Okay, technically Bob & Timmy's, but actually Rick & José's. I thought that food writer Alan Richman was joking on MSNBC when he renamed the Providence pizza institution, but nope. José Sanchez and Rick Remeika bought the place two years ago, after having worked there for 15 and 10 years, respectively, starting out as dishwasher and busboy. Eventually they both were operating the place for the owners — Bob, who got tired of burned fingers about 10 years ago, and Timmy, who is a lawyer and could have sued the place if he'd ever burned his fingers.
The occasion for the Richman TV appearance was his GQ magazine feature on the 25 best pizzas around the country. One of B&T's, the spinach and mushroom, was his fourth favorite of the five that he touted on the tube (it was listed fifth in the magazine) — he'd sampled 386 from 109 restaurants. It looked good, so we had to try it out.
As you should know if you're a patriotic Rhode Islander, and probably have been told if you're just passing through, Providence's Al Forno was the first restaurant in the country to serve up the traditional Italian hearth oven-grilled pizza. (Their grilled eggplant version unaccountably earned only spot #18 on Richman's personal preference list.)
The Richman-approved pizza ($13) at Bob & Timmy's is on what looks and tastes like a large, soft pita. You could eat it as a huge spinach and mushroom wrap, if you wanted. The 14-inch circle of flatbread is covered with mozzarella and placed in the oven until that melts. Then it's covered with fresh baby spinach leaves, over which go sautéed mushrooms, crumbled feta, and a sprinkling of Romano cheese and olive oil. The process wilts but doesn't cook the spinach, leaving most of it fresh and attractive, especially around the edges. It tastes as good as that sounds, the salty feta opening up taste buds for the other flavors.
B&T's also has nearly a dozen varieties of wood-grilled pizzas, leaning heavily toward mushrooms and chicken for topping variations. José's favorite is the "Trio" ($14), with Portobello, crimini, and shiitake mushrooms, along with diced tomatoes and grilled yellow onions, sprinkled with Parmesan and Romano. Also sounding none too shabby is their four-cheese pizza ($12), with Gorgonzola and mozzarella along with the two grated cheeses, over a pink vodka sauce and under sautéed red onions. The above are in addition to a selection of "Traditional Oven Pizza" ($9-$14), with toppings that range from BBQ chicken breast to baby clams.
But enough with the pizzas. Knowing we were going to have one put us in the mood for another traditional item, fried calamari ($10). They were tentacle-free, to Johnnie's appreciation, a generous pile of tender rings, not greasy, and with enough pepper rings to have a vinegary tang with every bite. The accompanying marinara sauce — the same available with pasta as pomodoro sauce — was savory. The other starter that we shared was a bowl of their chicken soup ($3.50), made from scratch, with plenty of chicken (a little spongy) and nicely al dente ribbon pasta.