Pizza Chronicles: Lombardi's
After our gastronomically happy experience last winter at Grimaldi's Pizzeria in Brooklyn, we thought we'd try out another old-time coal-fired pizza oven place, this time the Little Italy establishment Lombardi's. It's described in somewhat equivocating fashion as the country's first "full-fledged" pizzeria, and was recommended to me awhile back by a friend and former New Yorker.
On the night we visited, we walked right in and got a table, but we could tell the place is used to dealing with crowds. The hostess greeted us with rapid-fire efficiency, then spoke into a headset like Madonna of the pizza ovens, summoning a runner from the back of the restaurant to guide us through a warren of dining rooms and food staging areas to our properly checker-clothed table in a narrow, brick-walled room. The service continued with swift proficiency, but with so little personality and face-time, it almost felt as though we were ordering food out of thin air.
All this streamlining had me a little worried that the quality of the pizza might be compromised in the name of efficiency, as well, but the simple cheese pie we ordered manifested itself with the same humble honesty of any non-famous old-time pizzeria, and we made it disappear with an efficiency to rival that of Lombardi's staff, though in our case aided by many diminutive glasses of house red.
I was interested to see that Lombardi's, like Grimaldi's, uses fresh mozzarella as its all-purpose cheese base. Maybe that's a common thing for traditional New York pizza, but for me it's a novelty (and one I enjoy). If memory serves I think I liked Grimaldi's a bit better, but Lombardi's crust stood out as particularly crisp and flavorful. If I go back, I'd probably order it with extra mozzarella to maximize the potential of all those lonely patches of sauce. Each one is a lost opportunity!