Last week, I was on the road for work and spent a night in Syracuse. Harry, my road trip partner in crime, asked Alicia at the hotel check in desk, "Where is the best pizza in the area? Not necessary nearby. Anywhere in greater Syracuse. Where's the best?" She directed us to Nick's Tomato Pies and off we went.
Unfortunately, Nick's Tomato Pies must be running some kind of summer hours because they were closed when we got there. Nick's is in the Armory Square section of Syracuse and there are quite a few dining options. I had heard someone else at the hotel talk about Pastabilities and after looking around a little bit, we decided to give it a shot. While sitting at the bar waiting for a table, Harry noticed a sign that said "Guy Ate Here." So after we were seated we talked about it with our waitress. Turns out, there was and episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives filmed here. Which is a little confusing because having looked around the place, it clearly isn't any of those things.
After looking the menu over, we decided to try what Guy had. First up, their Spicy Hot Tomato Oil. As soon as you order, you are brought a basket of house made bread and a plate that is thinly covered with tomato sauce. If you want bread and a big bowl of tomato sauce, that's $5. You can also buy this sauce in jars at the restaurant, online and I think they said Wegman's too. Guy gave the sauce and bread combination the Triple D rating, "That's Craaazzzy." The bread was good, warmed up would have been better but it was good. And the sauce is tasty too. Got a little sweet, a lot of fresh tomato flavor, a good amount of oil and a slow after burn of heat that isn't overwhelming, just nice. It's a good sauce but I think you could make something similar at home. When eating it, I thought they had used a chili oil, but after watching the video they used a chili paste. It kind of looks like the Secret Dipping Sauce (SDS) that was going around on Serious Eats awhile back.
Next up was the Duck Bacon Pizza. Here's the description:
Pasta's Duck Bacon Flatbread Pizza $15
house-cured smoked duck bacon, Humboldt Fog aged goat cheese, mozzarella, tart cherries, shallots,
pomegranate drizzle, cracked black pepper, on our bakery fresh pizza dough
Alas, no pictures. I tried to take one of this pizza and the flash went off like lightening in the middle of the restaurant. Then I tried to take some without the flash and it was too dark. But here's the photo-less pizza story. After we had each had a slice, our waitress stopped by to ask how we liked the pizza. We said it was good and I think she was a little offended. We were clearly supposed to have had our minds blown. To give credit where credit is due, the flavor combination of the toppings is absolutely inspired. The duck bacon (house cured and smoked duck breast) is something I will try to recreate in my kitchen someday. Who am I kidding, I'm going to try and copy the whole pizza some day. But when I copy it, I will only copy the toppings because that crust doesn't deserve to be in the same restaurant those those toppings. And if you watch the video you'll see why. At about 1:50 in the clip, they start to top a pre-made flat bread that goes into the oven for 12 minutes and then under a salamander to crisp up the top. Guy said, "The crust on this flat bread is righteous." While his looked better than ours, the crust was tough to chew and the bottom tasted like uncooked flour. I think their pizza dough is their bread from the first course pressed into an oval. It is better as bread. Guy goes on to say (of the toppings), "Funkalicious," "One of the best duck dishes I've ever had," and "You jackpot-ted on that one, girl." He's pretty much right. The duck pieces are fantastic and the flavors on top of that tough, hard to chew not-pizza bread are pretty spectacular. Sorry about that last dig on the crust.
Moving on to the main dish: Wicked Chicken Riggies. I'm not sure why Syracuse sometimes seems to try and steal from Utica. Sure, my affection for Utica is unhealthy, but this almost seems like sibling rivalry. In the video, it is described as "an Upstate New York dish" but if Wikipedia can be trusted, the first line of the Chicken Riggies entry reads: "Chicken riggies or Utica riggies is an Italian-American pasta dish native to the Utica-Rome area of New York State. It is a pasta-based
dish usually consisting of chicken, rigatoni and hot or sweet peppers
in a spicy cream and tomato sauce, although many variations exist."
Anyhow, when Pastabilites says "Wicked," they aren't kidding. While those who are into spicy foods will enjoy this level of heat, I think it is more than the average person wants in an entree. It seemed a little to much for Harry, and he isn't a spice wimp. This version also had more cream than most versions I have had and all the spice was in the sauce - no chunks of pepper. While watching the sauce get prepared, Guy said it looked like "spicy tomato al Fredo" and that's a pretty good description of the sauce. After tasting it, Guy made a few guttural noises and then the cook said "Winner! Winner! Wicked Chicken Dinner!" and robbed of us of whatever bizarre combination of words Guy was about to share with us.
So we had what Guy had. Some of what he said was right on, other things he said were just hype. If I ever returned to Pastabilities, I might give the pizza another chance but I'd go with a different entree. There are better Riggies out there. I'd start looking about 60 miles due east.