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pizza margherita

NYC Pizza Review: Lil’ Frankie’s

With the advent of iPhone restaurant ordering apps, it doesn’t matter anymore if a particular restaurant delivers or delivers to your area because you can just place your order through this third party and they’ll pick up your food from pretty much any restaurant and delivery it to your door.

Now the problem arise when you choose to order from a pizzeria on the opposite side of New York City during rush hour on a weeknight. Not only does it take forever for your delicious pizza to arrive, but inevitably your pizza is cold.

Not to say that it’s not worth doing this, because obviously if the pizza is amazing, then it is. And the situation can easily be rectified by planning ahead so that you’re not ordering at 7pm, getting your cold pizza at 8:30pm, and by factoring in some oven-lovin’ time for the ‘za prior to consumption.

So last week, we downloaded one of these ordering apps and conjured up some classic Neopolitan [sic] wood-fired pizzas from Lil’ Frankie’s in the East Village.

I, of course, ordered my standard go-to pizza margherita and I got Mark a pizza salame piccante.

Even though they arrived cold, after some reheating, they were both thoroughly demolished. Obvi.

As you know, I really enjoy wood-fired pizza, and this was no exception with the chewy outer crust that you really have to rip hard with your jaw, super thin middle and perfectly portioned dollops of mozzarella and sprigs of basil. I also was pleasantly surprised by the very European touch of a black olive placed in the center of the pie.

I was, however, slightly confused by the image on the box….

Lil' Frankie's pizza box
Lil’ Frankie’s pizza box…What exactly is happening in this picture and should we all be baking pizza in the nude?

We will return. Perhaps in person.

NYC Pizza Review: PizzArte

Pizza Reviews are back!!! 

First up: PizzArte in Midtown

You know I’m all about that standard New York thin crust pizza, and we’ll definitely get there, but you know I also enjoy thin, chewy and crispy (not mutually exclusive in a good pizza) Neapolitan style pies.

On New Year’s Day, we were in the mood for a light pizza, not a cheese-heavy/grease-heavy ordeal, so we got delivery from PizzArte.

Lucky for us that they deliver because we will 100% be making this a regular in the dinner rotation!

So I haven’t been to the actual restaurant, but apparently it’s also an art gallery for modern artwork. Maybe I shouldn’t go for fear of coming home with more than just a pizza.

Mark got the Diavola with spicy salame and I got the Pesto with pine nuts and cherry tomatoes.

Both were delicious and as you can see there were crunchy burnt bits, as well as perfectly chewy crust to be had. Olive oil, mozzarella and sauce were all perfectly portioned. My only qualm was that the cherry tomatoes kept rolling off ~ perhaps they could be chopped up more finely to stick to the cheese better?

pizza
pesto and diavola pizza

Next I’m certainly going to have to try the Margherita or perhaps a calzone. I’m so happy to have found this place early on in our New York lives. It might be my all-around favorite pizza place now!

Overall Rating: Outstanding!

Pizaro’s Pizza: Houston TX

A few weeks ago, my mom, aunt and I went to visit my sister in Houston to work on some of her wedding to-dos (um, yes, cake tasting).  Craving some pizza (obviously), I searched online for Houston’s best pizza, and while many came up, we chose Pizaro’s Pizza Napoletana (http://www.pizarospizza.com/), for the sheet fact that we would be driving out towards the burbs rather than into the city on a Saturday night.

It’s a wood-fired brick oven fast casual concept, where you stand in line to order, pay and take a number. And very quickly afterwards (the pizzas only take 90 seconds to cook in a 900 degree oven), your piping hot pizza arrives at the table!  BYOB.

photo 1 The oven is that mosaic dome in the back. It was made in Naples and shipped to the US, according to their website. The guy up front is making dough.

photo 2The interior – not anything spesh, very crowded, very kid friendly.

photo 3

photo 1The dough rounds being prepped for pizza!

Okay, let’s start with the negatives.  It was crowded (a given on a Saturday night in the city that is known for eating out). It was cold – since we couldn’t be picky about where we sat, we grabbed the only available table, which happened to be right underneath a very blowy AC unit. Brr. We scarfed that pizza down – it was cold by the last slice.

