Rhode Islanders believe they know pizza. You may not agree. It's not modern pizza we're talking about here. Forget the grilled works of art at Al Forno (www.alforno.com) or Bacaro (www.bacarorestaurant.net) or the whole wheat crusts and wide range of both traditional and bizarre toppings at Fellini's (www.fellinipizzeria.com). Actually, you can probably forget about Wickendon, Hope and Thayer Streets entirely. The Rhode Island discussion starts with "Have you been to Caserta's?"
CASERTA PIZZERIA (121 Spruce St, Federal Hill, Providence 401-21-3618; 401-272-3618; 401-621-9190) is a big operation. You can eat there but the atmosphere is strictly church hall with beer. Pizzas are small (six pieces) or large (12 pieces - a rectangle, horrors) and choices are simple: plain (i.e. tomato), cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives or anchovies, in any combination. That's it - no sausage, no sauteed peppers, no onions. The tomato sauce is plain, plain, plain. The crust is on the thick side. There is no visible overdose of oil or cheese. And this is how they have served it for fifty years. If you are a fan of Frank Pepe (157 Wooster Street, New Haven CT 203-865-5762 www.pepespizzeria.com) or any other popular southern Connecticut or New York City area pizza place, this is shocking. The abundance of flavor in a Frank Pepe slice is something to remember, to anticipate, to wait in line for.
At Caserta's we split a pie, half with tomato, cheese and pepperoni, half with tomato, cheese and anchovies. It's a nice, clean taste (the pepperoni side, anchovies are anchovies), with a minimal amount of cheese, the very plain but tangy tomato sauce, and passable pepperoni. The crust is not crisp but it's good. A Caserta slice very definitely contains about a thousand calories less than a Fellini's slice - without the pepperoni it might even be good for you - and there is no guilt associated with eating half a pie. No memories either. www.casertapizzeria.com
BOB & TIMMY'S (32 Spruce St, Federal Hill, Providence 401-453-2221) is a competitor from right down the street. Small, on the cozy side, it is more inviting than Caserta's. Bob & Timmy's offers "traditional" oven pizzas though it adds sausage, olives, broccoli, peppers, feta, artichokes, etc. to its topping choices. To differentiate from Caserta's it works with a thin crust. But local preference for bland tomato sauce and minimal cheese results in a pizza similar in taste to Caserta's when you compare an old standard like cheese, tomato and pepperoni. The round pizza is delivered pre-cut in squares. The crust is forgettable. But Bob & Timmy's is hedging its bet. Acclaimed in 2009 by GQ magazine for producing one of the top 25 pizzas in the country, Bob & Timmy's was not being praised for traditional pizza; it was a wood-grilled mushroom and spinach pizza with parmesan, romano and feta that earned the honors, a visit to the Today Show and a subsequent article in the Providence Journal. Wood-grilled pizzas, like "Trio of Wild Mushroom Pizza" and "Vegetable Medley," are from another part of the menu, the modern part. www.bobandtimmys.com/
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