"Maybe the 500th best pizza in America, but even that's doubtful."
Bob & Timmy's
32 Spruce Street, Providence RI 02903; map); 401-453-2221; bobandtimmys.com
Pizza Style: Grilled
Oven Type: Grill
The Skinny: Ranked as America's fifth best pizza by Alan Richman in GQ, but don't you believe it. This was the first MYOM (Melt Your Own Mozzarella) pizza I've encountered
Price: Margherita, $14; Spinach and Mushroom; $13; Everything Pie, $14
When GQ published Alan Richman's Top 25 Pizzas list, we, like serious pizza lovers everywhere, devoured every last word of it and posted about it. Like everyone else, I had my quarrels with his list<!-- (and, yes, I wish he would have acknowledged my book Slice of Heaven and this blog, where many of the ideas he wrote about had already been introduced) -->, but at the same time I certainly took note of the heretofore unknown and previously unheralded pizzerias that Richman ranked highly. I vowed to try each one of the places I had never been to the first chance I had.
That's how and why I found myself at Bob & Timmy's in Providence, Rhode Island, which was ranked fifth on Richman's list. In his story Richman had used the following descriptors:
Every one (of the pizzas) was expertly prepared....
It seemed about the best flatbread I'd ever eaten....
...vegetable toppings were remarkably fresh....
Sounds seriously delicious, doesn't it?
My wife and I were driving to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to make a 7:45 p.m. ferry, and I knew we had to pass through Providence, so I made sure to stop off at Bob & Timmy's to pick up a few pies to test the Richman Pizza Meter.
Based on what we tasted, that meter is not functioning all that well, or at the very least it's calibrated very differently than mine.
We ordered three pies (above, from left):
- A spinach-and-mushroom that Alan had singled out for his highest praise. It had freshly sauteed mushrooms, spinach, garlic, olive oil with parmesan, romano and feta cheese
- A Margherita pizza, with sliced tomatoes, prosciutto, basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, shredded parmesan cheese and sprinkled romano cheese
- An Everything Pie, with sausage, meatball, green peppers, mushrooms, onions and olives with pomodoro sauce
What came out of the kitchen 15 minutes later were definitely grilled, but they were more like flatbreads than pizza.
Why? They were all flat, really flat. The crusts had no lift, no rise on them at all. The thick hunks of mozzarella cheese on the Margherita were unmelted. It was the first MYOM, Melt Your Own Mozzarella, pie I had ever tried.
They were still cold in the middle. These pizzas were perfectly tasty, something you would happily eat at a friend's backyard barbecue, but the fifth best pizza in America? Absolutely not. Maybe the 500th best pizza in America, but even that's doubtful. My guess is it's not even the fifth best pizza in Providence. Al Forno, which Richman ranked 18th, was where grilled pizza was introduced in this country by its owner, George Germon,. It's also in Providence, and its grilled pizza is way, way better than Bob & Timmy's. It's not even a fair or reasonable comparison. Al Forno uses much better ingredients and takes far more care with its pizzas than Bob & Timmy's. It's as simple as that.
This is not a matter of Bob & Timmy's pizza being bad. If I lived in Providence or maybe if I lived in B&T's neighborhood, it would be someplace I would order a pie from for dinner if I was too tired to cook. But is it worth a lengthy or even a brief detour? I don't think so.
As we have previously noted, my friend Alan loves to generate controversy and garner lots of attention with his stories. He's a funny, knowing, and wonderful, wonderful writer, one of the best food writers we have, but based on the pizzas I ate from Bob & Timmy's, it's safe to say that his pizza judgment diverges considerably from mine.
My guess is that deep down Alan knows that Bob & Timmy's is not all that special, though it's hard to look into the soul of another serious pizza lover. Alan loves getting a rise out of the rest of us pizza lovers, and he has succeeded in doing just that. I myself would rather have the rise in the crust at Bob & Timothy's.
But I have taken the bait, Alan. Damn you and your provocative opinions and stories.