Showing posts with label pizza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pizza. Show all posts

Monday, November 28, 2016

deep thoughts: Proof Pizza and Pasta | Midtown MIami

Someone asked me recently[1] "So, when you are going to write an actual review of a Miami restaurant again? You know, like you used to?" Fair question. Like the food writers I used to berate, I'm probably more than a little guilty of the Magpie Phenomenon – being constantly distracted by the latest shiny object. I try to keep relatively current on Miami dining with the "best thing I ate last week"  and "first thoughts" posts, and I report on our roughly monthly Cobaya dinners; but then the bulk of my more expansive writing lately seems dedicated to "travelogues" or other recaps from "further afield," rather than locally focused.[2] Mission creep has taken hold.

So let's fix that. And let's start with a place that may not be among the most talked-about restaurants in Miami, but one which I think deserves more attention for what it does: Proof. Chef Justin Flit[3] opened "Proof Pizza & Pasta" almost exactly two years ago just up Miami Avenue from Wynwood, across from the Midtown shopping center. The name was modest and the spot was too: a basic box with exposed ventilation and simple tables and chairs, not so much "industrial chic" as just plain old "utilitarian."

(You can see all my pictures from Proof in this Proof Pizza & Pasta flickr set).

But while it might have sounded and looked like a utility slice joint, Proof was actually serving gorgeous Neapolitan style pies with toppings like soppressata, n'duja and broccoli rabe, or braised oxtail with black garlic and caramelized onions.

And its pastas – all made in-house – were some of the best in town. The lineup would change often, but has included delicate pillows stuffed with butternut squash, awash in brown butter and sage and dusted with crumbled amaretti cookies, and the fantastic angel hair with crab, Calabrian chiles and lemon breadcrumbs. This latter is a mainstay, too good to take off the menu (I wrote a bit more about it in this "best thing I ate last week" from last year).

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Monday, January 11, 2016

best thing i ate last week (dec 21-27, 2015) - Thunderbird! Forty Twice! pizza at Hog & Hominy

It's been a little quiet over here in FFT-land, as I took advantage of the holidays to plan a family trip through the South. We flew into Memphis, where we spent a few days before driving to Nashville, then to Louisville before flying home. These were all towns I've wanted to visit, and with a week free, we were able to get to all of them (and then some). I told the kids before we left: "I hope you like BBQ, fried chicken, bourbon and the blues, because there's going to be a lot of them." And there was. We did some good eating, and had a couple surprising disappointments too.

Anyway, to catch up and fill in some blanks on the "best thing i ate last week," I'm going to backtrack to the second day of our trip, when we visited Hog & Hominy in Memphis, where chefs Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer do Italian-style cooking with Southern-style ingredients. On Sundays they offer a "Sunday Funday" menu all day which is mostly pizzas and brunch-type items, and the best of them may have been this "Thunderbird! Forty Twice!" pizza, topped with fontina, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, thin-sliced pepperoni and a drizzle of spicy honey. A puffy, chewy crust with just speckles of char, a balance between crust and toppings; a great interplay of spicy, cheesy and meaty with just a touch of sweet. Mrs. F regretted not ordering a second one.

(You can see all my pictures from our dinner in this Hog & Hominy flickr set).

Runners-up: these lady peas with guanciale and chicken liver mousse from the same meal; a supremely satisfying fried oyster poboy from Kelly English's New Orleans' themed Memphis restaurant, The Second Line; some delicious Delta style hot tamales from Mose Tamale truck, spotted in a gas station parking lot on the way between the Memphis airport and Graceland.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ten Great Things to Eat in Maui

While starting to mull over potential destinations for the upcoming summer, it occurred to me that I never really reported back on last summer's trip to Hawaii. Though this was not a trip centered around dining, we do always look to eat well, and it was actually just a bit of a challenge in Hawaii. Not for lack of good food; but as someone who lives in Miami Beach, I know from experience that when you're in an overwhelmingly tourist-driven destination, it can be tough not to eat like a tourist.

Honolulu seems to be the epicenter of interesting dining in the Hawaiian islands - crazily ambitious projects like Vintage Cave, refined tasting menus like Chef Mavro, pop-ups like The Pig and the Lady. That's not a surprise, given that it's the most populated city. But for non-culinary reasons, we elected to skip Oahu entirely in favor of Maui and Big Island.

The good news was that locavorism seems to run strong on all the islands. It ought to: Hawaii has ready access to a fantastic variety of fresh fish straight from the ocean, as well as great locally grown fruits and vegetables. And over the past couple decades, there's been an increasingly concerted push to incorporate those ingredients into the restaurant repertoire, instead of relying on flown-in products.

Still, there's a huge gulf between the resort restaurants catering to the "haole" (foreigners), and the local joints with their loco moco and spam musubi (which we ate, and which was good, but there's only so much of that my Crestor can handle), and it's not always so easy to find the middle. But that's what we were looking for; here's what we found:

1. Fried Saimin at Star Noodle (Lahaina). Star Noodle was exactly the kind of place we were seeking out. Located in a business park well off the main drag, it felt more like a locals' hangout than a tourist trap. The menu, from Chef Sheldon Simeon (yes, the guy who was always wearing the "Where's Waldo?" hat on last season's Top Chef, and who also was a 2011 James Beard semi-finalist for Rising Star Chef and Best New Restaurant) was a happy hodge-podge of pan-Asian noodle dishes and other items, done with some contemporary flair.

