Frank Bruni on the Great Artisanal Pizza Boom
New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni examines the Great Pizza Boom of 2009 in his story "The Cult of Artisanal Pizza." It's a must-read that packs a lot of info. Let's summarize.
The Cliffs Notes Version
- Bruni makes the claim that the artisanal boom started in 2004 with the opening of Franny's and Una Pizza Napoletana within a few months of each other. "Both brought a new kind of cachet (and vanity) to pizza making and pizza eating in this city. Both changed its demographics"
- He purposely focuses on newer pizzerias, leaving out old favorites "because they’re products of less self-conscious pizza times." (So no comments here about "Where's Di Fara?" OK?)
- Why the boom? And why are fancy-pants chefs and restaurant moguls getting into the game? It's the economy, stupid. Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr, who's eatsearching for a pizzeria of his own, says, "this seems a lot easier—less money, less pressure. You’re concentrating on one thing rather than sous-chefs and pastry chefs" [After the jump, I give negs to Mr. Bruni's rave review of Veloce Pizzeria.]
On Veloce Pizzeria
Frank Bruni sort of forces my hand here on Veloce Pizzeria. I had been waiting to visit a second and third time before saying anything about it, but based on the lunch I had there last week, I disagree with his assessment: "The nicely charred crust—with a dough of potato, durum and fine zero-zero flour—was firm enough to support a generous measure of toppings."
I will say that the sauce on my square Margherita pizza—a thick, cooked-down, tangy and rich tomato concoction—was excellent. And the crisp bits of cheese at the edges were an added bonus. But my slices were sloppy, floppy, and greasy. There was no firmness whatsoever, and I had to eat the four-slice pie with a knife and fork rather than out of hand.
- Bruni believes "by and large that Neapolitan pies—if they can avoid soupiness, as they did at Motorino—are the most appealing"
- Looks can be deceiving, he says—and the prettiest ovens don't always make the best pies. Zero Otto Nove ("insipid") and Kesté ("sausage that could have come from a Jimmy Dean’s freezer package"), in particular, receive some serious smackdowns
- "...the wave of ostensibly principled pizza restaurants since 2004 has produced a mixed bag"
- Few places combine a winning atmosphere and perfect pizza. Roberta's and Tonda, for example, have killer ambiance but OK pizza
- Consistency is damn hard to come by
There's a nice series of multimedia audio slideshows that goes along with the main story, with Bruni narrating 30-second snippets over photos of various pizzas from Lucali, Roberta's, Motorino, Co. Company, Franny's, Veloce Pizzeria, Una Pizza Napoletana, and Kesté Pizza & Vino. There's a list of Bruni's top 5 pizzas in the city (UPN, Veloce, Motorino, Co., Franny's), nd there's also a Google map that the Times has compiled and that I am not linking to because it's a total rip off of the Slice Pizza Maps.
For the most part, though, I think Bruni's accurate with his assessments (with the exception of Veloce Pizzeria; see sidebar). He correctly points out that Lucali is good but that its crust is more crisp than crisp-chewy, that Co. Company is maddeningly inconsistent but transcendent at times, that Tonda has pretty run-of-the-mill pizza but an impressive aesthetic.