The Reeducation Of A Tri-State Pizza Purist

Meredith Smith, with dog Hambone (Photo by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. (The dog is his.))

I grew up in a sheltered little town in southeastern Connecticut. New York was the big city, but in my town most people were commuters to New Haven or Bridgeport, both practically right down the street. Food-wise, this meant one thing: I grew up eating the greatest pizza in America. And I’ve been hopelessly snobbish on the subject ever since.

To anyone who listens, I’ve long said that it’s impossible to get good pizza in Boston. A slight exaggeration, perhaps. Even I knew that the original Regina location is mobbed with tourists for a very good reason. And, if Figs weren’t in Charlestown, I’d eat it every week. But for the most part, when other people told me what the best slice in Boston was — Pino’s or Ernesto’s — I was always disappointed. My expectations were too high; their standards were too low. As I said — hopelessly snobbish on the subject.

As it turns out, I may have misjudged this city. First, Sue McCrory post pictures of this gorgeous-looking pie at Posto, putting it at the top of my must-eat list. Then, I speak to Meredith Smith, the editor of Serious Eats’ Slice — my definitive pizza guide. To my surprise, she’s based in Boston, where she’s enjoyed many a good pie. After speaking with her, well…consider my mind opened.

Are you, too, skeptical about the Hub’s pizza? Get some tips from Meredith, after the jump.

On Boston’s Reputation

“Boston is definitely right in the pizza belt on the Eastern Seaboard, where Italian immigrants settled after coming into the country… but there is so much bad pizza here that the reputation is, like you said, you can’t get good pizza.” Still, there are standouts, she says. To name a few: New Brown Jug in Chelsea; Galleria Umberto and Regina’s in the North End; and, Picco’s in the South End.

Healthy Pizza

Since the Naked Pizza chain entered Boston, I’ve been tempted by the idea of low-calorie, whole wheat pizza. But Meredith says it’s nothing special. “I’m all for quality ingredients.. sourced in a way that’s conscientious,” she says. “But for me, the main thing is that it tastes good.” And Naked doesn’t fit the bill for her: “I’m not a super huge fan of that pizza. It’s not terrible, but it’s not something that I’d go out of my way for.”

Can You Get A New York Slice?

“If I was going to get a good, big slice of pizza that’s thin and has that crispy bottom, I’d get Pini’s pizza on Broadway” in Somerville, she says. “They make a mean slice, and you wouldn’t think it. It’s the most unassuming little place.” Plus, she says, “If you’re right in downtown Boston, there are places like New York Pizza where, if you’re drunk, they’re awesome.”

Upper Crust: Ubiquitous, Controversial. Thoughts?

 “I don’t like Upper Crust Pizza. I don’t like their toppings, I think they’re heavy-handed… too much sauce, too much cheese… I stay clear. I think that probably sounds a little strong, but I only say it because there are many fans of it and I really don’t see the appeal. It’s upscale pizza but they’re not anything special… still, I think people want a thin-crust option that is accessible to them, since so much of New England is Greek pizza.”

Greek Pizza

Above all else, Meredith says, Boston is a Greek pizza stronghold — which isn’t necessarily doing its reputation any favors. “I’m on a quest right now to find the best Greek-style pizza,” she says, but “I haven’t found a truly amazing one yet. I have had good Greek pizza, but I think it’s so easy to do it badly, and most people seem okay with it.”

Dare I Hope For New Haven Pies?

Nope, Meredith says — and maybe that’s a good thing. “I found that I had to learn about new styles of pizza,” Meredith says. “I don’t think I could learn about those styles if I was in New Haven or New York, because the New Haven pizza is so good, why would you look for anything else?”

“Not being a native to Boston myself, I’m more likely to go and explore lots of different neighborhoods than someone who grew up here,” she says. Through this, she found that “there are these little enclaves of pizza style and not one dominating the whole city – they stay in these little pockets.”

Boston might not have a definitive pizza style, but it’s diverse. “There’s awesome bakery pizza, served cold like a tomato pie from Jersey,” up on the North Shore, she says. “I’ve never seen that before living in Boston.”

On the South Shore, she says, there are bar pies. “Bar pies are basically meant to keep people drinking longer — they keep you from getting too drunk. They’re personal pizzas, thin, without a crust, usually — kind of if you got a tombstone pizza and heated it up.” One standout example, she says, is the baked bean pizza at the Lynwood Cafe in Randolph: “You can’t get any more Boston than that.”

And What About Brookline, Where WBUR Is Based?

She laughs. “Yeah, there’s no good pizza in Brookline.”

2 thoughts on “The Reeducation Of A Tri-State Pizza Purist

  1. Tom

    I grew up in WMA, but lived for years in SE CT. I have lived in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Georgia and a summer in New Jersey. Pepe’s and Sally’s is the best pizza I have ever had, and I eat pizza once weekly. I prefer Pepe’s over Sally’s, but either is better than any pie I have had elsewhere. There used to be a pizza place called the Recovery Room across the street from a hospital in New London, CT, and that pie was as good as any I have had other than the peerless pies in New Haven.

  2. Jim

    I’ve had exceptional slices at Eros in Southborough. I don’t know if they are consistently great, but I have been extremely impressed the couple of times I’ve visited.

    Regina, too, I find perfectly serviceable. Much like Johnny Walker Black, it fits the bill without getting too elaborate.