Part of this mystique is the "it's so popular, you have to call ahead to reserve your dough" meme, which inevitably comes up in reviews or conversation, and I guess this is no exception. Well, it's true - this is a neighborhood pizza joint where you need to make a reservation, and not just for a time, but for the number of pizzas you want. Word is that this is because there's a limited amount of space in the oven, and one man running the show in the kitchen, so things get done at the pace they get done and that's just the way it is.
So because of all the brick oven and human factors at play, making a reservation doesn't necessarily mean you'll be seated at that time. When our friend called on Friday, he was told to come "between 8 and 8:30". We were there at about five after eight, just kind of standing in front of the scarecrows and pumpkins in the window and taking in the scene. Aside from all the seasonal decor, it's about as bare bones as it gets in there, though maybe a little bigger than we expected: three main seating areas, jukebox, ice machine, paper plates and cups. Oh, and legions of unsupervised kids running around.
Eight-thirty came and went and we were still standing around. We were still waiting for the last two of our six-person party anyway, and like clockwork, as soon as they showed up at 8:45, we were seated in the side room right in front of the kitchen door. Ordinarily this would not be a prime seating location, but it let us look through the window to see the brick oven action, including what are possibly the world's longest pizza peels.
Once we finally sat down, our waitress was quite friendly and helpful. We knew we wanted to try the Margerita with fresh mozzarella, and a standard sauce-and-cheese pizza, but we were a little lost as to our third one. She suggested the white pizza with spinach and fresh tomato, so we went with that. If you're feeling more adventurous, they do offer the usual suite of toppings like pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, etc. - but beware: there is a strict three-topping maximum here, and if you dare violate it, you will be in for a tongue-lashing from your waitress. I don't even want to think about what would happen if you asked for ham and pineapple, but whatever it is, you'd probably deserve it.
Anyway - finally - our pizza started to arrive. The first one out was the white with spinach and tomato.
As you may be able to tell, the crust is super-thin. However, it is incredibly sturdy and verges on cracker-like in texture. The toppings on this one were decent: lots of garlic, nice tomato, but the spinach had a little bit of an overcooked feeling to it. The overall effect was still very good though. We pretty much put away our slices within two minutes of getting them, which is not hard to do when the crust is so thin. (A good way to burn the roof of your mouth, though.)
Next up, the "regular":
As you can see, the pizza is not completely blanketed in cheese. The sauce was on the sweet side, very smooth with no real chunkiness. Still a most satisfying slice that was wolfed down just as quickly as the last.
Finally, the Margerita:
I think this had the same sweetish sauce as the regular, plus fresh basil and mozzarella. I don't know that the cheese was as flavorful as it's been on some other Marg(h)erita's I've had, but still a good eating slice of pizza.
Owing to the thinness of the crust and its overall deliciousness, I have no doubts that I could put away one of these pies single-handedly. But this leads me to a sort of contradictory feeling I have about this place. There is no denying that masterful pizza-making is going on here. In terms of the crust, I think they're close to technical perfection. I may not be a fan of the sweeter-style sauce, but I think it's evident that they're using good quality ingredients. Still, there's a side of me that would rather have something a little greasier, a little floppier, a little more eminently "craveable" than the pizza-as-high-art of Tacconelli's. Even pizza in Naples, where there are purity laws governing what you can and can't call "la vera pizza Napoletana", has this almost carnal quality that I feel was missing last night.
So is Tacconelli's the best pizza in the city? From a technical standpoint, and in my experience, I think it's up there with Osteria. (This was true price-wise as well, which came as a little bit of a surprise since there are no prices on Tacconelli's menu - though to be fair, their pizzas are a bit larger than Osteria's.) Without hesitation, I would recommend that anyone who cares about pizza try it at least once, because it is worth the dough-reserving, waiting-around, drunk-table-from-Jersey-behind-you-yelling hassle. Appreciate it for what it is. But you may find yourself still craving that vulgar, dripping, folded-over slice from the joint on the corner. Because just like life, pizza is sloppy sometimes. This is important.