The Spéciale at Dani's. [Photographs: Natasha Pickowicz]
Though I often say that all pizza is good pizza, eating a Montreal old-school pie is still a gamble. Too often does the pie arrive wet and gloppy, weighted with sub-par ingredients from a can, leaving your fingers slick with neon grease and your stomach leaden and churning.
Not to be discouraged, I've spent the last year hunting for the old-school jackpot: thick, crisp pies ringed with a golden, crunchy-yet-chewy thick crust, topped with a concentrated tomato sauce that leans slightly sweet, and finished with an intricate layering of spicy meats, sautéed vegetables, and shredded cheese.
I've traveled all over the city—Outremont to Rivière des Prairies to Petite Italie to Lachine and back again—searching for pizza bliss, and, happily, have found many worthy iterations along the way. But I hadn't visited LaSalle, a southern borough in Montreal beloved for its traditional old-school style pies.
[Photographs: Above picture by Sarah Reaume; all others by Daniel Zemans]
Q's Restaurant & Pizzeria
4841 Butterfield Rd, Hillside IL 60162 (map); 630-833-2402; qsrestaurant.com Pizza Style: Midwestern thin crust The Skinny: West suburban legend, still exceedingly popular in the area, but the old school charm is bigger draw than the pizzas. Price: Medium pizzas start at $10.75; large at $12.75 Notes: On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, pizzas are buy one get one free
Going into my inaugural visit to Q's Restaurant & Pizzeria in the western suburb of Hillside, the place had everything going for it: The place has a solid reputation; I was starving when I got there; I'm a sucker for old-school places with kick-ass neon signs (see my review of Sano's in Chicago and La Casa Pizzaria in Omaha).
Q's opened its doors over 50 years ago and the current owner, Mike Allred, is the second generation in his family (through his mother's side, the Ferrainas) to run the place. From sponsoring Little League teams to participating in neighborhood festivals, there is little doubt that the restaurant is an active member of the community. I visited on a recent Saturday night and the large restaurant was absolutely packed with families who I'm convinced have been making regular treks to Q's for years. Every table I looked at seemed to be filled with people who were more than happy with their food and I expected the satisfaction at my table to follow suit.
Grimaldi's seems to have taken a turn for the better since moving up the street from its original location (left). [Photos: Adam Kuban]
I had low expectations in visiting Grimaldi's new location at 1 Front Street, just up the street from the original spot at 19 Old Fulton. The place has been in the news as of late more for tax and landlord drama than for its product. And, I gotta say, it's often served me some underdone, soggy pies. I figured that in moving to a new space, Grimaldi's would give me more of the same—minus the quirky, cramped Brooklyn charm of the original.
But ... but ... you know where this is going, right? The new location, in what was once Brooklyn's first safety deposit bank, seems to have put a new spring in Grimaldi's step. And the pizzas I had there this week were better than any time in recent memory.
11 Division Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (map); 415-864-9000; source-sf.com Pizza style: New agey California-style Oven type: It's a freaking dragon's head (gas-fired) Price: Pies, $9.95 to $13.95
Source restaurant promises a "multi-dimensional" dining experience. Eating their pizza did not transport me to some alternate universe, so I'm assuming this refers to the way they have engineered their dining room into a "joyful sanctuary" replete with "energized" air and custom-designed music. They serve water that has been specially purified alongside their selection of vegetarian and vegan food, and an array of "vibrational multi-dimensional elixirs."
Be careful of the dragon!
I might have gotten stuck trying to choke down all this new agey jargon and avoided Source altogether, except how often do you get to watch a restaurant cook pizzas in an oven shaped like a giant dragon's head? A gaping serpentine maw, which has been sculpted over a gas-fired Mugniani oven, is the first thing you see when you walk into the restaurant. Not surprisingly, given the way Source describes itself, the pizzas they pull from the belly of this beast defy easy categorization.
Workers on Manhattan's West Side: are you suffering from Midtown-food-choice blues? Wanna sit (not-stand), eat pizza civilized-like, and not pay a fortune for it? Do you think, like I do, that we should pay more attention to things founded in the '80's? If you answered yes to any of the above, then head to Lazzara's.
Hidden in plain sight up some stairs on a side street, Lazzara's offers toppings à la carte or as named combinations—all of which derive from names of actual people. Attribute "Sebastian's Seafood" (sautéed garlic with baby shrimp, clams, and calamari) and "Tony's Anchovies with a Twist" (onions with anchovies) to Lazzara's two owners—who happen to be brothers. "John's Special" (mushrooms, peppers, and pepperoni) pays homage to the restaurant's previous owner, from whom the brothers bought the business in 1985. I don't know who "Danny's Delight" is named after, but it has sautéed onions and red potatoes.
