COB Pizza at Red Front

Red Front COB pizza whole

There's cheese in there. It's under the sauce.

By Jeff Janssens

There's a lot of exciting stuff happening these days in downtown Troy; from the shops to the restaurants to the bars, it seems like a new business is opening its doors each week. This makes it easy to overlook some of the old stalwarts of the city, places like Famous Lunch that have been turning out good food for decades.

Yet I can't help but approach any place labeled as an institution with a healthy dose of skepticism. At some places, the history and value to the community far exceed the present quality of food.

But Red Front Restaurant on the south side of downtown Troy has built a well-deserved following since opening in 1956 thanks in part to their COB Pizza -- that's "cheese-on-bottom" -- a non-traditional pizza in which the sauce and the bready crust are the stars.

Red Front interior

Stepping into Red Front puts one into something of a time warp, particularly if you're used to hanging out in downtown Troy's newer establishments. The carpet isn't orange, but there's enough brown -- from the wall paneling to the wooden tables -- that you could easily imagine you just stepped back into the '70s. Meanwhile, televisions hang throughout the restaurant displaying the New York Lottery Quick Draw numbers (tickets are on every table). The decorations are a bit kitschy, but I see a certain charm in all this, particularly because their draught beer list isn't so old school, including Ommegang's Rare Vos and the winter seasonal from Oregon's Widmer Brothers.

The main draw of Red Front is their COB Pizza. It's not the kind of pizza that would, on the surface, appeal to traditionalists, particularly those who hold the thin-crusted New York style dear. The cheese is under the sauce, after all. And it's shaped like a rectangle!

But just like the deep dish pizza of Chicago or the tomato pie (pick your region: Utica, Philadelphia, New Jersey, etc.), comparing the COB to traditional pizza is like trying to compare baseball to cricket. The elements are similar, but we're playing by a whole different set of rules.

Red Front COB pizza closeup

First, we have the tomato sauce on top; this is a sweet sauce, and it's noted more prominently because with its placement, it's the first element you taste. In judging the Tournament of Pizza I'd occasionally mark pizza scores down for having sauce that tasted too sweet. But there we were talking about pizzas with veggies or meat on top, plus blends of cheese above the sauce; in those cases, I think it's hard to strike a good balance with a sweet sauce. In this case, I chose the 10-cut COB without toppings ($12), allowing the sauce to be the featured attraction.

This is not to say that the cheese is non-existent. It's there, slices of mozzarella layered under the sauce, sometimes bubbling through to be seen amidst the sea of red. Yes, the mozzarella, sliced deli thin instead of shredded, is a bit of a change-up from the traditional, but no matter: it works here in conjunction with the sweetness of the sauce and on top of the bready crust.

Red Front COB pizza bottom crust

The COB's bottom crust is, unlike many tomato pies, not actually that thick -- just enough to provide that bready goodness, similar in both taste and texture to focaccia. It's also a bit crispy; a look at the bottom crust reveals a surface mottled with brown swirls, an indication of how the bottom is not completely flat; baked this way, the bottom allows for bites that alternate from chewy to crunchy. Meanwhile, the edge crust rides the ideal crest between pillowy and chewy. Compared to most other pizzas, the textural elements of the COB make it especially important for this pizza to be consumed hot out of the oven.

So maybe this is not just an endorsement for the COB Pizza, but also for eating it at Red Front. And as a skeptic of any pizza that strays from the classic New York style, I can heartily vouch that this is one mighty satisfying pie.

Jeff Janssens writes about food and beer at The Masticating Monkey.

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Find It

Red Front Restaurant
71 Division St
Troy, NY 12180

Comments

That is Utica Pizza. Go here for the real thing:
http://www.uticapizza.com/

One of the great pizzerias of Brooklyn, makes their pizza with the sauce on top.

http://www.spumonigardens.com/

My other half was raised in Brooklyn and more or less raised on this type of "square pie" from places like L&B Spumoni Gardens. He moved up to Albany about nine years ago and was surprised to find that this type of pizza is less common here. I ended up learning how to make it Whenever his parents come up for a visit, they always want me make it for them, too.

I actually like it as much as the thinner round pizzas I grew up on.

Just discovered this pizza a few months ago. I am a pizza lover, grew up outside of NYC, lots of great pizza. Favorite is New Haven apizza, but love Sicilian, Chicago, tomato pie, etc. I really enjoy the COB, the sauce, as you say, is really the focus, the crust to a lesser degree. The cheese is enough to notice, but that is it. I wouldn't eat it as an every day thing, but it is a nice treat a couple of times a month. BTW, the small COB is a round pie, put all the elements are roughly the same as in the large rectangular pie. I find its also good reheated, the sauce dries a bit depending on how long/temp of the reheating, but takes on a whole new taste that I like.

@Lou: The COB certainly seems similar to the Utica pizza, but I think a difference might be that the COB has thinner bottom crust--the Utica pizza's seems a bit thicker and breadier.

New Jersey is not a region.

Our tomato pie comes from Trenton and it's even formally known as Trenton Tomato Pie. In part this is to differentiate it from the other tomato pies available throughout the northeast.

Come down sometime and I'll take you for a taste.

Any gluten-free options at this place?

@Daniel: New Jersey is many things; I figured I might as well add "region" to that list. But yes, Trenton is the place, and I will have to try that tomato pie one day. How do you think it compares to the Philly style?

@Terrance: I don't recall anything mentioned on the Red Front menu about gluten free, but if you check their menu you'll find a few such things. You never know, though--if you ask they might be able to accommodate you on more.

The COB at Red Front is one of my all-time favorite pizzas.

I guess the secret is now out

@Terrance--sadly there are very few, if any GF options at the Red Front, which sucks because I loved their strange sweet sauce on their pies before finding out I have celiac disease. There are times when I honestly sit there and think about whether the pizza is worth the pain and inflammation.

Great article! Just to clarify, @Lou and @Jeff Janssens, Utica tomato pie does not include any COB, at all. Per @Lou's link to O'Scugnizzo's Pizzeria:

"He only sold tomato pie (a pizza without mozzarella cheese) and they only cost a nickel."

Generally, Utica tomato pie includes a bit of Romano cheese sprinkled on top, best served room temperature. As a Utica area native, I consider tomato pie to be one of the area's crowning achievements! We tend to get ours at Chanatry's on French Rd., where you can find a variety of local tomato pies.

This style is nice - but I am a square slice guy growing up in Detroit. Wish you could find a Detroit style pizza on the East Cost....

Too much sauce.

@Jeanine - I consider 'Tomato Pie' something different from 'Utica Pizza'. As you are probably aware O'Scugnizzo's has pizza with mozzarella and sauce on top which is a separate thing from their tomato pie. For the purposes of this conversation I am talking about 'Utica Pizza' not tomato pie.

I actually had the COB at Red Front last weekend. I must say it pales in comparison to Utica Pizza. I found the COB to be seriously lacking in taste.

In addition to O'Scugnizzo. You can also get Utica Pizza at Joe's in Whitesboro, and Trio's in New York Mills.

http://www.theoriginaljoespizza.com

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