Friday, January 15, 2010

Forkin' Pizza

Comfort foods are dishes that bring us back to our childhood and make us feel safe and warm. And usually have at least 500-1000 calories per serving. Macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, and middle school sloppy joes are all examples of comfort food. And just for kicks, let's add pizza to the mix.

And since pizza is not only comforting, but Italian as well, it is fitting that chef Sara Jenkins recently opened up her own pizza restaurant. Jenkins is the mastermind behind Porhcetta, which is a tiny take-out spot in the East Village that specializes in the namesake hearty Italian pork sandwiches. I've had these sandwiches and they are quite an investment (in appetite more than finance) but incredibly complex and delicious. So I had high hopes for her pizza.

At Veloce, a very sleek pizza and wine bar in the East Village, Jenkins has crafted a unique and comforting take on Sicilian square pizza. The big secret here is that she adds a little potato to her dough (don't tell anybody). This fluffs the pizza up while giving it a crispy crunchy texture.

And I think the potato is what contributed to the slices being so incredibly heavy - literally. I almost had to use both hands to lift the first slice. It felt very full and loaded - even though I only ordered the margherita pie and basil can't weigh more than an ounce or two. It was also cut very large (the 12-inch personal pie was cut into four gigantic squares) so it was awkward to pick up.

After struggling a bit, I resigned to using a knife and fork. I've heard tales that certain people use silverware to cut and eat their pizza. But I'm not a baby anymore who has to take small bites at a time (maybe I should try that), so I like to eat my pizza the New York way: pick it up, fold it, and put it in my mouth.

I looked around to make sure nobody was watching and I cut the pizza into pieces. This formal pizza dining was one of many contradictions at Veloce. The atmosphere felt very romantic and classy, but yet there were parts of the bar that could have been mistaken for a sports bar (except the televisions were not showing football but rather classic black and white movies in closed caption). The soundtrack was a very strange mix of Madonna, Led Zeppelin, and the Beastie Boys. And I was using a friggin' fork to eat pizza!!!

The dough of the pizza was incredibly interesting. The corners were crunchy and charred, but the middle got soggy rather quickly. And it felt and tasted like a giant savory pancake with pizza toppings on it. The cheese, tomato sauce, and basil were all rather weak and bland. It's clear more attention was paid to the ingenuity of the crust. Maybe one of the specialized pies (ie, white clam, porchetta sausage, or five onion) could have brought more flavor to the meal.

I also found it telling that the pizza was served with a side of pickled hot peppers. Are all the pies served with this? Or were they offering it only for the margherita since it definitely needed something to spicen it up?

I was quite disappointed because that dough was really interesting and I enjoyed savoring it. But in order for the pizza to truly work, all the elements have to come into play together. And unlike her incredible porchetta sandwich, Jenkins' pizza caused me more stress than comfort.

Is Veloce the best pizza in NY? I bet their Italian meat heavy pies would be delicious - it smelled great in that wine bar. But the margherita pie (which to measure all pizzas by) was bland and flavorless. The interesting potato-filled crust is the only thing that earns this place a 5 out of 10.

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