From what I've read, saimin is arguably the "national dish of Hawaii" - ramen-style wheat noodles, either in a broth or pan-fried, often coupled with that other Hawaiian staple, Spam, as the main protein. Star Noodle's Fried Saimin hewed pretty close to tradition, the chewy noodles tossed with slices of Spam and kamoboko (fish cake), thin ribbons of cooked egg, bean sprouts and green onions. They were the best of the noodle dishes we tried there.[1] An assortment of pickled vegetables, seaweed salad, kimchi, and Momofuku-style pork buns rounded out the meal.

Star Noodle
286 Kupuohi St., Lahaina Maui

Star Noodle on Urbanspoon

2. Ahi Poke Shoyu at Safeway (Lahaina). Safeway? Really? Yes. As unlikely as it sounds, a Chowhound thread tipped me off that the Safeway in downtown Lahaina has a remarkably good selection of pokes. And sure enough, in the seafood market they had about a dozen different varieties of the Hawaiian marinated fish dish. Though most were made with frozen, thawed fish or octopus, a couple were made with fresh ahi tuna, including this one laced with soy sauce and sesame oil, chiles, onions, scallions and masago.

3. Reuben Sandwich at Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop (Lahaina). Maybe it was that we'd just spent the morning kayaking and snorkeling off the coast in Olowalu Village, and were starving. But in the moment, anyway, I've found few sandwiches as satisfying as the Reuben I had at Leoda's Kitchen, another place opened by Sheldon Simeon. Layers of shaved corned beef, oozy Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing piled onto thickly sliced, griddled rye bread - what's not to like? The single-serve macnut-chocolate praline pie was a winner too.

Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop
820 Olowalu Village Road, Lahaina Maui

Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop on Urbanspoon

4. Shave Ice at Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice (Lahaina). You can get shave ice all over the islands - and we did - but the best we had was at Ululani's Shave Ice in downtown Lahaina. Unlike the typical, treacly day-glo syrups that look and taste like nothing from the natural world, Ululani's flavors its powdery, freshly shaved ice with all natural syrups made in-house, many from the plethora of tropical fruits that are available locally. Little Miss F opted here for green tea and lychee. I was partial to mango with li hing mui powder (salted dried plum), which became something of an obsession for me during our time in Hawaii.[2]

Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice
790 Front St., Lahaina Maui

Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice on Urbanspoon

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Publican Pizzeria Pop-Up

If you were following Paul Kahan's career trajectory from a distance, you might think it was in a downward spiral: fifteen years ago he opened Blackbird, one of the top high-end restaurants in Chicago. Since then, he's opened a more casual small-plates tapas place, then a beer hall, then a taqueria, and most recently, a butcher shop. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. While his projects have been increasingly casual, they are all incredibly successful, and you will eat very well at any of them. As Michael Schwartz, the host for Chef Kahan's pop-up dinner at Harry's Pizzeria Tuesday night, said, if you went to Chicago and only ate at Kahan's restaurants, you would get an excellent cross-section of Chicago's culinary universe.

For the past year, Schwartz has been bringing some of the country's best chefs to Miami's doorstep to cook for an evening at Harry's. On our last visit to Chicago, Kahan's Blackbird and The Publican were two of our favorite meals, so when I saw his name on the upcoming schedule, I made sure to secure a spot.

Though the cooking at these Harry's "pop-ups" is always reflective of the visiting chef, the format of the dinners tends to follow the same pattern: an assortment of passed appetizers to start, including some variation on a pizza; and three or four courses all served family-style, usually taking advantage of Harry's wood-burning oven. Kahan's menu followed suit:

(You can see all my pictures in this Publican Pizzeria flickr set; pictures were taken with my new Sony NEX-5R, courtesy of Sony).

Things got off to a good start with a "fettunta" (the Tuscan version of what gets called "bruschetta" in the U.S.) topped with a creamy chicken liver mousse, tangy satsuma, and spicy, sweet and sour onions "agridulce," all providing great contrast to the rich liver shmear.

Chef Kahan went local style with a crudo of cobia, topped with kohlrabi and mint salsa verde. The mint nicely highlighted the freshness of the fish.

While the bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates may be the "signature dish" at Avec, an argument could be made for the "deluxe focaccia," topped with taleggio and ricotta cheese, and just a whisper of truffle oil.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Animal Pizzeria

chefs at work

Not long after Chef Michael Schwartz opened up Harry's Pizzeria, he started putting the space to use for more than just baking pies. In a twist on the "pop-up" genre that is the restaurant industry's latest trend, Schwartz has brought in chefs from around the country to cook for an evening in his little pizza parlor. In November 2011 Harry's held its first pop-up dinner with Gabrielle Hamilton of New York's Prune. Since then, Harry's has played host to a distinguished list of visiting talent: Jonathan Waxman, Marc Vetri, Jonathon Sawyer, and Kevin Sbraga. Last night, it was chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, of Los Angeles' Animal and Son of a Gun, who took over the restaurant for the night.

Some folks may know Shook and Dotolo from their successful L.A. restaurants. Some may remember back to their short-lived stint on the Food Network with "Two Dudes Catering." Though I didn't know it at the time, I've actually been eating their food since even before then - they both cut their teeth at the Strand here in Miami Beach (now long gone) more than a decade ago, back when a young Michelle Bernstein was the chef and I was taking Mrs. F there for date nights.

