Mama's secret recipe
February 9, 2011 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Does a typical east-coast independent neighborhood pizza place do anything to its tomato sauce (or other ingredients) between the can and the pie?

When at a basic Italian (or Greek) restaurant / pizza joint anywhere from MA to DC, are the ingredients completely commodity - dough, sauce, etc, from Sysco or another distributor? Or is anything customized at the locations or made from fresh ingredients?

I realize there are more 'craft' places (I love Louie and Ernie's in the Bronx) where they make their own dough and sauce, but I'm talking about the typical strip-mall or corner-store locations that sell by the slice.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
extra garlic and oregano?
posted by timsteil at 9:39 AM on February 9, 2011

Best answer: I worked at a greek-style pizza place in New England a decade ago. I can't remember anything about the pizza sauce, but the tzatziki sauce was seasoned in house, so I expect the pizza sauce was too. Cheese was a blend of different kinds shredded and blended in house. I was never privy to the mixing of the dough (done early in the morning), but a lot of the quality of the final product depended on the control of the rising process, which varied depending on the temperature of the day.
posted by Jahaza at 9:39 AM on February 9, 2011

I'm just a regular user there, but one place certain to have the answer is the forums. This thread says many NJ coast places use Don Pepino's, which is a popular "cut above" brand of sauce that I've actually mail ordered before for my home experiments.
posted by crapmatic at 9:39 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don Pepino's is amazing. It's made from mostly NJ tomatoes, which are genuinely ripe and fresh when canned.

In my experience growing up in NJ, many places do use crushed tomatoes straight from the can. The purity of the flavor is valued. I've also seen places that season it very very lightly, with chopped garlic, some dried oregano, and a hit of olive oil, usually mixed in its holding container.

One of the key differences between Neapolitan-based East Coast pizza and other kinds of pizza is this lack of additives to the sauce. It's not very thick, it's not sweet, it's not highly seasoned, and it often contains tomato seeds and bits of flesh that aren't completely pureed. it's one of the hallmarks to look for.
posted by Miko at 9:50 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I worked at a West Coast, more indie, family owned place years ago. We made just about all our own stuff (other than pepperoni and cheese, although we did shred our own), including sauce, but making the sauce was pretty trivial. We got a can of 70/40 (basically plain tomato sauce sold by vendors), added some water and spices, and stirred. That was it - no cooking other than in the oven on the pizza. I imagine there's a pizza sauce product that venors like Sysco can probably provide to shops, but sauce in general is pretty easy to make. It might be a bit different for a larger chain where consistency between shops is more of an issue, and they make ingredients at a central location and distribute to their franchises.
posted by LionIndex at 9:59 AM on February 9, 2011

Best answer: In Maryland and DC, not-so-good strip mall shops (the kind that do pizza and subs together, usually called something like "MOSHE'S ITALIAN DELI" or "YUSUF'S PIZZA AND SUBS") use sauce straight out of a big Sysco can. Some places will doctor the same stuff with sugar and extra garlic powder.

Strip mall shops that care enough to make *anything* from scratch will generally advertise that fact all over the place.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:06 AM on February 9, 2011

I just want to note that in the case of tomatoes for pizza, making tomato sauce from scratch is not considered to always be superior. Canned tomatoes are. Because they can be canned when the tomatoes are truly, naturally ripe, they capture the best tomato flavor and don't need to be doctored with sugar and heavy spicing. Seeing a can of ground peeled tomatoes, or a can of very minimally spiced real ground peeled tomatoes (which is what Don Pepino's "pizza sauce" actually is), is not an indicator of poor quality in itself. Other kinds of canned "sauce" might be, depending on their ingredients, but the can itself is generally considered the best choice for tomato sauce for pizza - not something made from fresh tomatoes which is really only able to be at its peak in season.
posted by Miko at 10:42 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats breaks it down for you.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:43 AM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I say minimalist is best: Canned tomatoes, salt and garlic. Maybe oregano, if you insist. There's no need for any kind of sweetener.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:35 AM on February 9, 2011

Best answer: I worked at a pizza place as a teen. One evening when I went to the downstairs walk-in for more cheese, a saw Frank The Heavily-Tattooed 5'-4" Prep Cook up to almost his armpit in a 20 gallon tub: he was mixing some bulk-pack spices into dozens of cans of precooked tomatoes, using his hand & arm as a giant spoon. The stuff tasted great, honestly. :7)

I later worked at a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint in Boston (hello, Presto's @ Cleveland Cirlce!) and there was nothing fancy about that sauce. Again, tomopatoes, some spices (oregano, mostly), and some olive oil.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:22 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

(When I make deep dish now, I use canned, cooked tomatoes, garlic, salt & pepper, and Penzey's Pizza Spice mix. For flat pizzas, my wife cooks down tomatoes, some olive oil, and some spices until it's nice and thick.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:23 PM on February 9, 2011

Best answer: My local West Coast place (but run by guys from Philly) uses 6 in 1 canned tomatoes, with garlic, oregano, basil, and probably some other stuff. These are great tomatoes.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:43 PM on February 9, 2011

Grind up an anchovy into paste and mix it in... adds a subtle flavor that is superb..
posted by jockc at 2:58 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually, I think Ideefixe's 6 In 1 product is what we used for pizza sauce - the 70/40 (if I'm even remembering that correctly) was more for pasta sauce.
posted by LionIndex at 4:22 PM on February 9, 2011

I learned about 6 in 1 from the pizza making forum linked above. I take my tomatoes seriously indeed, and usually sneer at ground tomatoes v whole. But 6 in 1 was a revelation. Best pizza sauce ever. And reasonable too.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:46 PM on February 9, 2011

...made me laugh. I don't know why. Thanks wenestvedt.
posted by chevyvan at 9:42 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

This 6 in 1, it is available in regular grocery stores?
posted by Miko at 11:22 AM on February 10, 2011

Here in LA, I buy 6 in 1 at Bay Cities, which is an Italian deli. But there's a "sales locator" tab on the website.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:20 PM on February 11, 2011

When I put my NYC zip code in there, it gives me some guy's email address - not too helpful. But do check the shipping charges. I remember being surprised they were so low.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:42 AM on February 12, 2011

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