Good Italian-American pies and cheap drafts: any questions?
My old boss liked to say that people are happiest when reality exceeds their expectations. I thought of him when I visited Ducali Pizzeria, which I’d heard serves Neapolitan-style pizza. Would my margherita ($7.50/small; $14/large) be a thin-crust pie charred in a wood-fired oven, simply sauced with crushed tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, and fresh basil? Nope: it’s a medium-crust Italian-American pie, un-charred in a gas-fired oven, with a smooth sauce, ordinary low-moisture mozzarella, and one lone, past-its-prime basil leaf — not exactly a trip to Campania. But that sturdy crust can support a lot of piled-on toppings, as on the pescatore ($11; $21), groaning with shrimp, calamari, garlic, and cheese; or on the tre porcellini ($11; $21), laden with pancetta, salami, and sausage. These pizzas are actually terrific with nice-priced half-liters of draft beer (mostly $4–$5.50), of which Ducali has 10 interesting options, including Harpoon Leviathan ($8), a gorgeous but lethal pilsner at nine percent ABV.
Appetizers are consistently solid, like the antipasto sott’olio ($6.50), grilled paper-thin slices of zucchini and eggplant with excellent Parmigiano, good portabella mushrooms, and okay olives, served on a cunning miniature pizza peel. Calamari arrabiata ($7.50) is an enormous basket of Rhode Island–style batter-fried squid rings with vinegar-pepper slices and a spicy marinara dip. A salad of bistecca e Gorgonzola ($9) tops properly dressed mache and radicchio with strips of chewy marinated steak and nuggets of good Italian blue cheese. It’s generous enough for an entrée. But a panino of salsiccia ($8.50) is dispiriting: bland sweet Italian sausage grilled to dryness, dull sun-dried tomatoes, and insipid Provolone in oily toasted scali; fortunately, it comes with a good green side salad or fine if under-salted fries.
Pollo e pesto panino ($9) is a better sandwich all around: grilled chicken breast, pesto, and mozzarella on good foccaccia. The house red is Bota Shiraz ($4/glass; $22/liter), which as a box wine is cheap, serviceable, and safer to order — I was served spoiled glasses from bottles (probably opened a night or two before) on two visits. Desserts ($5) include sugheri (a trio of sweet little chocolate cakes) and assorted gelati. Ultimately, Ducali succeeds as an unassuming, handsomer-than-average North End neighborhood joint with fantastically friendly service — great for taking in the game on the two flat screens or laying down a base before heading to the TD Garden up the street. All you need bring to be happy here are friends — and appropriately modest expectations.
Ducali Pizzeria & Bar, located at 289 Causeway Street, in Boston, is open daily, 11:30–1 am (kitchen closes at midnight). Call 617.742.4144.
: On The Cheap
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