Man Food: Sicilian Slices and Arancini at Galleria Umberto

It’s well worth waiting in line for these fine dough and cheese specimens.

By | Chowder |

All photos by Katie Barszcz.

As it approaches 3 p.m.—the closing time for Galleria Umberto—a garage-type metal door slowly slips towards the pavement on Hanover Street inch by inch, or so it seems. Once it hits the ground, forget it—you’ve missed your chance and they’ve run out of food. If you can make your way into the always long line at this tiny North End storefront earlier in the afternoon, though, you’re in for something extraordinary.

The bare-bones space feels more like a mess hall than a cozy restaurant run by an Italian grandmother, but that doesn’t matter. Here, it’s all about cheesy and doughy delights—and man, do they do it well. The old school gents behind the counter don paper white hats as they cut off square slices of the slightly charred pie, and they slip back and forth between English and Italian as they take your order. For under $5, you can order a slice of the Sicilian square pizza (the only type available here) and one of their mammoth arancini, which is a stuffed and fried risotto ball.

Sure, there are other pizza options in this ‘hood, but this sheet pan pizza is at once completely unique and totally familiar. At the surface it feels much like the grease-slicked pies that sit under a heating lamp all day at your neighborhood roller rink (do those still exist?) and that’s part of the charm—but here it’s masterfully done, with a stunning combination of light dough similar to a focaccia, a tart red sauce and browned, bubbling cheese. No ingredient takes over and they all complement each other in a way that makes it the consummate pizza. The char rests only on the cheese, and it’s probably the pizza’s greatest feature; the sharpness of the cheese balances the bright sauce, making it the pie ever-so-crackly and unlike any other.

Not to be outdone are the massive arancini, each about the size of a bocce ball. These hefty circular beauties are greaseless and adorned with a cornmeal crust that has an optimal crunch. The gooey interior is a blend of beef, peas, and a generous helping of mozzarella that stretches out like melted string cheese as you crack it open. The creamy arborio rice practically melts into both the outer crust and the luscious inside, making the crispy-yet-creamy spheres a textural dream.

Sure, eating both a slice of pizza and a fried ball of risotto for lunch will weigh you down. But when it’s this delicious, who the hell cares.

Note: Galleria Umberto is open Mon.-Sat. from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and is cash only. 289 Hanover St, Boston, 617-227-5709.