513 West 27th Street, New York NY 10001 (map); 212-967-4392; ovestnyc.com
Service: Attentive, professional
Setting: Airy, loftlike room with pizza oven in back
Compare It To: Luzzo's
Must-Haves: Pizza a Cono, Goloso panino, tagliatelle bolognese
Cost: From $6 pizza specials to $15–$18 entrées
Before I was a big-S, big-E Serious Eater and merely an eater who ate seriously, I was one of Martha's minions. Yes, that Martha. During the final year of my run working for the doyenne of domesticity and just before I joined the Serious Eats Team, I was stationed at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's far west Chelsea offices, way out on 26th Street between Eleventh Avenue and the West Side Highway. Some of the snarkier employees jokingly referred to the offices in the historic Starrett-Lehigh Building as "the Jersey Branch," since any farther west and we might as well have been in Weehawken.*
Anyway, besides the long, long walk from the subway (the C/E at 25th & Eighth is the closest station) to the far west side of Manhattan, the No. 1 thing my coworkers groused about was the lack of food options in the area. Since Ed has been so kind as to turn over his review spot to me this week (he'll be out this week and next), I thought I would do my old colleagues (and anyone else who works in the area) a favor and hip them to a solid new lunchtime option in the neighborhood, Ovest Pizzoteca.
You could almost call Ovest Pizzoteca "Luzzo's West," as it's the third branch in owner Michele Iuliano's Luzzo's mini empire. The original Luzzo's, a pizzeria on First Avenue in Manhattan's East Village, is well-regarded among many folks in the city, who laud its pizza pies and rave about its non-pizza offerings as well—and a refrain you often hear testifying to its quality is that it's always packed with Italian expats.
Ovest may not pack the same crowd (the four times I've been for lunch in the last two weeks, it's been mostly an office-worker crowd from the area—folks who have obviously already gotten word about its opening), but the food quality is much the same, which is to say very good. If you're familiar with Luzzo's, one of major differences at Ovest is that Ovest serves a variety of panini.
Iuliano imports most of his ingredients from Italy—the pastas, the prosciutto in the panini, the buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes for the pizzas (above), which are very good — I would almost say just a hair better than the original location's. (Note: I've already covered Ovest's pizzas on Slice. This review is to hash over the other stuff on the menu.) The guy is slick, too: He's even got his own Luzzo's-branded olive oil, imported from Tuscany from a friend's olive farm (and which he made sure to try to style into a photo when he saw me shooting one of the dishes I ordered last week).
When I said that there's not much in the way of food over this way, yeah, I was exaggerating a bit. Sure, there's food, but it's either cheap and unexceptional street food carts or stuff that's a bit of a hike away and/or a bit too pricey (Cookshop on Tenth and 20th, Trestle on Tenth at 24th). If you order right at Ovest, you can get a casual lunch that won't set you back too much.
Lunch Specials: $6
The surest way to do an affordable lunch is to go for the lunch specials. There are two: the pizza a cono (above) and the pizza al portafoglio.
Of the two, the pizza a cono is the winner. It's miles away from the pizza cones that debuted on Monday — a crisp triangular, thin pocket of pizza dough stuffed with just the right amount of arugola, Parmigiano, mozzarella, and prosciutto. There's no sauce in it, so you're not in danger of spilling all over yourself. It's like getting a salad and a sandwich all wrapped up in one.
The pizza al portafoglio (an 8-inch pizza folded in half once and then again, above) is a bit too messy to qualify as handfood. It is tasty, yes, and filling, but gooey and drippy. It makes you wish you would have just ordered a flat pizza instead.
If you're really looking to get in and out with less than a tenner, these two options will do it. If you've got a little more scratch, the lunchtime prix fixe menu is a good value....
Lunchtime Prix Fixe Menu, $16
For $16 you get your choice of salad and either a primi (mostly pastas) or secondi (chicken, beef, and fish options) plus a coffee or soda. I did pasta on several occasions and can report that portions of both salad and pasta are generous. With the heavier pasta options, like the delicious tagliatelle bolognese, you could almost eat half one day and save the rest for the next day's lunch—essentially stretching your lunchtime budget out.
Panini, $10 to $15
There's a large number of panini on the menu. These are not pressed panini but rather sandwiches, all on bread that Ovest bakes in-house. They come named for either people or places, and the selection seems bewildering until you realize that a lot of them are simply remixes of the different ingredients on hand. Still, there's a good number of ingredients making up most of the options, including prosciutto, broccoli rabe, pink sauce, Tabasco, mortadella, scamorza, bresaola, arugola, provolone, mozzarella, sausage—the list goes on.
As such, the panini menu is either hit (like the Goloso—speck, goat cheese, eggplant, and olive pâté) or miss (the Andrew—hot dog, pancetta, Rum(?!?) Tabasco, and ketchup). Scan it, and you'll find something you'll like. We loved the aforementioned Goloso and the Michele (a simple layering of mortadella and provolone).
The simpler panini will run you as little as $10 and come with either a salad or french fries. Go for the salad. It's fresh and flavorful, with a balsamic dressing. The fries are good but not memorable.
So I hope this helps my former colleagues in Marthaland. If I can shine a light on a new lunchtime spot, I'm happy to do so. Sorry, but I can't help you with the walk to and from the train.
*Actually, we would have been in the Hudson River, but whatever. Poetic license.