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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Scotland Yard, Revisited

Last October, I posted a review of Scotland Yard, a St. Paul Street pub with a variety of wood-fired pizzas on its menu. On that visit, my pizza was good, although the crust wasn't quite as crisp as I expected from a place with a wood-fired oven.
Some time after that post, I was invited back by owner Sam Paniccia, who wanted me to try some of Scotland Yard's other pizza varieties. I finally got around to accepting that invitation a few weeks ago, accompanied by my wife. We were able to sample three pizzas, as well as Scotland Yard's "Dragon's Breath" chicken wings.
This was not my usual anonymous visit, then, and the pizzas were on the house. So I won't be rating them here, given those circumstances. But having tried these pizzas, I do think it would be of some value to my readers for me to relate our experiences on this visit, so here's a rundown.
First up were the Dragon's Breath wings, which the menu describes as "Asian inspired spicy garlic wings served with our Scotland Yard Sauce." I had thought that these might've been roasted in Scotland Yard's wood-burning oven, but they were deep-fried, which was fine by me. I've had baked, roasted and grilled wings, and none of them beats a well-fried wing, as far as I'm concerned.If you don't like your wings especially wet, then let them know when you place your order, because these were doused in Scotland Yard's eponymous sauce. With a tangy-sweet flavor, it fell broadly within the category of "Rochester style" sauce, but the sweetness of the sauce was restrained enough not to be cloying, and was nicely balanced by a vinegary tartness and a touch of background heat. Numerous thin slices of cooked garlic contributed additional flavor, as well as textural contrast. At the bottom of it all lay a single slice of white bread, soaked with sauce - I'd never seen this done before, but it was a nice touch (and yes, I ate it. What can I say? I liked the sauce). The wings were meaty, and done to a medium crispness; fans of super-crisp wings should ask for extra crispy when ordering.
With all that sauce, the wings hardly needed the dipping sauce that came on the side, but it was welcome nonetheless. From its pinkish-orange hue and slightly spicy kick, I'm guessing it was a blue-cheese dip blended with a bit of Scotland Yard sauce. And kudos for the inclusion of celery sticks - a lot of places skip those now, but to me, they're still a must, partly because it's traditional, plus a few sticks of celery makes you feel better about eating all those little saturated-fat bombs.
Right on cue, as the last wing was being stripped to the bone, our pizzas began to arrive. We shared three, the Dragon's Breath, Scotland Yard, and Classic.
I was afraid, given the name, that the Dragon's Breath pie was simply going to be a pizza version of the wings, but it had a far more complex flavor profile. Yes, the pie was topped with that same Scotland Yard sauce that coated the wings, but added to that was the sharp edge of Asiago cheese, as well as that of cheddar, red onions, chicken, and "dragon sauce," which apparently is not the same as Scotland Yard sauce. I still haven't figured out what the difference is between the two sauces, but all the toppings combined to make this one very tasty pizza.
The crust was also markedly crisper than last time. The underside displayed some moderate charring, and was reasonably crisp, but those qualities were most pronounced along the edge, which was blackened in spots and crackly.
Next up was the Scotland Yard pizza, a white pie topped with goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and prosciutto. Now goat cheese is not for everybody, and it did have an assertive presence on this pizza, but I liked it. Somewhere in there, there must have been some garlic as well, because its unmistakable flavor contrasted nicely with the sharp, lactic tang of the goat cheese and the salty/sour slices of artichoke (which is a very interesting vegetable, by the way).
For our third pizza, we got back to basics with the Classic, a red-sauce pie topped with processed mozzarella, pepperoni and Italian sausage. There were some other intriguing pies on the menu, but I wanted to try one simple, straightforward, American style pizza, and this fit the bill..
This was a very saucy pizza, with a super-thin crust. While it was nicely charred along the edge, the combination of thin crust and ample sauce meant that the crust was rather soft in the center of the pie, making a knife and fork a good idea, at least for the tip of each slice.
Though the overall flavor was good, after the Dragon's Breath and Scotland Yard pies, the Classic seemed less interesting by comparison. I think that was more attributable to my palate having become dulled by the strong flavors of the other pies than to any lack of flavor in the Classic, though, and I probably should've started with this one first.
Having said that, I had no real complaints about this pie. The flavor was good, with an herb-tinged tomato sauce, well-melted cheese, and crisp slices of pepperoni and bits of sausage.
All three of these pizzas were nice and crisp along their edges, which displayed some significant charring and crackling. They were baked in Scotland Yard's Wood Stone oven, a gas/wood combo oven which, I was surprised to see, had an internal temperature of only about 500º F, well below that of some commercial pizza ovens. Brian, who was manning the oven that night, informed me that he can get the temp a little higher, but keeping it around 500 is more practical for preparing diners' various orders, and the pizzas still bake up nicely in just a few minutes.
What puzzled me for a moment was that most home ovens, mine included, can reach 550º, yet many home pizza bakers struggle to achieve a crust that's charred along the edges, like Scotland Yard's. What gives?
The answer, of course, is that Scotland Yard's oven has an open flame at the back (the only time my home oven had a flame in it was when I accidentally let a piece of parchment paper come into contact with the heating element). The average temperature at the oven floor may be around 500, but obviously it's a lot higher than that close to the flame. So by getting the pizza just close enough, and turning it at the right intervals, a skilled pizzaiolo can get a nice, crisp, charred edge at a relatively low oven temperature.
In addition to a Wood Stone oven, by the way, Scotland Yard also uses a Wood Stone pizza dough recipe, specifically Wood Stone's "West Coast Dough" formula (available here), which calls for General Mills Superlative Flour (a relatively, though not super high-gluten flour) as well as a proportion of General Mills Semolina #1. I'm not sure if Scotland Yard actually uses General Mills brand flour, but those ingredients would, I think, tend to yield a pretty stretchable dough with a bit of bite and chewiness.
I liked all three of these pizzas. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Dragon's Breath, which had a complex, well balanced profile and a lot of flavor. I can see why it's a customer favorite.
I also really enjoyed the Scotland Yard pizza, though I don't think it would be for everyone. I know some people who won't go near goat cheese, but I thought it played off the artichokes and other toppings very nicely.
And I liked the Classic. It had a solid, satisfying combination of toppings, and if I had eaten nothing but that pie I would've been quite satisfied. After the other two pizzas, though, it didn't make quite the impression on my palate that it otherwise might have.
And as I mentioned, the crusts were noticeably crisper this time around. They were all very crackly, with some good charring along the edge. Particularly where the toppings were very heavy or wet, as with the sauce-laden Classic, the crusts were less crisp, and a bit floppy - though not soggy - in the middle. That's not surprising, given their thinness, and the fact that the center of the pizza is cooked more from the conductive heat of the oven floor than from the radiant heat (and higher temperature) of the flame at the back of the oven.
That aside, these were three very good pizzas. I'd gladly have any of them again, but there were also a few other pizzas that caught my eye on Scotland Yard's menu, including a barbecue chicken pie and a Greek pizza, as well as the design-your-own option. I'll be back.

