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Santarpio's-- what don't I get?

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Finally made it there last weekend. For reference sake, my pizza universe in Boston includes Armando's, Emma's, Regina, and Cambridge One-- various sorts for various moods. I'm always chasing the great lost NY pizza of my youth but have branched out to be an appreciator of any kind of decent pie.

The thing about Santarpio's is that is just seemed really dull- the crust is undersalted, the sauce sweet-- mostly tomatoes and not a lot of herb, and the cheese was fine. Is there something I'm missing here? Seems like I should have gotten a sausage pie?

The lamb skewer was fine but fattier than I thought it should be.

Go ahead-- fire away, Santarpio's lovers. Help me understand.

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  1. The Garlic pizza is the best.

    1. I love the skewers. I like the pies, but I don't think they're the tops the way I used to. It seems like the crust has a more biscuity crumb than I recall from my youth. The weight of one ingredient is all that crust can sustain; I usually get sausage and eat it quickly before the crust has a chance to sog. Tastes to me like they season with garlic powder, not my favorite. Atmosphere is a big plus.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        Yep, this sums it up for me. I think the skewers are terrific, especially the sausage. The pizza is good-ish, but it's as much about atmosphere as food. It's also one of the few places in the world where I enjoy getting a carafe of red wine on tap.

        I seem to recall having read somewhere that Jim Leff avoids places that are overcrowded with locals, citing inferior chow. By that rationale, I'd imagine he would abhor Santarpio's.

        1. re: finlero

          This is my experience too. I think the pizza is merely "meh" but the lamb and sausage skewers and the red wine from a tap are priceless. Ahh ... the memories of a group of hounds ordering yet another carafe of red one cold afternoon is one of the best.

          I'd rather go to Regina's any day over Santarpio's for that style of pizza. Now that I've tried Gran Gusto it's a little harder to decide, even though GG is such a different animal.

      2. I don't think your missing anything, but I sure feel like I'm missing something if I don't get a taste of Santarpio's once a month.
        I'm convinced that most people who didn't grow up eating Santarpio's pizza just don't like it that much. Just about every person I have brought to try Santarpio's to try for the first time does not understand my passion for their pies, which are usually either just sausage or pepperoni.
        I agree that the pies must be eaten right away, and the crust is not the same as it was, or I remember it being from years ago. I've never had a problem with the sauce which is nothing other than canned crushed tomatoes and dried herbs simmered for a while.
        The lamb skewers, peppers, and bread make ordering easy. The hardest decision for me is sausage or pepperoni (7 out of 10 times it's sausage).

        1 Reply
        1. re: Infomaniac

          I completely agree with Infomanic. I was a Monday night regular at Santarpio's for years, actually to the point of hanging out in the kitchen with Rocco and the gang, talking sports or whatever while waiting for takeout pizzas, which we occasionally did when we didn't have much time. And for those of us who went there literally hundreds of times, there was no better pizza. But lately I've been bringing "newbies" to Santarp's, and while they mostly like the pizza, they don't quite have the passion for it that the rest of us do.

          And yes, it needs to be eaten right away, though the ones I took home either to eat later that night or to freeze for another day weren't all that bad.

          For me, the 'roni pizza is as good as it gets, while the garlic pizza is nearly as good, though folks around me the next day usually aren't took happy, as the garlic really does seep through the pores...

        2. There's only three good pizzas in Boston that I know of and Santarpio's is not one of them (a step above Regina but that's not saying much):

          1) Iggy's
          2) Figs
          3) Cambridge One

          18 Replies
          1. re: joebelt

            Like them all...I'll add Armando's and Gran Gusto in Cambridge too.

            1. re: Sal Monella

              I need to try Gran Gusto. It's on my short list of pizza places to try.

            2. re: joebelt

              Cambridge One???
              That could be one of the worst representations of "grilled" pizza I have ever experienced, never mind pizza in general.

