What baffles me about Luzzo’s Pizza

“What baffles me about Luzzo’s Pizza”

BY: ELENA MANCINI

Luzzo’s
211 First Ave.
East Village
212-473-4774 /
luzzomania.com/

Pizza Ortolana

Pizza Ortolana

One of the things that I took away from eating at Luzzo’s, besides a headache and a full stomach, is unresolved bafflement at why this place has armies of devotees.

For months, I had been hearing acquaintances  rave about this place and observing hordes of people lining up trying to get into this First Avenue joint. Since, I’ve become adept at filtering out hype and focusing on the substantive characteristics of an eating establishment (those characteristics include good quality, preparation, portioning, price to quality and portioning, ambiance and service), I decided to tune out the multiple word of mouth accolades for this place, along with my skepticism of them, and try the pizza for myself.

A friend and I went on a Thursday night. The line of people waiting for a table extended beyond the threshold of the restaurant. Within two minutes of our arrival, the hostess made eye-contact with us and put our names on the waiting list. She told us that we’d have a table within fifteen minutes. Her estimate proved accurate.

The wait gave me time to take in the décor and observe the guests. Luzzo’s draws many young professional Italians and all types of garden-variety hipsters. The first thing to note about Luzzo is the space. In synch with many East Village restaurants, it’s a narrow pre-war space that looks like it has not seen an update in at least two decades. Many find the preservation of original furnishings, fixtures and ornamental details is appealing and a point of charm for a restaurant, and I am firmly among them. However, where Luzzo is concerned, it is done in a way that is blatantly contrived and self conscious that it makes the inauthentic, capitalist-conceit dark side of such branding appear all too distastefully obvious.

From the beat-up, dirty, dented kitchen rubble that hangs on its walls to the unfinished framed out windows, this destitute rustic farmhouse look has been done scores of times before and with much more flair and authenticity. Additionally, those places were also liable to offer far more customer comfort and table service. Here, the tables are so cramped together that it’s doubtful that a napkin would not get caught if it were to be dropped between them. The chairs look and feel like they are on loan from the local elementary school district. The tables are so small that having a pizza stand on the table, requires balancing dinner plates between the edge of the table and one’s torso. So much so, that hazarding a sneeze in this place could result in expensive dry cleaning bills.

As to the service, it’s a resolute notch below what’s to be expected of tight quarters with unrelenting bustle. Some of the missteps witnessed by us: our pizza was delivered five minutes before our plates and silverware. As it sad there getting cold, we gave up on trying to talk to each other since being heard above the din would have required screaming. Napkins arrived another three minutes later. But, kudos the servers and bussers for managing the minefield of guests piled onto of furniture and braving the thin slices of space that exist between tables and fellow servers.

Not to mention: does a city that attracts world-class pizza chefs and cutting-edge pizzaioli, like New York, warrant subjecting oneself to such demeaning discomfort for an authentic-tasting Neopolitan pizza? My answer is a resounding no. However, if a superior pizza is at stake, I would undoubtedly order it for take out. In case you’ve been blissfully hiding under a palm tree for this past year and have missed the whole artisinal pizza craze trend, go to Frank Bruni to dispel any lingering doubts you may have  about the trend: nytimes.com/2009/07/08/dining/08pizza.html

A part from the rabid mobs of people, the tight space and squalid décor, is the Luzzo’s pizza of the caliber that can justify such pains just for the love of pizza?

Decidedly not.

The pizzas come in small and large. We shared a large Ortolana, topped with zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, basil and mozzarella. The vegetables were fresh and densely scattered onto the crust. The tomato sauce was good and made from fresh San Marzano tomatoes, but the mozzarella was virtually flavorless and the crust soggy from the center all the way down to the raised outer crust. The $23 price tag was fair, but not the kind of value I expected from the hype I heard about this place.

All in all, this Luzzo’s is a glorified dive that serves mediocre pies and draws baffling crowds.

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