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The United States of Pizza: Florida

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Florida: Beaches, Disney World, retirement communities, swamps. Gators, this kind and that. Pastel art deco buildings. Crockett and Tubbs.

A lot of things come to mind when you think of the Sunshine State, and though pizza might not necessarily be one of them, you might be surprised how much of the crusty, saucy, cheesy stuff is being cranked out in Florida.

But a couple things explain the pizza density in the state. First, there's a crazy number of expatriate New Yorkers in Florida. By one estimate, one-third of all people who migrate away from New York state move to Florida. You know there's gotta be pizza-makers among them — with a built-in audience for Northeastern pizza variants.

Second, there's just a general interest in Neapolitan and artisanal pizza sweeping the country, with wood-oven and coal-oven pizzerias opening left and right. And, with coal-oven pizza, perhaps no more so than in Florida, which in 2007 surpassed New York City in the number of such pizzerias operating. (See the Slice Coal-Oven Pizza Map.)

Here, then, is a quick run-down on some places in Florida to find non-chain pizza — you know, stuff you might actually dig.

Miami Herald's Top Picks

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To start, the Miami Herald's Victoria Pesce Elliott gives a great overview of "gourmet" pizza around the Miami-Dade area. It seems like Bertoni Brick Oven Pizza could only exist in Florida: "The quirky Argentine-owned pizzeria attached to a carwash looks more like a South Beach club with its stunning mosaic murals, sleek furnishings, and mood music."

Here's Pesce Elliott's list:

Worstpizza.com's Craig 'Lapp' Agranoff Recommends

While Pesce Elliott's top picks cover Miami-Dade, we've found that a great overall-Florida pizza resource is worstpizza.com. Yeah, weird name, right? Originally, the guy who started it, Craig "Lapp" Agranoff wanted to steer people away from bad pizza, but over time his site has become a way to find good pizza. We asked him for his top Florida pizza recs....

New York–Style: Slice & Ice

Although locals would probably look at you with that "of course I know that place" stare when you talk about Slice & Ice, it's safe to say that those outside the Coconut Grove area of Miami have probably never heard of it — and boy are they missing out!

I must have passed by Slice & Ice a dozen or so times and never even noticed it sitting there. Not sure if it is Slice N Ice, or Slice and Ice, maybe even Slice n' Ice, but whatever it is, it is delicious.

It looks like an ice stand from the road, and not so much a pizza joint. After hearing about this place from a trusted pizza confidant, I made the journey down to the Grove to try this place out. I ordered my usual plain slice and waited while I admired the amount of business this little stand does. You walk up to the window, place your order, and wait for it. No number system, no pick-up window strategically placed at the far end, just a shout of "One slice."

When my slice was called, I came to the realization that there is nowhere to sit, so I stood and enjoyed this incredibly crisp slice hot out of the oven. Although the sauce could use just a little more flavor, the cheese was applied in perfect proportion to it, and the crust folded nicely, making that crisp sound I like to hear.

Although the parking and seating are terrible, it's worth the trouble to eat a slice here. You can close your eyes, take a bite, and imagine yourself at a pizzeria in Brooklyn.

Slice & Ice: 3024 Southwest 27th Avenue, Miami FL 33133; 305-461-9190; grovepizza.com; worstpizza.com on Slice & Ice

Best Miami Pizza: Spris Pizza, Coral Gables

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Spris opened in 2002 in Coral Gables after the owner, Julio, realized there wasn't any pizza up to his standards. I tried Spris soon after, and it was love at first bite. This thin-crust individual-size pizza is made with fresh mozzarella cheese and cooked in a wood-fired oven. The sauce is a perfect blend of fresh peeled tomatoes with just the right amount of sugar to avoid oversweetening it. Although Spris seats 60 people, on many evenings you should expect a wait. It's worth it. Unlike its sister store on Miami Beach, this Spris makes a better crust. For $8.50 for a plain individual-size pie, it's clearly one of the best-priced, best-quality pies around the Miami area.

