Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us back in time to an old school pizzeria.
If you were a teenager here in the 1970s or '80s (or '90s, I guess), you spent a lot of time in places exactly like Scarr's Pizza, which opened a few weeks ago near the base of Orchard Street. The wood paneling on the walls, the booths with those curvy-back benches, the formica bar with shiny metal stools, the letter-board menu above the ovens, the framed seminal-event newspapers—Doc Gooden! Man On the Moon!—the yellow-casting "Tiffany" hanging lamps... man, this place takes you back hard.
Chef and proprietor Scarr Pimentel grew up in Washington Heights, and was determined to create a space that channeled some of that old-school New York City spirit of his youth. Equally important to Pimentel were more contemporary concerns like cutting waste (so beer, wine, and soft drinks are all served on-tap only), using natural ingredients, and supporting local vendors. As he put it to me: "I could make my own mozzarella, but why not buy it from the guy over there **gestures vaguely** who's been doing it well for 80 years."
Scarr's features a pretty youthful crowd, and keeps the music banging (all well-curated hip-hop and R&B from multiple eras). Once you've settled into your seat in the intimate dining room in back, or even at your perch by the narrow counter up front, it's difficult to get up to leave. Scarr's is familiar and comfortable, a thoroughly relaxed and friendly hangout. I was greeted and treated with chatty, low-key affability on all three visits.
Pimentel knows his pizza, having worked the ovens at spots like Joe's, Lombardi's, GG's, Artichoke, and L'assos, and he offers three different takes here, all of which are made with his hand-milled flour, and all of which are terrific.
My favorite is Scarr's Sicilian slice, the thick crust surprisingly airy, the cheese (a "secret mix" of three types of mozzarella, with a sprinkling of parmesan for bite) charred to a magnificent chewiness, the fresh (not canned) tomato sauce ladled on in just the right measure. There's a lot of good new pizza out there right now (or coming soon), and the Scarr Sicilian is right up there with best.
The Personal Pan pizza is similar in style to the Sicilian, though a bit heavier both in flavor and texture. Maybe there's more of that rich tomato sauce? And my god it's like caramelized cheese heaven up in here! Anyway, you can easily split this with someone and both walk away full and happy. I had mine with burnt-to-a-crisp pepperoni and chunky mushrooms—by the way, all of the expected pizza toppings are available here—and there were ample amounts of each.
Finally, the Scarr's Original slice (or what I'd call the "Regular", and you can too) is thin-crusted and crispy, the toppings plentiful and well balanced, the eating experience funky enough to grab your attention. None of Pimental's pizza, it should be said, is lacking in presence.
I wanted to try the Meatball Parm Sub, but it was Sunday night and "the good bread" was gone. Next time. Instead I got a first-rate Vegan Caesar Salad, an overflowing bowl of crisp chopped romaine, all sorts of wonderful crunchy bits, and thick ribbons of garlicky dressing. So many big flavors here I didn't even miss the anchovy.
If Scarr's were my local I'd eat here all the time, both for beery (for my companions) sit-down hangs as well as grabbing a slice for lunch or as a late snack. But pizza people citywide should come and check out what Pimental is doing. Like I said, that Sicilian especially is something special.
Scarr's Pizza is located at 22 Orchard Street between Hester and Canal, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and on Sundays from 12 noon to 100 p.m. Closed Monday. (212-334-3481; scarrspizza.com)