I almost feel sorry for the pizzeria serving white clam pizza when I walk in the door.
I grew up with the Platonic Ideal of the clam pie, the one at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Conn. I still make regular visits. The only worthwhile local iteration I’ve come across since then has been the supernal vongole pie at Westhampton Beach's Pizzetteria Brunetti, made with fresh-shucked clams, garlic butter and herbs.
At Red Tomato in East Norwich, I was cheered a few nights ago to see on the menu a white clam pizza featuring chopped clams, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan and red pepper. Cheese with clams is usually a no-no, but at Pepe’s they dust the clam pie with a little pecorino so, obviously, a little grated cheese is OK by me.
The waiter brought over my clam pie. It had big dollops of mozzarella on it. When I pointed out that the menu said nothing about mozzarella, he said that that’s the way they always served it, but was happy to replace the pie with a mozz-less one.
At this point I probably should have changed my order to Red Tomato’s dependable Margherita. Anyone who puts mozzarella on a clam pie hasn’t grasped its true thalassic nature. When my second pie came, without mozzarella, I was predictably disappointed. The clams were tough, completely lacking in briny freshness. The pie tasted mostly of garlic and oil. Boo hoo.
Last year, Red Tomato's quattro stagione made my list of Long Island's best artisanal pizzas. But on this night, even my pal’s Margherita seemed to lack life. A starter of meatballs in Red Tomato’s excellent red sauce was just OK. The arugula salad looked a little tired, the lemon dressing tasted less like lemons than lemon flavoring. A new item, lasagna, fell flat. Served straight from the brick oven in a little cast-iron skillet, this lasagna had no form. It was mostly sauce, with some overcooked noodles and cheese swimming around in it. If I’d picked out the noodles, it would have been nice served over pasta.
Red Tomato is at 6245 Northern Blvd., East Norwich, 516-802-2840, redtomatopizza.com.