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Cambridge, MA: Area Four Pizza
500 Technology Square, Cambridge, MA 02139 (map); 617-758-4444; areafour.com
Pizza Style: Upscale New York-Neapolitan
The Skinny: The toppings and the presentation are the highlights here. The bones are far too wide, but the crust is otherwise nice, making for an enjoyable pie.
Price: 10" pies, $10.50-16.50; 14" pies $17-24
I first tried the pizza at Area Four a few months back, and was a bit disappointed, which was one reason I sat on my write-up for so long. But the delay was all to the good, because Area Four has tweaked their formula slightly in the interim, and our return visits have been far more positive. Back when they first opened, they only offered a 12-inch pie, which, given the width of the back edge, seemed too small to me. Since then, presumably to accommodate solitary diners or non-sharers (don't these people know about leftovers?) they've added a 10-inch size, and upgraded the large pie to 14-inches. If the 12-incher was a little cramped, the 10-inch is all the more so, so my first piece of advice is that you should ignore that column on the menu. The end crust takes up far too much of the limited square-footage of the pie, leaving hardly any room for toppings.
The 14-inch pie is much roomier, though I still find its bones too thick. I'm a breadhead through and through, but when I'm eating pizza—a.k.a. bread with stuff on it—I want stuff on my bread, not naked bread. End crust, bones, cornicione—whatever you want to call it—is purely functional, people: it's a handle, and needn't be any wider than necessary to let you grab the thing without befouling your manicure. I'd rather the overall pie be slightly smaller with a narrower crust than be left staring at this come the end of my repast:
Okay, end of rant, because—that gripe aside—I quite like the pies at Area Four. The dough, made with a secret formula that—from what I could glean from my conversation with chef Michael Leviton—involves a long cold-fermentation of a combination of Italian and American flours with a sourdough starter and commercial yeast, is flavorful and tender. The pies are baked in a roomy Woodstone oven that is jacked with three separate heat sources: gas, wood, and an infrared element buried within the deck to help it with recovery times. It's the first such triple-threat oven I've every seen, and it seems to work, leaving the bottom crust nicely crisp, with a respectable amount of char:
While the crust at Area Four is very good, it's in the toppings and combinations where the pizza really shines.
The Margarita, topped with housemade mozzarella and a little pecorino, is first-rate. The sauce is little more than crushed tomatoes and salt, but it makes a bright foil for the creamy, buttery cheeses.
The Wellfleet Cherrystone Clam and Bacon pie has all the elements of a great pie in place: freshly-shucked local clams, smoky house-cured bacon, hot pepper flakes and parsley. Fresh from the oven, it is very tasty, but it definitely suffers a bit on standing. The clam pie is among the hardest to pull off well: without a thick sauce to insulate the crust and pull all of its topping elements together, it is often either brothy and waterlogged, or dry and stiff, since the dough quickly sucks up what little moisture there is. I know it's a delicate balancing act, but this clam pie could use just a bit more clammy broth to bring it all the way home. (I'd much rather a slightly soupy pie requiring a knife and fork to eat than one that stiffens up as it cools down.)
The Fennel Sausage and Pickled Banana Pepper pie is hands-down my favorite pizza on the menu at Area Four. As with many of the other ingredients, the tasty, moist sausage is house-made. (Its somewhat unusual pink color, reminiscent of Chinese dried sausage, comes from the inclusion of a bit of curing salts into the mix.) The briny-sour hot peppers balance perfectly against the richness of the sausage.
Area Four isn't just a pizza joint, with a wide variety of other items, some roasted in the second Woodstone oven that sits aside the pizza oven, but other than some very tasty salads (the shaved raw brussels sprouts and kale one makes a nice accompaniment to a few pies), we haven't tried them. But once you've had your fill of pies, be sure to order a dessert or two from pastry chef Katie Kimble, whose pastries I have raved about elsewhere on Serious Eats.
About the author: Andrew Janjigian day-jobs it as an Associate Editor at Cook's Illustrated Magazine. When he's not dismantling recipes for hire, he's likely baking bread or throwing pies into his WFO. He twits regularly as @dikaryon, and blogs much less regularly at blog.dikaryon.org.