Editor's Note: Hey Slice'rs! Please welcome Andrew Janjigian, who will be chiming in from the Boston area with pizza reviews. Andrew is a writer and test cook for Cook's Illustrated, and he writes about his interests in bread baking, oven building, and mushroom cultivation on his blog, The Fermenter.
20 Estes Street, Ipswich, MA 01938 (map); 978-356-0500
Pizza style: bar pizza, sort of.
Oven type: gas
Notes: Cash only; Full bar. For a twist, ask for the pizza the "old way", with the sauce on top of the cheese.
Price: Full pies only (12"); cheese pizza, $5.30, "everything" pizza, $10.00
In 2007, The Riverview, a pizzeria in Ipswich, MA made Saveur's top 100 list, closely followed by a positive review in the Boston Globe. Ever since then, it's been high on my pizza to-do list.
But Ipswich is a 45-minute drive from my home in Cambridge, and frankly, if my wife and I find ourselves up on the North Shore, after spending the day at Wingaersheek or Crane Beach, we invariably end up eating fried clams at JT Farnham's in nearby Essex. But two weeks ago, with beach and fried-clam-eating season over for the year (alas), we finally made a special trip up to Ipswich to give the Riverview's famed pizzas a try.
The Riverview is an unassuming place, on the ground floor of a vinyl-sided apartment building just outside of town, tucked away on a quiet side street. We arrived right as doors were opening for business on a Saturday evening, and while the place was mostly empty when we walked in, it soon began filling with customers at a rapid clip. By the time we left an hour later, there was already a short line for tables.
We placed our order, and while our pizzas (one plain, one sausage) were being prepared, we peppered our friendly waitress with questions about the history of the place. It first opened its doors in 1947, serving pizza (and, aside from beer, wine, and cocktails, only pizza) to generations of local devotees ever since. The dance floor that once occupied the back area facing the Ipswich River is long gone, but from the mahogany-sided walls, red vinyl booths, and flickery neon beer signs, it seems little else has changed. And that includes the prices: in Debbie's 22 years of serving pies and beer at The Riverview, the price of the pizza (one size only) has only increased twice, from $4.00 to $5.30 for the basic tomato-and-cheese pie. (The most expensive pie on the menu, the "Everything", is a mere ten bucks.)
And what of the pizzas themselves? While the pies we ate at The Riverview were not quite what I would call my favorite type of pizza (I tend to favor New Haven-style neo-neapolitan pies with a puffy, chewy crust and loads of char), they were nevertheless delicious.
The mild-flavored, lean crust was thin from edge to edge, with almost no puff to speak of, and soft in the interior. Entirely lacking in char, it was delicately crisp on the very bottom, and around its decidedly less-than-circular perimeter. The chunky, canned-tomato based sauce was tart and a touch on the sweet side, but pleasantly so, and ladled on in just the right amount, serving as a nice foil for the slightly sharp tang of the cheese that topped it.
The crumbled sausage was fragrant with fennel seeds, light, and not in the least bit greasy. Since visiting The Riverview, I learned that locals often request their pies "the old way", with the cheese under the sauce, something we'll definitely try next time around.
I tried to get Debbie to spill the beans on how the pizzas were prepared, but other than revealing that they used sliced cheddar cheese on top, it was clear she was as much in the dark as the clientele. (The recipe has been in the hands of just two people in the restaurant's 63 years. The original pizza chef retired a few years ago, entrusting his secrets to the current one, who prepares his pies out of sight of prying eyes—even those of the staff—in a basement kitchen.)
Given the use of sliced cheddar cheese, the slightly sweet sauce, and the soft, pliant crust, the type of pizza this most resembled is a St. Louis-style "bar" pizza. This makes The Riverview something of a rare duck in northern New England, a region known mainly for puffy, oily-doughed "Greek" style pizzas.
Whatever the secrets behind The Riverview's recipes, it is easy to understand why the place has been in business so long and has such a large and loyal clientele. The pizza is tasty, light, and entirely satisfying, and a bargain to boot. Next time we find ourselves up that way and not in the mood for fried clams, we'll make our way to The Riverview for sure.