27 Church Street, Cambridge MA (map); 617-576-1111; cambridge1.us
1381 Boylston St., Boston, MA (map); 617-437-1111
Pizza style: Grilled
Oven type: Charcoal grill
Notes: Full bar
Price: Full pizzas, $13 to $30; half pizzas, $7 to $16
Cambridge, 1 is located in the heart of Harvard Square, in what used to be the the city's original firehouse, with a newer, much larger second location near Boston's Fenway park. Appropriately enough for a former fire station, this hip, minimalist bar, as popular with the locals as it is with Harvard glitterati, serves pizzas grilled over a charcoal fire. With its bustling, noisy atmosphere, capacious booths, and pizzas served on family-style oval plates, it's the kind of restaurant you can go to with a large crowd. Last week I headed over there to put Cambridge, 1's pizzas through their paces.
Because grilled pizza is cooked not in an enclosed oven, but over an open fire, with all of the heat coming from below, the sauce and toppings tend not to meld into a unified whole. At Cambridge, 1, the naked dough is cooked briefly on one side to set it and give it a touch of char, then flipped over before toppings are applied. Some toppings, such as the oil-and-vinegar dressed arugula, are placed on the pie right at the end of the bake, to prevent over-wilting. And the cheeses, which never see direct heat, are only minimally melted. As a result, the pizza at Cambridge, 1 is something of a hybrid between a pizza, an open-faced flatbread sandwich, and a salad.
Such caveats aside, these pizzas are very tasty. The crust gets a nice, smoke-flavored char on its underside, and despite its cracker-thin depth and crisp skin, it retains a soft, pliable, slightly dough interior. And the pies are, thankfully, never overcooked, an all too common occurrence with grilled pizza.
The most basic pie at Cambridge, 1 is the 'tomato, fontina, romano, garlic, basil'. Since the wafer-like crust cannot sustain a typical wet pizza sauce, the sauce here is simply drained, crushed canned plum tomatoes, with other seasonings applied separately. For the same reason, toppings too are applied minimally. The overall result is a light but intensely flavored pie, with slices that can be consumed in a few quick bites. Nearly every pie is garnished with a few piquant curls of sliced scallion.
The quality of the ingredients used at Cambridge, 1 is high. The lobster on the 'lobster, roasted shallots, mascarpone' pie (a surprisingly successful combination) was fresh-tasting, moist, and perfectly cooked. And, even in the dead of winter, the tomatoes on the 'spinach, artichoke hearts, chevre, slow-roasted tomato' pie were tangy and sweet.
The 'potato, fontina, rosemary' pie boasted thin slices of waxy new potatoes, a generous amount of rosemary, and a touch of fontina to bind it all together. For the 'arugula, fontina, parmigiano' pizza, the most salad-like offering on the menu, the lightly melted cheeses are placed under the lightly-dressed greens, the crust serving as crouton and plate at once.
My one minor complaint about Cambridge, 1's pizzas is that, because they draw upon a short list of toppings, used in a variety of permutations, one pizza can seem to blend into the next. That minor quibble aside, the grilled pizza at Cambridge, 1 makes for a very satisfying meal, and is well worth a visit.
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