First Bite: Ducali Pizzeria & Bar
From the whisper-thin pies at Pizzeria Regina to the Sicilian-style slices at Galleria Umberto, there’s plenty of cheesy, tomatoey goodness in the North End. What could another pizza joint possibly bring to the neighborhood?
Turns out, plenty. Before its arrival, the area lacked truly casual pizza place. The kind of easy in, easy out, neighborhoody, non-chaotic, and—this is key—minimally touristed joint that serves good beer and well-made food at reasonable prices. Like Cambridge, 1, or maybe Picco. And Ducali, a 58-seat spot which opened just around the corner from North Station about a week ago, seems to be just that.
First, there’s zero pretense: There are menus plastered on the walls, like ads on the streets of Naples; the décor (white subway tile, brick walls, wooden tables) is kept super-simple. When the windows are open and the fans are blowing, the scent of bubbling sauce, garlic, and charring crust swirls around, and you can hear boats honking as they go in and out of the inner harbor. There are smiles all around—no surly waitstaff here—and the hostesses are downright chirpy.
Ducali’s apps are basic, but amply portioned and good enough. The calamari turns out to be the biggest pile of fried squid I’ve seen, served with legitimately spicy marinara for dipping, and it sets us back just $7.50. The O’s are light and not the least bit rubbery or greasy, but they need salt and a wedge of lemon. (I also didn’t see any hot red pepper, as advertised on the menu). Antipasto Sott’Olio is nice, especially the soft, charred eggplant and zucchini, but the portabella mushroom cap is practically raw; it’s a bit like eating cotton. Marinated mushrooms would be a far better match.
The pizzas, meanwhile, seem to be coming along nicely with time. On our first visit, a potato, prosciutto, and rosemary-topped version was thickly sprinkled with herbs; it’s great if you like rosemary (I do), but my companion found it too intense. The pizza Ripiena—a stuffed style, like a calzone—begged for seasoning. Salt, crushed pepper, and fresh herbs would do wonders for the creamy ricotta and sweet sausage inside. On a subsequent visit, however, the Rugola pie was delightful—lighter-than-air crust with big, crispy bubbles, aromatic slices of Parmesan that got stronger as they melted, and peppery fresh arugula. Tre Porcellini (“three little pigs”) was also a winner, featuring sausage, salami (which was more like what we call pepperoni), and pancetta. Individual pizzas run $7.50 to $11 for an individual, and $14 to $21 for a rectangular (à la Figs) pie to share.
In addition to the pleasantly short menu, there are ten moderately-priced draft beers—heavy on the Harpoon and Sam—plus wine, sangria, and cordial-based cocktails to keep boozehounds happy, although there’s no full bar. For dessert there’s tiramisu and a rotating lineup of gelato flavors made by Belmont’s Firenze (same company as Angelato).
In sum, it’s nothing you haven’t heard of before: Pizza, beer, gelato. And yet it’s unexpectedly pleasing. Sometimes, you don’t know about a niche until it’s filled.
Ducali Pizzeria & Bar, 289 Causeway St., Boston, 617-742-4144, .