Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Road Trip to Queens

Not quite a month ago, I had to go on an overnight for work. I'm still leery of being out a lot. Ordering take out and not dining in, masks and all that. So obviously when faced with an overnight trip to Queens, I pulled up map and tried to correlate places I could stay and pizza shops I wanted to try.

The list of pizza places I'm curious about in Queens isn't huge. I'm sure there is more worthwhile pizza than the list. But in no particular order, the places I'd like to try are:

Lucia Pizza, Flushing

Amore Pizza, Flushing

Philomena's, Sunnyside

Louie's Pizza, Elmherst

Brother's Pizza, Flushing

Rizzo's Fine Pizza, Astoria

Margherita, Jamaica

Rosario's, Astoria

Bellucci's Pizzeria, Astoria

There's already another story behind the Bellucci's that I posted about a year ago. The original Bellucci's was opening at the end of Untitled Pizza Movie. But there was a falling out and Andrew Bellucci left and has since reopened another pizza place a few blocks away from the first. Anyhow, the shop currently being run by Andrew Bellucci wasn't open that night and this list of pizza places is pretty spread out. I decided to pick the one I wanted to try the most and get a hotel fairly close with a parking option.

I found a hotel with a parking spot about a mile away from Philomena's. It looked like it would work well. A nice walk there and back plus I was pretty close to where I had to be in the morning. Checked into the hotel, hung out for a bit in the room and set off on my straight shot walk up Queen's Boulevard to Philomena's. The weather was nice and the walk was good. It was nice to be out of the car.

When I got there, I came close to ordering one of everything of the slice offerings and a root beer. While they were reheating, I asked the guy making pizzas if he was Dave. He said he was. I let him know Scott from Boston says, "Hi," Scott is a pizza shop owner in the Boston area and a pizza consultant and incredibly knowledgeable about pizza on the forum and by all accounts incredibly nice. So we briefly talked and then my slices were ready so I headed to a bench outside the shop to eat.

Everything was good. This is pizza made by someone who cares. I think the 2 squares probably could have used a little more top heat during the reheat, but the place is solid. I wouldn't call it destination pizza. If you're nearby, definitely go. I don't think I would be heading out to make a special trip for Philomena's.

With nothing really on the agenda for the rest of the night. I people watched for a little bit to let the 4 slices settle and went in to try some other offerings. I considered ordering a square, but decided that was just too much pizza and picked a small sausage and broccoli rabe pizza to go and was told it would be about 20 minutes. No worries, plenty of time to kill.

A few doors away from Philomena's is a White Castle. I have had microwaved White Castle Sliders but never had the real deal. 

So I walked over there and ordered a slider. It felt like I was the first person in history to have ever ordered a single slider. I had already eaten 4 slices and had just basically ordered 4 more but it still felt weird. 

The White Castle slider tasted like a cross between meatloaf and sloppy Joe. I ate about half of it. I think this might be a thing you had to have growing up to love. It's not for me. Or maybe I ordered wrong. Anyhow, I headed back to Philomena's for my pizza. Once there, I was waiting for my pizza and Dave called me back to where he was working to talk pizza a little more. He told me about his dough and the changes he makes. Right now he is using a poolish and the dough that day was 4 days old. You can definitely taste the poolish. There is kind of a mild, fermented, not quite sourdough flavor in the background of the dough. It was fun talking dough and about the places Dave worked before going out on his own (he started with wood fired pizza).

When my pizza was done, Dave's assistant let him know that he had made the wrong pizza. There is the broccoli rabe and sausage combination, but there is also a vegan combination with a chickpea base and broccoli rabe with garlic. He had made the vegan one. I said it wasn't a problem but he wasn't having that, so he made the sausage/rabe pizza I had ordered and gave me both.

Chickpea with broccoli rabe and garlic

Sausage with broccoli rabe

I went outside and wanted to try the pizzas while they were still hot. They were both good. My only complaint would be that the rough chop on the broccoli rabe was a little too rough and the pieces were uncomfortably lard to eat. The chick pea topping was delicious. Truth be told, the vegan combination was better than the sausage combination. The chickpeas had a coarse grind to them and weren't smooth like a hummus. They were well seasoned and combined with the garlic and broccoli rabe it was my favorite of everything I had tried at Philomena's and before I fell asleep, all the pizza was gone and I didn't really eat the next day.

