1801 26th Road, Astoria NY 11102 (on 18th Street; map); 718-777-3628
Pizza style: Focaccia pizza (and regular New York slices)
Oven type: Typical gas-fired deck oven
Price: $2.25 plain focaccia slice; $6 mini focaccia pizzas
It's the kind of find every slice seeker hopes to unearth. That weird, out-of-the-way place little heralded by the blogs, the food media, the pizza bloviators. On the face of things, Lorusso Gourmet Pizza & Focaccia showed promise as a hidden gem—some local press clippings declaring it one of Queens' best; some glowing reviews on Yelp and Foursquare*; and a quirky location in Old Astoria, an enclave that once served as a resort area for Manhattan fat cats.
Pizza comes first in this establishment's name, but it is the focaccia that draws raves—along with Lorusso's focaccia-based pies. So was this place all it was cracked up to be?
* OK, yeah, I know you have to take these last two sources with a grain of salt, but I think they can sometimes be a decent indicator of potential, as they were in Lorusso's case.
Owner Mario Lurusso makes a number of different focaccia pizzas, all on a delicious base of soft yet sturdy ... bread. Yes, I don't know if you could call this a "crust." It's not crusty. It's moist, rich with olive oil, just enough herbs topping the plain version, along with a sprinkling of salt. I tried both plain and cheese-topped versions, and the plain ($2.75) was clearly the standout.
"Nothing beats the plain," Mr. Lorussso said. "It's even better cold. That's when the olive oil starts to come out."
Mr. Lorusso keeps a couple of large, 18-inch focaccia slice pies on hand. A spread of personal-size focaccia pizzas (from $6 each) spans the top shelf of a glass display case, the edge of each one lying just slightly atop its neighbor, like a line of fallen dominos. The variety of topping combinations is enough to paralyze you with choice.
"Almost all of them have balsamic on them," said Mr. Lorusso, who recommended we try the simple fresh mozzarella and tomato pie.
Think of this as a really good version of personal pan pizza. Pizza Hut, take note!
The more you top a Lorusso focaccia pizza, however, the less its essential elements shine. The sausage and pepper pie was good in the way quality sausage and peppers are, but at that point, you start to wonder why you're eating them on a focaccia base. At this point, it's almost like a sandwich that got a little confused and ended up with the fillings on top.
Which is actually not a bad idea. Mr. Lorusso recommends using his day-old focaccia as sandwich bread. If you do that, though, just make sure you slice the bread in half laterally and stick your fillings inside.
In the end, Lorusso is a great find.* I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's going to draw pizza- or bread-heads from outside the borough or even the neighborhood, but if you're live in, near, or are looking to explore this part of Astoria, you owe it to yourself to make the detour here.
* Not that it wasn't already "found."