Monday, November 16, 2009

Sullivan St. Bakery's Bread Concoctions

According to "pizza" is defined as:

a flat open-faced baked pie of Italian origin,
consisting of a thing layer of bread dough,
topped with tomato sauce and cheese, often
garnished with anchovies, sausage slices, mushrooms, etc.

So there we have it folks, an actual definition of one of our favorite foods. Now, I understand that definitions are just a starting point and I'm more excited than anybody when those definitions are stretched as creatively as possible. Over the years, we've seen the creation of white pizza, gourmet pizza, deep-dish Chicago style pizza, vegan pizza, etc. But the basic structure should still remain. Or else your product becomes something else.

And when it comes to NY pizza, I expect certain components. You need cheese and/or tomato sauce. For me there is no other option here. You could do white pizza or a cheese-less tomato pie. But you can't do a pizza without both cheese and tomato. Or so says I!

Sullivan Street Bakery, which has moved quite a bit uptown from the actual Sullivan Street (its original location) to the outskirts of midtown west, challenges those rules. Jim Lahey is the mastermind behind the yeast and has been praised in the press recently for his baking skills. In the last year, he has opened Co. which focuses on Neapolitan-style pizzas. I'll save that for another post because today I'm concentrating on Sullivan Street Bakery's Roman style pizza.

There were only a few options left when we arrived late on a Monday. The signature slice here is the pizza bianca, so that's what I chose. And this is where Sullivan Street Bakery and I get into some conflict. I mean this was basically a loaf of bread. Sure, it was moist and seasoned well with rosemary and sea salt. But this is what I'd expect in a basket with some olive oil at a trattoria before we even place our order. I don't care what they do in Rome, this is not a slice of pizza!

I left with a blank feeling. What just happened? I was a bit surprised and disappointed. So I did something I was not expecting to do. I went back for a second visit.

This time I completely ignored the pizza bianca like a one night stand you pass on the subway platform. I chose the zucchini slice instead. Well, I will say this is much closer to what I expect from pizza. It still didn't have much cheese (a little bit of grated gruyere) and no tomato sauce to speak of.

What the very crispy thin crust slice did have was a nice helping of cooked zucchini, some bread crumbs for texture, and a lot of flavor. Whether this bread thing was pizza or not, it was delicious. It reminded me of a homemade zucchini casserole. It was warming, crunchy and a real treat.

There are definitely many variations to the standard definition of pizza. I guess as long as they're delicious and fun to eat, we shouldn't squabble. And if you order correctly at Sullivan Street Bakery, you'll have a new and exciting eating experience. Order incorrectly and you'll wonder how the name pizza entered the equation.

Is Sullivan Street Bakery the best pizza in NY? I can't really put it in the running. The bread is delicious and the speciality "pizzas" are flavorful. I'd rate it much higher in terms of deliciousness, but for the best pizza, it can't get more than a 6 out of 10.

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