We were on the search for the original New York pizza. We were well aware of the arguments that other places were better (often more tense than the arguments of which Philly cheesesteak is better), but we wanted the first, the original, the pizza that every other pizza would be modeled after. We found Lombardi’s with relative ease after all, we had heard about the place on the Food Network and in our trusty guide book for our first trip to New York. We walked in and immediately smelled the huge vats of bubbling tomato sauce exuding their aroma from the kitchen. Arriving before their remodel, we were seated in the older section of the restaurant which means we were guided past the coal burning oven that makes their pizza so unique. We were sat at a table ordered a few drinks and picked out a few pizzas to try. You do have to wait for your pizza, but we didn’t mind as we looked around the walls taking in pictures of celebrities and wannabes that graced their restaurant over the years. We continued taking in the aroma of the previously mentioned sauce and used that as our appetizer for what was to come. When our pizzas arrived we knew it had been well worth the wait. The crust was a cross between thin and hand tossed and while their were a few charred spots on the edge, we took that as a sign of authenticity. My choice of pizza was sausage, red onion, and mushroom. The sausage was thinly sliced into ovals and had good flavor with a mild bit of heat. The red onion had a nice sharp bite and the mushrooms added texture and a woody flavor to the pizza. The cheese was not overpowering, but rather balanced out the rest of the flavors on the pizza as well as helping to keep the toppings in place. The sauce was wonderfully simple in that you could taste tomatoes and a bit of seasoning and nothing else. The crust was something all together difficult to describe. It had a wonderfully salty flavor combined with a warm, yeasty, bread-like texture. Because of the char of coal burning oven, the crust was slightly crisp and wonderfully chewy. There were spots that tasted more charred than others, but not in a bad way. I can only describe it as being perfectly burnt (in the way that sometimes a few pieces of extra done popcorn is a nice balance to the rest of the batch). Combine all of these wonderful ingredients: the toppings, the cheese, the sauce, and the crust (oh man...the crust) and you have, quite simply, the best pizza I have ever tasted. Add in a Peroni or two and you are set for one of the best meals of your life.
The second time we went to eat at Lombardi’s was two days later...it was just as delicious.
The third time we went to eat at Lombardi’s was a few years later...we got off our plane from Houston, got our baggage, found a taxi, rode to Lombardi’s (straight there), and asked for a table. I thought this time that there would be no way our memories of the pizza could be as wonderful as the pizza actually was...I was wrong...if anything it was better! We polished off a few pizzas between the two of us and were glad for the long walk (with our luggage in tow) to the hotel where we would be staying.
The fourth time I went I was without Matt. This past summer I was in New York at the JFR Lerner Fellowship. I stood up on Sunday at dinner and said "I am going to Lombardi's to get pizza tomorrow night...if anyone wants to eat at the original (and in my opinion best) pizza place then you are welcome to come with me. I am going regardless." Out of the 30 of us, 9 brave souls followed me to Little Italy and were not disappointed with the results.
We have recommended Lombardi’s to others and they are always polite about thanking us for our recommendation and smile saying “We will see if we can try it...there are so many places to eat”. Once they have tried it though, they see what we mean and thank us with enthusiasm for mentioning the place.
The one drawback is the location...obviously being in New York we cannot go every day which means...we have to find something equal...