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Fat Guy

The chronic undercooking of pizza

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I really like that picture from Patsy's East Harlem. Now I'll have to go try it.

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After many years making our own pizza at home using a pizza stone in a fairly good oven, it seems to me that underbaking isn't really the issue. If you want a crispy crust you have to minimize the amount of sauce and toppings, otherwise the stuff is too wet and creates a barrier so the heat can't properly bake the crust. Pre-cooking the crust works pretty well, but clearly that would create a labor-intensive pizza that might not work well for most pizzerias. If you continue to cook it just to get a crisper crust your cheese and toppings will be burnt and tough and the crust might still be damp and flabby.

How hot the oven is certainly matters, but in a home oven that doesn't go over 500 degrees, creating a flatbread or crispy type crust isn't a problem as long as you don't overload the toppings.

Just curious: could someone tell me what a coal oven is and how common they are? When I grew up in NY the only pizza I ever knew was that standard foldable slice where the oil runs down the crease and drips on the paper as you eat it. A far cry from what I want from a pizza now, but something that seems unique to New York or the east coast. When I first moved to CA (a million years ago) I missed that "New York style" pizza. Were they using coal ovens?

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Just curious: could someone tell me what a coal oven is and how common they are? When I grew up in NY the only pizza I ever knew was that standard foldable slice where the oil runs down the crease and drips on the paper as you eat it. A far cry from what I want from a pizza now, but something that seems unique to New York or the east coast. When I first moved to CA (a million years ago) I missed that "New York style" pizza. Were they using coal ovens?

The oldest pizzerias and the most tradional pizzerias in New York City use retained heat ovens that are fired using coal instead of the wood that is used in Neapolitan-style retained heat pizza ovens. They are also rectangular "box ovens" with a flat ceiling rather than domed ovens in the Neapolitan syle. These include, among others, Patsy's, Lombardi's, Grimaldi's, Arturo's, etc.

Here is a look into the oven at Arturo's. You can see the pile of coal over on the right.

gallery_8505_245_1098064338.jpg

Here is the oven at Lombardi's

gallery_8505_0_75936.jpg

Patsy's East Harlem:

gallery_8505_0_41526.jpg

Grimaldi's oven. Here you can see them putting in a full sheet pan of red bell peppers. They took it back out around 90 seconds later, and the peppers were completely black all over. That gives you some idea as to the temperature of these ovens.

gallery_8505_0_48140.jpg


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Another little tidbit about the coal oven is that you can't just build one, at least not in Manhattan, afaik...they're not allowed unless they have been there since before the regulations against coal ovens were instituted.

The coal ovens that Sam pictured above have been around for a while; the ovens are, therefore, grandfathered in.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Right. Although the coal oven doesn't have to be a pizza oven and it doesn't have to be currently operational. So long as a something that can be called a coal oven is in place, you can replace or rehabilitate the coal oven and run it.


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Thanks. And those pix are great. I really never thought about this. I don't remember going to any of these places when I grew up. So then are there Neapolitan style wood-fired pizza places that have been around forever? It isn't against city regs to build a new wood-fired oven, is it?

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I think there are a lot more potentially grandfathered oven locations in NYC than one might think.


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Thanks. And those pix are great. I really never thought about this. I don't remember going to any of these places when I grew up. So then are there Neapolitan style wood-fired pizza places that have been around forever? It isn't against city regs to build a new wood-fired oven, is it?

No, it isn't. Nor is against city regs to open a wood-fired barbecue restaurant. You just have to spend a small fortune for the proper equipment to make sure the emissions from the restaurant comply with city regs.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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slkinsey: is the photo you posted from Patsy's East Harlem recent? I ended up going this weekend, and when I walked up every pizza I saw looked undercooked. I thought I was at the wrong place until I saw the coal oven two doors down.

So I ordered my pizza well done, but it still came out soggy in the middle. The oven did a great job on the areas that were well done though. I didn't like the tomatoe sauce; it was a little too acidic.

