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Sicilian Slice Crawl in Boston
New Yorkers may no more concede that Boston has a lively pizza scene than accept the Red Sox as the greatest team in baseball. Bostonians, of course, don’t care; their city sits squarely on what our Ed Levine has called “the pizza belt”—and from fancy-pants pies to the old-school Pizzeria Regina and Santarpiro’s, there’s plenty of good eating to be had.
But what about the Sicilian? While we’ve written about the acclaimed Galleria Umberto before, more than a few commenters (and my own frequent dining companion) claimed that there were better square slices to be had. So on a tropical storm-soaked Boston day, when the city’s saner citizens were hiding inside, we set out to find the greatest Sicilian slice.
Armando’s, Pinocchio’s, and more, after the jump.
Galleria Umberto, North End, Boston
For comparison’s sake, we headed first to Galleria Umberto in the North End. Despite the lashing rain (thank you, Hurricane Danny) and the early hour (not yet 11:30 am), the line stretched over twenty people deep. As we waited, another, shorter line formed to the left—the people who clearly knew people. It pays to be a regular. It’s that kind of place.
But it’s hard to complain about the pizza politics or cafeteria-style setting when nine bucks can get you pizza, arancini, and panzarotti, plus a Coke and a plastic glass of red wine.
And oh, the pizza. Hot from the pan—too hot to eat, at first—with a slick of just-sweet sauce and an overflowing layer of cheese, rivers of oil and a surprisingly spongy crust. Having recently been to DiFara’s, I could no longer call Umberto’s my favorite Sicilian slice in the land. But it wasn’t far off. Washed down with a surprisingly drinkable cup of two-dollar wine, I couldn’t have been happier.
289 Hanover Street, Boston MA 02113 (map)
Armando's, Huron Village, Cambridge
I’d heard more than once that Armando’s, over in Cambridge, had a mean Sicilian slice of its own, So we drove out to Huron Village to give it a try.
Around the corner from gourmet palace Formaggio Kitchen, Armando’s is as unpretentious as they come. I grew up three thousand miles from Boston, but the bare-bones storefront—plastic booths, a fridge stocked with soda, the game on TV—felt so familiar, it could have been my neighborhood slice joint. We glanced past the long menu of subs and calzone, and ordered Sicilian slices, both plain and sausage.
I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows when the counter guy whipped out a plain Sicilian slice, tossed a few grayish sausage pieces on top, and slid it in the oven. It seemed like the sausage would just dry out on top, an awkwardly perched addition rather than a properly incorporated topping. Sure enough, that was the case. Dry and unappealing, the sausage didn’t come through.
But the cheese slice, despite its troubling resemblance to my grade-school cafeteria pizza, wasn’t half bad. The highlight of each floppy piece was its dense, oily, almost buttery-tasting undercrust—falling closer to the DiFara camp than the Umberto.
I can certainly see the appeal of the sweet-sauced slices and the corner-store feel. If I grew up riding my bike to Armando’s in the summer and stopping by after baseball games, its Sicilian might be my favorite slice, too. But from a more critical standpoint, it couldn’t quite compare.
163 Huron Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138 (map)
Pinocchio's, Harvard Square, Cambridge
Any Harvard grad or Harvard Square resident needs no introduction to Pinocchio’s. About a three-minute walk from Harvard Yard, this is a sloppy late-night last stop of college student choice. A look at their massive Sicilian slices made Pinocchio’s popularity pretty clear. I couldn’t imagine a better beer sponge—or a better next-day cure-all.
My pizza-eating companion insisted that this was the best pizza he’d had in Boston. “Those big squares, when they’re hot out of the oven. There’s nothing better.” I wasn’t sure if this was a sound critical opinion, or just nostalgia talking; he’d spent a summer at Harvard years and years ago, scarfing late-night slices, I presume, with the enthusiasm of any 17-year-old boy freed from Mom’s dinner table.
Behind the counter waited enormous rectangular pans, slotted neatly into racks, with five or six kinds of Sicilian slices to choose from. A single, cold-looking round pie hid off to the side, looking very much out of place.
We tried a spinach, a sausage, a tomato-basil, and a plain cheese slice. They varied dramatically—not only according to the topping, but according to whether they were fresh from the oven, whether they came from the edge or the center, and how they’d been heated up. The spinach on top of this slice was nicely garlicky, but its crust was almost inedibly tough. Like trying to bite through a teething biscuit.
This slice had a good balance of sweet tomato and clearly fresh basil, but neither topping could make up for the blandness of the base.
But the cheese slice, cut from the middle of a still-warm pan, had an incredible yeasty, light doughiness—like a focaccia you’d scarf down before fully cooked—that I found tremendously appealing.
And the sausage, pulled straight from the oven, was the best slice we ate all day—perfectly crumbled, meaty Italian spiced sausage, barely crisped, its juices commingling with the bubbling sauce atop a crust that hadn’t yet toughened into oblivion.
The pizza I went to bed dreaming about was Pinocchio’s sausage slice. But as inconsistent as the place seemed, I don’t know if I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. Go during peak hours, and get the freshest slice you can find. Galleria Umberto still turns out a mind-blowing cut of pizza, and the cheap wine and arancini can’t be beat—but closed nights and Sundays, with an almost inevitable line, it leaves you in need of other options. Like Armando’s, a reliable neighborhood fixture whose cheese slice is hard to dismiss. Lesson learned? There's room for all in the pizza universe.