Sugar House » Pizza and politics to me are one and the same. People have their preferences, and they tend to be extremely loyal to them. Most importantly, they fiercely debate, defend and defame other pizza lovers under the banner of their preferred style and maker. All this passion makes it sociologically and culinarily fascinating. But for the sake of this piece, I'll forego the emotion and get right down to the nitty gritty of one of Salt Lake City's most popular pizza venues -- Este Pizzeria.
The style is boldy, proudly New York City. Zion can't seem to get enough of it. So over the course of a few weeks, my fellow eaters and I tasted slices and whole pies at Este's Sugar House location (the other is in downtown Salt Lake City), just a stone's throw from its original location that burned down years ago.
If you've never been there before, the entrance might be hard to spot. It's tucked in what looks like an alley from the parking lot, but is actually the patio area, outlined with hanging bulbs that illuminates the space when the sun goes down. It's not a bad place to sip one of the Este's admirable microbrew selections ($3.75 pint, $11 pitcher). Inside, you get a whiff of the sausage and baking dough, and the scent permeates the airy space. An embankment of pews line the brightly muraled walls, an NYC borough landscape.
So, what exactly is New York Style pizza? Like any foodstuff, the definition varies slightly from person to person. Generally speaking, you can expect thin-crust pies. The largest whole pizza is 18 inches; the smallest is 14 inches. Anything smaller you'll have to order by the slice from the counter that displays the day's offerings.
Between the crust and the size of slice, the point is to fold the slice in half the way you would start a paper airplane. When it's pepperoni ($13-$17), the meat sizzling from a quick oven re-heat or straight from a first bake, there's a good chance for an oily drop streaming out. I consider this a good thing, as Este's pepperoni has a nostalgic tinge of salt and fennel. Against a well-baked crust with a crispy exterior and chewy interior, you can understand why people have a fondness for such a concoction. When underbaked or sitting too long in the slice display, their pizza isn't nearly as memorable.
There are knives and forks available for more proper diners, though be advised you may come face-to-face with a sign, make that a manifesto, on how NYC pizza should be eaten without silverware. I'm all for tradition. But pies like the Ol' Vortman ($20-$23), with its lustful display of all of Este's topping roster save banana peppers, anchovies, jalapeños and clams, or the meat-laden "Clay" ($17-$21) require fork help. The veritable feast is generous in portion, but due to the overabundance of toppings or not enough time in the oven, the crust lacked a crucial crispness you get beautifully in the Italian Flag ($16-$20). Here, separate sections of ricotta, pesto and marinara blend together over a dough bubbled with heat pockets when cooked long enough.
Este is as passionate about NYC and pizza as its fans are -- and that's a big cross-section. Woe to the patron that walks in with a Red Sox jersey or cap. The pizza manifestos admonish thoughts of tropical fruit and pork cavorting on a pie. Yet, Este also has no problem reconciling the place of vegan cheese on an otherwise fine pizza. The texture might suit dairy-abstainers and the lactose-intolerant but did little to win over the vegetarians and omnivores. If there are vegans in your brood, opt for the completely cheese vegan ($12-$16) and request that it stay in the oven a little longer to prevent a soggy bottom.
There are other menu items, although like other pizzeria of this sort, the items are various incarnations of dough, tomato sauce and cheese. Garlic knots ($4.50) seeth with raw garlic and a slick of oil that's actually not a bad contrast to a cold beer on a summer night. Mozzarella sticks ($6.50) prompt childlike giggles when you pull the string cheese away from your mouth. They should always be eaten in-house. Stromboli (sauce, mozzarella and three toppings; $8-$14) and calzone (mozzarella, ricotta and two fillings; $8-$14) are large enough to share and give you an excuse to use those knives and forks.
Another example of why simplicity rocks at Este -- zeppole ($4). Small balls of dough, deep-fried and dusted with cinnamon sugar are addictive and don't add too much bulk to the pizza already sitting in your belly. Eat these piping hot.
A friend recently posed the question "can a signature food of one place be successfully transplanted to another?" What we found at Este is both yes and no. The spirit is definitely intact. But as food traditions go, even for pizza, things morph and merge to create a crusty canvas where red sauce and soy product converge. But despite the names and the toppings, you can't bypass the fundamentals of topping ratios, how long and at what temperature a pizza came to be and how long it has been out of its fiery beginnings. In other words, despite the interpretations and ingredient combinations, fundamentally, timing is everything.
E-mail Vanessa Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bottom line » Enjoy by-the-slice or whole specialty pies at this popular NYC-style pizzeria. Simple options are best: Italian Flag, White and zeppole are consistently good.
Location » 2021 Windsor St., #A, Salt Lake City; 801-485-3699. Another location at 168 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City; 801-363-2366
Online » estepizzaco.com
Hours » Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m.
Children's menu » Yes
Prices » $
Liquor » Beer and wine
Corkage » $8
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » MC, Visa, Discover