And Then There's Santarpio's
I sat down thinking I wanted to write something about the pizza I had this weekend, but I think what I actually feel like doing is eating that pizza. Right now, and always. Lots of it, every day for the rest of my life.
Emma's (subject of my previous entry) has lots of charm, and I'm thrilled to have it as a neighborhood place. But then there's Santarpio's.
It seems like I've heard about Santarpio's a lot in the last year, though I never used to, and then I finally noticed that we drive right past it every time we go to Logan Airport. And, true to what is apparently a local tradition, a friend of ours who grew up in the Boston area suggested meeting there straight from the airport on a recent visit to town, and so the maiden voyage was made.
If you're like me, you might be familiar with East Boston from the movie "Next Stop Wonderland," a rom-com confection featuring Hope Davis, a passel of personal-ad suitors (sad how the advent of Internet dating has aged this movie so quickly), and a saucy little blowfish called Puff. Ms. Davis's would-be soulmate is the plumber/marine-biologist Alan, a working class philosopher who hails from the gritty-yet-true-blue neighborhood known affectionately as "Eastie." And if Alan weren't a fictional chick-flick character, I feel sure he would get his pizza at Santarpio's.
The Blue Line of the subway runs through East Boston, so we took the train to the airport stop and hoped to find our way from there on foot. I was under the impression this place was fairly well known, and I think it is - it seems to crop up perennially on Best of Boston lists - but when we asked the customer service agent at the station which way we should exit to get there he laughed disbelievingly (if indulgently) and asked, as though we'd been let in on some huge secret, "Who told you about Santarpio's?"
He then advised us that the lamb was a little tough (would we be expected to eat lamb?), "but you get used to it," and when we said we would probably just be getting pizza he nodded approvingly. "Pizzer and bee-ah ... you can't go wrong with pizzer and bee-ah." (For commentary on when the "r" gets dropped and when it remains in Boston speech, see Dan Tobin's post on Laura Linney's crummy accent in "Mystic River." I don't presume to understand the rules; all I can do is transcribe what I hear on the street. )
There was indeed lamb on the menu: lamb, sausages, and pizza. The meats seem to serve as a sort of appetizer. (You know you're in dude country when the appetizer is hunks of meat.) I did try the lamb, but I would describe it more as chewy than tough. I said no to the accompanying pickled peppers, and was glad I did when one of our companions coughed and yelped simultaneously as she bit into one. A little on the hot side.
But the pizza, oh the pizza. It had a luxurious excess of cheese, with a certain gooeyness (in a good way) that I have never before encountered. The crust was just this side of overdone (again in a good way - we like 'em crispy), and the sauce struck just the right balance of sweet and tangy. It's hard to describe what was so great about it, only that it was so very right.
I love places like this, seeming holes in the wall that everyone knows about, and that really do deliver on simple but superlative food. For a city that's known more for its pub grub than for being a foodie mecca, Boston seems to have an inordinate amount of these places, and maybe that's why. They're not trying to impress anyone, they're just working on doing one or two things well, and if you don't like it you can go somewhere else.