Act Two: Parlor Reviewed
Confession of a city critic: Whenever I have to schlep out to the suburbs, I can’t help but grit my teeth. Expectations drop beyond the county line. For every Junto, there are three Saint Jameses, and there goes an hour’s worth of unleaded into the ledger of our atmospheric doom.
But I exaggerate. The Saint James’s awfulness lay far beyond the reach of replication, much less in triplicate. Yet trepidation nevertheless filled the family wagon as we made our way to its replacement in Ardmore’s Suburban Square. Owner Rob Wasserman rebooted the ill-starred concept in March as a pizzeria called Parlor, where pies bearing somewhat distressing names such as Buffy and Beastmode awaited us.
But the thing about low expectations is that a splendid meal can blow them out of the water in the most surprising ways—and that’s what Parlor served up. The straight-ahead menu mostly reads like a refutation of culinary ambition, but the food shines with unmistakable craftsmanship.
True to its name, the Beastmode was mounded with an indelicate amount of meat—pancetta, Calabrese salami and Italian sausage. But the Sally, dotted with ricotta, basil, and heat-blistered cherry tomatoes still cupping their juice, was a textbook example of focused minimalism on a leopard-spotted crust. And the Buffy floored me as few nontraditional pies ever have. Cheddar, Swiss and provolone formed a thin blanket over garlicky clumps of ground shrimp perked up with ginger, coriander and lime zest. Thin-sliced Fresno chilies and tiny green dollops of an herbaceous, lemony salmoriglio rounded out the pie, topped with a windfall of fried garlic chips.
Parlor ferments its dough for four days, and pizzas come out of the wood-fired Pavesi oven with a snappy structure that’s slightly more robust than the standard Neapolitan crust (which can be prone to—or almost defined by—its flopping). The kitchen also extrudes its own spaghetti, which was particularly good when stained yellow with saffron and speckled with crab lumps, cherry tomatoes and dill. Lamb braised with scorched star anise and cinnamon arrived amid tangles of pappardelle crowned exotically with bittersweet chocolate shavings, pecorino, and a tangy brunoise of orange peel. At $8 for a hearty half-portion, this and every other pasta I had was an incredible value. My nicely balanced (if less ambitious) salads featured immaculate greens.
Children can eat reasonably healthily and inexpensively, too, which helps offset wine markups that often cross the triple-retail threshold. Have a well-made Negroni instead. That’s what I’ll do, when I happily make my way back again.
Two Stars – Good