In the 1960s, CBS creative director Lou Dorfsman designed the monumental Gastrotypographicalassemblage, a 35 ft × 8.5 ft wall installation completed in 1966 for the cafeteria of the CBS Building on 52nd Street in Manhattan. The installation celebrates the culinary arts, spelling out food-related words in hand-milled wood typography and lettering. It was removed from CBS in the 1990s but recently was restored and reinstalled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Not surprisingly, the installation features a wonderfully lettered “Pizza” section.
Earlier this year I commissioned Nick Fasciano to make a replica of the pizza section of the installation with its own casing. Nick is a designer and fabricator who worked on the original installation, rescued it from the trash when it was being removed from CBS, and was instrumental in its restoration and relocation. His replica was made using the same fabrication methods that were used for the original wall.
Nick finished the replica recently and I could not have asked for a better item to unwrap for the holidays.
I’ve gradually moved away from writing reviews on Pizza Rules! because I find that many pizzerias have been sufficiently covered already. Over the past few months, the site has grown to focus more on pizza-related cultural topics, specifically those that exist in the realm of the artistic and/or weird. However, I will continue to write up various pizza reviews when I think there is something to be said that hasn’t been already.
Such is the case with Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria, which just opened in Manhattan, on the corner of Bowery and Houston. I kicked off my month-long pizza-only diet at Pulino’s last week and thought I would share my experience for those who are still seeking opinions.
I was definitely excited when I first heard about Pulino’s because it’s a project of Keith McNally. I don’t personally know McNally or really anything about him, but one of his other restaurants, Schiller’s Liquor Bar, is one of my favorite brunch spots in the city (their french toast is so good!). The Schiller’s connection is definitely felt in the interior of Pulino’s; in fact, many of the same exact architectural elements have been brought over (bottles on the wall, tiled and mirrored pillars, same doors, same lights, etc).
Given my enthusiasm for lettering and typography, I’m somewhat biased, but one thing I must admit I was disappointed about with the design of Pulino’s is their “famous exterior” signage. They almost got it right with a classic format of fabricated three-dimensional neon lettering, but the choice of Helvetica as the typeface in which to render the name seems so default and unispired. I might not usually mention such a point, but it’s so disappointing when considering the lovely lettering styles at Schiller’s, which are much more closely connected to the traditional styles of architectural lettering in New York that give the city its distinct flavor. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that goes a long way for exuding a sense of authenticity (which seems to be a goal for Pulino’s).
Photo by Mattron on Flickr
Photo by JesC on Flickr
When I got to Pulino’s at around 1:00 last Thursday, it was rather busy but we were seated right away. The overall atmosphere inside was a bit hectic. It almost seemed that there were too many servers, and the relatively tight seating arrangement didn’t help (my menu was knocked off the table multiple times by passing waitstaff). We were also asked to order multiple times by different servers, furthering the impression of disorder. Of course this isn’t surprising for a new establishment that is still settling in to its groove.
But enough about the extraneous details; let’s move on to what really matters – the pizza. Most descriptions I’ve read of the pizza so far are pretty accurate… it’s somewhere between New Haven pizza and Midwest bar pizza: super-thin crispy crust with a decidedly dark shade of reddish orange. We got a plain margherita pie and a marinara pie which we had sprinkled with some grated parmesan (I forget if “margherita” and “marinara” are the names they use on their menu, but they generally match those styles). The crust was almost brittle at first, but as the oil and sauce settled in it became a bit more chewy in the center.
I really enjoyed most of the pizza; the sauce/cheese/crust ratio worked well and even the sparse simplicity of the cheeseless marinara pie was delicious with the ingredients they used.
I do have some gripes though. First of all, our marinara pie had a huge scorch mark that went straight through (see photo below). I’m all for the typical charring of any pizza that is cooked in a really hot oven like this one, and actually prefer a little spotting; but this was a huge solid chunk of pure carbon that, instead of accenting the flavor, made that slice basically like biting in to a solid piece of carbon.
Note: orange-ish pool in above photo isn’t pizza grease, but chili oil which I poured on to the pan for dipping.
