“The test of a great pizza is its irresistible crust. If you have never had a pizza with a thin grilled curst, you will love its crispy texture and charred flavor.”
– from Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas by Craig W. Priebe
Buenos Aires – The quote above comes from one of my relatively new favorite little cookbooks. It’s a great, step-by-step guide to making various types of grilled pizzas and, those wonderful fold over pizza sandwiches, the piadinas. It’s well-written, to the point, doesn’t make any outlandish claims to having invented the genre as, well, one in particular has, and best of all, is really nicely illustrated with superb photographs that give you a solid sense of what you can expect. It also covers the gamut from basics to elaborate, from savory to sweet, and from pizza for one to party planning. And maybe the really best thing of all, they make it easy. What more can you ask from a cookbook?
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I felt compelled to start sampling my way through more of the offerings of the pizza a la parrilla world in and around Buenos Aires, and so I’ve started on that little journey. Now, to start down that path, I’m going to begin with Pete Gonzalez’ house. Pete, perhaps better known as the Blessed Pedro González Telmo, or by his diminutive (shared with his patron saint), San Telmo, was just a guy, you know? In fact, the “San” is not even factual, since he was never canonized. The “Telmo” is, in Spanish and/or Portuguese, the diminutive of Erasmus, or Saint Erasmus, the real San Telmo, patron saint of sailors everywhere – though our boy Pete generally is invoked by Portuguese and Spanish sailors – just to be different one supposes – and just exactly how much good does invoking a guy who was never actually sainted do?
Now, there’s a little mini-chain, three shops, that gets all that right, calling themselves simply, “Sr. Telmo”, or Mr. T as I like to think of him. He never, by the way, lived here in Buenos Aires, let alone in the neighborhood that bears his name. The flagship of the trio, if one can call a somewhat dark, slightly dingy spot a flagship – more of a flagrowboat perhaps, is on the side street of Carlos Calvo, at number 240. Here, they refer to it as La Casona de Sr. Telmo, Mr. T’s Big House. I met up there earlier in the week with a visiting writer from OUT magazine, here hoping to find a vibrant, thriving, and numerous gay american expat population – I wish him luck, I’m afraid I was of little help in that regard, and so far the couple of people who I referred him to tell me they didn’t feel they were either. Perhaps something will come of it, since a couple of people decided that maybe we should try to get a group together and see just exactly who will show up (so if you’re a member of the category – 9 p.m. this Saturday at Empire Thai, downtown – I won’t be there, Saturday night isn’t exactly free time for me).
Wait, back to the pizza, since that’s what we’re here for. Let me just say that this place’s pizza isn’t quite what I think of when I think of grilled pizza. It’s grilled – not cooked over, say Saint Elmo’s Fire (San Telmo, you know, that’s where it comes from) and, it’s a pizza. I give them that. But it’s not that stretched out, cracker thin, misshapen crust that we’ve all come to know and love, topped with just a few, thinly laid ingredients so that they warm through while the dough cooks on its second side. This is really just a thin crust regular pizza where they happen to cook the dough on the grill, and quite possibly finished in the oven to melt all the cheese on it. Here, we sampled a half and half of their “Hot Pizza”, touted as mozzarella, bell peppers (red and green pickled as it turned out), spicy olive oil, and “various picantes”, which seemed to consist of a drizzle of a hot sauce that may have been the chipotle style tabasco sauce; and the other half, my luncheon companion wanted to try something “truly local” – what could be more unusual and uniquely Argentine than hearts of palm drizzled with salsa golf? Though it sounded vaguely interesting I eschewed the idea of trying the pizza named after the house with its toppings of bechamel sauce, ham, broccoli and mushroom – perhaps in a pot-pie?
So, the evaluation – beyond that it just doesn’t come across as real grilled pizza to me… the dough was relatively bland, but I’ve had worse. The toppings, perhaps just based on our selection, not that interesting – the “Hot Pizza” the more enjoyable of the two, but neither was a winner – the telltale sign I suppose is that with one pizza designed for two people, we left two of the eight slices behind on the plate, one of each. And at least on my part, it wasn’t because I was full. So, I’ll give this spot a just “okay”.