Lo­cal dough boys make good

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Rob DeWalt The New Mex­i­can

The new­est kid on Santa Fe’s pizza scene is Pizza Cen­tro, the brain­child of Ja­son Aufrichtig— owner of Counter Cul­ture café— and his brother Nathan. This sum­mer the broth­ers opened Pizza Cen­tro in El­do­rado’s Agora Shop­ping Cen­ter, and a few weeks ago they opened a sec­ond lo­ca­tion in Santa Fe’s De­sign Cen­ter, in a unit for­merly oc­cu­pied by Car­los’ Gospel Café.

Both out­lets, which ad­ver­tise New York-style pizza, are pri­mar­ily set up for take­out, al­though they of­fer ta­bles for din­ing in. Add-on top­pings, build-your-own piz­zas, cal­zones, sal­ads, and by-the-slice op­tions com­ple­ment 10 spe­cialty piz­zas on a chalk­board menu, and the Santa Fe eatery sports a small drive-up win­dow. The El­do­rado lo­ca­tion is smaller, with ta­bles sit­u­ated near the en­trance. In colder months, din­ing in means sit­ting near an en­trance with no breeze­way. If you plan on sit­ting down to eat be­tween now and last frost, bring a coat.

A sure sign of se­cur­ing a de­cent meal at any restau­rant is when a chef or restau­rant owner you trust ar­rives to or­der food for his or her fam­ily. On my El­do­rado visit, a chef from one of Santa Fe’s fa­vorite chile dis­pen­saries showed up with his wife and chil­dren to or­der a pizza to go. Our small Al­pha­bet City pie— piled gen­er­ously with flash-fried egg­plant, but­ton mush­rooms, fresh spinach, ar­ti­choke hearts, sun-dried toma­toes, gar­lic, roasted red pep­pers, whole-milk moz­zarella, slightly sweet mari­nara sauce, and bal­samic glaze— was pizza per­fec­tion, save for its tepid tem­per­a­ture. A dis­tinctly chewy crust with medium char and sweet mari­nara sauce sig­naled a homage to New Jer­sey-style pie rather than to New York’s tra­di­tion­ally crispier, sa­vorier, slightly spicier af­fec­ta­tions. In land­locked New Mex­ico, it reeked mag­nif­i­cently of East Coast flair. De­li­cious, too, was a small cheese-and-sauce pie, which, by virtue of its lighter vol­ume and lack of mois­ture-re­tain­ing top­pings, hewed closer to a gen­uine New York pizza. How­ever, it ar­rived luke­warm, too.

The Cae­sar salad was a head-scratcher. I ap­pre­ci­ated the tangy dress­ing, redo­lent of gar­lic, lemon, and bits of briny an­chovy served along­side chopped ro­maine let­tuce. But I didn’t care for the cold, stale wads of cooked pizza dough that stood in for tra­di­tional crou­tons. And find­ing the browned, woody stem of a let­tuce head along­side a wedge of lemon af­fixed with a grower’s ad­he­sive sticker told me that sal­ads here could use some closer at­ten­tion.

Santa Fe’s Pizza Cen­tro lo­ca­tion of­fers more seat­ing without the chill, and oddly enough, my visit there for take­out co­in­cided with a sit-down meal for yet an­other trusted Santa Fe restau­rant per­son­al­ity and his fam­ily. I or­dered a small Chelsea pie loaded with sausage, house-made meat­balls, ba­con, onions, green pep­pers, mari­nara, and whole-milk moz­zarella. My veg­e­tar­ian mate fan­cied a calzone stuffed with fresh spinach, sauce, moz­zarella, and ri­cotta cheese. We split a mar­velous Greek salad with baby greens, feta cheese, kala­mata olives, tomato, cu­cum­ber, onion, green pep­per, red-wine vinai­grette, and no ad­he­sive stick­ers, served in a biodegrad­able take­out con­tainer. And this time, the bread served with the salad tasted fresh.

Be­cause we had lol­ly­gagged at a nearby wa­ter­ing hole while wait­ing for our or­der, we ar­rived back at Pizza Cen­tro to an owner who was con­cerned that the qual­ity of his prod­uct might be com­pro­mised. “It’s been sit­ting here for a while,” he said with a raised eye­brow, “so it might be soggy when you get it home. Put it in a pre­heated 350 de­gree oven for a few min­utes to get the crisp back on it.” We did, and then we swooned. Pip­ing-hot, crisp, and ev­ery bite a de­li­cious tri­umph, this is what good pizza and calzone are all about.

Some pizza purists in­sist that an ex­tremely hot fire (around 900 de­grees Fahren­heit) fash­ioned from coal or wood is a re­quire­ment for pro­duc­ing a de­cent crust with good char. Phooey. What may be true for blowhards who want to brag about their fa­mil­iar­ity with the nooks and cran­nies of New York City or the piz­zaiolo they shared a drink with in Naples has no bear­ing on the av­er­age Amer­i­can pizza eater. Pizza Cen­tro uses con­veyor ovens tuned to about 530 de­grees Fahren­heit, and they man­age to fi­nesse a per­fectly fine crust from it. Re­gional vari­a­tions should be cel­e­brated in the re­gion they hail from. Un­til a se­vere con­ti­nen­tal shift finds Santa Fe shar­ing shore­front prop­erty with At­lantic City, let’s cel­e­brate what we have and leave the nit­pick­ing to folks who seem hap­pier when com­plain­ing about what they left be­hind when they moved here.

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