I’ve had a busy few days gallivanting not only the Garden State but the outer boroughs of Manhattan as well. There’s a common denominator amongst these jaunts; freezing cold weather and blistering hot, thin crust pizza. The kind that burns the roof of your mouth if you’re not careful. I wasn’t.
I know I tend to gravitate towards sweet pies as opposed to savory, but honestly, in this weather put something spicy/salty on a crust and I’m in. I kicked off my pie safari on Friday night, clutching a garlic permeated box from Arturo’s artisan pizza across the street from the bakery. It’s a tiny space and more often than not, there’s a mighty long wait for a table. Sometimes for lunch we fortify ourselves with slices of their farm-to-table pies. On Friday night, after a torturous wait for NJ Transit to get its act together, I picked up one of those pizzas and carried it home.
Saturday I reconnected with an old friend from the UK who happened to be in town. On a snowy evening, Conte’s Pizza in Princeton was hopping. The kind of old time neighborhood place that pours Perroni by the pitcher and serves no-nonsense pies. Was it noisy? Indeed, it was. And chilly? Yes, right down to my work shoes which were liberally coated in all purpose flour. It was a deliciously retro kind of evening, from the laminated tabletops to the melamine plates. It was also a far cry from Monday night’s foray to Brooklyn.
I was invited to attend a small gathering celebrating the 2nd Birthday of a restaurant. A very hip restaurant, I might add. Despite the frigid temps, I dashed from work to home and then back to the train station. Sometimes it’s fun to catch a glimpse of what’s going on outside your own snow globe.
For those of you who watch “Girls”, you might recognize the locale. Where the bar is surrounded by the hip and the beautiful, and the thin crust pizza can barely hold on to its toppings.Travel does come with a cost. Not simply the $14.50 round trip NJ Transit fare or the double swipe of the Metro Card. It requires donning non-work clothes, Big Girl Shoes (in this case, boots) and washing the butter-sugar-flour film from your face. I was prepared. Or so I thought…
Bobbi Brown promised her Party All Night mascara wouldn’t smudge and Kleenex claimed the tissues I was clutching wouldn’t make my nose red. The cable-knit sweater tights swore they would sit snugly at my waist and keep me warm as toast. But as I traversed the slippery streets of Manhattan, everything was running; mascara, nose, and yours truly. Navigating the black ice hidden beneath the slush, I stepped knee deep into banks of once pristine, now gone city-gray snow. Racing down the subway steps, I felt my tights inching their way south just as the G train slipped away out of sight. My Kleenex pocket pack was buried deep inside my coat and retrieving another would necessitate removing one of my gloves and I certainly was not doing that.
After a stint on the C train, the G train and a brisk walk, I arrive at the small gathering. What’s small is the space, what’s large is the crowd. I wedge myself into a space within elbow’s reach of the line cooks. Perfect vista of the intricate kitchen choreography. A blur of long handled pizza paddles lap at the flames of the brick oven.The pizzas are as promised, delicious- wild mushrooms, Farm egg and curls of fresh sage, another teaming fresh pineapple and salty speck. At the other end of the line is a wood-fired grill where what appears to be a branding iron (can you say Ponderosa?) is hugging the grates. With great precision, one of the line cooks systematically brands something on a silver tray and then hands it to a willowy server. The server dips the tray in front of me and urges me to enjoy a tease of dessert. It’s a new-fangled S’More, a whisper of a graham cracker crust barely crumbling under the weight of its dark chocolate filling. A puddle of marshmallow teeters beneath a crown of more graham cracker. It’s delicious and boy, is it hot. Nothing melts a homemade marshmallow quicker than a branding iron. Just ask the roof of my mouth.