I became aware of Ed Levine in four stages. Stage One was reading about him in Ruth Reichl’s “Garlic & Sapphires”; he’s the subject of her chapter “The Missionary of the Delicious.” Stage Two was seeing his books in bookstores: “New York Eats” and “Pizza: A Slice of Heaven.” (The latter involved consuming 1,000 slices of pizza in one year; I wonder if I witnessed slice #1,001 at lunch?) Stage Three was seeing him on TV: he was a guest on “Molto Mario” a few times and then a judge on Iron Chef America. Stage Four was discovering his blog: Ed Levine Eats which I began commenting on. I think my commenting led Ed to me because before I knew it he’d discovered my site, became a fan, praised my controversial Le Cirque post (he called it “pitch perfect”), and invited me to “break bread.” How could I refuse? Ed Levine is a New York icon.
Lunch was set for last Wednesday at 12:30 but as 12:30 rolled around I began to get nervous because I hadn’t heard from Ed yet. Then the phone rang: it was Ed, he had just finished up a radio show near Wall Street, could I meet him down there at a great pizza place–Adrienne’s–on Old Stone Street? “Oh and it’s really hard to find, it’s an obscure street, I really hope you find it.”
Fast forward to me, thirty minutes later, scratching my head trying to find my way. Wall Street may be the part of Manhattan I know my way around the least. I’d only been there once, before the Ed Levine lunch, when I was a kid and my dad took my brother and me to see the stock exchange. That was more than a decade ago. The Wall Street area is confusing.
I found Stone Street. So I figured that where Stone Street is, Old Stone Street must be nearby. I traced the end of Stone Street to a building and then walked around the building and saw a cobbled road filled with pedestrians, tables and diners. This, I knew, must be Old Stone Street.
Sure enough, as I began to navigate my way, I saw a sign: I was in the right spot. And then my cell phone rang.
It was Ed Levine’s voice but, strangely, it was coming from two sources: one was the cell phone speaker near my ear and the other was a pronounced human voice seemingly close by. I looked up and saw a familiar-looking head speaking into a cell phone. I put two and two together and tapped the head on the shoulder.
“Ed?” I said.
“Hey Adam,” said Ed, hanging up his phone and directing me to a chair. “Welcome to Adrienne’s.”
According to NY Metro, Adrienne’s is “a stylish joint venture from father-and-son restaurateurs Harry and Peter Poulakakos (Bayard’s, Financier Patisserie, Ulysses) and Nick Angelis of Nick’s Pizza fame. Although his superb signature round pie is on the menu, the big news is that Angelis has delved into the rarefied world of thin-crust square, or “grandma”-style pizza. Inspired by Brooklyn’s Di Fara and its thin-crust Sicilian pie as well as the trend-setting grandma version at King Umberto’s on Long Island, he’s crafted a pizza that—dare we say it?—could surpass them both.”
Ed raved about this pizza on the phone and I was anxious to try it. While we were doing our early conversation chit-chat one of the owners (was it Nick? I think it was Nick) came by to greet us. Or, more precisely, Ed, who he knew. They talked about their plans to start doing delivery and how they were going to do it. I heard the term “par baking” tossed around and didn’t ask any questions.
I let Ed steer the ship when it came to ordering. He opted for a pizza with a simple sausage topping. He initially ordered a smaller size pizza but the waitress informed us all pizzas were one size. Ed also ordered us an eggplant parmesan–a gutsy move, with all that pizza coming, but one that I admired. I was eating with a real eater.
When the food came, it positively radiated its goodness. Here’s a far away shot:
And then up close, Mr. Demille:
That’s a pizza if I ever saw one. Reminded me, in theory, of the Ellio’s pizzas I used to make for myself growing up. (Remember those commercials? Blub blub blub.) Well this pizza is to Ellio’s what Garfield is to the Mona Lisa; it’s a creature of a different order. The crust was flavorful and crisp, the sauce tart without being overwhelming (there was just enough of it) and the cheese nicely distributed. I ate myself an embarrassing number of slices.
The eggplant parmesan was also beautiful to behold:
This, you can tell by the picture, is a respectable eggplant parmesan–not the cheap breaded kind you get at The Olive Garden. I once made a recipe for eggplant parm that looked much like this. Its simplicity and harmony of flavors will astound you. Look how fresh, how enticing, aren’t you mad you’re not eating that now? What are you eating now? Dip Sticks? Those are bad for your teeth.
While noshing on this wonderful food in the enchanted confines of Old Stone Street (which is, in its way, like a time warp) Ed and I shared bits of our career trajectories. Ed went to business school, I went to law school; Ed worked in the music industry, I recently purchased the soundtrack to “My Fair Lady.” It was fun to see how much we had in common.
When the meal was over, word was spread about the nearby pastry shop, Financier, owned by the owners of Adrienne’s.
“Maybe we should drop in there afterwards,” said Ed. “Just to check it out.”
This is a man after my own heart.
Financier’s pastry case rivals that of most other New York pastry shops:
Everything’s beautifully made and the environment is refreshingly unstuffy, it feels like anyone can come in here and enjoy a perfectly made sweet.
From the moment we stepped up to the counter, Ed had his eye on these:
Paillasson these are called. They are filled with strawberry jam and are made with lots and lots of butter.
I had my eye on a pastry of a different sort, a bright green one that was declared to be a “pistachio eclair.” (“Is that a pickle?” wrote a certain David on my Flickr page.)
[I have no idea what that is in the middle; must be something else Ed bought but I don’t recall tasting it. AM I LOSING MY MIND?]
The pistachio eclair was awesome. A nice daring mix of the old and the new, something traditional with a fun edgy spin. Ed’s paillasson was crisp and light and zingy with the raspberry jam. “It’s a big hit of butter,” said Ed when he broke me off a piece.
After Financier, we bid adieu to Old Stone Street, found our way to the subway, and rode the 3 train to Union Square where I got out. I thanked Ed for a fun lunch meeting–it really was a treat to meet him–and said I hope we can do this again in the future. “Of course,” said Ed, who seemed to have had fun too. (I’m a fun guy.) We shook hands, I walked off, and the door closed. And thus ended the final stage of my becoming aware of Ed Levine: Stage Five, meeting him in person.