The good news: the pizza was really tasty!! Crust that wasn’t soggy and not burnt either – perfect chew, with a few good dough bubbles. (My sister claims I always wanted the slices with the bubbles growing up, but that was actually she.) Fresh ingredients, and the perfect size for a personal pizza.  My sister and I split a classic cheese (always a good baseline) and an arugula and parmesan white pizza.  Both were delish and we demolished most of them before my mom and aunt’s pizza even came out to the table.

photo 3 photo 2The cheese pizza was really more of a Margherita minus the basil.  I was a bit put off by seeing the chef squeeze oozy mozzarella out of what looked to be a giant pastry tube, but it did seem to be quite fresh and milky and tasted like homemade mozzarella. Definitely different than the dry pre-shredded part-skim bagged mozz I get at the store.

All in all, a good choice; I would do carry-out next time though to avoid the shiver.

Ann Arbor Pizza Review: Pizza Pino

It’s finally warming up a bit here in MI.  I didn’t wear a scarf and sweatshirt under my full-length down-comforter-slash-sleeping-bag-slash-coat today.  But two weeks ago, this was hardly the case.  I know it’s cold elsewhere, but really I’d never experienced temperatures like this.  I woke up one morning to a bright blue, cloudless sky.  It was so sunny and beautiful, I thought maybe I’d go for a walk!  I checked the temp: -6.  NEGATIVE SIX.  Hm.  Two hours later it had gotten up to 0.  Zero degrees.  It had gotten up to zero.  No.

So when Mark asked me if I wanted to come downtown for dinner out (yay a chance to try a new restaurant) or stay in with pizza, it was a tough call, but not that tough: stay in please!

It was tempting to fall back on a pizza place we had already tried and knew we would be satisfied with, but we decided to branch out.  The place we chose was called Pizza Pino….Pizza Pino, Pizza Pino, why is this name sticking in my head?  I can just hear my dad enthusiastically shouting, “Pizza-Pino!” over and over again.  Is there a Pizza Pino we used to go to?  Long Island?  New Mexico?  I will do some research.  With that memory in mind, I had a good feeling about Ann Arbor’s Pizza Pino.

pizza pino 2

I got a thin crust (I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad sign that a lot of places here have a range of crust choices from extra thin to Chicago and deep dish – which apparently are two distinct crust types….maybe I will make a Linnaeus System of Crust Classification.  You know: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.  Although mine will be the Lowe System and have many fewer levels.  The choice is good if you don’t like a particular crust-type, but can they really do all those crust-types well?  TBD.)  ANYWAY…..I got a thin crust pesto chicken pizza (you know I love a good chicken pesto), which involved pesto (obviously), tomatoes, chicken, spinach, mushrooms (that was a new and welcome twist), and mozzarella.

pizza pino 1

My gold standard for chicken pesto pizza is obviously Bagby in Baltimore as I have discussed many times over.  I have also discovered that Pizza House here in Ann Arbor makes a good version, however I later uncovered that their extra thin crust is made on a tortilla, not an actual crust.  I don’t know how I feel about this.  On the one hand, I couldn’t tell when I first got the pizza.  On the other hand, now that I know….I guess it doesn’t matter.  Fine.

The pizza was delicious – just a little bit salty, with a stiff crust that held up the plethora of toppings.  I’m a big fan.  Whereas other “specialty” pizzas sometimes are more like flatbreads with just a sprinkle of cheese, this was a traditional pizza in the sense that it started with a good cheese pizza and added the toppings to that (although remember no tomato sauce, as this is replaced by slices of tomatoes).  I also enjoyed the fact that the tomatoes were sliced and not diced since sometimes diced tomatoes feels more like salsa in your mouth.  The sliced tomato is a more expected texture I guess.

I would definitely get this pizza again or try one of their other kinds.  Oh, and by the way, I looked up Pizza Pino, and I found one in Paris, which is where I think my Pizza Pino memory developed on vacation as a kid when all my sister and I would eat was pizza and ice cream.  Yum!

Pizza Night in Ann Arbor Part II: Bella Italia

After our pizza bust at Tony Sacco’s (which you can read about here), we ventured across the street to another strip mall, which houses Bella Italia Pizza and Pasta.  Mark had heard about Bella Italia from his coworkers, who recommended the New York style pizza joint that also sells pizza by the slice (always a good sign).

We got two slices of pepperoni that looked like good NY-style za, however it also looked like it had been sitting out for quite a while.  I don’t know for sure, but perhaps this place is more of a lunch establishment – they did look like they were cleaning up and shutting down shortly when we arrived around 8:30.

I, being full from dinner #1, didn’t partake in the Bella Italia slices, but Mark seemed to enjoy them.  I’ll have to pop over one day while running errands to try it for myself.

