Valentino's New York Style Pizzeria
4813 Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22312 (map); 703-354-8383; valentinosnystylepizzeria.com
Pizza Style: Nominally New York-style
Oven Type: Gas deck
The Skinny: Mediocre NY-style, undone by the sweet stuff.
Price: 14-inch round pies, $11.95 to $18.95. 16-inch square pies, $17.95 to $29.95. 20-inch round pies, $15.95 to $27.95. Also available by the slice.
A solid four stars on Yelp, eighty-six percent like it on Urbanspoon, and many rave that it's the best New York-style pizza in the DC area. Thinking that a great pizzeria had miraculously flown below my radar for all these years, I headed straight to Valentino's in Alexandria, ready to be impressed.
The dining room was sunny and old-school funky, our waitress was helpful, and the large pies were huge—20-inches across. But after my first bite I had only one thought, Domino. Not Domino's pizza—Domino sugar. The sweetness of the sauce was overwhelming and assured me that this meal was going to be a real cloy-fest.
The pies were good-looking and the toppings generous, but treacly pizza is just not my thing. Papa John's has made an empire out of it, and millions of Americans apparently love the stuff, but why? As a rule, I handle sweets as well as the next guy, and have no particular aversion to sugar, but this was beyond the pale.
Looking past the sauce, the crust was flat and featureless in taste and texture. Not offensive in any way, just bland and a little too hard. The owners brag that the sauce and dough are made using only "100% Crystal natural spring water". That's great, but so what if it doesn't make the pizza better?
The cheese was ordinary commercial mozzarella, but would have been fine if the sauce and crust were up to snuff. As for toppings, the sausage was sliced lengthwise (a nice touch) and the mushrooms were fresh-tasting and pleasingly un-rubbery.
Valentino's seems to have quite a following in the immediate Duke Street neighborhood, and offers a pleasant dining experience. A wide range of pies are available by the gargantuan slice, which is unique and brings in the lunch crowd.
There's also an extensive menu of Italian entrées that I was not able to try (though no actual Italian people, as far as I could tell), and the Greek salad was generous and fresh. In fact, frequent shots of the vinegary dressing made it possible to deal with the astonishing sweetness of the pizza.
At the end of the day, Valentino's is New York-style pizza for people who don't really know what that is. In a way, that's fine, and many seem to enjoy it, but those in the know will be disappointed.