Sunday, July 10, 2011

Santarpio's: Peabody Edition

Let's just say that I've had a spectacular day. Living the dream? You better believe it. Why? 
1) Scored some sweet Red Sox tickets from a good friend who wasn't able to attend the game.
2) Brought my mom for her birthday. Biggest Sox fan that I know.
3) They won. Youk, among others, hit a killer home run that I won't soon forget.
4) A Red Sox day game win can only mean one thing: Victory party at Santarpio's.
For those who aren't familiar with Santarpio's, the original location is in East Boston, and you may have seen the huge sign advertising the pizzeria on your way to Logan. History states that it was opened in 1903 as a bakery, and sometime around 1933, the purveyors began to serve what has become known as the best pizza in Boston (some may prefer Regina's, but my loyalty lies with Santarpio's). The original location is simple, with waitresses that have equal parts surly and endearing, and the menu is righteously limited: skewers of grilled meats (Santarpio's BBQ) and then your pizza. There are no size options: one size fits all at this joint. If you're a newbie, you get a menu. If you mean business, you don't need one. Yes, it's that kind of place.
Indeed, you can find a wealth of knowledge about Santarpio's in East Boston all over the interwebs. The interesting thing for me is that when in route from Boston to home on the North Shore, there is a new Peabody location right on Route 1. It had opened in September of 2010 after a few "awww man" delays, and great speculation about whether it would be able to capture the same quality of impeccable pizza served up at the original location. 
Now the charm of the original place is simply something that cannot be replicated. The second edition of this restaurant was opened in the old Bennigan's that closed because, well, the restaurant was right on par with the douchebaggery you might experience at any Applebee's. They didn't transform the building much except to add the classic sign and add a new paint job to the interior and exterior. Pluses here include amenities like a parking lot, and a bigger bar. And the decor will grow with time, but will probably not include all the sweet boxing posters at the original location. The important thing? The menu is exactly the same. They're not trying to be Polcari's which has Regina's pizza among a slew of other Italian standards. They are just trying to serve up the same incredible pizza and BBQ that you will find in East Boston.
And I believe, despite all my anxiety that it would be different, that they have accomplished their goal. After about four different visits during different seasons, our items have been consistently excellent. And we always order, sans menu, BBQ lamb -medium-, BBQ sausage, and a cheese pizza, which is a proper benchmark for separating great pizza from all the Dominoes and Papa Johns and Pizza Huts in the world. 
I apologize for the quality of these photos, as they do not give the food any speck of justice. Just the same, gaze upon the BBQ lamb, perfectly pink inside, but grilled to that lovely border char on the outside. To my knowledge, it has no adornments or seasonings beyond the salt and pepper that can enhance some lovely skewered lamb. I love the chew of the lamb, and when added to a bit of the Santarpio's bread and a slice of their own pickled pepper, it's a damn near perfect bite. 
Also give a looksie to the BBQ sausage, which again, is made by the restaurant. You're not going to find any other sausage quite like this one. It's peppery, and heavily seasoned, giving it a unique savory flavor. While the lamb is left to just taste like perfect lamb, this sausage has been whipped into submission with a perfect blend of spices, and is a Santarpio's one and only. 
And now onto the big show. The pizza is perfect. Crust + sauce + cheese. If you mess any one part of this up, you don't have the perfect pizza. The crust is crunchy, and thin, but still offers the ideal satisfaction of a bite of great bread, something that can only be the result of a very hot oven. The cheese is a nice blend of Italian cheeses. That would be mozz, and I detect a bit of Parmesan and then maybe a bit of Romano. It's not too much cheese, and since it is the correct proportion of cheese to sauce, the hot, oozing dairy miracle acts like a blanket, only disturbed by its stretching when you take your first much anticipated bite. You know that stretching... and you know when it isn't there... when there's too much cheese... crappy cheese. Now, let's talk sauce. Tomato sauce should taste like tomatoes at their peak ripeness. I am deeply saddened by tomatoes in supermarkets during the endless winter, and don't want something made with those whose flavor is only changed by a shit-ton of sugar. I want tomato sauce on my tomatoes to taste like ripe tomatoes, salt, and maybe a little zing from some herbs. And this restaurant has created the paragon of tomato sauce. It's so savory and so delightful, and is the perfect slightly runny binder between your stretchy cheese and your crunchy, bready crust. A triumvirate of excellence: the cheese pizza at Santarpios.
So all and all, while Peabody does not have the same charm as East Boston (on more counts than just pizza, methinks), the food at the second edition of Santarpio's is solid and will not disappoint. Feel confident when striding into either location and enjoy your pizza, some of the finest in New England.

Location Rundown:
71 Newbury St. (Route 1)
Peabody, MA 01960

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