              1. re: Wursthof

                I don't know what you mean by "grilled" pizza but yes, Cambridge One has a lot of fans in town. If you like your pizzas not dripping with grease, topped with quality ingredients and a good (not sweet) tomato sauce, they are a very good option. Their crust is very good as well unless if you like soggy crust.

                1. re: Wursthof

                  My issue with Cambridge One's crust is that it's essentially a cracker. If I wanted to eat my pizza on matzoh, this is the place I'd go.

                  1. re: gini

                    It's a thin crust. I don't know why you would call it a cracker unless if you've been served a subpar pizza there on a off-night.

                    1. re: joebelt

                      The most recent pizza I had there literally shattered like a Carr's water cracker when I bit into it. I really hope that was an off night.

                      1. re: gini

                        I would day that it was an off night. Cambridge1 has a firmer crust to be sure, however I have dined there many times and never had crist as you describe. I have never experienced anything as crisp as say even Emmas at C1.

                        1. re: joebelt

                          I have to agree wtih gini on this one. My husband and I tried Cambridge One one night (based on recommendations here) when we were in the mood for pizza. While it was tasty, our comment at the moment (and ever since when we recollect our experience) was that it was like eating a cracker. We left still hungry and actually ordered pizza elsewhere on our way home (since we had been in the mood for pizza).

                          1. re: mocooks

                            i've only been there one time, so who knows. but i remember the crust being pretty crisp. i don't know about cracker-thin/crisp, but thinner and crisper than usual. i actually liked it quite a bit, though like mocooks, i left hungry b/c it's a less substantial meal as a result.

                            but as often noted on the board, it's really a very different beast from other pizzas, and kind of hard to make meaningful comparisons as a result.

                            1. re: autopi

                              I haven't been there in a couple of years, but I don't really ever recall getting anything cracker thin/crispy. One potential thing to watch for is that the pizzas that are going to be less oily might be more prone to ultra-crispiness?

                              Put me down as another vote that their 'pizza' probably should be considered as a separate food item than what most people think of when they say 'pizza' though ... I like it a lot, but if someone says, "Man, I really want a pizza", Cambridge 1 is probably not going to hit the spot.

                              1. re: jgg13

                                What I didn't like about Cambridge 1 pizza was that the tomato sauce wasn't cooked, it tasted stewed, apparently because the ovens were too hot and the crust started burning. I like the location and atmosphere though, despite the lousy pizza, and do stop by for a beer or wine sometimes.

                    2. re: gini

                      How does Cambridge One's crust compare with Za in Arlington?

                      I like a thin crust with good flavor. But as much as I love the salads and toppings at Za, their crust just doesn't do it for me. Kind of thin and tasteless.

                      If it shatters like a Carr's cracker AND taste like one?

                      1. re: poptart

                        Aren't they owned by the same people/group? I guess I assumed that because I've eaten at both and think they're virtually identical. The menu at Za is way better than Cambridge One though, as are the salads.

                        1. re: bobot

                          Interesting! I didn't realize that. Thanks.

                          1. re: poptart

                            I don't think this is true - pretty certain that Za is owned and operated by the folks behind EVOO -- I think Cambridge 1 is part of the Miracle of Science empire. Za is consistently better than Cambridge 1 in my experience, but I like both.

                            1. re: rlh

                              Cambridge 1 is indeed own by the Miracle of Science crew (to my knowledge it also includes Middlesex, Audobon Circle & the new Cambridge 1 - but there might be others. Also heard tell that they're taking over the greenhouse space in harvard sq)

                        2. re: poptart

                          Za's crust is definitely not a Neapolitan style like crust. Their salads are much better than their pizzas.

                  2. I don't get it either. I guess I fall into the category of not growing up eating pizza there. However (quick aside),I do remember visiting places I thought were great when I was younger and came away being dissapointed.
                    I don't like their pizza. The first time I had it , how does that song go?..... "is that all there is?" But for those who like it, what the heck, it's your choice. I'm not going to tell anyone what to like, it's all subjective. But for me, their dough, sauce and prep doesn't make it.

