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The Bettering of The Orchard Pizza

February 12, 2019

The Orchard and I have history. Not nearly as much history as those families who have called the Capital Region home for generations, but history nonetheless. This is arguably Albany’s oldest tavern, and a little over a year ago, it switched hands.

But old pieces of Albany history don’t stay in the same family forever. The building that is now Rolf’s has been a butcher shop for over 100 years, but it’s only been Rolf’s since the 1960s. The Orchard has been a tavern since 1903, but its unique style of pizza didn’t appear until after prohibition when the place became Gorman’s Grill.

For years the Noonans kept the Gorman’s pizza recipe exactly the same. Brendan and Mike told me the story about beseeching the cheese manufacturer to keep producing the same block cheddar that crowns these rectangular pies.

Now, under new ownership, these signature ten-cut tavern pizzas have changed. The change is very very small. And I would argue it’s a change for the better. Before I’m accused of being a heretic, maybe I can take a few moments to explain.

The Orchard pizza has always been a mystery.

From those small cast iron pans, to that oily dough, to the cheddar cheese, one has to ask how it came to be. My hunch was that since the tavern served the rail yards, this pizza variations may have been influenced by the tavern pies of central Pennsylvania.

As curious as the pizza has been, I was dumbfounded to learn it was cooked at 450 degrees in a pizza oven. I mean why use a pizza oven if you’re going to cook it in a pan, and at a temperature easily achieved by any conventional oven?

The resulting pie was always oddly soft, especially the bottom crust, and most notably those pieces in the center of the pie. It was more like cheese bread than anything one might call pizza, and I always made a point of eating those center pieces first, because the longer those sat on the plate, the softer and limper they would become.

A well known secret for better pizza at The Orchard was to ask for it well done.

What this would do is send the pizza back into the oven for a second bake. After its time in the pan at 450, it would be slid out onto a peel, and finished off on the oven floor to crisp up the bottom. Although, to be fair, there were a few people who actually preferred the pizza in its soft and squishy state. Brendan Noonan was one of them.

And it’s these precious few who are going to be out of luck.

The new owners decided to crank the pizza oven up to 525 degrees, and get that bottom crust crispy in the first place. After the Tour de Wings, I decided to give it a go. And the white garlic, broccoli, ricotta pie was probably the best pizza from The Orchard I had ever had.

Of course, my palate was shot from all those wings. The creaminess of the ricotta was exactly what I needed at the moment. Like a fool, I did not take any pictures of the underside of the crust. I guess I’ll just have to return. But just look at those crisp and toasty outer edges. That’s new and delicious.

Without a doubt, it takes some chutzpah to mess around with a pizza recipe which has been drawing people in for the better part of a century. Even tinkering around with the oven temperatures and times is a big deal. Some might suggest the original recipe should be enjoyed for what it was. I can’t imagine people had great dental plans in the late 1930s/early 1940s and a soft, deeply filling, and comforting pizza probably really hit the spot.

But nothing ever stays the same. Things evolve. They update to modern tastes. And if The Orchard pizza is better now than ever before, it may even draw some people to check out this delicious piece of Albany culture and history.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Beck permalink
    February 12, 2019 11:07 am

    Really, Daniel! Noonans, not Noonan’s! I’d expect one as fussy as you to be more careful about grammar.

    Broccoli ricotta pie is a favorite of me and my son. I’ve lived in the Albany area since 2001 and haven’t been to the Orchard. I really should. That looks delicious!

    • February 12, 2019 11:10 am

      Fixed. Thank you. The last 12 hours have been… let’s just say… challenging. Thank you for your patience reading through an admittedly hastily published piece.

  2. Benjamin M. permalink
    February 12, 2019 11:41 am

    What? No mention of our faux-Hawaiian pizza? Are you ashamed to admit it was on the same table as your broccoli pizza? Even with the sauce left off it was still pretty good. YUM!

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