Melted cheese, baked dough, cardboard boxes, and the vapors from the espresso machine. Any old, traditional pizzeria in Buenos Aires smells like that.
El Cuartito is one of those pizzerias, founded in 1934. It is a no-frills, paper tablecloth on Formica table kind of place. Years ago, a former boyfriend of mine took me there for dinner and I felt slightly offended. Don’t I deserve linen and a candle on the table? I clearly did not appreciate the cultural value of a historic pizzeria. I do now.
Cut to the present. Since El Cuartito is within walking distance from the Colón Opera House, I decided to treat my nieces and my mother to a different culinary experience before taking the guided visit. We got there fifteen minutes before opening time at 12:30. A group of people was already waiting outside El Cuartito: tourists, office workers, old-timers, a motorcycle courier or two.
The doors opened and we all quickly found a place to sit. Or stand, as the case may be. People can order pizza by the slice or empanadas and eat standing at a special wooden counter. That’s what we call comer de parado. Service is really fast, ideal for people on the go like the motorcycle courier.
We ordered a pizza de musarela (Argentinean Spanish for mozzarella) and a pizza napolitana (with slices of tomato and tons of fresh garlic). The strings of melted cheese stretched for ever, which made it fun to serve and eat each slice. The base was neither too thin nor too thick, the traditional media masa, crispy and chewy at the same time. Our waiter acted in a very professional, brisk and efficient manner. Definitely a career waiter, as opposed to a student holding a summer job.
Old posters and prints cover every inch of the walls, mainly sports memorabilia. Autographed photos of local football teams; posters announcing boxing fights or car races. It reads like a Who’s Who of Argentinean sports history since the 1940s. It goes without saying that only my mum and I knew most of these sporting stars; my nieces, aged 10, 13 and 17, had no clue! However, they enjoyed the experience, as did we.
We felt too full for dessert. This kind of pizzeria serves traditional, old-fashioned desserts like sopa inglesa (vanilla cake, dulce de leche, whipped cream and port), rice pudding, tarantela (crème caramel with apple slices), flan casero mixto (homemade crème caramel topped with whipped cream and dulce de leche.)
I put the leftover napolitana in my spacious handbag. The smell of garlic dogged us for the rest of afternoon but it made for a wonderful dinner snack that night.
* Address: Talcahuano 937. Open every day from 12:30 to 1 am except Mondays.