Sunday, April 22, 2012

Santarpio and Bertucci ... Taking Traditional to a New Level

Santarpio's Pizza - Peabody, MA

     Winner of Boston Magazine's Best of Boston 2011 Award for Best Traditional Pizza, Santarpio's was about to be put to the test. But as soon as I walked in, I knew this place was different from the rest. The name sounded fancy, but this place was not. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting a place as low key as this was. Plain ol' chairs sat at rocky tables, crooked pictures of boxers hung on the walls (the Muhammad Ali kind, not the dog kind) and you ate with silverware that had been poking and prodding at food for years upon years. Opened in 1903, Santarpio's is a neighborhood favorite. Everything about it lived up to that title... or put it in that category. Random music with no sort of general theme bounced off the wood panelled walls as the older male waiter scurried from table to table boasting a smile from ear to ear.

     We came seeking pizza, but at the last minute Margaret informed me we were also getting the lamb hunks. I was sold. There was no way I was going to be unhappy with this place.

     After browsing their half-page menu, we ordered a half cheese, half peppers and sausage pizza... with the grilled lamb skewers on the side... 2 orders. They cooked the lamb on skewers over an open grill. Hot coals sat at the bottom while the worker twisted and turned the lamb hunks roasting over the heat. Getting that perfectly grilled taste. The lamb came out first. The beautiful sizzling nuggets were oozing with juice and perfectly pink (almost red) inside. It's as if they knew exactly how I wanted it. The lamb was paired with a hunk of fresh baked Italian bread and some sweet cherry peppers that had little bit of spice.

     First bite, and I lost it. I tried to keep it to myself though. A chunk of bread, small slice of pepper, and a hunk of lamb made a tasty little sandwich. It seems as though it had been eons since I'd eaten lamb and this down-right hit the spot. Everything about it was good. Lock me in a prison cell for 40 years, never talk to me again, but give me 4 dishes of this lamb business a day and I'll be the happiest woman alive. Finally... just solid meat in my belly.  Nothing was to go to waste. Once the lamb was gone, the bread simply became a medium with which to soak up any and all of the juices left on the plate.

     Then came the pizza. It was definitely how I would describe "traditional." Not perfectly round, uneven crust and toppings (but in a good way), and cooked a little more in certain areas. I started with the sausage and pepper slice. The sausage was their own home-made recipe and it was phenomenal. Full of flavor and not the fat. What stuck out the most for me was the cheese. The cheese was warm and gooey, as it should be, but it was also a little chewy. You know what I mean? Sometimes when you eat pizza, the cheese hardens a little inside your mouth and becomes a little more chewy. To me, that's what quality cheese does when it's used on pizza. It was delicious. And the thin crust....ooooo-eeeee the crust was good. I love... yes I do love when they use cornmeal on the bottom. After not stuffing myself, yet completely satisfied, we headed out. I wanted more. Their food was delicious and this place was comforting. Very home-y. Definitely a place one would like to be considered a "local" at.

Bertucci's Brick Oven Pizzeria - Cambridge, MA

     Ok, I realize Bertucci's is a chain, and I don't normally blog about chain restaurants, but I want to ... and I need to.... because I've been wanting to go to Bertucci's for forever. Patrick said they have amazing bread, and Mary always talks about them. So... post-Saturday Brookline practice, all my girls invite me out to go have lunch with them at Bertucci's. I'm pretty geeked... and starving. So why not? Because I'm trying to cut weight, that's why. But I couldn't not go, soooo I gave in. Plus... it'll be fun. So we all walk from Riverside up to Harvard Square and 20 of us squeeze into 4 booths within the cramped restaurant. I didn't really even bother looking at the menu too much, because I knew everything looked amazing, and I wanted it all. So I just let my table decide. First out of the oven was the bread. Yesssssss. It was so warm and dense yet fluffy. That doesn't make sense when you read it, I know... but it makes sense in my head. Maybe it's just that my second half roll wasn't baked all the way through. Either way, the rolls were perfect. Very simple, yet had a kind of whole grain-y taste, texture and color. The bread basket came with a plate with some sort of heavily garlic-ed, herb-y dipping olive oil. Smack me in the face with 20 of those rolls a day, and I'd never be unhappy.

     Next out was the mozzarella fritta. This was breaded mozzarella cheese, pan fried in olive oil and served atop plum tomato sauce with fresh basil sprinkled on top. And I thought the rolls hit the spot. The deliciously crisp outside was a simple housing for the warm gooey mozzarella cheese inside. It was perfect. It had been a while since I had cheese. Again, I could've eaten 500 of these.

     Finally came the pizza and our pasta dish. The pasta dish was simply rigatoni noodles, broccoli, and grilled chicken in a garlic cream sauce. Truthfully, not something to write home about, but the chicken was delicious. I think I'm really just in a meat phase right now.

     As for the pizza, we ordered a margarita pizza. This was interesting to me and kind of exciting because I would never order a margarita pizza if it was just myself or me and other omnivorous friends. I was interested to see how this played out. Needless to say, I was not let down. This pizza gave off "traditional" vibe, being oddly shapen and more brown in certain areas than others. Thank you brick oven. The way it was put together was interesting too. I didn't expect there to be blobs of mozzarella cheese just sitting on top. They were warm, but not brown. Not necessarily super gooey, like normal pizza cheese, but more the consistency of, say, gak. Remember gak? Nickelodeon fans? (See below). I'm guessing it didn't taste similar though. The tomato sauce on the pizza had an amazing sweetness, and the basil gave it a freshness. The pizza was not greasy in the least and left a sort of refreshing feeling on my palette. Ending with the crust was never a disappointment, because it was just as if you were eating another glorious roll.

     It was Danna's birthday, so as we were about to leave, they brought out a 5 layer chocolate cake (I had spied it on the menu an hour earlier and had been daydreaming about it since). I can't even describe this cake. It was 5 layers. With some sort of fudge layer within each layer. Dense and dark and rich. It was just ridiculous. I only had a few fork-fulls... bummer.

Regardless of Bertucci's popularity in the Northeast, I loved it.

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