5825 Roswell Road, Atlanta, GA 30328 (Map); 404-991-3666; www.doublezeroatl.com Pizza type: Neapolitan Oven type: Wood-burning The Skinny: More upscale Italian restaurant than pizzeria, Double Zero does a fine pie... if you order the right one Price: Double Zero Napoletana, $14; Other pies, $11 to $21
With a name like that in lights and out front on one of Atlanta's busiest roads, it's clear where Double Zero Napoletana puts their focus. Or at least where they want you to think they put their focus. Conversations about The A's pizza scene seldom mention Double Zero in the same breath as Varasano's or Antico or Fritti or even newcomers like Buckhead's Fuoco di Napoli or Decatur's Sapori di Napoli. I think I may have seen why.
On a recent visit, I found a very upscale restaurant that just happens to have eight pies on the menu... with a seemingly-confusing, sometimes-maddening sense of pomp and snootiness thrown in. I'd certainly go back for a nice evening of high-end Southern Italian cuisine with the missus on date night, but I'd stop short of calling Double Zero one of the best pizza places in the city.
1359 West Taylor Street, Chicago, IL 60607 (map); 312-226-5550; davantichicago.com Pizza Style: Thin Crust Oven: Gas powered stone dome oven The Skinny: Great toppings and pretty good crust make for some really good pizzas, but the rest of the menu is even better Price: Pizzas range from $10 to $14
Twenty years ago (this very week), Scott Harris was a 30-year-old Chicago-bred chef just opening Mia Francesa in Lakeview with the help of two partners and some money they scraped together (Harris's share largely coming from what was left of his grandmother's life savings). The place was an instant success, with lines pouring out the door on a nightly basis. Fast forward to today and Mia Francesca is a small empire 24 restaurants strong that puts out solid, if unspectacular, "rustic" Italian food at very reasonable prices. The restaurants are plenty popular and there are massive expansion plans underway, but Harris is focusing his personal time on other projects.
In 2009, Harris embraced a different trend. I like to call it the open-a-shit-ton-of-niche-restaurants-and-if-people-don't-come-shut-them-down-and-open-something-else trend. In less than two years, Harris opened Dough Boys (pizza joint reviewed here), Salatino's (old school Italian), Fat Rosie's (Mexican), Nella Pizzeria Napoletana (since closed, reviewed here), Disotto Enoteca (wine bar and small plates), and two more restaurants that have since closed. He also joined forces with Jimmy Bannos to open charcuterie and small place mecca, The Purple Pig (reviewed here and here). And oh yeah, he's currently got three doughnut shops in the works. But the place that's most in line with his original vision, only a hell of a lot better, is Davanti Enoteca, a mostly small plates Italian restaurant that has lines every bit as long as the original Mia Francesca did 20 years ago.
3617 Laurel Street, San Carlos, CA 94070 (map); 650-591-5700; locanda-positano.com Pizza style: Neapolitan-inspired Oven type: Gas The skinny: It seemed like the Margherita should have gotten us excited, but it somehow lacked a bit of magic Price: Pies, $14 to $17
I have it on good authority from talking heads that Locanda Positano makes the best pizza on the Peninsula south of San Francisco. So I admit that my taste buds had suffered a bit at the hands of a week of too many barrel-aged beers leading up to the afternoon when I paid them a visit. Maybe that explains why I found their pizza lacking a bit of magic? Even a fried calzone left me nonplussed.
Posted by Adam Kuban, February 17, 2012 at 10:00 AM
I don't know why I do this to myself. For some reason, whenever I'm in an airport, I feel strangely compelled to try the pizza offerings. I'm almost always disappointed. That's because the fare is, at worst, a Pizza Hut Express or at best some sort of mediocre "New York style" joint with limp pies sitting below heat lamps.
The pizza at JFK International's AeroNuova, though, is a a notch or three above standard preflight fare.
107 E. Delaware Place Chicago, IL 60611 (map); 773-736-1429; thewhitehallhotel.com Pizza Style: Thin crust, though billed as "Milanese" The Skinny: Not bad, not particularly good, though one toppings combination stood out Price: Pizzas range from $12 to $15
For a pizza lover, even pizzas that are just ok can be a wonderful thing, especially in an area where the rest of the pizza is average at best. I suppose it's the pizza version of "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Of course, the reverse is also true. One-eyed men generally don't rule where everyone can see, and mediocre to good pizzerias are not going to shine when surrounded by great pizzerias.
I think you can see where this is going: The Gold Coast/Magnificent Mile, where Fornetto Mei is located, is chock full of great pizzerias. So to standout, pizzas have to be better than average.The restaurant, which features a nontraditional menu that is primarily pan-Italian but with some Asian options thrown in, has garnered some good press over the years, but as far as I can tell, it's largely the domain of guests at the Whitehall Hotel.
