Have you ever had one of those places where you’ve driven by it dozen of times, always saying to yourself “You know, I should check that place out?”, but you never seem to get around to it? Santarpio’s Pizza in East Boston was one of those places for us. For years, every time we went to Logan Airport via the Callahan Tunnel and Route 1, we’d see this pizza place off to the side of Route 1A. You can’t really miss it, since the sign for Santarpio’s (I’ve heard some locals call it “Tarp’s”) on their second story is at eye level when you are on 1A. It’s been there forever, and I always wondered if it was any good. Well, recently I had to pick up my brother at the airport, and his schedule was convenient for doing a pizza run, so we finally went over to check it out.
First of all, if you are like me, and looking to get there from the airport… This is a classic case of “Can’t get there from here”. Despite being barely beyond walking distance from the airport, unless you are actually walking, driving there is best done on the way to the airport (when it’s a simple matter of taking the first exit after the tunnel) instead of from (which involved going back to the end of the tunnel, skirting around the toll entrances, and backtracking). Obviously, the traffic planners of East Boston are doing their best to keep airport traffic out of the rest of East Boston. Can’t say that I blame them.
In any case, Santarpio’s is a classic of Boston-area pizza. It’s been there forever (it open in 1903, making it one of the oldest pizza establishments in the US, and is on it’s fourth or fifth generation of owners), and is one of your classic “dive pizza” establishments: the interior is dark, the booths slightly cramped, and the ambiance reminds me of many a 1970s rec room or mall pizza joint. That said, it’s also packed with people, most of them crammed into booths drinking bear and huddling over some surprisingly good-looking pizzas. Our timing was pretty good (arriving at 7pm on a Wednesday meant the place was basically full, but no line out the door), our party of three get quickly seated at an odd little trapezoidal table in the back.
The waitress quickly came by to get our drink ordered… I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised by the beer selection, or lack thereof… there aren’t many places in Boston that don’t have Samuel Adams or Long Trail on tap, but Santarpio’s is distinctly old-school in their beer selection, with Heineken and Rolling Rock being the “fancy” beers (to quote the waitress). That said, Santarpio’s isn’t pretending to be a beer bar, so I ordered a Rolling Rock and, well, just rolled with it. But once we got into the real menu, all was good again. Santarpio’s doesn’t have the largest menu (it’s basically pizzas from the oven in back, or various grilled items from the grill up front), but it’s got the basics. Pizzas start at $9.50 for a basic cheese pizza (as far as I could tell, Santarpio’s primarily does just one size of pizza), and a reasonably good selection of toppings. Aside from shrimp, there aren’t any upscale toppings here, but they have the basics, so we ended up picking my two favorite “benchmark” pizzas for joints like this: a pepperoni pizza, and a sausage and mushroom pizza.
So, how was the pizza? Both pizzas were really good. All the basics were in place: it was a nicely chewy and very-nicely toasted up thin crust pizza. The sauce was also a nice, rich tomato sauce that was good (although if I had to fault their pizzas on anything, they were both more than a little salty, a feature shared with some of my other favorite pizza joints). The toppings were next (Santarpio’s is one of those places that likes to apply toppings underneath the cheese), following by a rather thick layer of cheese that was toasted up. The result was a rather attractive looking, and very tasty, pizza. Both sets of topping worked well: the pepperoni was of good quality and not overly greasy, the mushrooms were fresh, and the sausage a nice sweet Italian chunk sausage. Both sets of toppings worked well. And the overall combination of toasted cheese, a nicely crisp crust, and a rich and not overly-applied sauce made this work.
Indeed, this was probably the best pizza I’ve had in the greater Boston area; at least by my New Haven-calibrated standards, most Boston pizza places leave me sorely disappointed, and I’m glad that Santarpio’s broke this pattern. I’ll gladly come back on another detour from an airport trip to experience Santarpio’s again. Heck, I may even spring for the tunnel toll if I’m in the area for other reasons as well.