CO.: THE AGNESHWAR FAMILY PIZZA CLUB’S FOURTH OUTING

By Anand Agneshwar

“Wow,” my wife said as she bit into the “Pizza Bianca,” a surprisingly flavorful, pleasantly chewy square of salty focaccia she has topped with a dollop of fresh creamy ricotta and fragrant olive oil. Such was our introduction and general reaction to Co., the pizza restaurant from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery and “no knead bread” fame.

Anyone living in New York in the late 1990s will remember how Sullivan Street Bakery took the city by storm with its European style freshly baked breads and the pizza that sold out as soon as it was made. Having not ventured downtown enough on an early Saturday morning to get a ration of that legendary pie, I was excited to try Co. when it opened in 2009. It took me nearly a decade to get there but better late than never.

Two Lyft’s full of the Agneshwar extended family (brother Dhruv, his wife Shoba and daughter Tara joined us; they were in town because Tara just got into Columbia’s graduate psychology program!!) arrived at Co.’s relatively hidden location at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 24th Street at prime time on a Friday night. We were seated almost immediately at two thirds of a communal table in the middle of a small, bright and bustling yet spacious room.

Nearly every pizza sounded mouth watering so we ordered a bunch, including a double sized margherita that has served as our club benchmark. A springy and tasty crust, crispy but not thin, charred in spots but not burned, provided a near perfect foundation for the pie. Generous slices of fresh mozzarella and basil, carefully layered on top, had the right mix of salt and milk. What prevented Co. from getting top rankings all around, however, was the sauce, stingily proportioned with an off balance tang. Don’t get me wrong — this was hardly cause to stay home. But when your competition is Speedy Romeo, every detail counts.

The appropriately named Popeye came with a pile of fresh spinach leaves stacked atop a smooth and sharp layer of gruyere, pecorino and mozzarella. I expected something along the lines of Artichoke Basille’s signature pie but Co.’s delicious yet subtle concoction didn’t taste decadent at all. You could almost convince yourself you were having a healthy snack. Almost.

The omnivores among us loved the meatball pie, though it looked a little saucy to me. A nice complement of fresh salads (we tried the escarole and the beet), and a fruity and light Willamette Valley Pinot noir rounded out a delicious fourth club outing. Note to kids — Co. has no liquor license. This means no grenadine and translates to no Shirley Temples. Lemonade will have to do.

As we waited for the LYFT caravan, bloated and happy, I looked down at out table and noticed an ounce or so of fresh ricotta looking lonely amid a pile of my kids’ leftover pizza crusts. I unashamedly picked up one of the crusts and used it to polish off that last bit of creaminess. Mmmm. I may have missed out on Sullivan Street Bakery’s initial incarnation but Co., with its relative proximity to both home and office, will present plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time.