My second gripe is related to the end-crust (or “cornicione”). Eating the wet part of the pie was so good, but when you got down to the “bones”, as my friend Lister calls them, the crispness that was a benefit in the middle of the pie made it become a chore to eat at the edges. Instead of complementing a crispy outer shell with softer dough inside, these end-crusts were hard all the way through, which made eating them feel like chewing on twigs. I think one of the servers even noticed me struggling with the task because they suggested the chili oil that was on the table. While the chili oil was indeed good, it was almost irrelevant for “bone”-dipping because the crust was too hard to soak any of it up.
My third and final gripe is one which I’m almost certain will be a major topic of discussion in the future in relation to Pulino’s: the cutting of the pizza into square slices instead of normal triangular ones. I get the conceptual link to this cutting style that is used for so many pizzas in the Midwest, especially in bars. It even makes sense for “party” pizzas that are too big or hefty to otherwise divide in to triangular slices. But these pizzas are neither big nor hefty, so square slices are just not practical. With this cut style, the middle “slice” is left without any natural grip area, forcing you to either resort to fork usage or sloppy grease-hands. And, as my friend Yvonne points out, the square-peg-in-a-round-hole approach just isn’t fair: if you’re splitting the pie between any number of people, there are bound to be huge inconsistencies in what each person gets from each slice. In the case of this pie, where the wet portions are notably delicious and chewy but the end-crusts are hard and comparatively low in flavor, such uneven distribution could mean the difference between perceiving the pizza as amazingly good or unpleasantly bad.
Don’t get me wrong: overall I am in favor of Pulino’s, if for no other reason than that they tried – even invented – a new style of pizza. It’s definitely worth checking out for yourself to see if it matches your style, because I can’t reasonably say “if you like this other pizzeria, you will like Pulino’s”; it’s its own thing, and I value that. Plus, any pizzeria whose chef gets arrested for carrying a knife has to be bad-ass, right?
I will be going back for a return visit as soon as tomorrow, and definitely after a few months when any early quirks will hopefully be worked out of the system. After all, this is a new venture, and it wouldn’t be fair to judge it otherwise.
Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria pulinosny.com
282 Bowery (at Houston); New York, NY 10012 [map]
One of my favorite new blogs lately is Every Person In New York, where artist Jason Polan has set out to draw every person in New York. Naturally I was excited to see that his most recent batch of drawings included a sketch of “The Man”, Dom DeMarco of Di Fara Pizzeria fame.
There’s enough hype and opinion about Dom and Di Fara floating around to fill a book, but if you don’t know about him, suffice to say he’s among the most legendary living pizzaiolos in America today.
ery rarely, my passions for pizza and lettering cross paths, but the decorative pizza letter V used for this post is an awesome case in which I can dork out on both things at once.
My friend Jessica Hische runs a site called The Daily Drop Cap, where she designs an ornamental letter every work day to be used for decorative initials (I wrote more about the topic previously, elsewhere). Last night she was one of the attendants at a big typography nerd get-together I organized at Lombardi’s Pizza in Manhattan (if you don’t know about it already, Google it). While scarfing on pizza, we joked about how she should make a pizza-themed initial, but I didn’t think she’d actually do it.
Speaking of Lombardi’s-inspired lettering art done by friends (I couldn’t think of a more obscure topic) I ran in to the artist and legendary NYC skateboarder Harry Jumanji during a trip to Lombardi’s last year. He was so psyched on the pizza that he broke out his markers and did a mini piece on the back of a postcard for the owner, John Brescio:
I got one too (though it was skate-themed, rather than pizza):
For what it’s worth, the first time I ever went to Lombardi’s I was similarly compelled to make this drawing in my sketchbook (the disgruntled guy on the right is totally unrelated):
I guess all the pizza art makes sense with the huge Mona Lisa on the outside wall — they say “the debate over her smile is over”.
Since I’m on the subject, Lombardi’s also is relevant to another obscure design-related fascination of mine, which is the pointing-finger symbol known as the “manicule”. For whatever reason, I collect photos of the symbol in use and, coincidentally, they’re used heavily for signage at Lombardi’s — including a sizable example on the exterior of the building (just above the Mona Lisa):
In closing, a gratuitous photo of the source material:
In the video below, John Joseph – singer for the legendary 1980s NYC hardcore punk band, the Cro-Mags – talks about his favorite veg spots in NYC, including Viva Herbal Pizzeria. It’s all framed around Joseph’s new book Meat Is For Pussies.
