(Bloomberg) — Most people have no idea what they’re having for dinner, let alone what they’ll be eating in two days.
Those people will not be eating a clam pie from Bellucci’s Pizzeria in Queens, N.Y., anytime soon. The pizza must be ordered 48 hours in advance.
Another caveat for pizza fans: Bellucci’s clam pie is available for dine-in only.
“This pie will never see the inside of a box,” Andrew Bellucci wrote on Instagram in early May, in a post announcing the clam pie’s debut at his eponymous pizza joint, on a buzzy block of 30th Avenue in Astoria. Bellucci’s is in a “soft opening” stage, though it’s been serving pies for a couple of months. “Trust me on this one,” he wrote, “it’s the only way to properly enjoy it.”
It takes no more than a bite to be convinced. Fresh cherrystone clams—sourced from Connecticut and shucked to order at a seafood market just a few doors down from the restaurant—combine with fresh oregano, parsley, garlic, lemon, pecorino Romano, extra-virgin olive oil, and black pepper to create a wave of savory satisfaction. Bellucci will tell you the clam pie’s key ingredient is lemon, but it all starts with the crust, whose crunch and crackle promises preeminence as he slices the round pie into triangles.
“He just really understands dough-making in general—leavening and the fermentation process,” says Anthony Mangieri, fellow pie man and owner of the acclaimed Una Pizza Napoletana on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “I think Andrew’s dough is equally as much of a focus for him as the toppings are.”
filmmaker David Shapiro recalls the first time he tried Bellucci’s clam pie back at Lombardi’s. “Nobody was doing that in New York, and it was just like a revelation,” he says. “His recent clam pie knocked my socks off,” he says, adding that he was most impressed with the thin crust. “It was a remarkable piece of engineering. It held the clams, the sauce, it held everything perfectly, and yet it was just paper thin.”
Bellucci has also switched from topneck clams to cherrystones. “The yield is better,” he says, “and I’m able to slice the bellies in quarters to give a great bite without being overwhelming.” The large, 19-inch pie, which goes for $55, comes topped with about two dozen clams. Although the price is substantially higher than the rest of the menu’s offerings, Bellucci says so far customers haven’t balked at the number. “If you order two dozen on the half-shell somewhere, it’s gonna run you about that,” he says.
An especially touching scene in shows Bellucci spending the day cooking six different clam pies with his mother, Jeanne-Marie, who serves as the inspiration for another version that could end up on his current menu. “One of the things that my mother would make on very special occasions is coquilles Saint-Jacques,” he says of an extravagant pie topped with scallops, cream, and cognac, baked with Swiss, Gruyère, and breadcrumbs. “And it works great with clams, too, so I’d love to do a clam Saint-Jacques,” he says.
Bellucci says a few customers have responded with the ultimate form of praise: ranking his version above the clam pie at Frank Pepe’s. “There is no better compliment for me than to be even mentioned in the same sentence as Frank Pepe’s,” he says. “It means a lot to me to bring it back. It’s always been on my mind. I’m happy to say perseverance pays off.”
And he’s still pushing and trying to get better. It’s so beautiful to see that. For someone at his level and his skill set to still be pushing is really awesome.”
Bellucci approaches his trade “like a guild. He really studied it like any artist or craftsman would their medium,” says Shapiro. “I’ll put him in the pantheon. I may go up to Patsy’s in Spanish Harlem. I used to go to Spumoni’s in Brooklyn or Totonno’s in Coney [Island]. But he’s in Astoria, and he’s the same kind of level of a hajj.”