A Hamburger Today
Provincetown, Massachusetts: Spiritus Pizza
190 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA (map); 617-576-1111; spirituspizza.com
Pizza style: New York Thin Crust
Oven type: Electric
The skinny: For cheap eats in P-town, especially of the thin-crust pizza variety, look no further than Spiritus Pizza.
Price: 18" pizzas, $18.50-$27.50
Notes: Cash Only. Open 11:30AM to 2 AM
My wife and I are fortunate enough to get to spend at least one week each summer in Provincetown, MA. Provincetown, (aka P-town to locals and regulars), is located on the very tip of Cape Cod; if you think of the Cape as a gangly teenager flexing his bicep, P-town sits right in his balled-up fist. As such, it's literally the end of the road as far as Cape travel goes—drive any further, and you'll find yourself out swimming with the whales in Cape Cod Bay. (Though the smart traveler doesn't drive there at all, opting instead to hop a quick ferry from Boston and avoid the aggravation of bumper-to-bumper Cape traffic altogether.)
Despite being a major summer tourist destination with a bustling downtown, Provincetown is not known for its restaurants, the majority of which are pretty mediocre. Even though most of the people who travel there come from Boston, New York, and other cities with sophisticated food scenes, for whatever reason, most seem perfectly happy settling for not-so-great food. Except for a handful of exceptions, most of the decent restaurants that open there don't stay in business very long. Spiritus Pizza, located in the heart of downtown on Commercial Street, is one of those exceptions, having served up its thin-crust pies since 1971. We ourselves don't eat out much when we stay in P-town, but we always get to Spiritus at least a couple of times each trip. It's not world-class pizza by any means, but it's very good, and certainly better than just about anything else you can get in town, especially on the cheap.
The pies at Spiritus are very similar in appearance and texture to what you might find at New York slice joints. The crust is chewy and light, with plenty of bite and a mild nutty flavor, both of which come about thanks to the generous amount of whole wheat flour (30%) in the dough.
And they are cooked quickly in hot ovens, so the exterior has plenty of snap and decent browning (though little in the way of char). The crust is ultra-thin, with minimal spring from tip to bones*, but it's still plenty tender on the interior.
The sauce, canned puréed tomatoes doctored up with dried oregano, is tangy and ever-so-slightly herbaceous. The cheese is a 50-50 mixture of low-moisture mozzarella and cheddar cheese, which lends it a mild sharp edge. Neither of these elements are outstanding, but they are applied sparingly enough, making for an entirely satisfying cheese slice.
Additional toppings are hit-or-miss on Spiritus pies. The sausage we had on this pie was mildly flavored but perfectly pleasant, though the meat had an odd matchstick shape to it, like it had been sliced from a loaf and wasn't derived from actual links. The grilled chicken and roasted red pepper combo wasn't bad either, though it was unremarkable. In the end, given the style of pie, I feel that it's the cheese slices at Spiritus that work best. (Though several of our friends swear by the sauceless Greek slice, topped with a mixture of spinach, feta, olives and onions, especially as a salty, starchy late-night snack.)
Spiritus' espresso shake, containing two shots of espresso, half and half, and a scoop each of coffee and chocolate Häagen-Dazs ice cream, makes for a perfect (if pricey, at $6.75 a pop) accompaniment to their pizza, provided you are planning to be awake for a long while afterward.
The pizza at Spiritus is solidly good, and certainly a good reason why they've been in business for so long. But it's not the only reason, and maybe not even the primary one. At least equally important is the after-hours scene that has evolved around it. While Spiritus does a brisk business during daylight and dinnertime hours, this is what it looks like at 1am most summer nights right after the bars and nightclubs in town shut their doors:
Wisely, Spiritus remains open for an hour after closing time (a pathetic and Puritanical 1am in all of Massachusetts), drawing nearly the entire town's contingent of—mostly gay—late-night revelers, hungry for a slice to mop up the booze and the promise of one last stab at the pick-up scene. I have no hard data to back me up, but I'd wager that Spiritus does as much business in the single hour between 1-2 in the morning as they do the entire rest of the day.
If you find yourself in Provincetown with a hankering for a slice or two, strolling in the sun or on your wobbly way home from a night out at the clubs, you could do much worse than a trip to Spiritus, though you might be in for a long wait.
*Having observed the slingers do their thing at Spiritus, I think I now understand at least one way to achieve this style of crust, one that has uniform thickness from tip to bones: overproofing. The dough balls used to make those pies were inflated nearly to their breaking point, so nearly any of the large bubbles present get pressed out prior to baking.