Years back, Adam Kuban, food writer and the founder of the Serious Eats website in New York started a blog, or subsection of Serious Eats, called Slice dedicated to pizzeria reviewing and home pizza making. And there was a guy named Colin Hagendorf, who actually did eat at “all 362 pizzerias” in Manhattan – a number which seemed way too low until I read his “rules” which limited it to only trying places that sold plain cheese pizza by the slice – a rule he apparently came up with after he realized the Herculean task it would be to go after his original goal of trying every pizzeria in all five boroughs. He also wrote a blog called SliceHarvester, which he later turned into fanzines of pizza reviews that he now sells online (the blog is gone).
There are way too many pizzerias, and, more importantly, there are way too many mediocre pizzerias here in BA to even attempt anything similar – over 1200 licensed within city limits, and that doesn’t include places that aren’t dedicated pizzerias, but also happen to serve it (all you have to do is look at my pizza map to see how much bad pizza I’ve had to eat). To put that in perspective in contrast to the above, keep in mind that Buenos Aires proper here is the same size and population as just the Borough of Brooklyn in New York, and the entire five boroughs of New York only has approximately 1600 dedicated pizzerias. We’ve got a whole lot of pizza here. And my goal is different, it’s really just to find us all some great places to eat pizza! So I decided to cut my list (beyond bit by bit finishing off my infamous 92 bus trek) to those places that have, at the least, shown up on “Best of”, “Top 10” sort of lists that have been published somewhere in the media. Cuts out a whole lot of places, and hopefully, cuts down on the chaff.
Someone knows their onions.
Burgio, Av. Cabildo 2477, Belgrano – this one shows up on several blogs, in TripAdvisor’s top spots, and gets high mentions in Clarin and GuiaResto’s pizzeria choices. It’s got mixed reviews on Yelp. It’s one of those traditional porteño places where you order a slice or two and then stand at a counter and eat. It’s been around since the 1930s, and one of their “secrets” is that they top the pizzas with provençal, or a mix of chopped garlic and parsley, as a finishing touch. We decided to try their fugazzeta, one of the choice recommendations of many reviewers, and I’ve got to say, it’s one of the best I’ve had. I swear the onions are bathed in butter before being stuck under the broiler, and the dough and cheese are not overwhelming underneath as they are at some spots. In fact, I should try fugazzeta at more places on these treks – I mean, it’s dough, cheese, and caramelized onions. What’s not to like? They didn’t have a plain mozzarella pizza ready, and for some reason, they seemed unable to produce one for nearly 25 minutes (several actually came out of the kitchen, but all went to customers who were ordering whole pies to take-away – meanwhile, half a dozen of us stood around waiting). With apologies, the counter guy doubled everyone’s order at no cost, so we got two slices for the price of one when the plain pies finally came out. Really good dough, decent sauce, though as usual could have used more of it. The cheese a bit too oily for our tastes. But wow, that garlic and parsley really does add to the flavor – I’m stealing that. Overall, I really liked the place.
Everything coming up daisies?
Las Margaritas, Av. San Martín 6255, Villa Devoto – Situated right outside the El Libertador train station on the Urquiza line, this place gets high marks on GuiaOleo’s recommendations, as well as shows up on a couple of different blog favorite lists. It’s basically the sort of café you’d expect to find situated outside a train station – some place to grab a quick bite while waiting. It’s not strictly pizzas, it’s a mix of the usual sorts of quick snacks that are common here. Honestly, I don’t know why it would get such high marks. It’s not bad, but it’s just sort of meh. Thin crust, a bit on the tasteless side. The cheese fairly oily (they use the same cheese as La Mezzetta uses, Barraza, I just noted while at each). The sauce on the mozzarella slice was decent. The fugazza con queso was about the same, although less flavor since there’s no sauce at all, and there were no more than a few pieces of onion underneath the cheese.
“Fugazza” is a corruption of “focaccia”, that sounds like the way Tony Soprano might say it, and is, as I understand it, pizza, or focaccia dough, topped with the charred onions. “Fugazza con queso” is the same, but with cheese over the onions. And, “fugazzeta” is the reverse, with the onions atop the cheese so that they char. And then there’s a “fugazzeta rellena” which has a double crust with a layer of cheese between and then more cheese and onions on top so that they char. It does get a bit murky, and not everyone is a stickler for these definitions.
Ground Zero Pizza?