Spris of Coral Gables: 2305 Ponce De Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables FL 33134; 305-444-3388; spriscoralgables.com; worstpizza.com on Spris

Best Wood-Oven Pizza: Tucci's

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This is a tough one for me since there are two places down in South Florida that make exceptional pizzas. Tucci's in Boca Raton, and Kitchenetta in Fort Lauderdale. Tucci's has always produced an amazingly tasty pizza every time I have gone. It is consistently a pie I crave and is reasonably priced for the quality. Kitchenetta, however, is the only place in Florida I have given a perfect 8-of-8-slice ranking on worstpizza.com to. But I haven't gotten that perfect pie consistently when going back time after time. (It's still amazing, though!) Based on consistency, though, Tucci's gets my vote for best wood oven pizza in Florida.

Tucci's opened in March 2009. Tucci's uses a Renato oven. Their fresh mozzarella cheese is applied over U.S.-grown tomatoes that are mixed with top-notch olive oil, garlic, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and basil. Tucci's seats only about 50 people, but it's an open layout that feels comfortable. The small individual pizza is a bit higher priced than most at $12.95 but is worth every penny.

Tucci's: 50 NE 1st Avenue, Boca Raton FL 33432; 561-620-2930; tuccispizza.com; worstpizza.com on Tucci's

Slice'rs & SE'rs on Florida Pizza

Perhaps the best place to get great Florida recs is in our own garden. Here are what some SE'rs and Slice'rs have said about Florida pizza in the past.

Squiggy's NY Style Pizza: Longtime Slice'r Brian Preston-Campbell gave us this rec, saying, "When I lived in Hollywood, Florida, I would make the trek to Squiggy's NY Style Pizza. It was a schlep, but they serve a decent slice, and Squiggy is from da Bronx. They had pretty late hours from what I recall, being that they were next door to the Chile Pepper nightclub. Prices went up after a certain time of night as well — supply and demand and all." 207 SW 2nd Street, Fort Lauderdale FL 33301; 954-522-6655

Chiff0nade said: "Believe it or not, the pizza at Carrabba's restaurant is consistently great. It is baked in a brick oven and tastes like it. There is really good pizza in Key West at a place called Upper Crust at 611 Duval Street. You will find better, thin crust "gourmet" pizzas at restaurants. There's one in Clearwater called Cafe Ponte that serves excellent pizzas and flatbreads."

Cozzoli's, various locations: None other than Paulie Gee said, "I moved from Brooklyn to Kendall in 1975 (behind Dadeland) and never wanted for NY slices because I found Cozzoli's in the mall to be a very reasonable facimile. Being young and homesick for NYC, I didn't stay there long, but when I returned to visit the area years later, I noticed that they had opened more locations. I see that they are still around, but since no one here has made mention of them, I suspect that their pies no longer compare to a good New York slice. Or perhaps I don't know jack about NY pizza and they never did. The latter is very unlikely, however."

Di Piazza, Hialeah: SE'r chonga says, "You guys, you want seriously great pizza in South Florida, no doubt go to Di Piazza in Hialeah. Its a hole in the wall that has been there forever, and the pizza is amazing. The cheese drips, the blend of garlic and sauce is perfect, and the crust is crisp and not too thick, not too thin. They also make great garlic rolls. Try it and then come and see if you still think there is no great pizza in South Florida! This place beats Archie's hands down. Miami's Best Pizza is a serious joke."

Casola's, Miami: Two recs for this place. Says finnadat: "Without question, Casola's Pizza. They are the best NY-style pizza hands down." And bitchincamero says, "Casola's is by far and away the best pizza in the world after a night out :)"

Eddie & Sam's, Tampa: Redfish says, "I like Eddie & Sam's in downtown Tampa, they get their water shipped in from NYC. It's the kind of pizza you used to love as a kid. I never order anything except cheese because it's so good it ought to be illegal."

Pizza Therapy's Florida List

The website Pizza Therapy has been informing the world about pizza for as long as I can remember — well, since 1999. That's for-evah in internet years. Among the many great pizza resources on that site is its list of reader-recommended pizzerias. Here are some highlights from its Best Pizza in Florida list:

'Food for Thought' Miami Pizza Crawl

The blog Food for Thought did a fairly comprehensive pizza crawl in the summer of 2009. The results:

We Know We've Missed Your Favorite Place

These roundups are always imperfect. We know we've inevitably missed someone's favorite place. The great thing about the interwebs, though, is that you can call us out on it and highlight the spots we've overlooked. So, please, if you don't see a great Florida pizza joint that should be here, say something!

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