Let me get this out of the way first: the sign over the building clearly says Company, so I’m not sure why they insist on abbreviating it to “Co.” (as Ryan Sutton at Bloomberg.com says: “the most un-Google-able eatery of the century” — it’s true, try it out). Now, down to business.
I think it’s safe to say I have something of a history with Jim Lahey and Sullivan St Bakery, but even excepting that history it was hard for any food blogger to ignore the opening of Co., Lahey’s NYC pizzeria. Stories circulated about lines down the block, and even Bruni himself celebrated Co.’s spinach-topped Popeye pizza. Most reviewers agreed: the pizza dough was good, but the toppings were hit or miss. My friend Jess and her husband went and loved the Popeye as well, and so when Jess and I were trying to decide where to meet for lunch we agreed upon Co. as the place to go.
We arrived at 11:30am for Co.’s relatively new lunch service in order to beat the crowds. About four other tables had already been seated at that point, though there were plenty of tables left, albeit so tightly packed together I had to physically move them in order to get past them. The first thing we both noticed was how loud the music was and how out of place it seemed. Our server, who we had trouble hearing over the music, explained the menu by announcing that they were “best known” for their pizzas. Really? The new pizza place was known for their pizzas? I could feel Jess restraining her eyeballs from rolling back in her head. I ended up ordering a margherita ($13, seen above, my guage for how good a pizza place is) and Jess ordered a Popeye ($17, a white pizza, see below). We couldn’t quite hear our server over the music — he either told us that the pies would be or wouldn’t be out at the same time and encouraged us to share. After he left Jess and I tried to figure out which one he had said. It turns out that they wouldn’t be; the margherita came out first.
I don’t want to repeat what’s been said by others, but I will agree with them. The crust of the margherita was nicely seasoned (salt baked into the dough = delicious), and although the underside wasn’t particularly crispy the outer edges of the crust were nicely charred. The sauce was a problem though, it definitely tasted “off.” Jess thought it was sour, which is a pretty good description. Still, I scarfed down three of the four slices while we waited for the Popeye.
And we waited. And waited. Other pies were coming out of the kitchen and hitting other tables; in fact we saw one table get their two pies at the same time. Jess finally flagged down a server and asked him to check on her pie. He did so and then told us it was in the oven that very moment and would be coming out shortly. A minute or two later a pie came out of the kitchen — and went straight to another table. A few minutes later, her Popeye finally did arrive and Jess looked relieved and surprised.
According to her it didn’t look much like the Popeye she had eaten on her previous visit — this one was “wetter” (more olive oil, I suppose) and not as big. When I had seen photos of the Popeye I had been a little wary of the piles of spinach on top, but it was actually quite clever. Instead of using cooked spinach, which would have been heavy and overpowering, before going into the oven the pizza is topped with piles of raw spinach (on top of mozzarella), which crisp up in the oven and melt away to nothing when you bite into them (don’t worry, it’s not raw spinach put on after coming out of the oven, like some dreadful CPK concoction). It leaves you which the aroma and taste of spinach without a huge mouthful of it. I had two slices of this pizza, and it wasn’t until the second slice that I got a hit of the red pepper flakes on it, which made a big difference. Again, the outside was beautifully charred but the underside was woefully lacking in carbon.
After all is said and done, I have to say that the pizza at Co. is pretty good, not great. $17 is a little much for the Popeye, but as I said it was executed in an interesting way. I’d suggest waiting for the excitement to die down before heading out if you’re dead set on trying Co. If you’ve been on the fence, I would have to suggest any number of better places.
Company (Co.) — 230 9th Ave.