                    1. I think the sauce is what makes the pie - never really thought of it as sweet. I'll have to take note next time.
                      Never really thought of the dough as undersalted either. Granted, I usually don't get plain cheese.
                      And the lamb is occasionally hit or miss - the sausage tends to be more reliable.

                      1. I don't load it up, the crust (or any crust) can't absorb too many ingredients. I usually get sausage well done.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: treb

                          I've had the best success with the sausage weel done.

                          Interestingly enough, I took my now four-year-old to Santarpio's a year ago and he could not get over people waiting in line to eat pizza. He also was amazed by the sheer volume of pizza. Any way you slice it, Santarpio's is a pizza mecca.

                        2. I have to say that I fall under the 'I don't get it catagory' as well. I'm always back and forth to Boston and would see the sign every time I hit the airport...so a couple of months ago I asked the bf to pick up some pizzas (one cheese, one pepperoni) at Santarpio's. His apartment is maybeeeee 10 minutes from the airport and by the time we got home, the pizza was totally soggy with all of that overly sweet sauce. I was not a fan.

                          Maybe the magic lies in the Santarpio's experience vs. the take-out?

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: firelight1016

                            As with any pizza I have ever had, this is absolutely true. It is always the true test of a pie to have is on site, hot out of the over, sans a cardboard steam bath.

                            1. re: Gabatta

                              I am going to mention Picco here just for a point of information. I can't say that their pizza is top tier. I can't really say that any place around here has really gotten me craving their pizza and I have been a long time devotee to both Santarpio's and Regina. Neither has been calling my name(I have pretty much resorted to making my own.) and the last time I went to Santarpio's was just for the skewered sausages and lamb. Regarding Picco, at least there is passion. The first time I got a slice to go it wasn't about the pizza. It was about the fact that the man puts a piece of thick, corrugated paper on the bottom of the box so your pizza doesn't steam or sweat. Now that is someone who cares about their product.

                              1. re: Wursthof

                                I can't talk about Picco's pizza, but I had lunch there and found the food to be OK, if not hot enough, but the service was absolutely abysmal...had to wait an hour for a couple of panini (which didn't even fit the definition of one). Add hard chair and horrible decor and it made me think the place isn't so great. Suppose I'll have to try the pizza, but it will have to be take-away...

                            2. re: firelight1016

                              10 minutes in a cardboard box is Death to almost any thin-crust style pizza.

                              1. re: ScubaSteve

                                10 mins anywhere is death to a well made Neapolitan style pizza.

                                1. re: ScubaSteve

                                  Why..why does pizza take on the taste of cardboard?? Aweful. I guess it's a pet peave of mine along with coffee in styro cups. ech! I try to avoid eating pizza to go.

                                  1. re: treb

                                    if your thinking take out pie then steamed in cardboard=taste like cardboard.

                              2. with respect to "New York Pizza" I've been told (by a native Brooklyner) that La Ronga on Somerville Ave in Somerville has "the pizza I remember from back when." But I also hear it's open only at lunch.

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: secretlyironic

                                  It is only open for lunch & it just has a little store attached to their big industrial bakery (kinda of like the the Iggy's store in Fresh Pond but old school Italian). I grew up in Brooklyn & Jersey so I am picky about pizza and I stopped comparing a long time ago and have learned to like the pie here as well. I like this little cafe on Highland Ave in Somerville called Cafe Rossini which makes a tasty pie too.

                                  1. re: mr mangia

                                    For that specific New York style of pie, I agree that both La Ronga and Rossini are good. After all, both places are bakery-oriented, so it comes as little surprise that their crusts are well-made.

                                    However in Somerville, I'm fairly partial to Angelina's in Teele Square.

                                    And in the same general area, Armando's in Huron Village is my overwhelming favorite.