Posted by Adam Kuban, February 10, 2012 at 10:00 AM
Almost every time I'm on Staten Island, I pop into Nunzio's for a slice. And while I wait for the quick reheat I always stare at the photo above. It's from when Nunzio's was in SI's South Beach neighborhood, before it moved to Grant City, along Hylan Boulevard.
6613 Hollis Street, Emeryville, CA 94608 (map); 510-655-CITY; rottencitypizza.com Pizza style: New York Oven type: Gas The skinny: These pies have potential, but were undone on our visit by a crust that went soggy Price: Pies, $22-$27
For most San Franciscans, Emeryville is known as the local home of IKEA, or possibly as the headquarters of Pixar. Well, purchasers of laminate furniture—and probably Buzz Lightyear too—need sustenance. While IKEA does serve pizza, we found ourselves more motivated to check out the offerings at Rotten City Pizza. Not just because it seemed a more likely option for a slice that would satisfy, but also because local mobile pizza entrepreneur Casey Crynes credits Rotten City as playing a small role in the development of his pizza skills.
Rotten City Pizza actually sits a couple miles away from IKEA and the mallscape that surrounds it, in a rather quieter part of town. As the traditional gas deck ovens behind the counter and the Times Square subway sign above the entrance indicate, they specialize in slices of New York-style pizza. You can get a whole pie, but plan to take it out. The restaurant has no tables, only a narrow counter along the wall that's too shallow to comfortably support a whole pizza box (we tried). The kitchen space, where Crynes worked a few shifts in order to refine his dough-stretching technique, takes up more than half the restaurant space.
691 Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215 (map); 718-499-5052 Pizza Style: Charred, thin crust New York pizza, whole pies only, top shelf ingredients. The Skinny: Like his brother Mark (owner of Lucali), Chris Iacono uses a gas- and wood-fired oven to produce thin crust New York-style pizzas with a Di Fara-inspired blend of three cheeses and impeccable toppings, all in a warm and romantic ambiance. Price: Plain pie, $22; toppings $3 each except artichoke topping is $8; garlic and basil, free.
Notes: Dinner only. Closed Tuesdays. Beer and wine. Cash only.
I knew Chris Iacono could make good pizza. Before opening his own place last year, he made pies for about three years at his brother Mark's excellent pizza restaurant, Lucali. But as I headed for the first time to Giuseppina's, the place he opened last year at the corner of 20th Street and 6th Avenue in Brooklyn, I wondered how Giuseppina's would compare. Specifically, would Chris's dough and brick oven achieve the same level of thin, chewy-crunchy brilliance? (Yes.) Would the sauce be the same? (Yes.) Would Giussepina's, like Lucali, provide a candlelit experience worthy of date night?(Yes.)
With Lucali as small and busy as it usually is, Giuseppina's presents an excellent option for easier access to this brick-oven buffalo mozz version of New York pie—especially if you live in Park Slope or Sunset Park. Giuseppina's, in fact, (sort of) takes reservations. They suggest calling the same day, at 5 pm. When I called prior to going, they happily offered to hold a table for eight at 6 pm on a Saturday.
Posted by Adam Kuban, February 3, 2012 at 10:00 AM
[Photographs: Adam Kuban]
Via Trenta, on 30th Avenue in Astoria, is yet another wood-fired-oven pizzeria in the neighborhood. Like Basil Brick Oven a little farther north, Via Trenta is Neapolitan in style—small pizzas, minimally topped, attention to ingredients, etc.
500 Technology Square, Cambridge, MA 02139 (map); 617-758-4444; areafour.com Pizza Style: Upscale New York-Neapolitan The Skinny: The toppings and the presentation are the highlights here. The bones are far too wide, but the crust is otherwise nice, making for an enjoyable pie. Price: 10" pies, $10.50-16.50; 14" pies $17-24
I first tried the pizza at Area Four a few months back, and was a bit disappointed, which was one reason I sat on my write-up for so long. But the delay was all to the good, because Area Four has tweaked their formula slightly in the interim, and our return visits have been far more positive. Back when they first opened, they only offered a 12-inch pie, which, given the width of the back edge, seemed too small to me. Since then, presumably to accommodate solitary diners or non-sharers (don't these people know about leftovers?) they've added a 10-inch size, and upgraded the large pie to 14-inches. If the 12-incher was a little cramped, the 10-inch is all the more so, so my first piece of advice is that you should ignore that column on the menu. The end crust takes up far too much of the limited square-footage of the pie, leaving hardly any room for toppings.
