During the weekend I was looking at a Joe Pastry’s blog where I fortunately found a link to a pizza guru, Jeff Verasano. From his extensive hunt for the best "New York Pizza", to his method of engineering his oven to cook a pizza at the authentic 800 degree temperature, it’s all fascinating. There are various sources for cheese, sauce, mixer reviews, flour and water myths and methods of making a Neopolitan style pizza.Checking the list of his pizza shop rankings (all from personal visits) establishments, I noticed that he had ranked a pizza joint I knew well from my high school years in Stamford CT., zip code 06902. Not exactly a Hollywood zip code, but it did have a quirky place called the Colony Grill, otherwise known as Jimmy Bo-bo’s, an Irish bar that served a thin crust pizza pie.
So what is so special about a pizza joint? Well in the case of Colony Grill (or Bo-bo’s) it was the crust. My brother first introduced this place to me when we first moved to the area from a town 20 minutes away. Named after the owner (Bohanon, I believe), Bo-bo’s was a gem. Before telling you about my introduction, let me describe the place. "Back in the day," as I remember it, Bo-bo’s walls were covered by photos of military GIs going back to WWII. Some of the guys in the pictures now worked behind Bo-bo’s bar or as waiters. Like the regal and charming "Fitz," his Dapper Dan coiffed hair, his beer belly and his regular greeting of "hey fellas!" made you feel immediately welcome.
My brother was initiated when he joined the Navy with an all night drinking party. When he returned from Boot Camp, Bo-bo’s gave him an even a bigger party. But I digress. We were talking pizza at Bo-bo’s. Their pie was like no other. With its thin crisp crust, it avoided the curse of most local pizza joints, namely rubbery dough overloaded with tons of tasteless cheese. More, Bo-Bo’s had a unique sauce, which while a little greasy and on the sweet side, was balanced with a light sprinkling of cheese and, if you liked, fennel sausage from a place across the street called Deyulios. My preferred pie was with sausage, but I could go with the plain as well. I guess it was that dough that made it stand out. Once, I remember, my brother asked for the recipe. The kitchen guys laughed but they let him look at how the pizza was made. According to my brother, the crew had an old clothes wringer through which they passed the dough, achieving that spectacular thin crust.
My last visit to Colony, I went alone. Minus my brother, not seeing Fitz or anyone from my past, I felt a bit lost. Especially when I noticed the place crowded with yuppies and tourists who now flock to Bo-bo’s, as it seems to have finally found the reputation it long ago deserved. Sometimes I think that anything on the cutting edge, once discovered, it suffers. Loses more than charm, perhaps a bit of its soul. At least, it seemed that way to me that night, because for some reason the pie, well it was different. Bo-bo’s had introduced more pizza toppings, like stingers, which were described as jalapenos but were really Serrano peppers. Maybe something brought in by the now predominantly Hispanic crew. Maybe it was nostalgia, or it was my brother telling me to go and have a pie for him, only he wasn’t there to share it. I missed the place where me and my brother had shared some great pizzas and beer.
Gleaning from Jeff Verasano’s own recipe, which he kindly provides as a general guideline, I recently put my hand to recreating those wonderful pies like we once ate. Without a sourdough at hand, I decided to approach the formula with a poolish, equal amounts flour and water with trace of yeast. I left it out overnight and the next morning proceeded with the rest of the ingredients; water, flour, salt and yeast, (optional). I mixed by machine, let the dough sit out for about a half hour, then stuck in the fridge to retard.
Jeff says he allows his dough to develop about two-six days refrigerated in individual containers. Being impatient, and wanting some lunch, I whipped up a pizza and used stock tomato sauce, generic mozzarella, basil leaves and some olive oil to caress the top of the pie. I don’t have a pizza stone, nor do I have a real deck oven, so instead I used the back of a second-rate sheet pan, baking it in my trusty vulcan broiler oven, which can get to 700 degrees or more. At first I wasn’t sure about the basil but, wow, what a flavor! I could of used buffalo mozzarella, but I find it pretty wet, so I used the commercial block mozz, admittedly greasy and with no really discernible profile of real mozzarella cheese. The dough hadn’t risen in the bowl nor in the oven, and yet I recognized something familiar. Was it a mistake? dunno, maybe it was fate, but hell it sure tasted like a Bo-bo’s to me!