The first leg of the Miami Pizza Crawl kicked off last night, covering Wynwood / Design District candidates Joey's Wynwood, Pizzavolante, and Andiamo. We had a nice group of bloggers, chowhounds, and pizza fans on board for the crawl.
Four pizzas apiece at each place yielded the following menu:
Margherita - with mozzarella & tomato
"Joey" - with tuna, salami, gorgonzola, capers & spinach
"Carbonara" - with bacon, eggs, mozzarella & asparagus
"Dolce e Piccante" - with figs, gorgonzola, honey & hot pepper
Margherita "DOP" - with Italian tomato, oven dried Roma tomatoes, bufala mozzarella & basil
"Volante 100" - with local mozzarella, dandelion greens, tomatoes & arugula
"Bianca" - with fontina, 2 mozzarellas, goat cheese, arugula & thyme
"Cacciatorini" - with Italian tomato, local mozzarella, grana, California pepperoni & guanciale
"Soprano" - with broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, tomato sauce, parmesan & mozzarella
"Putanesca" - with olives, capers, anchovies, red pepper flakes, tomato sauce & mozzarella
"Genovese" - with rosemary potatoes, pancetta, caramelized onions, mozzarella & gorgonzola
"Popeye" - with spinach, roma tomatoes, tomato sauce, ricotta, mozzarella & basil
With 15 of us dining, we were able to get tastes of everything by splitting slices, and fortunately everyone shared nicely. Happily, bloggers less visually impaired than me, Paula at Mango & Lime and Trina at Miami Dish, got some great pictures and have already given their recaps. Probably the true highlight of the night was the chance to get together with several other kindred spirits who will happily spend several hours jumping from one pizza place to the next and debating which was best. Here are my thoughts:
First off, the space itself is really very nice. Right in the middle of a pocket of Wynwood's converted-warehouse art galleries, there's not much to look at outside, but inside the restaurant has a simple but sophsticated modern look with marble-topped tables and Globus chairs throughout. A solid selection of wines by the glass (including a fruity, slightly frizzante Lambrusco) was pleasing too, though I've been told by others who have gone there that they refuse to permit any corkage, which seems a foolhardy policy.
We started off the Crawl with the intention of trying a Margherita pizza at each place as a "baseline" reference standard, and then also explore some of each place's specialties. Yet we must not have had many pizza purists in the group, as the Margheritas at both Joey's and Pizzavolante seem to have not made many memorable impressions. I agreed that Joey's version was unexceptional. I did like the crust at Joey's, which was thin but firm - possibly my favorite of the night - and the tomato and cheese were in good balance, but their flavors didn't exactly jump out at you in any way.
It would seem you'd have to try the "Joey" at Joey's, yet I'll confess I didn't have complete confidence in the combination of tuna, spicy salame, gorgonzola, capers and spinach. I figured it had to either be outstanding or a complete disaster. It turned out to be much closer to the former than the latter. This was no doubt loaded with robust flavors, but the tuna and salami subconsciously played on my prediliction for the seafood/pork combo, and the other elements contributed their distinct flavors without overwhelming. I wouldn't exactly say they blended into a perfectly seamless whole, but this was actually much better than I anticipated and was one of my favorites of the night.
The "Carbonara" didn't quite work for me. It's hard to go wrong with bacon and eggs, but the bacon was indistinct, the asparagus was unnecessary and distracting, and it was missing the freshly ground black pepper that is the genesis of the name.
The "Dolce e Piccante" was another one that I was wary of, though it was highly recommended by our server. The combination of figs, gorgonzola and honey sounded cloying. Yet once again, this was much better than I expected. A dash of red pepper flakes provided some needed contrast, though I still thought there was too heavy a hand with the (good Italian) honey. This fell somewhere between dinner and dessert on the sweetness spectrum, and while I don't think I'd ever want to eat anywhere near a whole pie (half of a slice was more than enough), I enjoyed what I tried.