15 comments:

  1. The Greek Pizza is AWESOME!

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  2. I think your purpose for this blog is being diluted. Your blog was about being anonymous and writing about what your thoughts were about a particular pizza and business. Now you are being invited back and given diner on the house. This to me seems not right. If you want to continue being an ojective voice, I think you should not be doing things like this. It makes your what you have to say less believable. Your blog has been great please don't mess it up by being recognized and catered to. This is just my opinion I could be wrong.

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  3. I understand and appreciate that point of view, and I did struggle with that issue. I think it warrants a fuller explanation than I have time to give right now, so I'll be posting at greater length about it, either in these comments or in a separate post. Thank you for your input.

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  4. i see no problem with it as long as you continue to offer full disclosure.

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  5. As a fellow blogger, I would like to weigh in on this situation. This is a very hard choice to deal with when you are a popular blogger and viewed as "influential" in the blogosphere. I used to write beauty reviews with the same anonymous type of thing and now I am sent free products several days a week by companies around the globe for the purpose of review. I do not pay for these products. Per FTC blogging guidelines, one must disclose when something is received gratis, such as a meal or a lipstick or tickets to a show. He clearly did this in the post and he even stayed away from giving his typical review. It is possible for a blogger to remain unbiased and professional AND receive items on the house. I was once sent a $70 "miracle" cream that burned my skin and smelled horrendous. That is what got put in the review, too. What is wrong is when one can no longer be objective and only give glowing recommendations for fear of loosing out on free "loot". He was upfront about the pizza being free and candid. I don't see this as being any kind of issue.

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  6. http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/123865-eg-ethics-code/

    Egullet.org, a fine site for serious foodies and food writers, developed guide lines for food writing that look solid to me. My quick review seems to put you in good straits. Doublecheck me though.

