where sauce was sweet and garlic was suspect and cheese was only American, Cheddar or Swiss (but I digress)). But still odd. Pizza was a thin (but not too thin) crust (NY pizza had to be thick enough to fold without cracking, whereas Regina's is a bit thinner than that). It had a non-sweetened, not-too-wet tomato sauce. If it had a noticeable herb, oregano was in the foreground and basil was in the background (because it was dried). And it had dry mozzarella, and was not swimming in cheese. It was a thing of beautiful balance.

                        Oh, and the best toppings were (1) mushrooms (canned, marinated or sauteed, of course; putting fresh dry mushrooms on pizza made them have the texture of foam), and (2) meatballs (SLICED thinly). At least I have found two places near Melrose that offer sliced meatballs on their pizzas... Anyway, over the course of the 1970s, we all commented on how pizza quality was declining on Long Island. And things have gotten much worse since then.

                        And I think the sausage (as opposed to pepperoni) at Regina's is an abomination. But that Regina's crust is a thing of wonder. It's the star. I prefer it to the crust of a pizza from a coal-fired oven because it's closer to the style I knew growing up, but better.

                        1. re: Karl S
                          b
                          BJK Feb 22, 2007 12:49 PM

                          FWIW, the Regina's at Station's Landing in Medford has the abominable sausage, too, but also offers sliced link sausage and sliced meatballs.

                          BK

                          1. re: BJK
                            Joanie Feb 23, 2007 07:05 AM

                            What's so bad about the sausage?

                            1. re: Joanie
                              b
                              BJK Feb 23, 2007 07:35 AM

                              I guess Karl S, buffet king and I aren't fans of the ground up sausage meat. Not that it's BAD, per se, but it just doesn't satisfy the way the sliced link sausage does.

                              BK

                            2. re: BJK
                              b
                              buffet king Feb 23, 2007 07:11 AM

                              I've had the sliced link sausage pizza at Regina's at Station Landing in Medford several times. The sliced link sausage pizza cooked well done was delicious. It's one of my favorite pizzas at Regina's. I would rather have sliced link sausage than ground up sausage meat that some other pizza places use.

                        2. w
                          Wursthof Feb 22, 2007 09:47 AM

                          I think that Santarpio's is inconsistent, yet really good at times(have we had this discussion before?). I find Regina to be overall much more consistent. I'm of the camp that less toppings is better. I think you can get a good pie at both, but not the end all to be all pie. The picture of the pie from Totonno's, good luck finding that around here.

                          I agree that what you grew up with may help to sway your judgement. I grew up with Caserta in Providence and I still call ahead on my way back out of town to order one or two to go after a visit with the family. Is it the best Pizza, I don't know. It isn't even in the same realm as Regina or Totonno's or Grimaldi's. It's cooked in a pan, but it's damn good to me.
                          Many times I'll just fire the oven up about 550-ish and make what I am in the mood for, usually with pretty good to excellent results.

                           
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