Narrowly tucked into the strip mall, Bella Italia reminded me of a old-school cozy pizza parlor.  Long counter to one side with pies lined up in the case to be reheated in the giant steel pizza oven for sale at the register.  The other side lined with sticky-plastic booths with framed pictures of Italy on the walls.  The front windows were fogged up from the pizza steam.

Bella Italia is known for its pizza challenge: 30 inch pizza, 3 people, 30 minutes.  If the eaters succeed, the pizza is free.  They keep a tally on the chalkboard behind the register.  So far only one team has completed the challenge in 2014 (as of a few weeks ago).  I believe there were three or four teams in the loser column.  You have to call ahead to arrange the challenge, so they can make the pizza specially.  Assuming the pizza is delicious, let me know if you want to form a team.  I’m definitely good for at least a third.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any pics of those pepperoni slices, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they looked like normal New York slices.

Somehow between Tony Sacco’s and Bella Italia our pizza craving was unsatisfied.  Coming next: NYPD (New York Pizza Depot)

Pizza Night in Ann Arbor Part I: Tony Sacco’s

tony saccos

Mark and I had a pizza hankering a few weekends ago, and wanting to try some place new, we decided on Tony Sacco’s coal-fired pizza. Tony Sacco’s is a chain with establishments in the Midwest, Florida and North Carolina but that didn’t deter us because some chains (like Bertucci’s) can be really good. We had driven by Tony Sacco’s many times when shopping at Whole Foods, as it’s located in that strip mall’s parking lot, and always wondered how it was.

The restaurant atmosphere wasn’t anything special: standard large room with granite tables and typical black metal slatted-back chairs as you find in many pizzerias. Nothing on the walls to make it homey or charming, but there were some TVs if you wanted to go there to watch a game. What I did notice was that the tables were kinda long and skinny, so that Mark and I were abnormally far away from one another. I probably only noticed this because I recently read restauranteur Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, in which he describes specifically picking wider tables that were shorter in length so guests would be closer to one another across the table and could speak more intimately without shouting. So that was one odd distinguishing feature of Tony Sacco’s.

Mark and I each ordered a personal pizza, and personal they were. On the small side, it was enough for me, but Mark was still a bit hungry after his pepperoni pizza….more on that in a minute.

I had a sun-dried tomato and banana pepper pizza, which was fairly tasty. They definitely did NOT skimp on toppings, which was appreciated, however we did remark that the toppings really gave the pizza flavor, whereas a plain cheese pizza without toppings probably would have been bland. They also put some sort of added butter or oil on the crust, which was unwelcome. The crust texture was well enough, but whatever they spread on there at the end just added grease and no flavor. At least if you are going to add all these extra butter calories, make it like Papa John’s garlic butter goodness. I feel like this “butter on the crust” thing is a new trend that I’m seeing in a lot of pizza commercials, and I don’t like it. Your crust should be delicious enough that you don’t need to slather it with butter. If I see you putting extra butter on your crust (of stuffing the crust with cheese for that matter), all I’m thinking is that your dough is sub-par and I probably should avoid your establishment all together. Just sayin’.

Overall, if I were on a road trip and were hungry, would I go to Tony Sacco’s? Yes. If I’m craving pizza at home, am I going to seek out Tony Sacco’s? No. (On a positive note, the waitstaff was very friendly, so good job to them.)

As I mentioned earlier, Mark was unsatisfied after his small personal pizza, so we decided to go elsewhere for our second pizza dinner of the night. Part II to come.

First Pizza Review of 2014: Bigalora

Happy New Year!  Time to start it off right with new pizza!  The other night we tried Bigalora wood-fired pizza.  Bigalora is the newly opened reincarnation of the existing Pizzeria Biga restaurant that I never had the opportunity to try.  Bigalora in Ann Arbor (there are a few others in Southeast Michigan) is situated at the far corner of the upscale Arbor Hills strip mall (apparently “upscale strip mall” is not an oxymoron), which includes some new-to-Ann-Arbor stores such as lululemon, Brooks Brothers, J. Jill, Paper Source, Sur la table, North Face and Blue Mercury.

The restaurant interior was wide-open with a lofted second floor towards the back creating a two-story ceiling over the main dining room.  Despite its exposed duct work and huge glass front wall, it was surprisingly cozy, anchored by a slate-colored wrap-around bar behind which was a towering wall of spirits.  There’s a sliding ladder for the bartenders to climb to reach the upper shelves – love that this is reminding me of an English manor’s mahogany library only done in metals and glass!  Those throw-back, exposed-bulb pendants generated an orangey glow over the bar and cream fabric-covered, doughnut chandeliers above the dining area created a soft, warm atmosphere.  The culminating touch was a lounge area in the front of the restaurant that was both rustic and modern: circular, hammered-copper coffee table, tree stump side tables, and then to throw some chic into the country-living vibe, lucite  (or just regular clear plastic?) high-backed arm chairs in the style that you might expect of a tufted leather reading chair (again perhaps in an English manor’s library), only much less comfortable.  And everything sitting atop (or in the case of the chairs, floating atop) a large calf-skin rug.  It was a welcoming arrangement that made me really want to take a seat and drink an Old Fashioned by candlelight.  I would definitely return to dine in.