                                    1. re: finlero

                                      i actually like pini's on broadway as well. i used to not like it and i am not sure if they improved the pizza or i just got used to it. props to armando's as well. i like the pizzs in the iggy's bakery too.

                                      1. re: mr mangia

                                        Pini's does one of my favorite slices in town. I'm less smitten by their whole pies.

                                        1. re: finlero

                                          agreed ! you can't beat the deal they have & it's cheaper than a small pie.

                                          1. re: finlero

                                            One thing I have suggested in the past with Pini's is to order the pies "well done". This will give you a pie that is cooked like the slices (due to the re-heating). This is what I do every time I order there and they are always delicious.

                                      2. re: mr mangia

                                        I've never heard reports on Caffe Rossini's pizza. What's it like?

                                        I love that little place -- it's where I stop in after yoga for a good cup of coffee. They make excellent pies around Thanksgiving.

                                        1. re: yumyum

                                          i think they use a crazy blend of cheese to go with the delish bakery crust. they may use cheddar in with the mozzerella. they have fresh toppings and they deliver too but not very late in the evening but at least during dinner time.

                                          1. re: mr mangia

                                            Just what I need. Another pizza to add to my rotation. I don't even LIKE pizza that much! Thanks for the info, though. I will check them out.

                                    2. I've never had bad pizza there, per se, but the SAUSAGE pizza *by far* outshines any other pie they serve. Try it white, or regular (w/sauce) -- it's OUTSTANDING.

                                      1. I have been to pizza mecca's like Lombardi's and Patsy's in New York, and Pepi's in New Haven. I prefer Santarpio's. Maybe it's because I've eaten there for forty years. I always liked how they put the cheese over the toppings, and I like that I don't have to ask for the pizza to be"well done" as I have had to do in other places. They might not cook the pizza's in a brick oven, but to me, they make the best pizza I've ever had. It's a tried and true place. Any patron has almost as much visual access to the place as any employee, and I don't mean seeing the inner workings of the kitchen through some small window. For take-out, you go straight into the kitchen and watch them make your pizza upclose and personal. You don't need a dictionary to look up bizarrely named and mysterious toppings, I believe there are less than ten. Pizza should be simple. It's fine for the glamour boy to flatter such a basic meal with chutney, foie gras, truffles, and the rest of the silliness. Leave that nonsense to Cambridge and the South End. For the everyman, Santarpio's is devine.

                                        20 Replies
                                        1. re: Guinness02122

                                          For me, Santarpio's is very good but not great pizza. The crust is usually too flabby in the center. It's magic is really the sausage-garlic-oregano combination. But the flaw in its crust remains what keeps it out of the great league. The atmosphere is great.

                                          1. re: Guinness02122

                                            Nice post, Guinness. I generally agree that pizza should be simple. I think I like Pepe's better than Santarp's, but it is kind of like saying I like a quadruple shot of Glenlivet better than a triple shot of Glenlivet. Either way, you can't really lose, IMO.

                                            1. re: hiddenboston

                                              Thanks. I think it's more like a Laphroig vs. Macallan comparison. A co-worker joined me for lunch at Santarpio's a while back and didn't prefer the crust. It was slightly burnt which is what I prefer. I didn't try a slice on his half since I hate garlic and onions. It just comes down to preference.

                                            2. re: Guinness02122

                                              Agreed there's nothing like a simple cheese pizza but unfortunately that's hard to find in this town.

                                              1. re: joebelt

                                                i tried santarpios four or five times, hoping to like it. Didn't like the crust, the sauce, or anything in particular about the pizza. wasn't horrible, wasn't memorable. It may really be what you grew up with: i'm a Brooklyn girl and grew up on what seemed to me wonderful neopolitan pizza. i don't' like fancy stuff on my pizza but i like a robust sauce, a crisp dry crust, and a bubbling hot surface. After Brooklyn, Pepe's was my favorite, passing through New Haven. I've liked Gran Gusto's here in Boston but can't see the Santarpio fuss other than as an icon.

