Portland, Maine: Micucci's Sicilian Slabs
Micucci Grocery Store
Stephen Lanzalotta said the best compliment he gets about his "Sicilian Slabs" ($4.50 a slice; $18 for half a sheet; $36 for whole sheet) is when customers tell him they never liked that style of thick-crust pizza until they tried this. And I, a fellow convert, had to agree.
The more obvious sign of flattery is the line that forms at the back of Micucci's Italian Grocer, where Lanzalotta works out of a small corner to produce Portland's beloved Sicilian pizza. Staring around 10:30 a.m., paper plates laden with the bubbly slabs start appearing on the rolling rack and are usually gone within minutes. When the supply runs out, Lanzalotta puts out a folded paper plate with the ETA of the next batch (usually 15 to 20 minutes).
Lanzalotta, who used to turn out 60 different kinds of bread at his Sophia's Bakery in Portland, downsized about four years ago and set up shop in Micucci's to focus exclusively on the pizza (and a few other specialties including flaky sfogliatella, focaccia, and a hearty seed and nut loaf produced only on Fridays).
The pieces are mammoth--a deliberate choice on Lanzalotta's part: At first he cut smaller portions and they didn't sell; once he turned them into "slabs," they flew off the shelf. That move may have appealed to the American "bigger is better" sensibility, but unlike most Sicilian-style pizzas, his pies aren't leaden and greasy.
The crust is surprisingly light, striated, and almost cakey with a pleasant chew—qualities that Lanzalotta attributes to thoroughly hydrating the dough (about 90 percent), using high-quality ingredients (King Arthur Bread Flour, SAF yeast, grey sea salt, water, and a particularly floral Portuguese olive oil), and letting the dough rise five times over the course of its three-hour fermentation. By the time it's ready for baking, the jiggle-y five-pound mass has risen a bit and formed a thin skin that keeps it from sticking.
As for the toppings, Lanzalotta keeps it simple: A thin coating of smooth sauce—crushed tomatoes, garlic, salt, and a little sugar that gives the finished product distinct sweetness—a few light handfuls of provolone and mozzarella, a drizzle of that good fruity olive oil, and a sprinkle of dried herbs. Once baked, the pie has what Lanzalotta calls a "geography" of primary colors: puffy red peaks, creamy chasms of white cheese, and charred black bubbles of crust.
Notes for prospective eaters:
- Go on the early side of the day and you shouldn't have any trouble snagging a slice. Call ahead and reserve, and you've got nothing to worry about
- Lanzalotta uses a light hand with the sauce, but containers of extra sauce ($2.99) are usually available in the cooler case or by request for those who like to dip
- If you want to proclaim your love for the pizza in writing, ask for a paper plate and a pen. Your words just might make the wall of fame