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I have found Patsy's East Harlem to be remarkably consistent over the years, but will allow as to how I haven't been there since November 3, 2007 (which date I remember because it's two days before I got married :smile:).

I will say this: Patsy's makes a very thin crust and I have found as a generality that some people find it to be "too limp" in the center. This has been the case even when I have had extremely well-charred pizza there. In my opinion, it's part of the style that the pizza isn't crisp and rigid all the way to the tip of the slice. Indeed, the crust isn't "crisp" at all, except for the top of the cornicione. What I would say it has is a "micro-thin" layer of crispness/char on the bottom topped by an etherially light and flexible layer of crust just below the toppings. This seems fairly consistent with your observation that "the oven did a great job on the areas that were well done" and this is a characteristic that is shared with the otherwise different Neapolitan style. Another thing about Patsy's is that the pizza has to be eaten immediately. Because it is so thin and so light, it loses its "specialness" rapidly. For this reason, Patsy's East Harlem cognoscenti order their pizzas in series rather than all at once.

Of course, it's possible they were having an off day.

I don't mind the sauce at Patsy's (I rather like the bright acidity) but agree that the quality of the toppings is a major weak point. The cheeses are okay, but if they offered better quality and more interesting extra toppings, they would really be stepping up their game.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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RE: Patsy's. We stopped in a week ago and also had a less that "Patsy's Perfect" pizza. This was not in the restaurant, but from the takeout part. There was lots of joking and joshing going on in there between the 2 pizzaiolos and certain customers, but I dare say not too much good pizza making.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Since this is not a New York thread, let me toss Il Vicino into the mix here. I believe I've mentioned them once or twice in the Heartland forum.

I've eaten at least 40 pizzas at the St. Louis location over the last decade or so. I shouldn't have to say any more than that, but I will report that (1) the place has nothing to do with "St. Louis-style pizza," which is a peculiar regional abomination & (2) without specifying "well done," I have never had an undercooked pizza there (or, for that matter, one with browned mozz).

It may be a chain - a small one, with 8 locations scattered around the West & Midwest - but somebody knows what they're doing. With the wood-fired ovens, sensible crust/cheese/toppings proportions & quality of ingrredients, they deliver consistently great pizza with a wonderful smoky flavor & what I consider a proper amount of char on the crust.

(The crust sounds quite similar to what slkinsey describes at Patsy's. The cheese & toppings on offer sound better.)


Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I was dropping my car off to be inspected today at the Amoco station on 117th and First and, when I was told it would be 45 minutes, I realized that meant I'd have just enough time to get a pie at Patsy's across the street.

I decided, as a baseline, to order a pie without asking for it well done. What came was this amazing specimen:

3679188765_bcf71f8279.jpg

It was such a great pie, I didn't know what to do with myself. I'm not sure I've ever had a better one in New York City.

So, at least on this day, Patsy's did not fall victim to chronic undercooking.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I decided, as a baseline, to order a pie without asking for it well done. What came was this amazing specimen:

It was such a great pie, I didn't know what to do with myself. I'm not sure I've ever had a better one in New York City.

So, at least on this day, Patsy's did not fall victim to chronic undercooking.

That was in the sit-down part of Patsy's, right? Looks beautiful.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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During the lunch hour I have noticed that the pies on the tables look a heck of a lot better than what I get at the slice counter. Lately my routine of ordering a torta at the taco shop next door, and then running down the block for a quick slice while it's being made, has been truncated of the slice part. I almost always got an undercooked slice that just hinted at some sort of potential greatness. I always figured that if I was eating in then I could request a well-done pie, which is becoming my norm these days, no matter where I'm ordering from.


aka Michael

Chi mangia bene, vive bene!

"...And bring us the finest food you've got, stuffed with the second finest."

"Excellent, sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos."

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Patsy's, IMO, is not a slice shop. With an oven that hot, I don't see how you could double-bake a pizza without burning it unless it was deliberately undercooked.


