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It may come off as a bit of a gimmick, but boasting “the second-best pizza in town” (their words, not mine) reeled me in. Truth be told, the pictures friends posted of Holmes’ pies fresh out the oven, coupled with this rather alluring slogan, pushed this recent upstart to the front of my queue for reviews. I mean, if they assert their right to the silver medal, who takes gold? I hit the mental rolodex. … Who takes the top spot … or top three? What does your list look like? Who is getting kicked off? I know my answer, or at least I did as I headed toward downtown on a recent nippy night, ready to devour some slices after having abstained from the ’za for weeks.
Holmes is located on the ground floor of a recently slapped-together condo building on the NE corner of Silver and Third Ave. At the time I visited, several weeks back now, Holmes’ arcade was yet to be set up so the place was pretty bare. The lights were dim. No music was playing. It honestly felt like a clandestine operation and triggered a memory of acquiring some exceptional indoor-grown herbal contraband in Vancouver BC around 2005, well before it was technically legal, at a hole in the wall dispensary run by bikers. I enjoyed the vibe.
That said, a buddy told me that when he got his first pie from them a few days after my visit, the Misfits’ Hybrid Moments was “blaring” from the speakers. I also just checked their website and am happy to report that they have gotten their arcade games secured for once they can have in-door dining. Looking over the expansive list of pinball and video arcade games (27 of them!), I am delighted to see not only Ms. Pacman, but also Tetris, Qbert, DigDug, Mortal Kombat II, Dolly Parton Pinball and a grip of other classics! Any aficionado will tell you that it is a well-curated selection. It is easy to imagine this pizza parlor and arcade at a fever pitch on most any night of the week—if they ever start selling slices and beer in a post-COVID future.
All of Holmes’ pies come as a standard large (14’’), except their gluten free crusts at a standard 12’’. A perfect size to split two ways. I always order a plain cheese slice or pie on my first visit to a pizza parlor. As my friend Jack Lay puts it, “You gotta make sure they build the foundation before they build the house, know what I mean?” Their cheese pie ($14) is the cheapest option on the menu. I also ordered the “505” ($17), which is fittingly topped with pepperoni and green chile. For the time being the only beverages on offer are a selection of Mexican imported sodas in glass bottles (with real cane sugar, not corn syrup) as well as Topo Chico mineral water, for $2.50 each.
Holmes has gone for a decidedly East Coast approach, though my deeply ingrained New York sensibilities were triggered when the friendly (and properly-masked) counter staff offered me ranch dressing with my order. I had to hide my revulsion; but am well aware that many Burquenos will appreciate this touch. And according to the pizzaiolo, Sacha, he had been most influenced by New Haven—not New York—pizza tradition. Sadly, despite years of poring over footage of Frank Pepe’s coal-fired “tomato pies” and grilling Connecticuters in a futile attempt to determine if their pizza really holds up to the NY standard, I have no first-hand experience. I will take his word.
The pizza boxes were plain white aside from a “hello my name is” styled sticker with HOLMES in all caps (R.I.P. MF DOOM) handwritten across them. The pies were not hefty, but the smell was intoxicating even through the box. After rushing back to my parked car, I dived right in and was pleased to find that the pizza was still blisteringly hot, despite the freezing weather. The char was perfectly dispersed to elevate their non-GMO flour-based dough. The slice was thin enough that I could see some of the overhead street light though it when I held it up to my car window. Yet it did not crack when I placed my forefinger over the crust and executed a NY fold. The sauce had a bright tang and a nice touch of oregano. The mozzarella had clearly been well selected, as it did not exude excessive grease and had blistered nicely in spots. The 505, with toppings I will always associate with Pudge Bro.’s “monster” pie deal from my teenage years, was light years beyond Pudge in all regards—except weight and price. Holmes’s 505 provided body-and-soul-warming slices for a cold winter night. A word to the wise: Don’t squander quality. Start eating your Holmes pizza right away! Don’t let it get lukewarm! Still, when I went for a cold slice out the fridge the next morning—it still hit. A metamorphosis had occurred, but—unlike with pizza from many competitors here in town—the crust was still toothsome and the cheese and sauce may have even achieved a more harmonious relationship. Morning-after pizza is honestly a good way to judge quality. … I mean, even Little Caesars can be tasty hot and fresh, but it turns to cardboard once the crust dips below around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I am confident it does the same thing in your lower intestines.
After devouring several slices, I walked back in to tell them that in my estimation they for sure deserve their self-selected title/slogan and are very much in the running for the gold. Now less in a hurry, I noticed that the pizzaiolo, Sacha, had sort of a Scandi accent and inquired. He said he was from Helsinki. That he had some background in Scandinavian modern cuisine. Like cutting-edge fine dining. But that, “in a way, it sucks,” which eventually led him to focus on this much more utilitarian, but by no means simple, craft. I am pleased to report that his chops are still on display with this exceptional pizza. I should also mention that while I neglected to sample any on this first round, Holmes also boasts seven totally vegan pizza options. The vegan “cheese” is even made in house!
Holmes Pizza & Arcade is open for both take-out and delivery. I am confident that, if you all support them through these coming months of the pandemic, they will become a beloved institution where you can while away a Friday night with friends, button-mashing to a heavy soundtrack.