As it stood, we had ordered carry-out, and probably just as well because the place was packed.  I got a simple margherita pizza; Mark got wood-fired chicken wings and a pepperoni pizza.  Everything smelled delicious in the car ride home, and I was childishly excited about the red plastic pizza cutter they included with our order (which turned out to be necessary since they don’t pre-slice the pizzas…it was incredibly effective…maybe more so than the metal cutter I have from Target).

pizza0

My margherita was light with dollops of fresh mozzarella and whole basil leaves.  The sauce (maybe a bit oversauced in places?) was brightly acidic and slightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so.  Everything meshed very well.  The crust was super soft and chewy with a char around the edges.  I’m not usually over-enthusiastic about an extra chewy crust, however this time it worked as it was quite airy, not dense, and acted as a counterbalance to the super-thin crust sitting underneath the toppings.

pizza 1

The wings were also a hit: wood-roasted, non-breaded, served with sweet roasted onions – different and delicious!

I didn’t try Mark’s pepperoni pizza (each pizza is definitely one-person-sized), but it looked good and it’s gone so that must say something.

I’m excited to go back to dine in and explore the menu more fully.  Happy eating!

The Pursuit of Pizza Perfection Continues

I still have yet to find my go-to pizza spot in Ann Arbor.  In fact, I’m getting fairly frustrated by the lack of thin, crispy-crust or wood-fired oven pizza that doesn’t make me feel totally bloated and sleepy after eating it.

Let’s recap:

1. Jet’s Pizza: I’m revising my so-so review down to “you may as well eat the cardboard box it came in.”

2. Mani: Mani was rated as one of the top 38 places to eat pizza in the US by eater.com.  The pizza was good if you are eating in and having it to share, but certainly not crave-worthy for our-weekly-pizza-night-at-home-on-the-couch routine and I’m pretty sure there are 38 better places to get pizza in NYC alone.

3. NeoPapalis: I would definitely recommend eating in over taking out and the margherita pizza over the traditional cheese for a lighter take.  I would also get one of their huge, fresh salads to fill you up with something healthy in addition to the pizza.

4. Grizzly Peak: Pretty cheesy and would try it again if eating at the restaurant but not going to be a go-to for carry out.

5. Hello Faz: What an odd name for a pizza place….or any place.  We decided to look for a restaurant that would deliver pizza to us, and this was very highly rated on Yelp.  We got a half cheese-half banana pepper pizza and pepperoni cheesy bread.  With the first bite of cheesy bread, I got the overwhelming taste of pretzel – yum!  It wasn’t until the next piece that I realized the pretzel taste came from the copious amounts of butter spread underneath the cheese.  It was reminiscent of Auntie Anne’s pretzels.  The pizza was super bready – almost more so than a Papa John’s, which is really saying something.  The banana pepper side was decent because the sourness of the peppers broke up the salty, extra-chewy crust/bread, but the cheese side was fairly overwhelming to try to chew.  It could have been the pizza, or the week-old-opened white wine I had with it, but either way I felt so sick the rest of the night, and the next morning was even worse.  I think it was really all that butter.  We had about half a pizza left over, and I didn’t even want to look at it the next day, let alone have it for lunch.  Needless to say, I will not be getting Hello Faz pizza again.

So the quest continues for Ann Arbor pizza.

On the flip side, I had a fairly standard, comfort-food style mushroom pizza at Kooper’s North near my parents’ condo in Lutherville last weekend when I was home.  I love regular white mushrooms on pizza.  They get a warm, earthy taste when heated and softened.  Portobellos are okay too because they are meaty and stand up to the cheese, but I can’t get behind a lot of other mushrooms on pizza when they are too delicate and get lost in the other pizza flavors.  And I definitely can’t do shiitakes – but mostly because they make my tummy hurt. 😦

Okay, so there are tons of pizza places in Ann Arbor (although someone did warn me that there weren’t actually any good ones) – somebody please tell me where I can find a yummy, gourmet, wood oven pizza in this place!