This just landed in my inbox, sent from the people over at L’asso:
L’asso Pizza Guide Party 10.7.08
The L’asso Pizza Guide Release Party
L’ASSO PIZZA GUIDE
THE DEFINITIVE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PIZZA
ON Tuesday October 7th from 5-10pm you are invited to our PIZZA GUIDE RELEASE PARTY!
The L’asso Pizza Guide – the definitive guide to pizza – will be carried as a NYC Onion insert (10.9.08). The guide is a humorous and informational guide to pizza – from its humble beginnings in ancient times to its current incarnation as one of the world’s favorite foods.
It’s been a year in the making! Be one of the first to check it out before the rest of the world gets to see it.
DJ, PIZZA SAMPLING, BOOZE plus the unveiling of a few new pizza recipes we’ve been working up, be the first to try our new inventions!
I checked out L’asso in NYC a couple months ago, but never got around to writing it up here (I did get some photos though). In short, it’s pretty fancy: the form factor of the pizza is unusual, but it was good regardless. I expect this event to be delicious.
By the way, I’m psyched to see some pizza humor by the people at The Onion… geniuses.
After getting lost buying sheets in the giant Bed Bath & Beyond on 6th Ave in Manhattan the other day, I stopped at Brick Oven Pizza 33, right outside the 6th Ave L train stop on the corner of 14th St.
This is another place that has a ton of slice pies on display to choose from. It’s quite appetizing actually.
I actually like this kind of set-up a lot because you don’t even have to know what the pizza is; you can just point and say “one of those”.
All of the outer walls open up to create this kinda patio-esque seating. I’m sure there’s a technical term for that, but I don’t know it. When I was there it got a little crowded, so I ended up sharing my table with some random thug dudes who were talking about their rap careers. It was pretty entertaining… I considered trying to get a photo of them, but decided against it (the photo below was before they joined me).
One of the things I thought was interesting was that they have both margherita slices (with fresh mozz’ and basil) AND lower quality “plain cheese” slices. Most places will have one or the other and, more often than not for a slice joint like this, it will just be the plain cheese. So that was impressive. I went for one of each.
The pizza itself was great. Not surprisingly, the margherita was preferable. It seemed a little salty for some reason, and still had a bit of the heaviness I usually associate with “plain cheese” slices more than margheritas; but tasty nonetheless.
The other slices they had all looked great too. The thugs I was sitting with were all eating some kind of fried chicken slices, which they said were super spicy but delicious. I’d put the plain cheese slice I got in a pretty typical category of quality (not amazingly memorable or anything), but generally speaking, this place goes a step beyond the expected quality of a quick slice shop. Be prepared to pay for it though; a plain cheese slice will set you back $2.75, and a margherita $3.75. Some of the other slices go up as high as $4.25.
Apparently there are a few other shops under this name, the original of which is on 33rd St (hence the 33 in the name).
I attended the previously mentionedNYC Food Film Fest‘s Pizza Night in the parking lot next to Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn the other night. It was great to be around a bunch of other pizza fanatics directly under the Brooklyn Bridge.
While I was waiting around for the show to start, I had the pleasure of finally meeting the mastermind behind the amazing Slice pizza blog, Adam Kuban, in person. He told me some interesting stuff about his life as a full-time pizza blogger, but that’s a whole other story…
After a couple short speeches from the Food Film Fest crew and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, they screened 3 short films: Pure & Simple, which is a view in to the daily life of hardcore pizzeria Una Pizza Napoletana (I’ve never been, but I definitely intend to check it out soon); Brooklyn Pizza which showed what Adam Kuban described as “pizza porn” — the pizza-making process at 3 different Brooklyn pizzerias (Di Fara, Totonno’s, and Grimaldi’s); and finally In Pignata: Calabrian Fireside Cooking, which wasn’t really about pizza at all, but followed around an aging traditional Italian farmer as she prepped food from her own harvests.
Grimaldi’s sent out a couple rounds of sampling pies for the salivating crowd throughout the night. Much appreciated, but after the event I decided to wait in line to get a proper dose. Nothing has changed about Grimaldi’s pie since I first had it: it’s still one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. So good.