Good News/Bad News

Good News

First, the good news. Remember our piece called Grandma Pies: the Square Peg, in which we discussed the Westchester appearance of that Long Island regional pizza, grandma pie? We analyzed the version at Eastchester’s Chubby’s Express and had a bit of a mixed reaction; while we loved this pie’s exuberant shower of oregano and oil-crisped bottom crust, we were deflated by Chubby’s dry, industrial cheese and cardboardy dough. Taken in total, the Chubby’s pizza was kind of a buzz-kill. We didn’t taste Grandma in this pie.

Then one of the few, the proud, my super-sophisticated Eater readers, suggested that we try the version of grandma pie available at Quaker Ridge Pizzeria. We swung right over.

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Folks, this rectangle of six square slices is delicious. Its medium-depth crust falls somewhere in thickness between Neapolitan and Sicilian, and displays the textbook, three-part American pizza crust structure of crisp bottom; bready middle; and slippery, under-baked top. And, basically, if you don’t have those three distinct layers, you don’t have great pizza. Meanwhile—instead of having been dried on the oven floor—the bottom layer is crisped in an oiled sheet pan, which yields salty, crunchy, slightly greasy corners as compellingly munchable as French fries.

The pies come topped with bright, previously raw, canned tomatoes (not sauce) and a blizzard of oregano and garlic powder—the last is usually a deal-breaker in my book, but somehow it’s simply appropriate for this born-in-the-’burbs American pie. Just that whiff of garlic powder takes me back to spinning stools, crabby pizza guys, and dented, metal-capped glass shakers filled with beige powder. Even better, instead of plastic, translucent yellow cheese, the Quaker Ridge rectangles have deep blobs of gooey, white, fresh mozzarella that correspond to the six slices that this pie yields. Which brings us to the only negative here: these pies ain’t cheap. At $16 per six-slice pie (in which a dinner might comprise two pieces), it’s almost as pricy as the swankier pies at Tarry Lodge, at which a slightly smaller pie will serve two for between $10 and $16, and the ingredients are far higher toned.

Bad News

Blight! As reported in the New York Times and decried from foodie mountaintops every minute since, this year’s local tomato crop is basically jacked. A disease similar to the potato blight of the Great Irish Potato Famine of the mid-Nineteenth Century is hitting local tomatoes. The current suspicion is that a vast national distributor of tomato plants to home gardening centers that includes Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot has been the source of late harvest blight on Northeastern tomato plants (leading locavorians to wag righteous fingers about risks of national plant distribution). Apparently, unlike nurseries and farms, large garden centers have national distribution centers and are not inspected for disease, making coast-to-coast disease transmission unstoppable.

The sickness is spreading like wildfire across the farmlands of New York, New England, and—painfully—New Jersey, causing farmers to destroy their lucrative crops at the first sight of lesions. The few tomatoes escaping the blight are fetching extraordinary prices—the Times quotes farmers predicting that local tomatoes will cost double, if not more, their usual price…if you can get ‘em. We checked our local farm market, and there were no local farm tomatoes to be had.

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According to the Times—which printed a gaping goof calling Chef Dan Barber the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture’s “chef and creative director” (VP Irene Hamburger is usually vigilant about separating Blue Hill at Stone Barns from the Stone Barns Center)—about 50 percent of the tomato crop at Pocantico Hills had to be destroyed by late July. How many will escape the scourge by August and September? This thought makes us fear for tomato month at the center.

And the plague is not only killing commercial plants, but hitting home gardens as well. If you suspect that your tomato plants are diseased, experts advise a specific protocol: pull the plants, seal them in plastic bags, and throw them in the garbage. Do not compost diseased plants, as the blight may spread to other plants, and it is not known whether this strain can winter over. For more info, click here.

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