Pizza Cero, Av. Libertador 1800, Recoleta – The restaurant in a Peugeot dealership is not the first place that I pick to go hunting for great pizza. And, despite its name, this is not strictly a pizzeria, offering up a variety of dishes, though pizzas are certainly a mainstay of the menu – nor, by the way, do I have any idea why someone would name a pizzeria “zero” – “de cero” I could see, as it means, “from zero”, or “from scratch”. They also have branches in three different suburban towns, and one in Punta del Este, Uruguay – I don’t know if these are all paired with car dealerships or not. This one showed up on newspaper La Nacion’s top list for the city for its wide variety of extravagant pizza offerings. I’m not sure what those are, since the menu only offers maybe ten pizza choices, and the most “out there” pizza is one with pepperoni, an ingredient that those of us from outside of Argentina are well familiar with, but is more or less unknown here. Still, “extravagant”? I was expecting truffles or something of that sort. A small pie, half pepperoni, because, hey, pepperoni, and half fugazzeta, was, however, pretty damned good. The pepperoni seems to be the real thing, and I have to admit to being curious where they were able to find it – maybe they have someone make it for them. The dough is good, the sauce is good, the cheese is good. The onions on the latter side could have used a little more time under the broiler, but were plentiful and tasty. They brew iced tea to order. The negatives – really slow, inattentive, and disinterested waiters, in fact, finally a manager took care of me when I was ready to just walk out. And, it’s pricey – a small, four-piece pizza runs roughly 270 pesos (I do like, that at least, for a half and half, they really do only charge half of each, rather than the more common practice of charging for the more expensive one).
Wood does not a pizza make
El Quebracho, Av. Corrientes 4390, Almagro – This place is back on the 92 bus pizza trek, it always seemed to be closed back when I was actively working on the project, no idea why, it certainly wasn’t renovated or anything. Big space, a bit unkempt. Service is kind of slapdash – with a couple of servers who sort of dart to your table to drop off a menu, get your order, deliver your food, clear the plate, all the while looking like they desperately need to be somewhere else, right now. Quebracho is a type of resiny wood that is, I believe, unique to Argentina, and is sort of a national pride thing for wood fired grills – when it comes to steaks, it imparts a hint of that resiny aroma to it – as to pizzas, I’m not sure they spend enough time in the oven to pick that up. The pizza itself, nothing special, sorry. A cottony, tasteless crust, a sauce that likely came from a can, oily cheese, and on the fugazzetta (I’m mildly obsessed for the moment, don’t worry, it’ll pass), just a few onions piled on towards the rim and barely cooked. It’s a shame the pizza isn’t better, because this is one of the few places I’ve been to where every combination of pizza is available not only in the typical large and medium size (no small individual size), but also by the slice. (This would have been #80 on the trek.)
Half Caf Pizza
Pizza & Espuma, Juncal 2701, Recoleta – Half pizzeria, half café (espuma being the foam atop your espresso in which baristas compete to make cute little pictures, if it’s that kind of place), this one showed up on recommendations from a local blog claiming to tout the best pizzas in each barrio, La Mejor Pizzeria, as one of only two recommended here in Recoleta. I probably should have taken a cue from their other one being the over-hyped, yet near and dear to the porteño heart, El Cuartito, which for me is inexcusably bad. Decent service, cute place, probably a nice spot to drop in for a coffee and medialuna. As to the pizza – thin crust, yet still undercooked – the upper surface still raw, and dusted with way too much flour, giving it an all around raw flour taste. Insipid tomato sauce, okay cheese. Their claimed pepperoni is nothing more than a local salami sliced up on it, and not a particularly good one. Yawn all around.
There’s no place like home
I watched Food Network’s “Best Ever Pizza” episode and decided to try recreating some of them at home. Andrew Zimmern’s choice of an oyster mushroom pizza grabbed my attention. Extra thin crust of a simple flour/water/olive oil/yeast/salt dough, spread with fresh ricotta, then a layer of smoked mozzarella, a ton of thinly sliced oyster mushrooms, a couple of garlic cloves sliced into thin rounds, fresh rosemary, and a drizzle of good olive oil. Since I don’t have a coal fired oven to get things nice and smoking, instead of a sprinkling of regular salt over the top, I used a heavily smoked salt to give it a touch more of that flavor. Delicious! Probably the best mushroom pizza I’ve had, and certainly the best one I’ve made. Oh, but then again, there was this one….