                                                1. re: teezeetoo

                                                  I've been bumming around NYC and CT over the past few days, and ended up at Pepe's today. I think I liked the pizza I had next door at The Spot (their original restaurant, I believe) just a little better when I went there awhile back, but I still think that I like either version of Pepe's a little better than Santarp's. But that definitely doesn't take away from Santarpio's, as I could eat their pizza nearly every week given the chance.

                                                  1. re: teezeetoo

                                                    I also grew up in Brooklyn where great pizza was everywhere. I cannot stand Santarpios. Terrible.

                                                    1. re: catspercapita

                                                      cats, I envy you, coming from the pizza mecca of the US. BOS will never match any of the 'great' places in NY. However, giving what we are and compared to other cities (than NY) we do pretty good. You are spoiled, and rightfully so but, places like Santarpios and Angelias coal fired are not terrible, just not as good as what your used to. If you stay around here, you'll find some good places. Keep chowing!

                                                      1. re: catspercapita

                                                        catspercapita, have you tried Bostone Pizza in the Back Bay? It's not quite Joe's in the Village, but they do have excellent NY-style slices there.

                                                        I was back in New York for a few days earlier this month, but never got around to trying Totonno's in Brooklyn, which is on my short list of places to try. Got back to Grimaldi's, which was pretty good, though it wasn't as good as the last time I was there, and didn't match up to Regina's in the North End, IMO.

                                                        1. re: hiddenboston

                                                          Sure you don't mean John's on Bleaker, in the Village? Pretty good za.

                                                          1. re: treb

                                                            No, I did mean Joe's, as they do slices, as Bostone does (I was comparing places that serve slices--wish John's would do that). I absolutely love John's--in fact, I probably put them at #2 on my wildly subjective personal list, tied with Lombardi's (also in NYC), both of which are just behind Pepe's in New Haven.

                                                            Santarp's is still up there, though it is slowly sinking out of my top 5...

                                                            1. re: hiddenboston

                                                              Give Santarpios it's 'local' cudo's.

                                                              1. re: hiddenboston

                                                                This thread reminded me about Bostone, which I finally checked out this afternoon for a slice of cheese.

                                                                I totally agree that it's one of the best NY-style slices I've had in town. It gets a lot of things right, nailing the texture (very thin, chewy in the center, crispy at the exterior), and the size (a full sixth of a 16" pizza), not to mention the price ($2.50/slice on Newbury Street, not too shabby).

                                                                It misses, at least a bit, on flavor. Crust, sauce, and cheese are all on the bland side. Nothing overtly offensive, just nowhere near as much flavor as, say, Regina or Armando's. Of the three components, the cheese was probably my least favorite, tasting just a bit processed and gummy.

                                                                Even considering the negatives, this was an impressive slice for the city. I'm glad to know I have a new go-to place for a quick snack in the relatively chow-deficient Back Bay. Looking forward to going back and trying a few Sicilian slices as well.

                                                                1. re: finlero

                                                                  Has anyone else found Bostone's a little bit greasier than it ought to be? Preference, of course, but definitely found it blot-worthy with a napkin before eating.

                                                                  1. re: newhound

                                                                    Some extra grease is inevitable when reheating slices in the pizza oven. This is also what achieves that great extra level of crispiness.

                                                                    1. re: newhound

                                                                      blotting?
                                                                      never.

                                                                      1. re: newhound

                                                                        Why give a napkin all that flavor?

                                                                2. re: hiddenboston

                                                                  I haven't been to Bostone but it's on my to do list. And I agree w/ you in that it's harder to find great pizza anywhere these days. Quality has dropped.

                                                          2. re: Guinness02122

                                                            I live in NY and have been to every great pizza joint you can name in NY and in New Haven. I was a fan of the original Regina's in the North End until my last visit in July when I became a Santarpio's devotee.