[sorry, this restaurant has closed]
Next stop was Pizzavolante, the new pizza joint from Pacific Time chef Jonathan Eismann, which just opened last week. As I noted in my earlier comments, Pizzavolante is a very simple primitive layout - mozzarella bar and counter to one side, a few tables on the other, some bright orange plastic chairs, and a few more barstools around the windows where there are some more countertops for eating. While Joey's is someplace you might take a date, Pizzavolante is someplace you come to grab a pizza. Personally, I'm OK with that. I was surprised that some people were put out by the appearance of the mozzarella bar, where the cheeses are kept in large stainless bowls of cold water (as you must do with fresh mozzarella to keep the cheese moist). Anyhoo ... there are only five pizzas on the menu, and two of them are margheritas (one with local cow's milk mozzarella, and another, the "DOP", with fancy Italian bufala mozzarella), so narrowing down the choice to four was pretty easy.
The "DOP" Margherita was very good, though I couldn't say that it was appreciably better than the "plain Jane" Margherita I had last week on our first visit. Again, the real standout in the dough/sauce/cheese trinity was the cheese, though I'm not sure once they've melted in the wood-burning oven that the difference between the cow's milk mozzarella and the bufala mozzarella is worth the $4 price difference.
The "Volante 100" (made with toppings grown or produced within a 100-mile radius) really caught the attention of my tastebuds with the dandelion greens, which were just barely wilted and still perky and vibrant, along with local-grown tomatoes (mostly smaller red and yellow teardrops, I think) and arugula, as well as some of Vito Volpe's mozzarella.
I also liked the "Cacciatorini," topped with a scatter of nicely spicy California pepperoni and guanciale (jowl bacon). Of all the meat-topped pizzas we had, this was my favorite. I missed out on getting a good taste of the "Bianca," but white pizzas usually don't excite me that much anyway (though even some folks who were not white pizza fans liked this version).
I liked the thin crispy crust of Pizzavolante's pizzas, but thought it was perhaps taken to too much of an extreme, as the uncovered edges of the crust were so crispy as to be almost cracker-like. I understand they are still working on their dough recipe and hope they can find the perfect middle ground. They could also use a bit more variety to their pizza selections. I understand they've just opened and also that they're taking a simple approach to the menu, but no doubt Jonathan Eismann can come up with some more varied and creative toppings than what is currently on offer.
Another nice thing about Pizzavolante is the very reasonably priced selection of wines. A few of us split an $18 bottle of Mattabella Famiglia red (produced by a friend of mine in Long Island) which went down very easily with the pizza, and there are a number of other wines all priced at $18.
Andiamo was something of a letdown after Joey's and Pizzavolante. I still love the funky location in a working car wash, with the big screen hung up outside showing the Lakers/Nuggets game, but the pizzas disappointed.
The Soprano had a nice layer of fresh, pleasingly bitter broccoli rabe, but the sausage was just bland, grey slices of mystery meat. The tomato sauce (very chunky, with some big hunks of whole tomatoes left in) also tasted somewhat industrial. The Putanesca was a twist on one of my favorite combinations for a pasta dish, but this was overwhelmingly salty (and yes, I fully anticipate that a dish with anchovies, olives and capers will be salty). The Genovese promised an interesting combination with the potatoes and pancetta, but the one overwhelming flavor was of garlic, which obscured everything else. The Popeye had nice fresh spinach leaves, but my slice pretty much missed out on any ricotta. The crust on all of these was somewhat doughy and gummy, compared to the nice thin crusts we had at Joey's and Pizzavolante. I'm OK with a nice doughy crust like a foccacia, if that's what a place is shooting for, but this wasn't that either.
While the pizza at Andiamo was perfectly serviceable, it paled in comparison to either Joey's or Pizzavolante. A good selection of beers did help wash it all down.
Favorite so far? If I could get the crust from Joey's done in the woodburning oven at Pizzavolante, and topped with Pizzavolante's fresh dandelion greens and the pepperoni and guanciale and Vito's mozzarella (and maybe a few other more varied combinations), I'd be quite happy.
2506 NW 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137
3918 N. Miami Avenue
Miami, FL 33127
5600 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33137