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Pulino’s: an early impression

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.

Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria

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).

Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria

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.

Pizza Month 2010, day 1: Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria

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.

Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria

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.

Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria

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
282 Bowery (at Houston); New York, NY 10012 [map]

Brick Oven Pizza 33

Brick Oven Pizza 33

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.

Brick Oven Pizza 33

This is another place that has a ton of slice pies on display to choose from. It’s quite appetizing actually.

Brick Oven Pizza 33

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”.

Brick Oven Pizza 33

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).

Brick Oven Pizza 33

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.

Brick Oven Pizza 33

Brick Oven Pizza 33

Brick Oven Pizza 33

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).

Brick Oven Pizza 33
527 6th Ave (corner of 14th St), New York, NY
(212) 255-6333

B Bar & Grill

B Bar & Grill

So I still need to write up all the Pizza Month ’08 stuff, but in the mean time, instead of letting new write-ups get pushed back, I’m going to still try to write about everything else as soon as I can.

With that said, I had a great pie for lunch yesterday from a place in the Greenwich Village-ish area of Manhattan called B Bar & Grill. As this lunch was my first time meeting some people who I’ve looked up to for quite some time, I must admit that it was a rare occasion where I had other things on my mind than the pizza. Thus, forgive the minimum amount of photographic documentation.

Though B Bar & Grill definitely doesn’t specialize in pizza (they only had 1 or 2 pizza options on the menu) their pizza was quite good. They serve it to you on presumably the same wooden paddle (aka “peel”) which was used to fetch it from a (brick?) oven. Presentation aside, the pizza does hold up on it’s own. It’s definitely on the fancier side, with fresh moz’, basil shreds, and lighter sauce application. It’s also on the light side of the cooking spectrum – almost no visible browning, but still just enough heat to cook the dough through.

The restaurant in general is also on the fancy side. The decor is highly considered, the desserts come with little mint sprigs in them, and – as far as my tastebuds can tell – they serve cola that is actually made with real sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. It’s not surprising then that the prices are a little higher than you might want to spend on a day-to-day basis, but I’d say it’s reasonable. Plus, I mean c’mon… they actually paid someone with enough design sensibility to feature Gotham in the design of the menu!


Pizza Month, day 8: Famous Original Ray’s, Vecino, Grimaldi’s

Day 8 of Pizza Month was a big one: I went above and beyond the requirements and ended up having pizza 3 times in one day.

Pizza Month, day 8 (#1): Famous Original Ray's

I was awake around 2 AM in Manhattan and nowhere near tired, so I decided to ride my skateboard from East 82nd St & York Ave down to 1st & 1st (I always wanted to go there after seeing that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer gets lost and ends up at 1st & 1st). It was about a 5.5 mile skate, but skating late at night in Manhattan is so much fun, so it was awesome.

Anyway, when I got to 1st & 1st, I decided that before heading back I might as well grab some pie. I’d been to Famous Original Ray’s with my friend Shaun once before a show and figured I’d check it out again. I’d file their pie under “crappy but delicious”; it’s the kind of pizza drunk college kids like to eat on their way home from a party (a few of them came in when I was there).

Downside: When I paid for my slice and soda, the cashier took it upon himself to round the amount of my change down to the nearest dollar and preemptively award himself the extra 45 cents worth of coins as a tip. WTF? I probably would’ve given him the change anyway, but just because he took matters into his own hands, I’m paying with exact change next time.

Other downsides: No Coke, only Pepsi; the radio was set to some shitty top-40 station; when I was there, there seemed to be some kind of inspector that was disapproving of whatever it was he was inspecting; and the manager seemed like he constantly had to shoo off bums who would gather outside the door asking everyone for change on their way out (not like I had any change anyway, thanks to the dickhead at the register who thought he deserved it more).

The slices are good and they’re open 24 hours, so it’s too bad almost everything else about the place sucks.

Famous Original Ray's

Famous Original Ray's

Pizza Month, day 8 (#2): Vecino

Later in the day, after I finally had gotten to sleep, I took a trip to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Not too far away from where you walk off the Williamsburg bridge is this pie shop called Vecino. I’ll be honest and admit that the main reason I stopped in for a slice was mostly because of their awesome hand-lettered sign (which, by the way, gives no indication of their name — only that they sell pizza).

Once inside, I felt as thought I were right at home in the part of Jamaica Plain where my apartment is (dubbed by Mayor Menino as “the Latin Quarter” of Boston). The reggaeton was blasting and there was a whole crew of older dudes with fresh haircuts just hanging around shooting the shit (in Spanish, of course).

The pie was mediocre. It’s on the hefty side, which isn’t so bad in itself, but it felt like a little too much dough for my taste. No Coke, but they at least had some bottled root beer.

I did like the setup with the metal-topped counter. That plus the sweet sign and generally friendly vibe inside make this place OK in my book.



Pizza Month, day 8 (#3): Grimaldi's

Later on in the day my good friend Yvonne, knowing that I was doing pizza month, took me out to a spot called Grimaldi’s in an area known as DUMBO, (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn. We actually took one of these livery car service kinda things there, which was a first for me. They’re kinda like cabs but look way fancier. Actually, on the ride there, they took us in this beastly hideous SUV, which had some ridiculous bass sound system. Surprisingly enough, they don’t cost that much more than cabs though.

Anyway, Grimaldi’s… holy shit! I had heard of Gramaldi’s before, but I am forever indebted to Yvonne for taking me there. This was easily the best pie I’ve had so far for Pizza Month.

When we first got there, we had to wait outside for a bit. They definitely pack ‘em in here; most of the tables are touching, so you have to basically sit with other people and pretend that you can’t hear their conversation (the photo of the tables below was taken after we had eaten and most of the people who were there when we showed up had already left).

It’s not without good reason though: the pizza is fucking amazing and easily worth bumping elbows for. In fact, one of the things I like so much about Grimaldi’s is that there are no pretensions. They could easily charge way more money and make it seem super fancy, but that’s obviously not their deal. It’s clear that the pizza is what it’s all about, and basically if you’re too caught up in being fancy, then you can go somewhere else.

Fresh moz’, delicious sauce, perfectly cooked dough&hellip this is the kind of place you are lucky you don’t live across the street from, because if you did, you would become a fat-ass. I only wish we had gotten a large pie instead of a small.

To finish it off, we got this ice cream dessert that was like a weird Klondike bar-esque kind of thing with cherries in the middle. I forget what it was called, but that was really good as well.

Perfect ending to a long day of Pizza Month action.