Though Dotolo and Shook had not crossed paths with Michael Schwartz back in the day, they'd become acquainted more recently on the charity circuit, and - lucky for us here in Miami - came back home to put together a dinner at Harry's.

(You can see all my pictures in this Animal Pizzeria flickr set).

kumamoto oysters

Some passed appetizers started things off, including these kumamoto oysters. A cucumber and serrano chile gelee provided a great balance of cool and heat to set off the briny pop of the oysters. Crostini topped with sautéed porcini mushrooms and a rich truffle fondue offered a more earthy starting point for the meal.

triggerfish crudo

Though I enjoy it, often fish crudo seems like a "throwaway" of a dish - fish, oil, salt, citrus, done. Too easy. So this was actually a pleasant surprise: mild, faintly sweet slices of triggerfish swam in a colatura vinaigrette with that unique umami zap fish sauce provides of intense flavor without heaviness. Fresh basil and mint, chopped peanuts, and crispy fried shallots pulled things further in a Thai direction, with a little something different in each bite.[1] I might have worried that the fermented fish funk of the colatura would be a bad pairing with the fresh raw fish, but I loved the combination.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Harry's Pizzeria - Miami Design District

MGFD Bacon Pizza

When it comes to pizza, there are many styles. There's your basic Neapolitan. There's your hardcore Verace Pizza Napoletana. There's New York-style pizza. There's your more esoteric thin-crusted Lazio style pizza, Sicilian, grandma pizza, New Haven style apizza, Chicago deep dish ... pizza maven Adam Kuban came up with a list of 21 different regional styles, and surely there were many more that were overlooked.

The pizzas at Harry's Pizzeria, the new pizza joint from local hero Michael Schwartz, are precisely none of those. But they are quintessentially in the style of Chef Schwartz and his namesake Michael's Genuine Food & Drink: great flavors, with a focus on local ingredients and in-house preparations.

Almost five years ago (!) Schwartz opened MGF&D in Miami's Design District. It was an instant hit, and for good reason: the menu was accessible but exciting, it focused on local products without being sanctimonious or dogmatic about it, and both the food and the place had a relaxed, unfussy style that was perfectly in tune with the impending economic meltdown. MGF&D immediately became one of the most popular and well-regarded restaurants in town and has continued to hold that status to this date.

Though success came quickly for MGF&D,[1] Chef Schwartz was deliberately slow in building upon it. The expansion bug finally bit in 2010 when he added a second Michael's Genuine in Grand Cayman. This past year has seen several new projects, not only Harry's Pizzeria, named after his son Harrison, but also a consulting gig for Royal Caribbean's 150 Central Park on the Oasis of the Seas cruise ship, and the in-progress takeover of the restaurant and dining operations at the Raleigh Hotel on South Beach.

Harry's Pizzeria

(You can see all my pictures in this Harry's Pizzeria flickr set).

Harry's is the most modest of those projects. The space, right down the street from MGF&D, became available when Jonathan Eismann's Pizza Volante (which was one of my favorite local pizza places) shut down. It already had the same kind of wood-burning oven that was installed at MGF&D, where a pizza of some sort has been a fixture on the menu since they opened. They kept the oven, revamped the rest of the space with a small bar and casual dark wood furniture similar to that at Michael's, got Friends With You to supply some decorations, and opened up for business in late September.

Harry's Pizzeria menu

The menu is a simple affair: a short list of "snacks" and salads, followed by about ten different pizza options. It's typically rounded out by a few specials, usually a soup, a starter, and a pizza of the day. And that's it. If you're not in the mood for a pizza, you'll struggle to find something to make a complete meal.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pizzeria Oceano - Lantana, Florida

Pizzeria Oceano

This was not the pizzeria I expected to be writing about now. With Miami's local hero Michael Schwartz having recently opened a pizzeria of his own (Harry's Pizzeria, named for his son, in the Design District spot that used to be the home of PizzaVolante), I figured that was going to be the subject of my next ode to pizza.[1] But earlier this week I found myself driving back from West Palm Beach around dinner time, and made a stop at Pizzeria Oceano in Lantana, a a place that had been on my radar since stumbling across this little blurb in Broward New Times (yes, you can always catch my attention with whipped lardo).

Two years ago, pizza was all the rage in South Florida, so much so that we staged a four part, eleven location pizza crawl in the summer of 2009.[2] That happens to be around the time that Pizzeria Oceano opened. But Pizzeria Oceano doesn't seem like a place trying to latch onto a trend as much as a genuinely singular vision. Chef/owner Dak Kerprich keeps a short menu that changes daily, procures as many of his ingredients as he can from local farmers and fishermen, and refuses to compromise on quality. In the morning they prep as much as they think they'll need for the day, and when they run out - sometimes as early as 7:30 pm - they close up for the night. Much to the puzzlement and chagrin of some, Pizzeria Oceano won't do takeout, and they won't do substitutions or additions. If you don't like it, they're OK with that.

So am I.

Pizzeria Oceano menu

The place itself is mostly patio, with about a half-dozen tables outside on the front deck sharing space with planters of fresh herbs. A tight indoor space has a couple more tables and a row of barstools along with the kitchen and its wood-burning oven. The menu lists a short selection of appetizers (a/k/a "Not Pizza"), and an equally short selection of "composed" pizzas along with one "basic" version topped with mozzarella, pecorino, tomato and basil which you can further embellish with a choice of toppings. The menu also lists the provenance of almost all the ingredients you'll find in the dishes.

