The news of a new pizza joint on the Cuba-ish block caused a bit of a stir in Wellington, with plenty of pizza fans declaring loyalty to the ol' favourite on Taranaki St. Lucky for Wellingtonians, Auckland chain Sal's is a totally different offering, sticking close to its New York ethos with its fit-out, ingredients and menu, so there's plenty of room for a diverse pizza selection in the capital.
Sal's landed on Cuba in April after a long build-up, and whatever used to be there has been gutted and re-fitted — plenty of stock shots of New York on the walls and bright red banquette seats make me think of a grown up version of Pizza Hut's buffet restaurants (RIP). On Sunday, the crowd was your classic Cuba weekend gang — hungover Massey students, families looking for something to placate the kids after the veggie market, and a smattering of tourists.
The menu is pretty simple — 11 different pizzas that you can order by the slice ($4-6 each), the half ($16-20 each) or the whole ($25-36 each), plus garlic knots ($1.50 each or three for $4), fried mozzarella sticks ($9 for 6) and a mozzarella and pepperoni wheel ($5 each). There's a variety of dipping sauces available for $1.50 a pop, plus chicken wings for $11 or $17 for a large serve. Some of the classic pizzas and sides are housed in the cabinet up the front, and you can add extra toppings for specified costs. There's a pretty standard selection of fizzy drinks, and a few classic Garage Project cans were on display but not priced or mentioned on the menu.
The wait for our order was above five minutes, which we filled by trying to remember what used to be in this spot. A bead shop? Second hand books? Nail salon? All the food is served on paper plates and ours arrive bagged and boxed-up for takeaway, although we opted to eat in, which seems a bit wasteful (and not very Instagram-friendly). The tables have shakers of dried parmesan, chilli flakes and oregano for those who like to customise their slice. Apparently Sal was a real fella who emigrated from Italy to New York, and the pizza sauce this chain uses is still made to his 'exacting' recipe.
The classic cheese pizza from the 'Sal's Classics' menu was thin-crusted, simple, salty and greasy — no faults here, just a classic food executed very well. The 'Sal's Legendary Pies' menu has some more offbeat toppings. The three-meat Brooklyn was a surprising favourite, with a trio of sliced meatballs, sausage and pepperoni. The Buffalo landed the gold medal in our pizza rankings — blue cheese sauce and Buffalo sauce blanketed crumbed chicken pieces in a perfect melange of spicy, creamy, tangy and rich.
Something about eating six sticks of deep-fried cheese seems inherently wrong, but these hilariously stretchy morsels tasted so right. The mozzarella sticks are both fun and tasty — they come with a pottle of actually-a-real-guy Sal's 'legendary' marinara sauce, but were best dipped in the vinegary extra-hot Buffalo sauce. Sal's NY Pizza does what it says on the box, and is an excellent addition to Cuba's cheap and quick dinner or lunch selection.