The staff at both of the schools in which I teach are hooked on ChowHound. ( ALTHOUGH NONE OF THE SISSIES EVER POSTS ANYTHING!!!!) They like to read my posts and sometimes when I come into work the following day one of my colleagues has printed out a copy of my latest entry and put it, for all to see, above the time clock with each of the typos circled in red and a "You went to Columbia?????" scrawled at the bottom... More often than that, they simply like to "challenge" my taste buds.
"Whaddya mean Matese is the best place for Sicilian in Queens?" is how I was greeted last Friday. "Come to Forest Hills if you want good pizza." By lunch time, this opinionated Science teacher had had half a dozen of her Forest Hills car pooling pals pop into my room to assert her advice.
It just so happened that I had a doctor's appointment in Forest Hills on Monday, so I decided I wouldn't go to Uzbekistan Tandoor for a change (anytime I'm anywhere near Queens Blvd. this is where I end up) and I'd give my friend's two picks, A&J and Nick's, a shot.
I got to A&J's at 5:00 and the line was already out the door. I waited patiently with Senior Citizens, suit-clad businessmen, and what seemed like the entire basketball team of one of the local high schools. I heard more than one person voice aloud his or her concern that the "Upside Down" would be out before they'd get to the front of the line. "What's the upside down?" I finally inquired. "Just get a couple of slices- you'll love it..." was the gruff reply.
Sal, the young pizza guy, thought it was pretty interesting that I was taking out 12 pieces of pizza (had to try all of the varieties and besides I'd put out some slices for my Oscar party) and that I didn't want a box. I explained to him that I was jumping on a train to get back to Flushing and that a big box during rush hour wouldn't make it. "You mean you're not from here?" When I explained to the adorable Sal that I was sampling his pizza for the first time, he nearly had a heart attack. "You can't take this stuff home in a plastic bag, it'll get soggy, and the sauce will thin out, and the cheese will solidify...." To make a long story short, I had one fresh-from-the-oven-slice there, in the bright flourecsent lights of A&J, to assuage Sal's fears. Of course I chose the "Upside Down Sicilian" which was a slab with the mozzarella UNDER the tomato sauce. It was very good and I especially liked that the sauce had been cooked and spiced ever so subtly with basil. The dough itself, however, lacked that yeastiness that I've come to love in a good pizza. Later, in the comfort of my home, I would reheat the slices and rediscover what I've known all along- that if the dough isn't great the pizza suffers. The sliced plum tomato rounds with onion and the broccoli with garlic and oil slices were the standouts but that dough just wasn't where it should be. A+ on the sauce, though... (71-37 Austin Street 718-520-9018)
Nick's (108-26 Ascan Ave. 718-263-1126) was another story. Perfection!!!! The minute I walked in I knew I'd love the place- tin ceiling with fans, blue formica tables, well worn wood floors, soft lights, old NY prints on the walls, a warm "hello" from the hostess, and the most delicious, fragrant scent of pizza in the air...
I ordered a large Margherita and watched as the two deft pizza makers expertly assembled it- stretched the dough, smoothed the sauce, placed huge freshly cut slabs of snow-white mozzarella atop and then eased it into the huge oven. As my pizza cooked I watched the same duo make a gorgeous, gargantuan, crescent-shaped, calzone with fresh crumbly sausage, basil leaves and the richest, smoothest ricotta piped in thick and fat ribbons with a pastry bag. Definitley on my list for next time. When my pizza was taken, charred and bubbly, from the oven, it was garnished with some sliced basil leaves and put into a box with an open top until my FourOne's taxi arrived (I nixed the train idea the minute I walked in-I knew I wanted to get home ASAP to sample a slice ..)
"You're a lady with good taste" were the first words with which my taxi driver, Herb, greeted me. His peeve was that Nick's didn't sell by the slice for a quick taxi snack. You'd think I had offered him the Hope diamond when I asked if he wanted a piece. He didn't turn it down and as we drove to my Bayside neighborhood we traded food stories and lots of good jokes. As I climbed out with all of my bags and boxes he called out "Nick's is good for Forest Hills, but if you're ever on Metropolitan Ave. check out Dee's..."
Always something new to try......