Culinary Clash #1: NY Pizza in San Diego
I discovered New York pizza during a family vacation to “The Big Apple” more than ten years ago. It was even better than I expected. Having worked at a Pizza Hut as a teen, I loved the greasy fried texture of pan pizza. I still really like it, but I’ve definitely been stricken by the thin crust goodness that started back east. New York pizza is a true work of art, as well as an offspring of culinary science. Light on ingredients, the dough must be handled properly in order to form the gluten that gives New York pizza its distinctive chew. Then there’s the high-heat cooking process that makes it wonderfully crisp. Yes, crispy and chewy. Kinda like the very best artisanal bread you can find in high end bakeries. The sauce (if there is sauce) is almost as simple, emphasizing the bright sweetness of fresh tomatoes. Sometimes the sauce will be nothing more than crushed tomatoes, salt and olive oil. Others will add a sprinkling (and I mean sprinkling) of basil, oregano, and/or garlic. But it won’t be the heavily seasoned, watered-down tomato paste mixtures you’ll find in the large national chains. There’ll be a smack of freshness to the sauce that may be too foreign to the commercialized palate to be enjoyed. To me, it was an epiphany. I had to have more. I had to find someone — anyone – on the west coast who could do it right.
My good Lord showed favor upon me by allowing me to cross paths with a transplanted New Yorker in San Diego. His accent was undeniable and brash attitude strangely comforting. If there was true New York goodness to be found anywhere in SoCal, this guy would know. I asked, and he did know. I don’t even remember his name. I wish I had the chance to thank him for pointing me to Bronx Pizza in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego. I’ve bragged on it before (read my review here). It immediately became The Fun Family’s favorite pizza place and a definite must-stop whenever we’re in San Diego. We’ve found some nice spots in L.A., but nothing really close to the authentic greatness of Bronx.
Curious as to what others were saying about Bronx, I sought the reviews of Yelpers, Chowhounds and bloggers. It didn’t take long to learn that my beloved Bronx had a rival. More like an arch-enemy if you take on the passion of these pizza joints’ ardent followers. Turns out a transplanted Italian opened Pizzeria Luigi, and has built up an almost cult-like following. I’m no homer. I’ll not blindly follow or ignorantly answer. I’m a reasonable man. And a hungry man. I decided to see for myself.
And, thus, the first in a series of “Culinary Clashes” I’ll be posting.
We wanted to have as even a playing field as possible, so we went with two very similar specialty pies: Bronx’s Whitestone vs. Luigi’s Donatello. Both are sauce-less with mozzarella and ricotta. Whitestone adds grated parmesan and minced garlic, while Luigi adds only grated romano. Both use high quality cheeses that are very milky and creamy. Romano is supposed to be much sharper than parmesan, but I didn’t catch that distinction. The garlic really was the difference. It was a unanimous decision amongst the six of us judges. That added punch of flavor just really put it over the top. The Whitestone is a unique and tasty pizza experience!
I must say that Luigi’s crust edges out Bronx’s. They’re both close to perfect, Luigi’s just happens to be a little closer. A tad crispier, with just the right amount of dark brown charring for added flavor. Their oven must be quite a bit hotter. Had we never had a Bronx Whitestone, I’m sure the Donatello would’ve been the very best pizza we’ve ever had. In fairness, it could be that Luigi has another pizza that could beat Bronx. Maybe something featuring their marinara. Or possibly that BBQ Chicken Pie I saw in the glass counter.
Hmmm, maybe we should have a rematch.