Arts pizza column

In defense of Area Four

Is Boston’s best pizza right in our backyard?

Area Four
American,  $$$
500 Technology Square, Cambridge, MA 02139
Monday – Friday 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Let me preface this piece by saying: I am very hungry. I ate this Area Four pizza a while ago. I know that hunger strongly affects my grocery shopping, so it will probably affect my writing as well — just beware, I will be salivating more strongly than usual over my pizza memory in this review.

Still, I write this review in defense of Area Four. I’m not defending it from the general public; if you Google “best pizza in Boston,” Area Four will invariably come up. I know this, since I Google that phrase about once a month. But despite the restaurant’s proximity to MIT’s campus, it doesn’t seem to enjoy much popularity among MIT’s students.

When I say that Area Four makes one of my favorite pizzas in Boston, I often get a surprised reaction. My friends say that the pizza crust is too burnt, it’s simply not that great, or most often, that it’s overpriced. I would always respond that Area Four’s prices were totally in line with what the rest of Boston was charging for pizza!

But let’s examine my completely unfounded assumption with data. Area Four charges $21 for a large margherita pizza, or $18 for a marinara pizza. Their most expensive pie, with clams and bacon, is $26.50. I looked at pizza places close to campus that serve large or extra-large pies with ratings over four stars on Google and found that the average price of a large cheese pizza is $15.33, and the average price of the most expensive pizza on the menu is $23.16.

So I plotted the data I found because I couldn’t believe that the gap was that big. But when I visualized it, I couldn’t deny it: Area Four is a bit overpriced. Still, lunch for myself and Vivian only cost $13 before tax and tip, since we got just a small margherita pizza, and it was more than enough food for two of us. We even delivered an extra slice to a friend on campus. So, though Area Four might not be the most cost effective slice in town, it’s not such an expensive option either.

Is Area Four’s marginal cost worth it? In my opinion, yes. It’s good enough that hungry me almost stopped to pick up a whole pizza for lunch on my way home, despite my current attempt to budget, this plan’s clear lack of health benefits, and the fact that I obviously recently got Area Four pizza for this review.

So, why is Area Four’s pizza so good? Especially for those who live on the east side of campus or, like me, live off-campus, its proximity makes it a clear winner for the busy or the merely lazy. Even if it’s not the best quality pizza in the Boston area (I haven’t decided on this one yet), it is surely the best pizza you can get for the least amount of walking.

Vivian and I walked into Area Four on a Saturday around noon without a reservation and were seated at the bar within about 20 minutes. The music playing was trying a bit too hard to be inoffensive, and, honestly, the decor inside the restaurant has never spoken to me. But I don’t really care. I will do a lot for my pizza, and sitting through some bland yet annoyingly repetitive music while standing by the bar and waiting for someone to leave is nothing.

On to the actual pizza: the crust is amazing. I hesitate to say perfect, but it’s at least pretty close. The texture is crisp on the outside and the kind of chewy on the inside that doesn’t just reduce to gumminess after a few good chews. According to their website, the dough is fermented for over 30 hours, and you can taste that. The crust isn’t just there; it actively adds to the flavor both through the malty, yeasty taste and the burned leopard spots on the end crust. That’s another criticism I often hear of Area Four: “Don’t they burn their pizza?” Well, yes, but they burn it in a good way.

We didn’t get any toppings on the pizza for this visit, but I’ve gotten a few different pizzas at Area Four before and most have been delicious. Maybe the only time I’ve been disappointed there was when I ordered a gorgonzola pie, which no longer seems to be on the menu, so no worries! Besides their set topping combinations, Area Four offers a limited mix of mostly non-standard toppings, like eggs, banana peppers, sopressata, and green olives.

One of the best things about Area Four’s pizza is that it’s well-proportioned. There was also enough sauce to give the pizza some of that Neapolitan soupiness in the center, but not so much that the slice couldn’t be picked up. Also, my biggest complaint about the last pizza I reviewed was that there was actually too much cheese on the margherita. Area Four’s pizza has enough cheese to add creaminess and salt and general cheesy goodness, but not so much that I felt like the tomato and basil flavors weren’t coming through or that the cheese’s texture bothered me once the pie cooled.

Another benefit of more conservative cheese application was that I ate half of a small pizza, but I didn’t leave Area Four feeling gross. I just felt happy.