Roasted Bluefish

You don't see bluefish on restaurant menus often, primarily because the oily fish has a tendency to turn rapidly, and is consequently accused of being too "fishy." The waiter advised that theirs was just caught off the coast of Cape Canaveral, and the fish was gorgeously fresh and clean-tasting. Accompaniments were simple and classically Mediterranean: wilted escarole, slivers of lightly pickled onion, toasted pine nuts.

Country Ham & Egg Pizza

But what we really need to talk about is the pizza. Though I had some inclination to try their "Basic" as a baseline test, the "Country Ham and Egg" won out. Of course it did. It's topped with shavings of country ham from Edwards Ham in Surry, Virginia, a couple of golden-yolked fresh eggs, creamy fontina and salty, sharp pecorino cheeses, a scatter of green onions and a generous grinding of black pepper.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

City Snapshots: Washington DC Dining

Over the past couple months we've done a bit of traveling and, as we always try to do, some good eating along the way. Memory, notes, and photos are not necessarily as good as might be hoped, and so instead of full recaps of meals, here are some quick thoughts on some of the places we visited. I don't begin to pretend that a brief few days can begin to capture the dining zeitgeist of a city; rather, these are more in the nature of personal travelogues. First, a trip to Washington DC over the kids' spring break.

Possibly my favorite of the places we dined at was Palena. Located a bit northwest from central DC, but easily accessible by the DC Metro, Palena has a more formal Dining Room with a prix fixe menu, and a more casual Café with a la carte offerings. With kids in tow, we went the latter route. The food is Italianate (Chef Frank Ruta's family hails from Abruzzo), but not in a way that insists on banging you over the head with it. An appetizer of baby calamari was quickly cooked with Sicilian flavors of tomato, caperberries and chilies. Both roasted and raw slivered beets were paired with hazelnuts in a salad. A steak was cooked over a wood-fired grill that lent a touch of smokiness to the meat, served with an elemental salad of bibb lettuce and blue cheese and nicely crisp fries. But the real standout for me was an absolutely pitch-perfect bollito misto, with tender, deeply flavored veal tongue and corned beef in a soul-restoring broth, rounded out by a coddled duck egg and a few root vegetables. It's deceptively hard to do "simple" foods well; Palena made them shine.

3529 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington DC

Palena on Urbanspoon

I was hoping to take the whole family to José Andrés' minibar, but we were unable to score a reservation. Instead we made a trip to his more straight-ahead tapas restaurant, Jaleo, as well as a visit to Café Atlantico for its "Nuevo Latino Dim Sum Brunch."[1] Jaleo is something like a living encyclopedia of tapas, with nearly 70 tapas selections, along with several paellas for those with even more robust appetites. They range from ubiquitous classics like pan con tomate and tortilla de patatas, to regional specialties like the Canary Islands' papas arrugas and Catalan esqueixada, to more unique items like calamares with pine nut praline and a Pedro Ximenez reduction, or seared salmon with a cauliflower purée and raspberries.

We found that some of the best items were those that hewed more closely to tradition, where Chef Andrés creates what may be close to the platonic ideals of classic Spanish dishes. An order of pan con tomate brings toasted but not completely crunchy bread, spread with softly tangy puréed tomato, a  generous drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of salt completing the composition. His croquetas come to the table hot, with a crisp fragile shell encasing molten bechamel and shredded chicken. Buñuelos de bacalao achieve the same balance, with a honey aioli to play against the salty fishiness of the dried cod. Another contrast of sweet and salty is played out by the berenjenas a la miel, the feathery light fried eggplant glazed with a drizzle of honey.

Ensalada rusa, the curiously named Spanish potato salad (what's Russian about potatoes, peas and carrots bound in mayo?), is given double richness from a generous hand with the mayonnaise and luscious canned Spanish tuna, plus an extra layer of flavor provided by strips of piquillo peppers. I am a huge fan of ensalada rusa and this was one of the best I've had. Fried dates wrapped in bacon are accurately described in the menu as "como hace todo el mundo" (that you will want to eat every day). And those papas arrugas - wrinkly, generously salted marble-sized baby potatoes served with a pungent mojo verde reminiscent of an Argentine chimichurri - are equally addictive.

Surprisingly, the dishes we found to be less successful were the more creative ones. Those calamares with sweet pine nut praline and a Pedro Ximenez reduction couldn't successfully bridge the gap between seafood and sweet. The same was true of the salmon with a (vanilla-touched?) cauliflower purée and raspberries. On the other hand, a dish called Arroz de Pato "Jean Louis-Palladin," after the legendary DC chef, featuring rice with duck confit, topped with a seared duck breast, and drizzled with a foie gras cream, was an overdone layering of rich upon rich.

But Chef Andrés deserves culinary sainthood if for no other reason than that he was instrumental in enabling the import of Spanish jamón ibérico into the United States. Jaleo was the first place it was served in the U.S., and there is possibly no more perfect dish than a plate of jamón ibérico de bellota. Priced at $22 at Jaleo, it's a worthwhile indulgence.[2]

480 7th Street NW
Washington DC

Jaleo on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Miami's Best Pizza - Reader's Poll Results Are In

The post-Pizza Crawl results are in for the Miami's Best Pizza reader's poll. With more than 150 votes cast, the winner is ...

