Arts pizza column

Figuring out fancy pizza

Figs serves upscale rectangular pies in Beacon Hill

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A half quattro formaggio, half fig and prosciutto pizza from Figs, on Charles St. in Beacon Hill.
Vivian Hu–The Tech

Pizza, $$
42 Charles St.
Boston, MA 02114
Monday – Saturday 11:30 a.m. –10 p.m.
Sunday 12–10 p.m.

When I told Vivian that the next Boston pizza I wanted to eat was at Figs, her response was: “ooh [F]igs is fancy!” Figs is a pizzeria that does not want to be seen as just the local neighborhood pizza shop; it wants to be different, even in the shapes of its pies. The restaurant’s motto is “Never Trust a Round Pizza,” and the thin crust pies here come in rectangles sliced in half longways, then four times across to make the standard eight slices in a non-standard shape.

I’m no newcomer to Figs’s pizza. The first time I ate it was about five years ago in the form of someone else’s cold leftovers (I love cold pizza! What can I say?). I thought it was great. The two times I went there during my freshman year, almost four years ago now, I also thought the pizza was very good, but I didn’t go in with a real focus on the pizza’s quality.

I did notice the ambiance when I went on a date there a few years ago. Especially at night, the restaurant is dim, candlelit, very cosy and romantic: definitely a great place to bring a date. The downside to that cosiness is that, in the Beacon Hill location, you sometimes cannot even move your chair (I have also been to the Charlestown location, which is more spacious). We had to shimmy in and out of our seats, even at a late 2 p.m. lunch.

One of the great things about Figs is that you can order a half-and-half pizza, which might not be an option at similarly high-end pizza restaurants. Given the restaurant’s name, Vivian and I had to order at least half of the Fig and Prosciutto pizza ($25), with a fig and balsamic jam,gorgonzola, prosciutto and fig pieces. The other half of the pizza was Quattro Formaggio ($22), with tomato sauce, basil oil, mozzarella, provolone, fontina, and herbed ricotta. We also ordered a Rustic Caesar Salad to start.

The waiter brought out pieces of focaccia and a small dish of olive oil with a few olives in it. The bread at Figs is great. It’s basically really good pizza dough — dense, soft and flavorful — that’s been baked perfectly. Not to say too much about a salad in a pizza review, but the caesar salad was definitely one of the best I have had. The ratios of lettuce, dressing, cheese and croutons were perfect; it was not gloppy or heavy like Caesar salads have a tendency to be, and the flavors of the dressing and cheese together were spot on.

Figs’s rectangular pizza is served on an inverted baking sheet; ours seemed to have the remains of some drippings from previous pizzas — but maybe that’s trendy, who knows? The pizza has a very thin crust, and the toppings come very close to the edge of the slice, leaving very little exposed crust at the edge. The crust has very little flavor in itself, which makes sense given the complex flavor combinations that Figs typically adds to their pizzas.

The Quattro Formaggio side of the pizza looked very oily when it arrived. Four cheeses and basil oil on top of a very thin crust pizza leads to some difficult and messy pizza eating. The flavors of the pizza were pretty good, but with a sweet tomato sauce and nothing acidic on the pizza, the slice as a whole was sweeter than I typically like. Every now and then, a bite of garlic would cut through the sweetness — a welcome change. I actually really liked Figs’s herbed ricotta on the Quattro Formaggio (unlike Ottos’s, of whose herb mixture I have never been a fan). Still, given the sweetness and the extra oil, the pizza felt heavy.

Here’s a pro-tip: when you have extra bread, and an extra-oily pizza (especially one covered in tasty basil oil), don’t bother with any naive, calorie-saving paper towel grease blotting. Blot that grease with your bread for creative, classy eating at its finest.

As I do not eat meat, I relied on Vivian’s assessment of the Fig and Prosciutto pie. The crust clearly held up better without both tomato sauce and oil on the pizza, and it did not bend so much or let toppings slide off as it was pulled off of the pan. Although she is not a huge fan of figs, she thought that the flavors of the pizza were spot on; at one point she said, “I took another bite, and it just surprised me!” For something that I could assess, the fig pizza was visually appealing, with the prosciutto nicely draped over the crust, its pink broken up artfully by the green sprigs of onion.

Figs had some of my favorite pizza in Boston when I first moved here, and my mildly disappointing experience with their Quattro Formaggio pizza does not really affect my affection for it. I remember the Bianco (topped with an arugula salad) and the Portobello (with mushrooms and truffle oil) as being nothing short of delicious. I would still recommend Figs for a more upscale, intimate pizza experience — just err on the side of the lighter, drier pizza toppings to complement Figs’s thin crusts.