Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Five Borough Challenge - The Wrap Up

The Five Borough Challenge lived up to it's name, lasting nearly ten hours and taking it's participants on a journey above and below ground, on the water and through all five New York City Boroughs. The quest was to consume a slice of pizza and a beer in each Borough. Here's what happened...

As Jerry Garcia once said, the first days are the hardest days. This was certainly the case in the challenge.

The Staten Island leg of the trip began with one of the participants missing his subway stop and exiting the train in Brooklyn. As he desperately wanted to complete the challenge, he took a cab from Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to the Staten Island side of the Staten Island Ferry terminal in order to meet the crew. He arrived two minutes too late for us to make the Staten Island railroad 12:00 PM train (trains leave every 30 minutes) and $50 poorer from the long cab ride. We were off to a rough start.

With our group intact, we headed to our first destination, Goodfella's Pizza. After a Staten Island Railroad ride and a short walk, we arrived at the small restaurant that was nearly empty at lunch time on Sunday afternoon. We ordered up a round of brews and caught the opening moments of the Jets-Cardinals game as the young men manning the ovens prepared the pizza we had chosen. We elected to go with a pie that won the 2007 International Pizza Festival Championship, called the Smokin' Goodfella.

The Smokin' Goodfella

While I'm not prepared to say this is the best pizza in the world, I could certainly see why someone could be of that opinion. The smoked mozzarella was a revelation, adding a depth of flavor to the pizza that I have tasted no where else. The crust was very thin but still was able to hold on to the wonderfully sweet wood roasted peppers, pecorino-romano cheese and fresh basil. Do to a request from a Kosher member of our tribe, we ordered the pie sans sausage, but to be honest (and blasphemous as a meat lover), it wasn't really missed. This was one outstanding pie.

When we headed out of the restaurant, we noticed that a bus was coming up the street that we knew we could take to the Ferry Terminal. We sprinted two blocks to the bus stop and caught the bus as we caught our respective breaths. Feeling good about our hustle we talked about how delicious the Goodfella's pie was. When party member Craig went to grab his camera to show off his pizza photos, he realized that he had left the camera at the restaurant. The group disembarked the bus at the next stop and walked all the way back to the restaurant to retrieve the digital camera.

After our detour, we boarded another bus and headed back towards the Staten Island Ferry with hopes of catching the 2:00 PM boat. Our bus arrived at the terminal at 1:59 and we booked it towards the boat and hopped on the ferry moments before the mammoth ship departed.

Back on our home turf of Manhattan, we took the 4 train from Battery Park up to 125th Street to hit up Patsy's Pizza. Having spent a significant amount more time in Staten Island than we expected, we opted to get our slices from Patsy's take out stand next to the restaurant proper and our beers from a near-by bodega. The slices were a study in classic pizza making. Sweet San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and a perfectly charred crust mixed beautifully in each bite. A light drizzle falling from the darkened skies only enhanced the enjoyment of the piping hot pie. We were in and out in less than ten minutes, but I'll remember that excellent slice for a long, long time.

The Original, and Still One of the Best

From Patsy's we picked up the 6 train at 116th street and took it to the second to last stop in the Bronx, Buhre Ave. From there we make the 15 minute walk to Louie and Ernie's. Run by a family out of their house in the middle of a neighborhood, Louie and Ernie's is about as far from the big-box pretentious restaurants often found in New York as you can get. The casual surroundings belie the passion of the pizza making going on in this comfortable abode. As mentioned in the write-up, the family behind Louie and Ernie's grows their own herbs, hand-makes their own mozzarella and runs every aspect of the subterranean slice joint.

Jonas Broncks would be proud...

The pizza was piping hot and a perfect foil for the ice cold coronas with which they were consumed. The crust was crispy, the sauce sweet and the mozzarella creamy enough. Though I believe this was probably my least favorite slice of the excursion, it was still one of the great slices I've had in my time in New York. It's sort of like trying to pick your least favorite Beatles album. No matter which one you choose, you know you are disparaging greatness.

After hiking back to the 6 train and riding it to 59th Street, we switched to the R to take us out to the Broadway Station in Astoria. From there we make the quick walk to Sac's Place next to the Astoria Beer Garden. We enjoyed the intriguing mixture of fresh and processed mozzarella on the slices which gave the pies the flavor of fresh and the gooey-ness of shredded. The tomato sauce was not particularly flavorful, but the slice was propelled by its picture-perfect crust which was a model of flavor and texture. This was my #4 of the 5 slices, but again, that's certainly not to say it wasn't an excellent piece of pizza.

Crust Lust

From Sac's we hopped back on the R train and took it down to Union Square. From there we jumped on the L train that took us to our final destination, Brooklyn's Fornino. We rested our tired legs in the sit-down restaurant's rear garden where Fornino's staff grows many of the greens and herbs used in the dishes they serve.

We ordered "The Al Roker" which consisted of a marinara sauced delectable crust topped with fontina cheese, carmelized onions, sopressata, roasted red peppers and rosemary. Sopressata is similar to pepperoni, only spicier and less salty (and in my opinion, tastier). The elements were perfectly balanced with each of the ingredients packing massive flavor punches that nonetheless worked in harmony with the other not-so-subtle flavors in each slice. Though the comparison may not be fair given the judging criteria (i.e. I wasn't comparing margheritas to margheritas), this was my favorite slice of the day and a wonderful way to polish off a tiring, but highly rewarding adventure.

Just when you tbought the chance had passed, I always save the best for last.

Thanks to Aaron, Jeff, Craig, Mark, Victoria, Ali, Jay and Katherine for joining me in this sapid swing through the city's five boroughs.