Pizzas, Old-School

2016.Dec.06 Tuesday · 0 comments

in Restaurants

I told you there’d be an onslaught of pizzerias, at least for awhile….

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El Cuartito, Talcahuano 937, Retiro – I first reviewed this place way back in 2005. I wasn’t impressed. I know it’s a porteño icon of the pizza world. I honestly couldn’t understand why, I found the quality of the pizza to be lacking. I wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t “all that”, and the one true flaw was the quality of the mozzarella used atop the pies. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the Argentine style of pizza far more than I did then, when I had a more fixed view based on pizza in Italy and New York, for the most part, with some influence from the styles of pizzas of the midwest, like Detroit and Chicago style, still among my favorites in many ways, though much of that is simple childhood nostalgia. Kind of the way locals feel about places like El Cuartito, no?

Just a side note. I sometimes get accused by locals of either just not understanding Argentine pizza or having a bias against it. And early on, as I said above, I might have, but I think that’s long ago faded away. As of today, looking at the pizza map linked in the opening sentence, I’ve reviewed 140 pizzerias over the last eleven plus years. Of those, 61 (44%) fall into my recommended ratings while another 48 (34%) get okay/acceptable; leaving only 31 (22%) that I don’t recommend. I doubt the pizzerias in any other city would fare any better.

I even went back a couple of times, and there’s a followup review in the comment section of the same post from a year later, where, to be honest, I found it to actually be borderline inedible. I mentioned in that second review that even some of my local friends had begun to admit that the place had gone downhill. So there I was, a week or so ago (and a decade later), out with a new friend who wanted to try a local, really classic style pizza. We were actually headed to Güerrin, still a favorite of the style, when the heavens opened up and began to dump copious amounts of angels’ tears on us and there was the beacon of a sign in front of El Cuartito, a mere block away. With trepidation on my part and anticipation on hers, we entered, dried off, and grabbed a table.

We ordered up a couple of pieces of my new passion, fugazzetta, and a napolitana for her and an anchoa for me, plus, a couple of pieces of faina. In short order they arrived, and I have to say, they were all pretty good. The biggest change, the cheese is actually rather good quality now, there were no oil slicks, there was no dripping grease, and the flavor was decent. Likewise, the crust had some flavor, and the faina was served piping hot and while not the best I’ve had of this staple, it was good. So, over time, for me, this place went from an “okay” to a “not recommended”. At the very least I think it deserves being returned to “okay”, and maybe even edging into “good”. At least, I’m not going to avoid it like the plague anymore or tell people they shouldn’t bother. Sometimes when people tell me I’m wrong, they’re right, at least in the long run.


 

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La Moderna, Humberto Primo 699, San Telmo – When this one popped up on a couple of “best of” lists, it didn’t ring any bells. It’s not  a pizzeria that I regularly hear people talking about, and I couldn’t really place it. As I approached it, however, I suddenly realized that I knew it well. Way back when I was taking my pastry school program it was the corner spot down the block where we students would gather if we arrived early to class and grab a coffee. But in that entire year, I don’t know that any one of us ever tried the pizza. It’s very sleek, and, well, moderna. There’s a sort of weird vibe – they’ll tell you to grab a seat and a waiter will be with you, which means one of the two guys who run the place from behind the counter, but then it takes forever for them to actually approach you with either a menu or then further on to take your order – I remember that as well from our coffee days. You’re better off placing your order at the counter, as most locals do, and then grabbing a seat. You’re probably even better watching for your order to show up on the counter and then going and picking it up, because it will sit there awaiting attention.

The pizza? It’s okay. The crust isn’t browned, it’s just barely cooked, and for a thin pie, that’s hard to do. The sauce is decent. The fugazzetta could have used more than a few passing onion slivers. The cheese is decent. I appreciate the two anchovies on a slice of anchoa rather than the usual single one, because I like my anchovies, and of the three pieces, it was my favorite. The faina, cold and a bit cardboard-y. Overall, it’s okay, but that’s about it.


 

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Reiki, Junín 631, Recoleta – Making it onto PlanetaJoy’s top pizza list as the best square pizza in the city, I’ve passed by this kind of dingy, rundown, hole in the wall many a time, being just a few blocks from home. I can’t say that it ever looked inviting to step into, and was probably even less so when I finally did. I’m not sure I’ve seen a kitchen that at least through the low doorway I was able to peer through was ever in quite so bad shape. The pizzas are basically all served by the square (roughly 10 cm across) – they call “por metro”, or “by the meter”, and I guess you can get it measured off into lengths of side by side squares.

The pizzas are cooked in a deck oven, so no smokiness or high heat here. The crust is rather thin, which makes it astounding that the dough was almost completely raw, despite being in the oven for almost 15 minutes, clearly they don’t have the heat turned up. The cheese is just barely melted and gooey. The tomato sauce tastes kind of like a cross between tomato paste and ketchup, the fugazzetta side had a handful of raw diced onions on top, and the whole thing was showered in dry oregano. This place is so far into the “not recommended” category I don’t even want to call it pizza.


 

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El Griego, Av. Francisco Beiró 5291, Villa DeVoto – On the flip-side, I approached this place with a little trepidation. There were quite a few high recommendations for it, but probably just as many negatives. Interestingly, the naysayers admitted that the pizza was good, but referred to the place as, basically, a dark, dingy, dirty, hole in the wall, with unkempt, dirty waiters and cooks who you didn’t want near your food (kinda like this?). Now, there are some other restaurants, even another pizzeria, with the El Griego name, albeit unrelated to this one, so I’m wondering if those negative reviews were about one of those spots and the reviewers simply mistook one for the other without thinking about the address. Obviously, looking at the photo at the top, this is a large, brightly lit place, with windows on two sides, gleaming clean, and with professionally attired waitstaff.

It did take them a little while to get the order to the table, but it was, I’d say, worth the wait. The fugazzetta con queso has a great crust, delicious cheese, and a decent amount of onions. I’d rather they were a little more charred, but they were at least cooked through. The strongest marks from all concerned were for the jamón y morrones pizzas, with more than one reviewer pointing out that they don’t use the usual lunchmeat boiled ham slices. Indeed, this is more like a thin slice of Italian capicola laid across the pizza wedge and then topped with a lovely slice of roasted pepper. It’s really good.

Now, a little interlude – my reason for being out that way was actually to go to the Museo del Automovil, Irigoyen 2265 in Villa Real.

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Let me just say, if you’re into old cars, this is one of the coolest little museums you’ll find. It’s only open Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, from 2-7pm. As of right now, it’s 90 pesos for adults and 50 pesos for kids, to enter (it’s a private museum, so not free or nearly so like city museums) – two floors and an outdoor area packed with cars from the late 1800s up to around the 1950s.


 

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La Americana, Av. Callao 83, Congreso – This one makes it onto several lists of the best of traditional, old-school, porteño style pizza. As such, it’s not surprising that you’ve got whopping thick crust and mounds of cheese on the cheese slices. But here’s the thing. They do it right. The crust is tasty, cooked beautifully, with a solid crunch on the base and light, airy dough that’s clearly been allowed time to develop. The cheese is good quality. The onions are plentiful and golden brown on the fugazzetta. The faina is good, and has the addition of diced onion folded in – I do wish they served it warm or hot, rather than cold. The crowning glory though is that tomato sauce – just look at it – a chunky, flavorful sauce of tomato, onion, garlic, peppers, and herbs – everything that most pizza sauces here in town aren’t. Spread that around on all the pizzas and I’d be there all the time. The place is also touted for its empanadas, particularly its spicy salteñas and its tuna empanada – both of which will merit a return visit to check out.

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