Let me tell you the factors that contribute to its beyond-cult status:
• Very limited opening hours. Centiole’s is open two nights a week, Friday and Saturday, from about 5 until about 9:30 or 10. And that’s it. In the 20 years or so that I’ve known them, the schedule has never changed.
• Very limited supply of pizza. Centiole’s makes only a certain number of pizzas, small (round) and large (square) and when they’re done, they’re done. To get one you don’t call up and order it. To get one you call up and reserve it. Having some people over and need two large pies? If you’ve called too late in the week – Wednesday afternoon, say – they may only have smalls left. That means you’re out of luck. And they don’t say they’re sorry. What they do say is the time your pizza will be ready. You don’t tell them what time you’d like to pick it up; they tell you what time your pick-up-appointment is. Don’t get there too late, either. They may very well have given your pie away to someone else.
• Low overhead. Literally. I’m pretty sure the ceiling is held up by the pizza ovens.
• You are not paying for the atmosphere of the place. Well, maybe you are, just not in the way you expected. Centiole’s is – and this is no exaggeration – a hole in the wall. It’s pick-up only. There is no place to sit down even if you wanted to. Don’t expect any pity for that. The workers (all three of them) don’t have a place to sit down either. There is no air conditioning either, and the entrance to the hole-in-the-wall is on a side street whose upward pitch is no less than a 35-degree angle.
I’d wager that Centiole’s isn’t likely to be profiled in the Harvard Business Review any time soon. But they should be. Their product has sold out every single day they’ve made it, for at least twenty years. Turnover is minimal: the original pizza maker manned the ovens until the day he died (literally). It’s a tightly-run operation and everyone knows (and stays in) their place. Consistency is paramount; the recipe, in my experience, has never changed. I’m almost certain there is a secret ingredient that makes the pizza so incredible but I’m pretty sure it will be revealed only on penalty of death. Or a lifelong proscription against ever eating the pizza again, whichever is worse.
Here’s my question: is there a wine on earth that would stand up to this pizza?
I started doing some research and discovered there’s actually a category called “pizza wine.” A year ago this week, for example, Eric Asimov of the New York Times wrote about aglianico del Taburno, a wine offered by the glass at Una Pizza Napoletana. “They served the wine in juice glasses,” Asimov wrote, “generously poured right to the brim.” He continued:
I’ve felt that aglianico is Italy’s most underrated red wine, and consequently one of its best values. The aglianicos of Campania have made tremendous strides in the last decade, and from producers like Mastroberardino, Caggiano, De Conciliis and Ocone, just to name a few, the wines are distinctive and delicious, well-structured with fruit that can seem as if it’s scented with tar, tobacco and minerals. They can accompany the most conceptual cuisine and they go great with pizza.
The wine, from its unknown source in its humble juice glass, was absolutely perfect with the pizza.
A wine from an unknown source in a humble juice glass? That sounded promising, conceptually speaking, as a pairing with Centiole’s pizza.
I searched some more.
Tyler Colman, a.k.a. Dr. Vino, writes several times on his site about “pizza wines.” Vitiano, for example, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese; it’s made by Ricardo Cotarella; and it is “light in color and?in alcohol with crisp, clean notes of dark fruit.” The 2002 Nuhar from Rapitala, with its 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon also “goes great with pizza.”
Great pizza wine doesn’t have to be from Italy. Colman writes about the 2002 Imus from Montsant:
The wine hails from the Falset-Marça cooperative?in the Spanish region of Montsant where the locals undoubtedly pronounce?it EEE-mousse. With the light sweetness that is typical of Grenache,?the wine punches above its low price point with good balance and?concentration.
Unfortunately none of these wines were available to me the night we brought the Centiole’s pizza home. In the end that was fine by me. As I tucked into our ration for the week (one small, one large) I realized that some food experiences, like Centiole’s pizza from Girardville, Pennsylvania, are best left in their purest state.