New York’s a pizza town. So is New Haven, and the Elm City has bragging rights for the first pizza oven in the country at Pepe’s. I’ve toured several of the New Haven spots, so it was time for the comparison. My foodie friend Katherine and I signed up for Scott’s Pizza Tours, “the cheesiest guided tour,” and tonight Scott was our very own guide–for just the two of us.
We started at Keste, Katherine’s favorite pizza place. It’s Napolitano, and since Naples was the founding location for pizza, Keste was a good starting point for our taste tour.
Pizza started in bakeries in Naples, when bakers wanted to cool the oven down. They would throw dough into the too-hot oven with whatever stuff they had around, like anchovies. It was trash food. And look at it today–probably the favorite food in America.
Chemistry is important. The Napolitano style uses low-protein flour, so that the dough is very soft. After fermenting for two days, the pie men at Keste leave the dough outside for two to three hours to get chilled. I don’t know what they do in the summer.
Then to work the dough, It’s merely pressed down gently. Tossing the dough? Never! This is a marketing gimmick, originally used by Americans to attract the neophytes to their pies. Americans have high-protein, high gluten flour that can stand up to a toss. It would tatter the low-protein dough. Now you know.
The wood-fired oven heats up to 920 degrees for the pizzas, and the wood fire is only on one side. The domed oven, with no vent hole, then creates a convection, with the heat circling up around the dome. Standing in front of it was pretty intense. Our margharita pie took one minute and 25 seconds to cook. Hot mama!
Pizza is only good for a couple of minutes after leaving the oven. Even five minutes after, it’s moister (read soggy). Lesson learned: eat fast!
Scott spied a pizza being made for another party, and we decided to get it, too. Smoked mozzarella, basil and lemon slices. For Katherine and me, the world stopped turning with this pizza. And I was done for the night. We went to two more places.
But after a bite at one, coal-fired and basically disappointing, and nothing at the last (a traditional New York slice), I knew that the Sorentina pie, referencing Sorrento lemons, was the nirvana of this night.
The conversation was better than the later pizza, as I listened to the two foodies go at it. What did I get from that? Well, I have to try the pickle soup at P.J. Bernstein. And food is all about good chemistry.
So speaking of chemistry, I think Katherine and Scott were hitting it off. After all, they discovered that they each carry their own pepper grinder. So I made my exit, heading for the train and looking forward to my next New Haven pizza. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find one with a lemon slice!