Bronx Pizza Mini Crawl: Zero Otto Nove and Coals
From left: A pizza Margherita from Zero Otto Nove and the Margherita from Coals.
When you're on a pizza crawl, it's a rare that even one in five places you hit up is any good. Last night, on a mini crawl in the Bronx, we batted a thousand. (If you're slow with the baseball metaphors, that's a 100 percent success rate, folks.)
Not that we went to even five places last night—just two. So who the hell knows if that even counts as a "crawl," but whatevs. It was our main objective—Ed Levine's and mine—to finally meet the mysterious DJ Bubbles, who until Wednesday night we had only known through email and his manic and awesomely entertaining pizza manifestos and reviews. Even if the pizza we ate sucked (and it didn't), the evening still would have been a success.
Zero Otto Nove
We loaded into the car and wheeled it up to the Boogie Down. I had my Google Maps printed out and made Ed the navigator. Big mistake. In an attempt to skirt homebound commuter traffic, Ed had us go off-map, and we got lost on Mosholu Parkway. DJ Bubbles' new GPS phone was no use, either, since he hadn't used the feature yet and found out en route that it was a paid extra. No biggie—we just called our first destination, Zero Otto Nove, and asked for directions.
You know how some of those in-car GPS units have a sexy computerized English lady guide you through turns and traffic? We got some real live Italian dude instead. ("Do you see the McDonald's? Good. Now turn right!") Turns out it was the pizzaiolo himself guiding us through the mean streets of the Bronx.
"How's business tonight?" Bubbles asked him. "It's a little slow," our guide replied. "If it weren't, I wouldn't be on the phone with you. Now, do you see Commerce Bank? Good. Turn left there; that's Arthur Avenue."
So we finally get there, no worse for the wear, a little behind schedule, but so what? We enter the place and we're all like, "This is it?!?" The space was tiny, just a narrow space with a bar and not a table to be seen (right).
"You the guys who called?" the host asked. "Right this way."
Ah ha! Going back through a little passageway, we were taken into a vast bi-level room, painted with trompe l'oeil effects. Think Casa Bonita* but not quite as cheesy. It was actually a pretty nice space, with a moderate-size wood-burning oven taking center stage.
And the place was pretty slow, with only one other party finishing up dinner (none other than Time magazine columnist Joe Klein). To be fair, the whole Arthur Avenue strip was pretty dead at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, but I hope that's not always the case, because this place deserves some action.
We ordered a Margherita pie to serve as a baseline and a calzone, since, as Ed reasoned, "Calzones are often a useful measuring stick for judging pizzerias.
The Margherita was a "Salerno-style" pie. A bit thinner in the middle, a little less height at the edges, and a tad more crisp than a Naples-style pie—but pretty close otherwise. The pie was good, with rich creamy fresh mozz with a slight tang to it, and a moderately crisp crust with a chewy, bready interior. The crust could have used a little more flavor, as Peter Meehan points out on the New York Times Diner's Journal blog. Going to the upskirt (right), you'll get an idea of the Goldilocksian char level on the bottom: not too much, not too little. I would have liked a little more crispness. As it was, I couldn't photograph a proper upskirt (tip pointing toward the heavens) because the slice wouldn't cooperate (tip sag).
Still, the place seems to be on the path toward serious pizza. To give you some idea how serious, Bubbs and Ed Levine were throwing around the words "Una," "Pizza," and "Napoletana" in the same sentence. If If you're a tad slow, I'll put it together for you: Una Pizza Napoletana. While I think much of that was hunger talking (at least in my opinion), I'd like to see how this pie evolves.
The pizza here was surprisingly good. The crisp crust is brushed with a generous amount of olive oil whose primary purpose is to keep it from sticking to the grill, but it has an unexpected side effect: making the crust pleasantly moist and reminiscent of focaccia dipped in olive oil. (At right, the Coals upskirt.)
We opted for a Margherita and a "Heaven Scent." The Heaven Scent, with provolone, mozzarella, tomato, and garlic, edged out the Margherita for us, and I only wish we would have had more room for other pies on the menu. It's definitely worth a trip back for further exploration—possibly in a grilled-pizza investigative report.
Zero Otto Nove
Address: 2357 Arthur Avenue, Bronx NY 10458 (Belmont; map)
Address: 1888 Eastchester Road, Bronx NY 10461 (map)