Somerille, Mass - East Boston is a blue-collar, rough-and-tumble part of town. On the east side of the Boston Harbor, it is the site of Logan Airport. It is also the setting for much of the Academy Award-winning mob-movie, Mystic River. But most importantly, Eastie is the home of Santarpio's, the pizza place that constantly tops the lists of Boston's best pizza pies.
It's interesting how these best-pizza lists go. There is always a nod to trendy places with gourmet toppings, a la Cambridge 1. (Think oddly-shaped thin-crust pizza, topped with portabella, roasted onion and asiago cheese.) There are only a handful of pizzas and salads on the menu - all of them unexpected and delicious - but perhaps not what you had in mind when you went out for pizza.
Even Emma's - our little neighborhood pizza place that is up the street in Kendall Square - gets kudos for its creative combinations of toppings sitting on a crispy crust. (At Emma's I usually opt for the #1 - caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, mozzarella cheese and the unbeatable spicy rosemary tomato sauce.) Plus, Emma's has a friendly-neighborhood vibe and it's right across from the movie theater, so it's an ideal date destination.
While Cambridge 1 and Emma's often appear on these best-in-Boston lists, they rarely occupy the number one spot. That place of honor is reserved for an old-school institution like Santarpio's.
I went to Santarpio's for the first time on Friday and I was not disappointed. First of all, the place is infamous for its service culture - or lack thereof - which was on full display. The host (using that term very loosely) instructed us to wait outside for our table for five people. When it was ready, we watched him shove the door open and yell "Five!", then disappear into the divey restaurant, without waiting to see if we followed.
Inside, Boston Bruins' posters and neon beer signs adorn the wood-paneled walls. A wood counter gives a glimpse into the kitchen, where the pizza chefs work their magic. A gruff waitress offered us a menu, but we declined, as there are only about three things on it anyway.
My friend Scott is a self-proclaimed Santarpio's specialist (actually, he an aficionado of all pizza, but Santarpio's is definitely at the top of his list). Scott advised "Whatever you do, don't order salad and don't order water." Apparently when somebody ordered a glass of water on a previous visit, the waiter replied "What do you think, this is the Meridien?"
We got one cheese and one pepperoni pizza. This thin-crust pizza is unique for its extra crispy, crunchy texture. The well-done crust is topped with slightly sweet sauce, plenty of pepperoni and not too much cheese. Pretty simple, but definitely delectable. We also had an order of Italian sausage and grilled lamb. All that - plus beers - for $61.
No wonder the place was packed. And what about the divey decor? The gruff service? As they say in East Boston, it's all part of the chaaaaahm.
Photos courtesy of www.roadfood.com.