[drum roll please]

photo credit: Jacob Katel


If you had been along with us for Round I of the Crawl, this would probably not have been your first guess. But the readers have spoken, and there you have it. The final results:

1. Andiamo - 36 votes (23%)
2. Sosta Pizzeria - 29 votes (18%)
3. Piola - 27 votes (17%)
4. Joey's - 21 votes (13%)
5. Casale - 15 votes (9%)
6. PizzaVolante - 10 votes (6%)
7. Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza - 6 votes (3%)
8. Fratelli la Bufala - 4 votes (2%)
9. Racks Bistro - 2 votes (1%)
10. Spris - 2 votes (1%)
11. Pizza Fusion - 1 vote (0%)

Congratulations to the winner, and thanks to everyone for participating. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Only Two Days Left in Miami Pizza Poll

Until yesterday, Casale and Pizzavolante had been running neck and neck comfortably ahead of the rest of the pack, but now there's been a late surge from Piola and Andiamo and it's all close to even. There's only two days remaining to cast your vote for the Best Pizza in Miami over on the right hand column. (Sorry, there's no category for "No Miami pizza can possibly compare to any New York pizza, even one scraped up off the sidewalk after three days festering in the sun").

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pizza Crawl Part IV - il fin

They say all good things must come to an end, and "Pizza Crawl" finally did so earlier this week - just in time for the Miami Herald to get on the pizza bandwagon. Another troupe of pizza fans came along for the final edition, which made its two last stops in South Beach at Fratelli la Bufala and the newly opened Casale.

Fratelli la Bufala

I had always been curious about Fratelli la Bufala, which came to South Beach with an authentic Italian pedigree. The brand was supposedly started by the sons of a family of Italian buffalo mozzarella producers who thus dubbed themselves the "Fratelli la Bufala" and has nearly 100 locations, mostly in Italy but also including such far-flung outposts as Hannover, Strasbourg, Istanbul and Dubai.

The full contingent of pizza-tasters had not yet come on board when we arrived at Fratelli, so we limited our tasting to only four pies. When we first started the pizza crawl, we had the idea of sampling a "control group" margherita from each restaurant; that idea was quickly abandoned as the group sought to identify the best "signature" offering from each place (a couple additional unofficial rules instead came into play: one was that if a pizza included the name of the restaurant, it had to be ordered; and another was that if a combination sounded completely unlikely - i.e., the "Joey's Pizza" with tuna, salami, gorgonzola, capers and spinach - we ought to order it just to see if it could actually work). While I lobbied to try a traditional margherita at Fratelli, I was boisterously voted down and instead we tried:

La Reale - tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella, bufala smoked mozzarella, bufala ricotta & prosciutto crudo
Diavola - tomato sauce, spicy salame, mozzarella, basil & crushed red pepper
Vesuviana - fresh cherry tomatoes, smoked bufala mozzarella, bufala mozzarella, green olives & anchovies
Sausage & Broccoli Rabe - a special, double-crusted pizza, explained further below.

Across the board, I found the basics at Fratelli were done right - the crust was thin but not cracker-crisp, with some nice bubbles and just a hint of charred bits; the cheese was high quality; the sauce struck a nice balance between acidic and sweet. Yet while they were all good, there was nothing about any of the pies we tried at Fratelli that made you sit up and say "This is a great pizza!"

Though I like the sausage and broccoli rabe combo, I was suspicious of the special we ordered, which was described as being a pizza topped with another pizza crust on top to create a stuffed effect (though not crimped and sealed like a calzone). This sounded too much like some Frankenstein-ish Pizza Hut creation dreamed up for the sake of creating a new product line, but it turned out to be fine, though I still could have easily lived without the extra crust. I am not usually a fan of the multi-cheese approach adopted by the Reale, as I find it's usually overkill, but this one was OK, even if the multitude of cheeses made this pie a bit soggier than the others. The Diavola had a nice assertive spiciness from the salame and crushed pepper, but the one that showed the most promise for me was the Vesuviana, which sported ripe juicy cherry tomatoes, a nice element of intrigue from the smoked buffalo mozzarella, and some high quality anchovies.

Despite missing a "wow" effect, Fratelli la Bufala put out some good pizzas. It is surely the only place in town where pretty much all the pies are topped with high quality mozzarella di bufala, though their prices still remain mostly in the same neighborhood as other pizzerias (mostly in the range of $11-15).

Fratelli la Bufala
437 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Fratelli la Bufala on Urbanspoon


[Sorry, this place has closed]

Casale is a sister restaurant to Sardinia, which opened nearly three years ago and has a well-executed focus on the cuisine of its namesake region of Italy. I had heard Casale described as a pizzeria, but it is more ambitious than that. In addition to nearly twenty pizza choices, there is a mozzarella and burrata bar with a number of options for accompaniments, more than a half dozen crudos, several antipasti and salads, and a pretty sizable selection of sandwiches and a few other items as well. It is also a much larger space than I had anticipated, indeed it's a sprawling space with still more seating in an indoor/outdoor upstairs area too.

