There are idiosyncratic restaurants, and then there is Sorrento’s pizzeria in Long Beach.
Sorrento’s opened as an Italian specialty store in 1999. In 2010, a wood-burning pizza oven and a few tables were installed in an adjacent space. In warm weather, there are also tables set up on the sidewalk. Here’s the drill: You snag a table (if you can — the place is usually mobbed) and place your order at the counter. There are no printed menus, just a board listing the two sizes of pies (small, $11.95 and large, $20) and available toppings. We ordered a small pie, half pancetta, half sausage, and grabbed drinks from the cooler at the store. (You are welcome to bring your own wine.) Then we waited. And waited.
While we waited, I took note of the Sorrento’s “process.” Pizzaiolo Mario Calderon’s pies are unlike any I’ve seen on Long Island. In the Roman style, they are long and rectangular — the small looked to be about 10 inches by 2 feet — and served on wooden planks. Calderon fashions each one lovingly, then slips it into the wood-burning oven. The oven seems to accommodate exactly one pizza. When it is done, after about 2½ minutes, Calderon himself hefts the pie, grabs a box grater and a chunk of cheese, then strides into the “dining room” to find the party that ordered it. Then he returns to his work station, and slips another pie into the empty oven.
Some folks ordered a salad while they waited, but it appeared to be the usual mesclun greens overdressed with balsamic vinaigrette, so we passed. After 45 minutes, our pizza arrived. Calderon did his grated-cheese benediction and the result was stunning. As were the first bites. The pancetta half was virtually tiled with pancetta (a miscalculation on my part; this much pancetta is just too salty) and the sausage half featured pieces of both hot and sweet sausage. The crust, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella were all delicious. This was a pie was worth the drive to Long Beach.
Within minutes, however, things went south. As the pie cooled, the crust became unpleasantly soggy. Was the mozzarella, perhaps, just too fresh? Was there a surfeit of tomato sauce? I have no idea. But the memory of those first bites will lure me back to Sorrento, and I’ll see if I have any success ordering a pie a little less laden with topping.
Sorrento’s is at 255 West Park Ave., Long Beach, 516-889-4800.