Pizzeria Regina, Boston
Location: 11 1/2 Thacher St., Boston MA 02135 [map]
Cost: Margherita (plain), $9.69 for small and $15.99 for large
Payment: Cash only
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAN S. .::. Boston, per capita, is probably home to more expats from the New York metro area than any other place in America. Particularly among the college and graduate student populations, Boston and Cambridge are packed to the gills with folks who call the Garden State, Long Island, or one of the outer boroughs home. This gives rise to several areas of tension, particularly during baseball season, when thousands of Yankees fans are forced to root in the privacy of their own homes (thank god for MLB.tv!) or risk affronts to their personal safety (Mets fans seem to enjoy relatively harassment-free existences; most, in fact, adopt the Red Sox as their AL team of choice out of a shared distaste for the Bombers).
Food, however, is also a problematic issue. Boston's population of tri-state exiles are usually thrilled with the quality of the lobster rolls and littleneck clams. If you want a burger or a steak, you're in luck, as Boston is home to plenty of fabulous pub-style burger joints (Bartley's and R. F. O'Sullivan) and two of the best steakhouses this side of Peter Luger (Abe & Louis' and Grill 23 & Bar). However, Lord help ya, and I mean Lord help ya if you are ever in the mood for one of those two New York classics; a fresh bagel or a good old-fashioned slice.
The bagel issue is for another blog (does someone want to start nybagel.com?); it will suffice for now to say that the bagel situation is grim, quite grim. But our concern for the moment is pizza. Simply put, the vast majority of pizza in the Boston area is awfulI mean, just lousy. The student areas of Allston and Brighton are chock full of slice joints that look like something you'd recognize from a Manhattan street corner, but, trust me, what they're serving up is nothing like what you or I would call pizza. The predominant style in the Boston slice joints is some abomination called "Greek style." I'm not even sure how to describe it, but it's somewhere between New York and Chicago style, with a thick, greasy crust that ususally tastes remarkably similar to cardboard or one of those bread sticks from Pizza Hut. Slices sit out in those heated carousel things behind glass, and god knows what kind of ovens the places use, because I almost never even get my slice reheated.
I came to Boston for graduate school after spending my whole life in New Jersey, and many were the nights during my first year when I would just about weep over some tasteless triangular something that was described as pizza while secretly I longed for a slice from Pizza Town in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, or PJ's in New Brunswickanything foldable, thin, and dripping with olive oil.
Thankfully, all is not lost! Unlike New York City or North Jersey, you are unlikely to get a decent slice just by wandering into any old slice joint, but good pizza can be found if you seek it out. There's Santarpio's in East Boston, Ernesto's in the North End, and even a little New Yorkstyle slice joint in the Back Bay called Newbury Pizza than can all do in a pinch and if you feel like riding the T. And, of course, there is the bisnonna of all Boston pizzerias: Pizzeria Regina.
I'm not too much of a histoy buff, but Pizzeria Regina has cred. It opened in 1926, making it, I think, the third- or fourth-oldest pizzeria in America (someome can check my facts on that). It is tucked into Boston's North End, one of America's great Italian-American neighborhoods, a charming network of narrow streets full of fantastic restaurants, pastry joints, cafes, and historical monuments (Paul Revere's house is in the neighborhood). A tirp to the North End is all but a guaranteed good time (try Taranta's for some fantastic gnocchi).
My girlfriend and I decided to meet up with some friends on Friday Night to give Regina's a try. I had been there a couple of times before and had always been impressed. On a trip back home over Easter weekend, I had taken my girlfriend to Patsy's in East Harlem, and I was curious to see how Regina's would hold up to a classic New York coal burner.
If you go to Regina on a weekend night, be prepared for a wait. There are no reservations at this cash-only joint, and folks are taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Our wait this time was mercifully brief, perhaps due to our somewhat late arrival (8:30 p.m.). Inside, Regina's is all atmosphere: crowded, noisy, and bustling, tables packed with hungry pizza seekers, surly waitresses crisscrossing the space dishing out pies and pitchers.
Regina only serves four things: pizza, beer, wine, and soda. The place has a storied reputation for curt servers (it's actually considered part of the charm), but our waitress was actually quite friendlyprobably because we ordered quickly. There's a great variety of pies (you can get the list on the website), and, like a steakhouse, you are given the option to order to your desired doneness: lightly done, regular, or well done (what kind of sick freak would order a pizza "lightly done"?). Our party of five decided to go with two large pies, both cooked regular (I really wanted to get one well done, but I didn't think the rest in my party would be as high on char as I am): one classic Margherita (right) and one Saint Anthony's, a white pizza topped with homemade sausage, roasted peppers, onions, mushrooms, fresh garlic, and mozz. Of course, we also ordered the Boston requisite: two pitchers of Sam Adams.
While we waited for the pies, we chatted over our beer and soaked in the atmosphere. Like Totonno's, the place is a true throwback; the decor hasn't changed in 80 years, right down to the red booths and cramped quarters. The brick oven is open to view from the dining room, filling the whole place with the smell of bubbling cheese and char. As said, the place was crowded, and the pizzaiolo (right) gives attention to each pie, so we did have to wait a bit. But, after about 15 minutes, the pies came out.
The Margherita (right) was, in my opinion, about perfect. The crust is thicker than what you get at Pasty's or Grimaldi's, more the thickness of a typical slice joint, but it's sublimely crisp on the outside and chewy within. The pizza heel gets a nice char from the wood-burning brick oven, though in a regular cooked pie, the bottom of the slice is disappointingly char free (I imagine ordering a pie well done would correct this sad particular). While a bit of tip sag was evident, it hardly detracted from the pie, and was actually much less of a problem than at my last trip to Patsy's (the thicker crust no doubt helps). The sauce is wonderful: full of flavor and not too sweet (I believe California tomatoes are used), while the cheese is a straight shredded mozz but spiked with a dusting of pecorino Romano.
Like The Saint Anthony's pie (right) was also quite good, but I'm not really into lots of topings. The sausage is made fresh and tasted delicious, as did the roasted peppers. But, of course, with that many toppings, mushrooms in particular, the Saint Anthony's pie was significantly soggier than its Marghertia cousin. Still, a fine loaded pie, indeed.
In short, Pizzeria Regina does the job when it comes to alleviating the pizza withdrawal that so often afflicts the displaced tri-stater who comes to Beantown. You can even stop at Mike's or Modern Pastry on your way back to the subway for an amazing cannoli. Buon appetito a tutti!
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