                                                            1. re: guttergourmet

                                                              Hit Santarpio's today for charcoal grilled sausage and lamb kebabs followed by a sausage, cheese and garlic pie. Best in Boston.

                                                          3. I think Santarpio's is the best "regular" pie in Boston (ie, plain cheese or pepperoni). The crust is, ehhh, and it definitely does *not* keep well overnight. Possibly the only pizza I've ever been almost unable to eat the next morning. When hot, though, it's damn good.

                                                            Cambridge1 and Emma's are wonderful, Upper Crust is solid.

                                                            Overall, though, I have to say Boston pizza is like NY pizza--second-tier to the core. Nothing, but nothing, beats a pie from Sally's, Pepe's, Modern or Bar in New Haven. Wish it weren't so, but there it is.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: fmcjr

                                                              Though New Haven is great ( I rank Modern, Sally's and Pepe's in that order), I believe DiFara's, Totonno's, Grimaldi's, Johns, Nick's and Lombardy's of NYC can hold their own with NH.

                                                            2. Oh, do I agree with you. I just don't get it either about how people rave about their pizzas. Give me Regina's.

                                                              1. Years ago, when Santarpio's got it reputation, the whole kitchen was run by a guy named "Fats." He was in charge & made everything - the sauce, the dough, all of it - from scratch. I hear stories how people lined up to eat there.

                                                                Personally, I've eaten there, and wouldn't go back. I think they got their reputation from years ago....

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: threedogs

                                                                  I finally went there last week. I grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, equidistant to New York and New Haven, and agree with most of these posts. The pizza definitely has fresh ingredients, though not up to the standard of the New Haven places -- or for that matter, the Colony Grill in Stamford and First and Last in Hartford. But...and this is the BIG but...it's the appetizer platter that distinguishes Santarpio's. I got the combo with the lamb, sausage, cherry peppers and bread. I swear that is the best Italian sausage I've ever had. Most of what passes for sausage in pizzerias nowadays is pretty nasty. Plus it's great local color -- friendly, down-to-earth service at a reasonable price. Anyone coming into the area should make a pilgrimage here at least once.

                                                                  1. re: letseat714

                                                                    My thoughts exactly but the pizza is pretty damn good too, particularly given a slight downhill trend for Regina in the North End my oldtime Boston pizza favorite. But you're right-the "barbecue" combo is what makes Santarpio's really stand out from the pack.

                                                                    1. re: guttergourmet

                                                                      Downhill trend for Regina's? News to me...

                                                                2. You gotta try Andreas Pizza in Winchester MMMM. great wraps too =)

                                                                  right on route 38...

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: jdearman77

                                                                    I've read through this entire thread without encountering Pleasant Cafe on Washington st. in Roslindale. I've had regina, not santarp's. Pleasant's got the same old school street cred, great place and staff. I'm not going so far as to say it's the best, but don't see how it can't be considered a contender...

                                                                  2. We went for the first time yesterday around lunch. I can appreciate the history and dive atmosphere, but the pizza was just ok, imo, not bad, not great. My big dissappointment was my lamb skewer which was WAY fatty, about 60% of which I couldn't eat or had to spit out. Not to bash for the sake of bashing, but the house red had a fruity taste. I know it's cheap wine and I am by no means a wine snob, but this brought back memories of high school days. I'll be sticking to Bud next time.

                                                                    1. I had my first taste of a Santarpios pizza just yesterday, and I have to say I liked it. Probably wouldn't be my first choice, that would be the Waterfront or Reginas; but I would definitely go back. I went with the sausage and garlic. The crust was really thin and the toppings seemed heavy, but it folded well. I also liked that it wasn't overly salty and it was topped with plenty of oil.

                                                                      1. My experience at Santarpios was a nightmare. The service there is the worst I have ever experienced. I honestly believe they only want locals to come in. The pizza is average at best. The sausage was no different than what you would get anywhere else. But seriously the place is a dump, and the staff is rude.