Walking into Newcastle’s latest ‘dive bar’ I was disappointed not to be immediately blasted by the dulcet screams and dirty riffs of The Bronx, a hardcore punk band that actually hail from LA. Instead, the chilled-out loop from Ice Cube’s It Was A Good Day smoothed things over with that cool West Coast sound satisfyingly combining with the salivating smell of freshly baked pizza dough loaded up with cheese, cheese, and more cheese.
Located where the Bowery Boys used to be (apparently they’ve left us for Sydney), this space has morphed into Bronx Pizza, planned to look unintentionally like a New York pizza joint. High tables set with chequered table cloths and cream coloured floating bench seats jut out from pine partitions and black chain link enclosures. The roof remains exposed, its concrete and silver air duct tunnels are darkly lit and decorated with Edison light globes and a few hanging ferns. Posters featuring transcendent baby boomer rock icons compete for space along one side of the restaurant. There’s a bright orange neon sign saying ‘Welcome To The Bronx’ above the bar, and even an arcade game flashing in the corner.
Having been able to adeptly apply his acute awareness for flavour and texture whilst manning the pans for the Bowery Boys, I was keen to see how chef Steven Zielke would handle the transition to the humble pizza.
The menu seems simple at first glance, but, on closer inspection, there’s actually quite a lot going on: antipasto featuring warm marinated olives, bruschetta, and charcuterie. A few green salads, with an option to add roast chicken or prosciutto. Pasta, including wagyu spaghetti meatballs, and a Bowery Boys throwback; the ricotta gnocchi. And, of course, pizza topped with fine ingredients, and the obligatory pun or two; the Speckenwolf, Porkalicious, and Carbs on Carbs are firm favourites. As this our first time, we decide to put the Bronx boys on the spot to see just how good their pizzas really are. Our acid test selection includes the Peppertony pizza with San Marzano tomato, spicy salami, and mozzarella; the rigatoni boscaiola; and a serve of marinated olives to start.
Bronx Pizza has a decent drinks list, especially their range of canned and bottled beers. It includes a few who’s who of the craft beer tinny trendsetters; Brooklyn Lager, Mornington Pale, and Pirate Life. A ‘revolving list’ of ‘Heritage’ beers features more established brews from Coopers, XXXX, and Melbourne Bitter, as well as American suds, Coors, in keeping with the ‘dive bar’ theme.
There’s not long to wait until our keen waiter, having negotiated his way through a sea of starving Novocastrians, arrives back at our table with a small dish of about a thousand warm olives, before returning again with a plate of pasta in one hand and a tray of piping hot pizza in the other.
Boscaiola in Italian means ‘of the forest’. A chunky sauce loaded with earthy mushrooms, onion, bacon, and a faint trace of musty sweet truffle clings onto the ridged lines of the rigatoni, which is firm to the bite and dusted with melting flakes of parmigiana-reggiano. It’s perfect for repelling the bitter winter evening outside. The Peppertony pizza has a scorching hot base that’s crispy and beginning to blister and bubble around the edges, with generous discs of salami covered in stretchy, gooey cheese, spread out across the middle. Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael would be just as pleased as me. Nice work chef.
Surely Bronx Pizza is being deliberately cheesy, as it taxes as much ‘90s Americana nostalgia, either real, imagined, as it can. From the music, to the design, to the menu, and the crowd it attracts, this place packages it all up into a consciously cool hangout that is, paradoxically, of the times.