Two very different restaurants at opposite ends of town are giving local afficionados of the various pizza arts plenty to chew over.
Sometimes it’s the simplest foods that have the most room for debate, and pizza is a prime example. Pizza calls for just a handful of accessible ingredients and a generally-understood method of preparation, yet that’s also what gives this familiar food so much potential for controversy.
Sometimes that comes as a bit of a relief. After all, when encountering some of the more conceptual examples of modern cuisine around New Orleans today — say, scallops puffed with cigar smoke, or a foie gras ice cream float — the standards of comparison might be a little slim.
But pizza? Ah, we know pizza. About pizza we all have opinions, we have expectations and, sometimes, we even harbor hard convictions. Lately, a pair of pizzerias have emerged in New Orleans with such specific visions for their product that they’re putting all of that to the test.
One is Ancora Pizzeria & Salumeria, which is Uptown along Freret Street’s busy restaurant row. The other is Pizza Delicious, which is down in the Bywater and a leading light of that old neighborhood’s sudden rise as a restaurant destination. Both are refreshingly different from the general-purpose pizzeria, that place you call because the magnet is on your fridge, because someone stuffed a coupon under door or because they advertise during halftime.
To begin, Ancora is devoted to Neapolitan pizza — meaning pizza as perfected in Naples, Italy — and it’s a restaurant where just about everything revolves around the wood-burning oven in the corner of its open kitchen.
That blazing-hot oven cooks pizzas in about 90 seconds, and the process dictates a minimal attitude to toppings. After all, if toppings were allowed to get too profuse or zany they just wouldn’t cook right during the pizza’s short stay under that intense heat. Anyway, the big deal here is the dough — it has a good tug and stretch to it, crisp but not cracker-stiff, with charred bubbles scattered like beauty marks. And these are gorgeous pies.
Meanwhile, Pizza Delicious comes to us from its proprietors’ desire for the New York-style pizza they grew up eating in the Northeast, and an extended pop-up run that proved many others here in New Orleans share that craving. From its once-a-week, borderline-underground start, Pizza Delicious is now a full-fledged restaurant, with salads, sides, pastas, drinks, all of it. But what it really comes down to here is, again, the crust. This Pizza Delicious crust strikes the golden mean between crisp and chewy, a dynamic that’s more complex than simply being thin-crusted and is essential to the New York style of pie. There’s a crunch, but then the bite pulls into soft elasticity, bringing along cheese and mildly tart sauce.
Get a few people who really care about their pizza together at Ancora or Pizza Delicious and the conversation around the pie can sound more like a mix of forensic engineering and anthropology than table talk. There’s analysis of crust rigidity and pliancy, sauce to cheese ratios, topping distribution and how faithfully one example represents a regional and historic style. There may be debate, there could even be a little shouting, and that might all sound a little much for a slice of pizza. But then the New Orleans table never has been a place to bring mild opinions.
4508 Freret St., New Orleans, (504) 324-1636
617 Piety St., New Orleans, (504) 676-8482