Randolph, MA: Eat Bar Pie at Lynwood Cafe
320 Center Street, Randolph Mass 02368 (map); 781-963-3100
Pizza style: bar-style
Oven type: Gas
Price: $7.90 for 10-inch cheese. Toppings start at an extra 30 cents for pepper or onion and go up gently from there.
I think we can all agree that the word "desperado" is one of the finest collections of letters ever assembled in the English language. And I trust anyone tasteful enough to read this nice site knows that the Eagles song "Desperado" is even more atrocious than all the other Eagles songs. Language is tricky! This is why it took me far too long to warm up to the pizza genre known as the bar pie.
I like bars and everybody likes pies, but I wasn't drawn to the words as a compound food noun for a couple of reasons. First and less rationally, I was turned off because "bar pie" clangs off my ears in a manner that suggests derogatory slang for an ex-girlfriend. Here in Massachusetts, bar pie is most prominent in the heavily accented working class suburbs of the North and South Shores, and I can too easily imagine some Sully or another bellowing, "Traci? Who KNOWS what she does with the child support? Sure as shit ain't goin' to the kids. Can't trust that bar pie any farther than you can throw her."
The second and more considered reason I was skeptical of bar pizza is that, in these parts, it's served primarily in places where the food is, if not an afterthought, at least an after-the-booze-and-barely-before-the-Keno thought. Too often I see it presented as an "All right, our liquor license says we have to serve food, so here's some food" type offering. But people kept raving to me about the pizza at the Lynwood Café in Randolph, a nice enough town about 20 miles south of Boston, so I stopped in to check it out.
The place was packed at 7:00 on a Saturday night; my optimistic dining companion thought this was a good sign. I took one look around the loud, dingy room and decided it was more likely a sign that every other restaurant and food retailer in Randolph had burned down that afternoon. I don't need a lot of glitz with my pizza and beer, but the Lynwood struck me as one of those frustrating places that takes pride in its dilapidation, as if it would be a sin against history to scrub down the wood paneled walls and shave the dust off the Budweiser stein display once a decade.
It didn't come across as a very welcoming place at first, either, even by the notoriously lax civility standards of eastern Massachusetts. Noting the lack of a hostess or a line of customers, our party of three had the temerity to seat ourselves at an empty booth by the door. Big mistake. We were shunted into a corner by the bar to place our order and drink our bottles of Coors. Maybe a table would open up before our food came, and maybe we would eat in the car; the Lynwood would keep right on humming either way.
And, to its credit, hum the Lynwood did. The crowd was lively and large, filling the 50ish seats in several waves over the course of our hour-long mission, and the staff never stopped moving. What looked like chaos to our little band of city-slicked novices was actually a very well run operation. This efficiency is surely aided by an experienced staff and just-as-experienced customer base, but the real key to the Lynwood's smooth service is that the menu consists of nothing but pizza and bagged snacks.
There is some variety to be found by way of toppings, though. You can customize Lynwood's 10-inch pizza a dozen or so different ways (before you start combining them into infinity, of course), with the usual suspects joined by linguica and the "baked bean special." Linguica on pizza makes perfect sense, and it wouldn't be a trip to the South Shore without at least one Portuguese pork encounter. I was less confident in the baked bean option. I like baked beans in general and white beans on pizza, but I was afraid it was just an ill-conceived "Beantown" joke and the pizza would be no better or worse than if it had a cup of clam chowder or a bag of cranberries dumped on top.
After a quick strategy session by the pinball machine and the magnetic bowling game, we went to the bar to order one linguica, one sausage, and one baked bean special. Based on how busy it was, we were expecting at least a two-beer wait for either food or table, but were only halfway through the first round when an extremely friendly manager-looking guy ushered us over to a newly liberated table to wait for our dinner.
And thus begins my series of mea culpas: I picked up a mean vibe upon entrance, and I'm ashamed to admit that I'd mistaken "townie" for "nasty." We were the only people in the Lynwood who didn't know the drill, so the staff wasn't in hand-holding mode. Once they realized we were new to their somewhat strange operation (order food at the bar, stand in the corner, hope a table frees up), they couldn't have been nicer. The waitress who brought our next batch of beers and eventually our pizza was harried but happy, and even brought over a knife to help me reassemble my pizza after the upper deck collapsed while I was messing around with pictures.
And I'm glad she helped me get my baked beans, diced salami, and onion bits back on board, because it would have been unseemly to slurp them straight from the table, but there was no way I was letting them go to waste. That stuff is GOOD. The idea might be gimmicky, but the execution is outstanding. The salty salami was a perfect counterpoint to the beans, which would likely have been too sugary on their own. These pizzas are thin enough for a quick cook time that prevents the beans from drying out; they stayed soft but not mushy. The onion was pretty scarce, but there was enough going on without it.
The linguica and sausage toppings were salty, commercial, and sufficient; the medium-thick layer of mozzarella was the same. The thin Lynwood crust is a very good specimen of the bar pizza form, with the requisite biscuity crispness. If I were in the neighborhood, I'd happily endure the crowds and the grime to eat the sausage or linguica pizzas again. And I'll get myself to the neighborhood for another crack at the baked bean special. The Lynwood is legit.