When I posted the first episode of my web series, I reached out to some NY pizza bloggers (whose blogs I had been using for research and insight) to introduce myself and present my video. The response was pretty overwhelming and I was quickly welcomed into the community. So much so that I was invited (or initiated, if you will) into the Pizza Club.
Jason Feirman, from I Dream of Pizza, has been organizing pizza dinners for his food friends and fellow pizza bloggers for the last few years, and for the first gathering of 2010, graciously invited me along. I usually work on Sunday nights, but I was more than happy to get a shift covered so I could meet some new people and try a NY pizzeria that I had yet to hit.
I attempted to get to Arturo’s Coal Oven Pizza in Soho a few times during my journey, but it just never worked out. Most times I wanted to go there was during lunch and whenever I called, there was no answer, which leads me to believe this place is a dinner only spot. Which makes sense since it has a dive bar vibe and features live jazz.
I met up with my new friends and although most of you will find this hard to believe, I don’t do well with a big group of people I don’t know. Especially when most of them seem to know each other. It took me a while to relax into the group. And since I somehow ended up at the head of the table, I felt like I had to be the entertainment for the night. What else is new?
But once we started talking about pizza, New York City, (and my favorite TV show) Lost, I felt right at home. Except for the uncomfortable chairs and the lack of water refills. I can always get more water from the comfort of my own home.
I surrendered power when it came to ordering the pizzas and after much deliberation (there were a few vegetarians in the group) and mathematics, we settled on four pies. I don’t know about the rest of the group, but I left rather full and only spent $11. I got to do this Pizza Club thing more often.
Now, normally (for those of you curious about my process), I take copious notes as I eat the specimen. It’s annoying to my friends, but they’re forgiving and understand it comes with the job. At my first Pizza Club, I was so worried about making an impression and engaging these new friends, that my notepad never came out. The camera only emerged when all the other bloggers started snapping shots of the food. We were the culinary paparazzi. I’m just glad the pizzas can’t fight back.
So the point is because of my eagerness to make a good first impression and engage the crowd, I lost a little bit of my critical eye. I fell back into that position of just eating and as long as something isn’t offensive, it tasted pretty decent. No examining of the crust, no isolating the tomato sauce, no sniffing the basil. That last bit was a joke. I’ve never sniffed basil. Or have I?
But Arturo’s didn’t get off that easily. I do remember some basic impressions of their pizza. The first pie was the Diavolo which had no sauce, but a nice helping of tomatoes, onions, and pepperoncini. This was the most flavorful dish and I contribute most of it to the pepperoncini, which had a nice balance between sweet and hot, but did not overwhelm the rest of the toppings.
We also tried the meat-heavy Arturo’s Feast (the vegetarians couldn’t win everything), which according to the online menu had sausage, mushrooms, and peppers. If my memory serves me correctly, it also had bacon. The meat tasted a bit off on this pizza. It almost tasted dried (so maybe bacon) or dry, but without any pleasant smokiness.
The final two pizzas were nearly identical. In fact, I had a slice of one and not the other and still not sure which I got. They were both margherita-style but one had fresh mozzarella and the other had regular mozzarella. But to my horror, neither had basil – fresh or otherwise. Seriously, who leaves off basil? Especially at a sit-down pie only restaurant? This isn’t Pizza Hut. And I really noticed the difference. I missed that aromatic, savory bite that basil so delicately adds. If I wasn’t so engrossed in a discussion on word press vs. blogger, I might have asked for some dried oregano.
I was more than happy to sacrifice some integral journalism for a nice social night on the town. And I was honored and thrilled to be inducted into the Pizza Club – especially since I didn’t have to get naked, shave myself, or be hung by a pole as is common in other hazing rituals. I just had to sit at the head of the table.
Is Arturo’s Coal Oven Pizza the best pizza in NY? If it weren’t for my distracted palate, it may have rated higher or lower than a 6 out of 10, but that was my general impression of this unoriginal, mediocre coal oven pizza. It tasted good enough to eat, but I forgot about it pretty quickly.