I have eaten at Bad Horse Pizza twice in the last three weeks. Having first stumbled upon it during one of my many westward walks to Frederick Douglass Blvd (on my way to a neighboring restaurant), I finally checked it off the to-eat-at list a few weeks ago when I grabbed some takeout on a quiet Thursday night. The owner and (presumed) pizza mastermind, John, took my order and kept me company at the bar while I waited around 20 minutes for my pizzas and salad. My two pies and a salad came to $46 ($17 for 4 slices of pizza?!?), so I was a bit taken aback by the huge pricetag. My problem? Because pizza is such a prolific, cheap, and everyday food in Harlem, paying $17 for 4 slices of pizza seemed outrageous.
But here’s the thing: Bad Horse doesn’t serve everyday pizza. Bad Horse is not a Pizzeria (re: cracked and dry slices of questionable age and origin with generic topping combinations that you have to scope through fingerprinted glass and get reheated in a massive oven), they are a restaurant that just happens to be really good at pizza, so it’s the main thing they serve. You will wait 25 minutes for your pie because it’s made to order. And when you feel the thin crust snap between your thumb and forefinger as you lift that first slice to your lips, and you catch a whiff of the sweet and nutty aroma of the fresh torn basil and the grated Parmesan cheese that tops every pie, you know the wait was worth it and this pizza will be anything but ordinary.
Though they are clear about their pizza being thin crust, they (smartly) make no claims about it being authentic Neapolitan
(or authentically anything), because it’s not. Similar to other pizza places Uptown only by using the word ‘pizza’ in their name, Bad Horse seems to be a new breed; a Pizza Joint boasting a mutated pizza-making species that may well turn out to be the leader of the pack. At Bad Horse they take the simple pizza equation of bread + sauce + toppings and turn it into a filling, satisfying, and unique dining experience that has the familiarity and accessibility of every corner pizzeria in Harlem, but tastes so much better.
The ingredients are fresh (even the artichoke hearts, which are out of a jar, but aren’t mushy or flavorless), their specialty pizza topping combos are carefully chosen and well executed every time. The crust to sauce to cheese to toppings ratio is on point (no matter how many toppings there are), and the lovely addition of fresh torn basil and grated Parmesan add a fresh and salty burst to every bite.
When Keith and I went this past week we kept it simple and ordered a salad and pizza to share. Previously we had the Meatless Pie (above), the 3 Lil’ Pig Pie, and the Mixed Greens Salad, all of which were very tasty.
Baby Spinach Salad (with crispy bacon): Whenever I order anything with bacon, I always ask for it to be crispy. This does not mean burnt, (though sometimes it translates to my plate that way), so I am always happy when the bacon is done right and it melts in your mouth. The bacon that topped this large and fresh salad added just the right amount of salt to the vegetables. Though it came with a decent balsamic dressing on the side, I find that when you’ve got tangy goat cheese and salty bacon to compliment fresh and sturdy greens, a balsamic dressing is hardly necessary.
FDB Pizza: Where I come from, one commits a cardinal sin against traditional Italian cooking whenever cheese and shellfish are combined. Based solely on an allegiance to my culinary heritage, I rarely condone this combination, and had this been my first time at Bad Horse I would not have been persuaded by Keith’s insistence that we order the pie with garlic sautéed shrimp, artichoke hearts, and cheese. But the take-out pies we had a few weeks prior were so good that I trusted Bad Horse to know how to break the rules. Our trust was rewarded with a pie that had tender and mild baby shrimp, substantial and briny artichoke hearts, just enough cheese, and a beautiful freshness that only torn basil leaves provide. Because the pie was a composition of subtle flavors, on the suggestion of our waitress we added a few splashes of tabasco, and were in pizza heaven.