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  7. It is up to each blogger to decide how they want to portrayed. The danger is not in losing your audience, the danger is in losing credibility in the eyes of the local Independent Pizza operators. If objectivity is called into question, the strength of this blog will diminish, even if the size of your audience increases.

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  8. To be fair, the pizza guy DID say that he reviewed Scotland Yard before anonymously and had already graded it.
    To Anonymous: he has "unmasked" himself many times before. How do you think he interviews the owners of Pizza Stop, Nino's or Vinny's Bakery for example? But he anonymously reviews them ahead of time before he outs himself.
    As far as him getting meals on the house, well its not as if he waltzes into each pizzeria with a swagger saying "I'm the pizza guy. What free stuff do you have for me today?" haha.

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  9. My comment stands on its own._

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  10. I don't see a problem. I've reviewed music online for years, and labels or bands would send their CDs to us in hope for a review. We would write about them objectively (or skip them altogether). The reviewed party takes the risk when inviting the reviewer in. Same goes here.

    When reviewing music, getting the actual CDs was the only perk we had. I don't see why the pizza guy can't get an occasional perk, as long as he doesn't feel beholden to writing a good review.

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  11. I don't see a problem either. The initial review was anonymous. Apparently the owner Of Scotland Yard Pub tracked the blogger down, and wanted another shot to impress. This new establishment is working on getting their "process" down and wanted to showcase its progress to a pizza pro. The blogger did not embellish beyond the scope of the invitation, he is not "plugging" Scotland Yard Pub. He is simply following up with a business owner who is passionate and cares about his product. Two thumbs up for both of you!! The Pizza Guy works hard anonymously to bring you guys info about good food. Whats wrong with getting a free meal out of that? You earned it buddy. Thanks for the great reviews!

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  12. "another shot to impress"?...really? I have no doubt that the owner of Scotland Yard Pub, went out of their way to provide the The Pizza Guy with the very best product they can offer, and therein lies the concern.

    The owner of Scotland Yard Pub, was not proud or fond of the grade given by the Pizza Guy and thus, extended an offer for a free dinner, to have an opportunity to redeem themselves.

    Doesn the owner of Scotland Yard Pub extend that offer to every single patron who orders food they feel is less than stellar?

    Scotland Yard Pub should be less concerned with the Pizza Guy's review,focus on providing all customers with the very best product possible.

    Seriously, what did you think was going to happen, when The Pizza Guy showed up at Scotland Yard Pub...and acknowledged who he was?

    The most accurate analysis and reviews are those conducted anomalously.

    Every major chain and even smaller ones like Salvatores Old Fashioned Pizzeria, contracts with independent 3rd party Quality Control Firms who send stealth, or 'secret shoppers' into those establishments, to order food and then score and grade food quality, food consistency,presentation and customer service.

    If the secret shoppers announced themselves upon arrival, it's not a stretch to predict they would be treated like royalty and the quality of their food would be near flawless._

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  13. dear anonymous well first off i requested the revisit due to the fact that i am head cook and was not working at the yard when the pizza guy made his first visit.iwould love to cook a pie for you though and after you can give me a grade which i am very confident will be the best point blank period ...by the way my name is brian head cook scotland yard pub hope to see you soon.

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  14. Attention: Brian
    So what you are saying is that the consistency of the food served at Scotland Yard varies based on who is working. I understand. As far as your offer to make me a pie that will earn you a grade, which you are “very confident will be the best point blank period”, I respectfully decline. Instead of wanting to earn a top grade from me or anyone else for that matter, focus on Scotland Yard providing a consistent product to its customers, regardless of who is working.

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  15. I try to be very liberal in allowing comments on this blog, as long as they're not simply personal attacks and contain no profanity. But at this point "Anonymous" is adding nothing of substance to the discussion and clearly seems to have a grudge against Scotland Yard, for reasons that he or she has not chosen to disclose. In fact it is beginning to seem as if the reason for Anonymous's problem with my post was not so much that it was based on a "comped" visit, but that it was about Scotland Yard.
    I will allow this latest comment to stand, since I did not provide any warning before, but I will delete future comments from Anonymous along these lines. Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, if you have a basis for your negative opinion of Scotland Yard, please enlighten us by sharing the details. Otherwise, don't bother posting additional comments that are long on insinuation and short on facts, because they will be deleted.

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