Arriving on battered metal trays carried by a staff of take-no-prisoners waitresses (who are as efficient as they are brusque), Santarpio’s thin-crusted pies are a joy to eat. The outer rim of the pizza is a balance of bready crunch and chew, featuring an occasional blistered-black spot from the oven; and while the inside of the circle tends to soften and become unwieldy under a lot of toppings – leading to the heartbreak of cheese slippage – even the flexible part of the crust has a taste that makes you want to keep on eating, then ordering more. Curiously, the most powerhouse toppings (garlic, onions, anchovies) do not seem to pack a really wicked flavor wallop on Santarpio’s pizzas; these are tomato and cheese pies with plenty of soul, but with a mild, creamy disposition. In our experience, one pie, ranging from simple cheese or cheese and garlic (the latter with a hale of oregano on top) to a deluxe combos of sausage, mushrooms, etc., is just about enough to satisfy one normal appetite.
But if your appetite is bigger than normal or if you are a large party in search of culinary fun, then you need to know about Santarpio’s BBQ. Yes BBQ (although here they spell it barbeque). BBQ in Boston? Don’t worry. In this case, barbeque is not the slow, southern ritual of smoke-cooked meat. It refers to meat cooked on a grate over charcoal – lengths of homemade Italian sausage and skewered hunks of lamb, or what Italians know as spiedini. The sausage is spectacular – a long, taut tube with the flavor of the charcoal fire insinuating its succulent, high-spiced insides. Many folks get it as a pre-pizza hors d’oeuvre – one long char-crusted sausage on a plate with hot cherry peppers and some crusty Italian bread. The barbeque lamb has a vivid flavor – for lamb-lovers only – and it ranges from a pleasant chew to a serious chaw. Plates of sausage and lamb, with peppers and bread, are the ONLY thing other than pizza on Santarpio’s menu.
The barbeque adds immeasurably to Santarpio’s atmosphere. Literally. The meat is cooked on a grill that is just inside the front door, and its wonderful aroma harmonizes with the smell of tomato sauce, cheese, and crust from the pizza ovens in back to make this place the most appetizing bar we’ve ever found. And make no mistake, it is a bar: smoky, raucous, a little unkempt, with boxing posters on the wall and 1960s Motown tunes setting a sassy beat.
Note: A second Santarpio’s is located at 71 Newbury St. in Peabody. (978-535-1811). The Peabody restaurant accepts credit cards.