Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Lombardi's Coal Oven Pizza
SoHo, NYC
212-941-7994

Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo

Lombardi's Coal Oven PizzaWhat makes a pizza in New York City so different from pizza in the boonies? (Wait a second ... you should realize that to New Yorkers, anything outside of the borough of Manhattan -- and not all of it, either -- is considered a form of "outer space.") The popular answer is the water; for over 100 years, New York has not used well water or ground water. Instead water is piped in from the Catskill Mountains where the Ashokan Dam serves as the megawatershed. So what, you ask? It means NYC water is soft -- few salts or dissolved minerals. NYC, believe it or not, traditionally is considered to have the best water in the US. In fact, when the evaluation was last done and NYC came in second, then-Mayor Rudolf Giuliani ordered an overhaul of the water system to get NYC back to #1. No podunk town in Idaho is going to beat NYC for best water! But we digress ...

Others will tell you that a pizza oven is critical -- these are Italian style short, wide ovens. You see them in every mom-and-pop pizzeria, set at warming vs. baking temps, or turning out a dozen or more pies at a time. They have to be very hot, and the pizzas must bake directly on a terracotta or stone oven floor in order to accomplish a crisp yet chewy crust, and to not really cook the toppings down. You can melt or heat or even char them, but the cooking for those toppings should have been done before they ever hit the pie.

Lombardi's Coal Oven PizzaTo get the oven NASA-hot, best to use charcoal, which can heat up to 700° or so. Alas, in most municipalities, charcoal ovens have gone by the way of the horse and buggy. It's a quaint habit from yesterday, back in the days before oil and gas heat. It's also toxic and responsible for such phenomenon as London's "pea-soup" fog (which disappeared when such fires were outlawed in the 1960s), and Beijing suddenly having mountains surrounding the city the month the Olympic Committee came to evaluate the city ... in other words, coal smoke is a serious pollutant. Thus they simply aren't allowed.

Unless ... unless your city sees the value of such things and allows a certain number of businesses to "grandfather" the use of such archaic hellfire producers simply because it's been there so long. In Lombardi's case, since 1905 -- the clumsily tiled mosaic outside the oven wall says so. In it, they bake only three basic types of pizza, but all have very thin crusts and are cooked in mere minutes. Food does come to the table much quicker than you'd expect.

Lombardi's Coal Oven PizzaThe three pizzas are: white, fresh clam, and "standard" which is the classic Pizza Margarita with tomato sauce and mozzarella. There are a variety of toppings you can request. There are also salads and salady appetizers like grilled portabello mushrooms, or tomato and mozzarella slices. The house salad comes with mesclun, tomatoes, sliced criminis, and red onions in a puckery vinaigrette.

We opted for a half-clam and half-standard pizza -- best to try with what they claim is best. The crust was crispy and thin, the clams were pleasantly chewy and coarsely chopped. The tomato sauce was rather sour and acidy, like thinned out tomato paste out of a can. The clam side had no tomato muck, and was much better. We should have ordered the white pizza, which comes piled with ricotta instead of tomato sauce. We'd ordered the large size -- 8 slices, and ended up asking to have them wrap up nearly 75% of the pie to take home.

You really could taste the effect of the coal fire. It was good, and I wondered what roasting a chicken breast or a brined pork chop would be like in those covetted ovens?

Lombardi's Coal Oven PizzaThe bill came to $35, which included a beer and a soda, and four times more food than we could eat. We got the feeling that this was more like an honest representation of a pizza, the food of peasants. Of course the checkered vynil tableclothes and the pre-Sinatra Italian music helped with the aura, too.

All in all, a nice place, the pizza was okay to good, and if you get there early, isn't crowded. On the very hot day we visited, the New York City-quality water was free, too! Thanks, Rudy!


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