Since this was the final round of Pizza Crawl and we were only visiting two establishments for the night, we ended up sampling a pretty broad array of Casale's pizza options:

Pugliese - rapini & wild boar sausage
Funghetto - wild mushrooms, taleggio & sage
Smeraldina - braised fennel & bottarga
Catalana - chorizo, manchego, tomato & olives
Atomica - spinach, artichokes, guanciale & quail eggs
Sag Harbor - mussels, clams, baby octopus & shrimp
Buongustaio - baby zucchini, parma prosciutto & burrata
Sagaponack - potatoes, anchovies & ricotta
Super Margherita - prosciutto, bufala mozzarella & arugula

I thought that the crust at Casale was among the best that we've sampled, thin but with a bit of chew, nicely blistered and bubbled and crisp around the edges, if occasionally veering a little too far into blackened and charred territory (an assumed risk when you're dealing with a hot oven). The toppings were often very vividly flavored - the braised fennel on the Smeraldina was silky in texture and bright in flavor, the mushrooms on the Funghetto were rich and meaty with a nice resinously woodsy note from the fresh sage leaves. A few in particular I thought were complete and unqualified successes - the Catalana (an unorthodox but effective use of Spanish ingredients), the Atomica (the spinach jazzed up with the salty guanciale and the use of quail eggs a great way of distributing their yolky goodness across the entire pizza) and the Super Margherita hit all the right spots for me.

On more than one occasion, though, the promise of the menu didn't quite come through on the plate, because the flavor of a key component was missing in action. The Smeraldina was missing the funky whiff of bottarga, making it a one-note fennel composition. The Pugliese appeared almost completely devoid of broccoli rabe. Others just didn't quite click - the potatoes in the Sagaponack were mushy, the Sag Harbor a vast improvement over the seafood pizza we had at Spris but still not quite right.

Despite these miscues, though, Casale's basic execution is fundamentally sound, and the menu is more adventurous than many of the other places we visited. While other pizzerias may boast a lengthier list of pizzas, many are just minor variations on the same theme, whereas Casale's are for the most part each very distinctly different and often more ambitious.

1800 Bay Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Casale on Urbanspoon

So after 53 pies at 11 different locations, what conclusions can be drawn? I have a few:

(1) Good pizza isn't easy to do right. Some places where I've had good experiences previously had poor execution on our Pizza Crawl visits. When you're working with extremely high cooking temperatures and short cooking times, the difference between soggy, perfect, and burnt can be a matter of seconds.

(2) You can't make a truly great pizza without great ingredients. The places that stood out to me the most - Pizzavolante, Racks, and Casale - are using high quality ingredients, and it shows in the finished product.

(3) Pizza is a great cheap meal. At most of the places we went, the pies averaged between $10-15. Most were of a size that you could probably split one between two people. Throw in a beer or a cheap glass of wine, and how many other options are there for getting something that's hand-made with artisanal ingredients for under $10 a person?

(4) Miami may not be a pizza mecca, but it doesn't suck either. No doubt all the New Yorkers will chime in about how nothing you get here in Miami can compare to any pizza you can get on any street corner in New York. Whatever. I'm just happy to see some local restaurants taking pizza a little more seriously and for the most part succeeding in their efforts.

And with the Pizza Crawl officially concluded, I am going to reopen the "best pizza" poll with all the places that we've visited. Take a look over on the right-hand column and cast your vote.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Frank Bruni Gets in on Pizza Crawl

Look what we started! In today's New York Times: The Cult of the Artisanal Pizza - Crust Is a Canvas for Pizza's New Wave, with comments on nearly a dozen new New York pizzerias. Can't wait for the "What does Bruni know about pizza?" chorus from the NY pizzerati to begin.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Miami Pizza Crawl - Part III - South Beach Edition

After forty pies, are we becoming jaded and world-weary pizza eaters? Was the rainy, humid weather putting a damper on the pizza ovens? Whatever the reason, Round 3 of the Miami Pizza Crawl seemed like something of a letdown, though it finished on an up note. This portion of the tour covered Lincoln Road - the newly opened Sosta Pizzeria, as well as a couple more established pizzerias, Piola and Spris. About 15 hardy pizza fans braved the foul weather to sample the following:

Sosta Pizzeria
Sosta (sundried tomato spread, mozzarella, burrata, prosciutto crudo)
Carpaccio (tomato sauce, mozzarella, beef carpaccio, arugula, parmesan)
Siciliana (tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovies, capers, black olives, basil)
Brie & Speck (just like it says)

Piola (fresh mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, basil, tomato sauce and mozzarella)
Carbonara (bacon, egg, parmesan, tomato sauce and mozzarella)
Curitiba (catupiry cheese, hearts of palm, artichokes and mozzarella)
Posillipo (fresh mozzarella, anchovies, oregano, cherry tomatoes and tomato sauce)

Carbonara (tomato sauce, mozzarella, pancetta, egg, parmesan and black pepper)
Ortalana (tomato sauce, mozzarella, grilled eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, roasted peppers and portobello mushrooms)
Frutti di Mare (tomato sauce, mozzarella, calamari, clams, shrimp and mussels)
Patate e Pancetta (mozzarella, pancetta, potatoes, rosemary and parmesan)

Here's my take:

Sosta -

We started the evening at Sosta, a spin-off of Quattro Gastronomia, which opened on Lincoln Road a few years ago. I hear the space is very nice, but I arrived late and immediately sat at our outdoor table and never got a good look inside. The menu features a lengthy - nay, intimidating - list of about 30 pizza options, though some of them require careful study to find what ingredient distinguishes one from another (sort of like the Monty Python Spam restaurant).[*]

One of the unofficial rules of "Pizza Crawl," starting with the "Joey's Pizza" at Joey's Wynwood, is that if there is a pizza named after the restaurant, then it must be ordered. Unfortunately, the "Sosta" pizza made little impression, other than that the sun-dried tomato spread with which it was anointed instead of sauce was too sweet. If there was burrata, it was wasted, as it was was indistinguishable from the mozzarella.