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Patsy's, IMO, is not a slice shop.  With an oven that hot, I don't see how you could double-bake a pizza without burning it unless it was deliberately undercooked.

But you should be able to order a whole pie to go that's as good as what they serve in the restaurant, no? Especially if you eat it the minute you get into the car.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Perhaps they are allowing for that possibility, though what I was getting was always right out of the oven.

When I worked down by Howard Beach I would frequent a place called New Park that also had a seriously hot oven. During peak times the slices would be served right out of the oven, no reheating. I did have the misfortune of getting a reheated slice one time, and it wasn't good at all, almost like it came from an entirely different place. I always figured that if there was enough foot traffic, at the right time of day, you could trust getting a quality slice.


aka Michael

Chi mangia bene, vive bene!

"...And bring us the finest food you've got, stuffed with the second finest."

"Excellent, sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos."

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Patsy's, IMO, is not a slice shop.  With an oven that hot, I don't see how you could double-bake a pizza without burning it unless it was deliberately undercooked.

But you should be able to order a whole pie to go that's as good as what they serve in the restaurant, no? Especially if you eat it the minute you get into the car.

Yea, I suppose. Although I will say that I have never had a pizza from anyone that has been as good after steaming in a box for 5 minutes or more as it was out of the oven, onto a platter and directly to the table. Patsy's pizza, in particular, seems especially time-dependent (probably because it's so thin). Even in the restaurant, after 10 or 12 minutes, it's not what it was when it first came to the table.


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That was in the sit-down part of Patsy's, right?  Looks beautiful.

Yes, the slice operation in my experience is lame and prone to the chronic undercooking problem. It's almost like a different restaurant. Not because they undercook in anticipation of a second warming. I've never seen a second warming performed there. The slices get snapped up by waiting customers as soon as the pies come out, at least when I've been there they have. But I think especially when they're trying to do volume at the slice counter they haven't got great quality control and they tend to rush the pies. This sort of pizza isn't particularly slice-friendly anyway. I'm not sure why they sell it by the slice. I'm not aware of any other coal-oven operation that does.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I was dropping my car off to be inspected today at the Amoco station on 117th and First and, when I was told it would be 45 minutes, I realized that meant I'd have just enough time to get a pie at Patsy's across the street.

Funny. I had to get my car inspected yesterday, and I had told myself that the place I was supposed to go to was at 106th and 1st. I must have misremembered it, because I ended up at that station on 1st b/w 116th and 117th. There was a bit of a wait, and I remembered that Patsy's was somewhere near there (I'd never been), so I pulled it up on my phone, turned around, and there it was.

I went to the slice joint. It was freaking fantastic. I had two pieces from the tail end of a pie that was sitting there already, and then two pieces from a pie fresh from the oven. I guess the turnover was quick enough before I got there that the only difference was really temperature. That is, there was no undercooking problem at all, even with the slices that weren't fresh from the oven.

I was really impressed by the pizza, particularly because we don't care much for Grimaldi's, and I take it there's some kind of relation. It's seldom that I've had a crust both as thin as the one at Patsy's and foldable without being the least bit soggy.

In other words, best place to get your car inspected ever.

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3679188765_bcf71f8279.jpg

It was such a great pie, I didn't know what to do with myself. I'm not sure I've ever had a better one in New York City.

Allright, so I forgot to ask - did you eat the whole pie?

In other words, best place to get your car inspected ever.

Touché.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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If you reverse this

I'm not sure why they sell it by the slice.

The slices get snapped up by waiting customers as soon as the pies come out,

I think you answer your own question.


"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Same experience couple of weeks ago at Zero Otto Nove.  They have this amazing brick oven and are now serving undercooked, soggy pizza. 

I was also there a couple of weeks ago, and completely agree that it was undercooked. The more serious problem, however, was that the dough was just too dense. Combine those two issues and the result was basically no better than a frozen Tombstone pizza.

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