Loading icon

In Search of the Perfect Slice

Off Campus | February 4, 2013

In fall of 2012, Andrea’s House of Pizza closed its doors. A decades-old stalwart, Andrea’s gave out to the pressure along the competitive fast food scene of Boston Avenue in Medford. Tufts lost one of its oldest and most storied fast food establishments. While famous for its calzones, grilled chicken, and grinders, one of Andrea’s strengths was its unique pizza—a greasy but traditional thin-crust New York-style pie not served at late-night fixtures like Pizza Days or Helen’s. Students feeling the instinctual, primal tug of the craving for a slice of cheese pizza were faced with settling with the smaller, doughy “late-night pie” or traveling farther afield for single slices. Pizza Days, as well as relative newcomer Hillside Café, do not serve single slices, opting to only sell entire pies.

Enter the once and future Pizzeria. Espresso Pizza opened in 1977, and served a traditional menu, including pizza by the slice, until the fall of 2010. During its initial 33-year run, Espresso survived an evolving Tufts and Boston Avenue environment. According to its new managers, the only other food establishments around in the early days were Nick’s and Andrea’s. Following the death of the original owner in September of 2010, Espresso failed to renew its restaurant licenses and was shut down in January of 2011 by the Board of Health due to paperwork (as opposed to sanitation or inspection, as is sometimes rumored around Boston Ave). In December 2012, nearly two years since its close, the original owner’s sister and friend reopened Espresso. Its website and hours still seemingly in flux, Espresso has jumped feet-first into the competitive dinner and late-night Boston Avenue food scene. Though it serves a full menu, its namesake product—pizza—will likely prove whether or not Espresso keeps its doors open.

Pizza stands alone as a transcendent campus food. Virtually every school across the country sports a pizza station in its cafeteria, and no college town is complete without a favorite delivery joint. Tufts is no different: Boston Avenue, on the Medford side of campus, features no fewer than five establishments that serve slices, with many more pizzerias a short jaunt from campus limits. Entire business ventures the world over, from dive bars in New York City to top-tier specialty restaurants in Paris, bet a chunk of their financial success on the shoulders of their crusts.

As the operators of Moe’s or Sweet Idea will readily explain, businesses in the food service industry must operate very close to their margins, by the nature of their work. This places a lot of pressure on the performance of a flagship dish. Dough, sauce, cheese, and herbs can spell success or failure for a pizzeria, depending on their quality, preparation, and price.

In response to the closure of Andrea’s and the re-opening of Espresso, the Observer sent a crack team of taste testers to multiple locations on and around Boston Avenue in search of the best slice.

HELEN’S ROAST BEEF & PIZZERIA

AK: There’s not nearly enough sauce. For us tomato connoisseurs, it hurts.
ZG: A little unappetizing, but nice color and appearance.
VERDICT: Helen’s is famous for its calzones and roast beef for good reason, but if you just can’t do without some cheese pizza, slices here won’t hurt your wallet or palette.

PINKY’S FAMOUS PIZZA
MR: This is the only one with the cross-patterned bottom. They care about their crust texture.
KK: A crust lover’s dream. Has a poignant, cheesy aftertaste. Delicious!
AK: I’d totally eat it again.
VERDICT: If you’re driving down from Medford square, stop in! Delivery is free (!) and they have toppings for days, if you’re into that.

PRANZI’S
AK: A large, solid slice; couldn’t wait to get started on this appetizing-looking slice.
MR: You can really taste the sauce; the crust is floury and flavorful.
VERDICT: A hit with all but one of our testers, get ready for a large, floppy, well-planned slice. Want to impress friends coming in from out of town? Make the trip down Winthrop or order in. Thumbs up.

NICK’S HOUSE OF PIZZA
KK: Crust was greasy and dense. Still a delicious slice of pie.
ZG: Grainy cheese, but the place had a great ambience and smell.
AK: This place had the best lighting, hands-down.
VERDICT: Nick’s game is a solid overall menu for lunch and dinnertime. It’s a great place to go with friends for a quick meal, and they also cater many on-campus club events. Their conveyer belt oven means low-grade pizza, but we’ll be back for more than the slices.

DEWICK-MACPHIE DINING HALL
ZG: The crust consistency is consistently delicious. The sauce-to-cheese ratio generally airs on the saucy side. On a good day, one can select a slice of pizza with delightful cheesy air domes.
VERDICT: Overall, dining hall pizza tastes very fresh but lacks regularity in form. Worth it if you’re already inside and hankering for a piece of pizza.

ESPRESSO PIZZA
MR: The two-dollar slice is enough for any afterparty craving. Persistent flavors, excellent crust, and an old-school pizzeria feel with plenty of elbowroom.
VERDICT: Espresso combines the best of both worlds: the superior sauce and crust of off-campus restaurants with killer location, free delivery, and late-night options. Their hours still seem to be in flux, but look for the neon signs. Recommended.

PIZZA DAYS
VERDICT: They don’t sell by the slice, but you can easily find coupons and deals for this legendary late-night if you’re ordering for groups. For better or worse, the best part of Pizza Days is the socks.

A tour of the Boston Avenue pizza scene offers many lessons in cost-benefit analysis, the economics of mozzarella, and menu juggling. With no outright “best slice of Boston Ave (and beyond)”, our crack team of testers arrived at another conclusion: Tufts has good pizza options for all types of hungry college students, from the discerning ’za snob to the ravenous, unscrupulous freshman.

In the wise, discerning words of our least-critical critic, Aaron Kahen: “I like them all the same. They all taste like pizza that I would eat at a place, and I would leave satisfied, at the end.” Tufts pizza: cheesy but honest.