The carpaccio pizza, topped with slices of raw beef which in short order were cooked pink from carry-over heat, was likewise curiously underflavored, the beef tasting like not much of anything when raw, and like under-salted steamed roast beef after it sat. The Siciliana fared better than the others, simply because its flavors (anchovy, caper, olive, basil) were bolder, and used decent quality ingredients (a pit in one of my olives was testament to them not using pre-pitted olives). The brie and speck also just wasn't doing it for me, but that may just be a matter of personal preference. The crust on all of their pies was good if a slight bit soggy, but likewise surprisingly lacking in flavor. Having heard some very good things about Sosta, I had expected it to fare better. Maybe we just had an off night there.

Piola -

Piola has its roots in Italy (Treviso, to be exact, which - someone please correct me if I'm wrong - is not exactly pizza headquarters of Italy; it has a location in Naples as well, but it's Naples Florida, not Naples Italy), but has an even stronger presence in Brazil where it has 9 outlets. The menu, even more encyclopedic than Sosta's with over 50 pizza options all prepared in a wood-burning oven, shows a distinct South American bent. We tried one of these, the "Curitiba" with catupiry cheese, hearts of palm, artichokes and mozzarella. While the creamy catupiry cheese was an interesting change of pace, it was something of a one-note wonder, and the hearts of palm and artichokes tasted straight from the can (and we're not talking any artisanal Spanish canned goods either). The "Piola" was bland, and the "Carbonara" had not been given sufficient time for the bacon to crisp so it tasted fatty and flabby.

The "Posillipo" was found in a separate section of the menu and was described as a version of a traditional Neapolitan style pizza, supposedly shaped smaller with a thicker crust and edges. I could detect nothing different about the crust other than that the cornicione was perhaps a wee bit wider. The anchovies it was topped with were saltier and furrier than those at Sosta (and I am a big anchovy fan, so this is no slur on anchovies generally), and the one cherry tomato I came across was green and under-ripe. I've had good pizzas at Piola, but this was also a pretty disappointing showing.

Spris -

At least we closed out the evening on a high note. At Spris we easily had our two best pizzas of the night, their Carbonara and their Patate e Pancetta. The Carbonara had nice crispy pancetta, an oozy fried egg, big shards of shaved parmesan, and a fine dusting of ground black pepper. The Patate e Pancetta, though somewhat similar, was also done well, with thinly sliced potatoes that were both tender and a bit crisp, salty pancetta, more of that generously shaved parmesan, and a whiff of rosemary. This was a vast improvement over the similar "Genovese" pizza at Andiamo we had in Round 1.

The Ortolana was a difficult pizza to share, because the assortment of vegetables - roasted green peppers, grilled eggplant, thinly sliced zucchini, portobello mushrooms - were artfully arranged in separate sections rather than scattered. Aside from the arrangement, though, I felt the ratio of topping to crust on this pizza was out of whack, way too laden with vegetables even if it was generous. The Frutti di Mare, while an interesting idea, will not cause anyone to forget New Haven style clam pizza any time soon. I couldn't really detect any seafood other than ringlets and more ringlets of calamari, which were a bit bouncy (probably breaching the "2 minutes or 2 hours" rule for cooking calamari by virtue of their time in the pizza oven).

While Spris certainly was the best pizza of the night (the two best pizzas actually), I wouldn't put it ahead of either of my winners from Round 1 and Round 2 - PizzaVolante and Racks.

Update: For other takes, here are links to Mango & Lime (with pix!) and Blind Mind's recaps of Pizza Crawl Pt. III.

Sosta Pizzeria
1025 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Sosta Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

1625 Alton Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Piola on Urbanspoon

731 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Spris on Urbanspoon

[*]Another crawler has suggested a "Cheesecake Factory / Nexxt Cafe" like similarity between Sosta's menu and that of nearby Spris. I'm not sure I agree. Several of these are pretty common pizza nomenclature - "capricciosa" for a pizza with ham, mushrooms, artichokes and olives, "quattro stagioni" for the same done in four separate sections, "ortolana" for a vegetable pizza, "diavola" for spicy sausage, - and others are just common ingredients - prosciutto cotto e funghi, tonno e cipolla, etc.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pizza Poll Closed, Pizza Crawl III Approaching

My "Best Pizza in Miami" poll has closed, with Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza eking out a victory by the thinnest of slices, followed closely by Spris, and then PizzaVolante and Pizza Rustica in a tie for third. Not to dismiss the results of a gloriously democratic process, but the poll seems pretty much meaningless considering among other things: (1) those of us participating in the "Pizza Crawl" haven't even completed Round III of the crawl yet; and (2) some places started getting votes before they'd even opened!

PizzaVolante pizza, photo credit: Jacob Katel

My impression of the general consensus from Pizza Crawl I and Pizza Crawl II is that PizzaVolante took Round I, with Joey's in close contention, and that Racks Italian Bistro was the clear winner of Round II. I don't think there was any clear victor as between PizzaVolante and Racks.

