Here's a cheery way to start a food story: I had a root canal a little over a year ago. More traumatic than the procedure itself was the realization I had after those three or so visits to each of two dentists: that I now have a “post” and a “crown” instead of one of my upper teeth. Looking at the dentist office poster of what a post and crown actually are freaks me out to this day. And a new reality sank fast into my knock-on-wood previously good physical existence: teeth and people are vulnerable and aging is real. Yikes.
Thus, I was not excited to discover last weekend that the gum above the crown-tooth had become inflamed. Monday, I went to my dentist, just a short walk from where I live. He couldn't tell from an x-ray what it was, and he thought I should return to the root canal dentist, so I did. And that's what brings me to today's story: the office of that root canal dentist (Dr. Justin Cohen; nice guy, by the way) is located deep, deep in Brooklyn on Ralph Avenue – practically Canarsie!
In order to make the ordeal not just bearable but also rewarding there was but one thing to do: have pizza. Brooklyn’s southern reaches are loaded with pizzerias that I assume (and have verified in plenty of cases) are very good. I aimed to make it a 3-slices-in-3-stops lunch, one before the appointment and the two afterwards. I only made it to two, but it was the first place that blew me away.
I had probably passed Armando’s Pizza a dozen times or more over the years, because back when I worked for newspapers I was all around Brooklyn, including Canarsie. But I had never eaten at Armando's, which is located next to the Canarsie-Rockaway Parkway station (the Brooklyn terminus of the L train subway line). It kills me that for years I had missed out on this place. Who knows how many times I must have settled for a so-so Boar's Head sandwich instead of a slice or a square from Armando's. It makes me nuts that instead of sitting in my car dripping mayo onto my lap I could have been hangin' on a shabby stool in front of Armando's stone countertop, gazing through the huge bank of windows that faces all the action on Rockaway Parkway and eating lunch, both at the same time. Oh, the fun I could have had!
To tell the truth whenever I had noticed Armando’s during those years I had not given it much thought. Maybe I hadn’t had the time. Doubtful, but perhaps I hadn’t been hungry or in the mood for pizza. Maybe I had (unfairly) assumed that because it’s right next to a subway stop that the pizza would be just average, the owner one of those dudes that lays low on quality because he thinks location can carry the weight. Maybe it was too difficult to park or there were too many buses to make sense of the options. Whatever the reason, I hadn’t gone. Regrets? Yes. But life goes on.
I read a number of reviews online and had decided, based on the emphatic words of Yelp reviewer Paul E., that I should try Armando's square. According to Paul E.: “The square is transcendent. The regular slice is great, too, but I think the square is what really makes Armondo's special.” Solid rec, right?!
It turns out that Armando’s, like many NYC pizzerias, offers multiple “square” styles of pizza. There's a Sicilian square and a grandma square. The grandma looked much fresher and better than the Sicilian so that’s what I had.
It turned out to be one of the best squares of grandma I’ve ever had! On top, chunky bits of tomato, chiffonade of basil, ample and good fresh mozzarella, and an undercurrent of garlic together hooked me at first bite. The crust is a little thicker than most grandmas I’ve had, but nowhere near Sicilian thickness. Some places make their grandma crust extremely thin, and that works well as long as the pie isn't overcooked (leads to brittleness). Armando’s is chewy and crunchy at the same time: in other words, what I call perfection when it comes to pizza crust.
After my square at Armando's, I headed to the appointment. I won't get into details about my tooth situation, except to say that I have three appointments still to come and unfortunately, they'll be in Manhattan not Canarsie :-)