So Philomena's is good pizza and worth visiting if you are nearby. I still think about that chickpea topping and how I could copy it. But I wouldn't give Philomena's a destination, drive a few hours just to get it, kind of a rating. In fairness, that is an incredibly short list and two of the places making up probably half of the list that comes to mind would also require a time machine.


Sunday, February 27, 2022

Winter Pizza Challenge and a confession

The winter pizza challenge was to revisit one of your Signature pizzas. I had made what I call the Fancy Pants Mushroom pizza back in November of 2019. The pizza has a base of creme fraiche (fancy pants sour cream), mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with garlic and a splash of wine. Usually some oregano in there. I've been prepping some topping in the oven during the preheat (a sheet pan of bacon cooks surprisingly quickly and well in there) and I had seen something on roasting mushrooms figured I'd give it a try.

Monday was President's Day so a day off from work. Temps were also in the 40s.  I lit the oven a little after 10. Fun fact - starting a fire in a wood oven with a weed burner is oddly satisfying. It's weird, a stick light feel soulless compared to a match, but the weed burner is fun. Don't need any newspaper.

Anyhow, for this go around of the Fancy Pants Mushroom, I roasted the mushrooms in the oven and added the seasoning and other ingredients later.

The dough was a little under fermented and I didn't like the cheese,

The line at Restaurant Depot was insane and I was only getting cheese so I stopped at Shop Rite for some other toppings and grabbed their house mozzarella. Good news, the cheese was on sale. Bad news, it grated funny, was bland, melted a weird shade of white and will not be purchased again. But I did also pick up some Seabrook Farms creamed spinach. I kind of wonder how that would do on a pizza.

the mushroom were ok, but there is more flavor to them when sauteed. The garlic gets a little softer too. Next time, I think I will try adding the garlic and a splash of wine to the sheet plan when the mushrooms come out of the oven. There should be enough heat left to incorporate them. I supposed I could just slide the pan I use in the oven too. In the end, I'm pretty sure I was the only one nit-picking the dough, cheese, and flavor of the mushrooms. Something, something, own worst critic...

I also tried a new go at the gluten free pizza. I used a blend of gluten free flours, water, yeast, salt and some olive oil. The mixture all combined kind of comes out like spackle. I think an offset spatula would help spread it in a Detroit style pan. So after about 24 hours in the fridge, the dough was spread in the pan, then there was a 4 hour room temp rise. I par baked the dough with just a little bit of cheese around the edges so stop the dough from shrinking. Cooled that off and then topped it just before a final bake. Went half cheese, half mushroom. It came out pretty good. I think this is the gluten free pizza path of the future. I've got 2, dedicated gluten free pans for this.

All in all, that was a good day. So the confession: I've never put pineapple on a pizza. I can't think of a time when I have liked cooked pineapple. Anyhow, when we were meeting the new neighbors, it turns out one of their little kids likes pineapple on pizza. I thought I'd try to make the best pineapple pizza she ever had. The plan was:

1. Take some fresh pineapple (I will not put canned pineapple on a pizza)

2. Glaze/caramelize it with a little brown sugar

3. Make a Hawaiian pizza (even though that topping combination was created in Canada by a Greek immigrant with no ties to Hawaii) with the pineapple and some good, real ham

4. Walk it across the street

5. Sip an adult beverage and think about what I had done

But none of this happened.The neighbors were out of town during the school break and we had the pineapple with dinner on Tuesday night. My pineapple-less streak received a stay. Not sure how long the stay will be. My wife noted that all it took to get me thinking about pineapple on pizza was a little kid making the request. A few adults have brought it up in the past and I kind of pushed it off.

What can I say? I've got a soft spot for little kids that like my pizza. It's not like I'm going to eat pineapple on pizza myself.

Unless it looks and smells really good. 

Then maybe. I doubt it. Probably not. But maybe.