3656 N Central Ave, Chicago, IL 60634 (map); 773-736-1429; trattoriaporretta.com Pizza Style: Midwestern thin crust, pan, and stuffed The Skinny: Solid stuffed pizza but thin crust falls short Price: Medium thin crust with three toppings is $15.62; 12 inch stuffed pizza with one topping is $17.60 Notes: Stuffed pizza is carry-out only
When I reviewed Suparossa's last year, dedicated Slice reader and pizza fiend Alberto (forzapizza) chimed in to bemoan the fact that my voyage to Portage Park was limited to a review of a pizzeria not owned by his family. It took about a year, but I made it back to the neighborhood to visit Trattorria Porretta & Pizza. Alberto, who built an oven in his backyard, makes gorgeous pies of a Neapolitan bent, but his family, which entered the pizza business long before the quest for "authenticity" became a culinary trend, turns out decidedly American pies.
Over the years, Poretta's has grown from a tiny pizzeria to a successful business that includes a full-service Italian restaurant and a large banquet hall across the street. The restaurant offers thin crust pizza and pan pizza if you dine in, but also sells stuffed pizza to go. Much as I would have loved to take in the ambience of the restaurant, I wasn't going to pass up the chance to try a new stuffed pizza, so I picked mine up, took some quick pictures in the car, and ate pizza for a good portion of the 20-minute drive home.
Posted by Jim Bonomo, January 31, 2012 at 12:15 PM
The Cauliflower Pizza at Oven & Shaker. [Photographs: Derek Arent]
Oven & Shaker
1134 NW Everett St, Portland OR 97209 (map); 503-241-1600 Pizza Type: Cali-meets-NW-meets-Neapolitan Oven Type: Wood-fired Price: $12-15 for 12-inch pizzas
Just like the bistro-style burger at Le Pigeon and the Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok, the pizza at Nostrana was a menu item deemed worthy of forming the foundation for a whole new restaurant. This formula is an apparent trend in the current Portland culinary scene, and the genesis of Oven and Shaker relied heavily on the weight of chef Cathy Whims' wood-fired pies. With the exception of cutting the pies before they arrive at your table (a Nostrana no-no), O&S's pizza style mirrors the mix of Italian tradition, Pacific Northwest seasonality, and farm-to-table sensibility that made Nostrana so popular.
4293 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611 (map); 510-652-3676; dopoadesso.com Pizza style: Upscale New York with California toppings The skinny: These pies have flaws, but they taste good, and that should be the bottom line Price: Pies, $12-17
I have no bells and whistles to report here. No imported Italian pizzaiolo suckled from birth on milk from the water buffalo he now uses to make his mozzarella. No fancy oven lit with a flame preserved from when Mt. Vesuvius buried Pompeii. Rather, with Dopo, I offer you a little Italian restaurant in Oakland that cooks a few pies daily in their gas-fired deck oven. If Dopo leaves me a bit short on pizza-geek back story and buzz words, the pizza offers some satisfaction, so let me tell you about that.
Neapolitan-inspired pizza tends to be the touchstone for most fancy-ish Italian restaurants in the Bay Area, but Dopo leans more towards New York in its inspirations. Maybe it's because they preceded the Neapolitan-stye craze, or maybe it's just how they roll. Either way, their crust bakes up light and airy inside—almost too airy—while the blond-brown exterior has a pronounced crispness.
2723 Wilshire Blvd Santa Monica, CA 90403 (map) 310-453-6776; miloandolive.com Pizza style: Artisan bakery Oven type: Wood Fire The skinny: A hardy baker's crust of mixed flour, baked at 600-700°F for 10 minutes. Incredibly bold toppings. Open for two months, but already a landmark pizzeria in Los Angeles. Price: Pizzas range from $14-$20; the single garlic knot is $6.50 (totally worth it)
The official Slice Regional Pizza Styles list has a glaring hole. Everyone in Los Angeles knows what I'm talking about. Until this point, it has never seemed right to give a single restaurant (ahem, Mozza) its own classification. But when the brilliant baker Zoe Nathan and husband Josh Lobe, of Huckelberry fame, fired up a Mugnaini oven and began serving pizza at Milo and Olive, the artisan bakery style proved it is here to stay.
The Butternut Squash pizza with fresh mozzarella, thick hunks of roasted squash, and knots of deeply caramelized onion ($18) is the crowd favorite. It's finished with sage, brown butter, and an egg, those these elements are difficult to discern through the mega bold presence of the squash and onions. Personally, I found this pizza's oily sweetness overbearing, but I've yet to find a single person who agrees with me. Interestingly, all Milo and Olive egg-topped pizzas are "party cut" to avoid breaking the yolk. This leaves an egg laden, crustless square in the middle of the plate to fight over—a good or bad thing depending on the taste of the company you keep.