Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The long-awaited Trinacria pizza: all in the toppings?

Trinacria Cafe
111 W. Centre St.

I wanted a lot of things from the new Trinacria cafe that just opened on Centre Street in Mt. Vernon. (This location, unfortunately, is cursed. It destroyed a 5 Guys Burger franchise, which is the most indestructible entity in America today). 

Regular Trinacria, on Paca St., has all the delicious things like cheese and pasta and cannolli and really cheap wine. They have all the exotic things in cans from Italy, and olives, and pickled things, and those green leaf-shaped cookie sandwiches with a layer of chocolate stuff. Regular Trinacria is a wonderful place and you should go there right now and order a muffaletto sandwich. The symbol of Trinacria is a Medusa head with three disembodied legs spiraling around it – this could be you right now, except instead of disembodied legs you would be surrounded by sandwiches and six-dollar bottles of wine, and you wouldn't have snakes for hair unless that's your preference.
Regular Trinacria

The idea of New Trinacria is to have trained professionals assemble the raw materials available at Regular Trinacria into food that you can eat right there on the premises, and is warm, unlike the Regular Trinacria sandwiches which are generally served cold and eaten on the curb, a park bench, or in one's office cubicle. Although New Trinacria also offers the classic sandwiches in case you hate change.

Since this is Pizza Club, we didn't try most of the things on the New Trinacria menu, which include salads, Hot Subs, Authentic Hot Italian Paninis, and Pastas. These items, prepared from the most choice of the Trinacria specialty Italian ingredients selection, are probably very good. Pizza Club convened an emergency meeting this February because New Trinacria is officially making pizza, and given the establishment's status as the reigning superior source of Italian things (at this point “Little Italy” is maintained entirely as a decoy to keep dumb people away from Trinacria), we urgently had to try their pizza.
photographic evidence from this meeting was lost

The family that runs Trinacria is of Sicilian origin, but I'm not sure how relevant this is to their version of pizza. Pizza in the United States is a confused creature of “Italian-American” cuisine. Pizza became a free-floating signifier that could latch onto different food-substances and insert itself into varied discourses: strange men named John claiming to be your “Papa,” crime-fighting mutant sewer-turtles, harried mothers placating their whiny post-piano-practice offspring.

Following the recent recovery of gourmet pizza by people who loved the fast-food pizza of their childhoods but now shop at Whole Foods, all bets are off as to what qualities “Italian,” “Neapolitan,” “Sicilian,” etc. actually indicate. At the New Trinacria, they seem to be going for a version of standard American gourmet pizza; unfortunately, it doesn't rival the pies that places like Iggies and Zella's have been making in these times of escalating pizza connoisseurship/fetishism.

They've always sold pizza dough at Regular Trinacria, and let's be honest, it's not the best. It's pretty much bread dough that you stretch out to pizza shape. When you put it in the oven at home, with delicious Trinacria cheese on top, it turns into cheesy bread. It's ok though, because you made it at home, you can feel good about not eating shit fast food, and there's probably enough fresh mozzarella left for tomorrow's sandwiches.

However, putting pizza on the menu at New Trinacria raises the stakes. At that point, they take on accountability for the preparation and final outcome of the pie. It must exceed that which we could accomplish at home by buying ingredients from their store. Or, it must be cheap enough to reflect that no value has been added aside from the convenience of not having to assemble and cook it. The pies range in price from $9 to $11 for a personal-sized pizza (about 8-10 inches across) so you must reflect upon your own depth of pocketbook vs. desire for instant gratification.

New Trinacria's pizza definitely didn't pass the “you could make it at home” test. For the moment, they're cooking it in a regular convection oven, which means that the crust tastes exactly like the crust you would have made in your own kitchen. Pizza Club agreed that, given the crust situation, this “pizza” is really more like a flatbread. There were multiple comparisons to frozen, microwaved, or cafeteria pizza crust.

We ordered every pizza on the menu because we were so excited about the cornucopia of Trinacria plenty before us. There are lots of good vegetarian options, though of course Trinacria's deli meats and sausage are top-notch, and the meat-eaters said that the Guido pie (sausage, pepperoni, and salami) was their favorite. The proprietors promised us that a mushroom pie will soon be added to their offerings.

Of the non-meat pies, people liked the Sweet and Salty (caramelized onions and garlic, olives, parsley, and prosciutto which you can pick off if you're a vegetarian like me and really don't care). Because of their large size and round nature, we suggest that the olives be cut up rather than thrown on the pie whole.

There was consternation around the sauce, which some Pizza Club members thought was plain "like a spaghetti sauce.” They wanted to taste more herbs, more salt, and more tomato bite. At the same time, they requested greater quantities of this ideal sauce to balance out the breadiness of the crust. The White House, Trinacria's version of a white pie (mozzarella, ricotta, and roasted garlic) was “kind of bland,” although the cheeses were obviously top-notch.

Unlike other pizza places, where we've been overwhelmed with gratuitous toppings, Pizza Club would have preferred these pies with more stuff on them because “the toppings are what elevates it.” The quality of their ingredients make Trinacria's pizza operation very promising, but it lacks strong foundations in the realm of crust, sauce, and baking facilities (not that we'd urge them to jump on the brick-oven bandwagon – there must be other ways?).
L-R: olive, pepperoni, roasted garlic

We should emphasize that the people working at New Trinacria were very friendly, accommodating of our large group, and enthusiastic about their product. Eating there was a fun experience. We were excited to get out there right away and review their pizza, but perhaps we should have waited for them to work out the kinks. Maybe there was just too much at stake here pizza-wise. We hold Trinacria in such high regard that we began experiencing confusion, self-doubt and melancholic yearning. “I am incapable of thinking critically,” Patrick declared, while Chelsea reported that Trinacria pizza was “making me think of another, better pizza.”

May that other, better pizza one day meet us in the ground-floor corner retail space of that weird condo on Centre St. and Park Ave. May Stephanie Rawlings Blake award Trinacria an unaudited city contract to pump tapenade through the degraded water mains of this city in perpetuity. Don't let the curse of 111 Centre St. take down New Trinacria – just go get a sandwich.

4.5/8 slices