Meanwhile, Round III resumes next week on July 2 for a tour of South Beach including Sosta, Piola and Spris. For more information join the "Miami Chowdown" Google group and follow the "Pizza Crawl Part III" thread. It's already a pretty big group so it may be a squeeze. Thanks to Trina of Miami Dish for playing organizer this time around.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Miami Pizza Crawl - Part II Recap

The second round of the "Miami Pizza Crawl" re-convened this past Sunday evening, exploring the offerings of the northerly pizzaiolos of Miami-Dade County -- Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, Pizza Fusion, and Racks Italian Bistro. Readers of Chowhound may recall that the genesis of the Pizza Crawl came about as a result of me giving Miami Danny (a/k/a Danny Brody of the Daily Cocaine blog) a small raft of shit (more like a dinghy, maybe) over him declaring Racks' pizza the best in South Florida after they had been open approximately 24 hours. While giving Danny some grief is usually its own reward, this particular instance had the added bonus of leading to the idea of a "pizza showdown" among the many new pizzamakers cropping up around Miami. We had a big turnout last night with 28 people (including all of Family Frod for the first two rounds) and it was a fun group. Many thanks to Paula of Mango & Lime for playing coordinator for this round. You can see her recap and pictures here.

Here's the menu for the evening's festivities (given the size of the group it wasn't easy to get a taste of everything, and so I'm mostly going to recite what made impressions either favorable or not rather than try to do the usual granular recap):

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza
"Paul & Young Ron" (with meatballs, sausage, hot peppers & ricotta)
Fresh Mozzarella, Sliced Tomato & Basil
Eggplant Marino
White Pizza
Meatball & Ricotta
Philly Cheesesteak

Pizza Fusion
Organic Pepperoni
Bruschetta (with fresh chopped tomatoes, red onion, basil, balsamic vinegar & roasted garlic)
Four Cheese & Sundried Tomato
Organic Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella
Farmers Market (with roasted artichokes, red onion, zucchini & eggplant)
Founders' Pie (with chicken, kalamata olives, red onion & mozzarella)

Secchi (with sopressata, provolone, fiore di latte & goat cheese)
Sweet Sausage (with meatballs, onion, ricotta & grana padano)
Spinach (with prosciutto, smoked mozzarella & reggiano)
Portabello (with truffle oil, gorgonzola & speck)

I've had Anthony's pizza before, and am a fan of their crispy "well done" style. They use coal-burning ovens that they crank to 800 degrees, which cook the pies in 4 minutes. I know some people don't like getting their crust with black bits around the edges, but I don't mind it. I was disappointed, though, that the broccoli rabe and sausage pizza was "86'd" for the night and wasn't part of our tasting. Having said all that, I found most of the pies we got at Anthony's last night to be curiously underdone (by their typical standards, anyway). Maybe it was because some of them were too loaded down with toppings (the "Paul & Young Ron" in particular I thought was overloaded), but I found them surprisingly soggy. My favorite of the group was probably the plain jane pie with fresh tomato and mozzarella - perhaps because the topppings didn't dominate the crust which was still firm and crisp. I also enjoyed the flavor of the "Eggplant Marino" (supposedly Dan Marino's favorite) with thinly sliced rounds of eggplant sprinkled with parmesan, though again I thought there was too much topping to crust. All still good, but not as good as I've had there previously.

It was interesting to me to see that Anthony's was absolutely packed, with a full house and people waiting outside for tables, early on a Sunday evening despite continuing periodic downpours. Somehow one server tended to our entire table of 25 or so (a few stragglers got seated separately) and did so efficiently and with a smile. Bless her.

Next, Pizza Fusion. Pizza Fusion is a chain which started in Deerfield Beach, Florida and now has about 20 locations in Florida and elsewhere, with more in the pipeline. They have a strong focus on using organic ingredients - their sauce and their dough are supposedly all-organic, as are many of the toppings. Their large pies came in a 9"x18" rectangular shape - although they are offered with a regular white dough crust as well as a multigrain crust, we missed out on sampling the latter. While I appreciate the chain's dedication to organic ingredients, I was less appreciative of their pizzas. The crust was overwhelmed by the flavor and texture of the cornmeal on the bottom, and the toppings were, well - nebbish. The sauce was too sweet, the pepperoni didn't taste like much - particularly compared to the robust flavors of the Pizzavolante "Cacciatorini" - and none of the other vegetable toppings really stood out. This was not bad pizza by any means, it was perfectly fine - just not anything I'd go out of my way for, though I'd happily eat it in lieu of many other strip-mall options. Frod Jr. and Little Miss F are big fans of the organic Boylan's sodas, and I also appreciated the all-organic beer and wine list.

They were likewise very accomodating of our big, unwieldy group, and the restaurant has a nice look, going for the modern industrial loft feel with unfinished concrete walls, reclaimed wood tables and the like. I really am genuinely impressed by Pizza Fusion's commitment to environmental responsibility and there's much more info on it here, including things like countertops made from recycled detergent bottles, dual-flush toilets in the bathrooms, using recycled paper for their printed materials, and giving discounts to customers who recycle their pizza boxes.

We closed out the evening at Racks, and after suffering some attrition among the ranks, only sampled four of their pies. It was enough to make an impression, and the impression was pretty favorable. Racks also uses coal-burning ovens, cranked up hot enough to cook the dough and warm the toppings before they all turn to mush. They also go for the rectangular shape on their pies, though these were probably a bit smaller than what we got at Pizza Fusion, and probably smaller than the equivalent pie at Anthony's as well (though comparing the surface area of the rectangular Racks pie to the round Anthony's pie involves math skills I have long since forgotten; maybe Frod Jr. can help). The one pizza in particular that everyone seemed to lurch for as it came out was the one topped with spinach, prosciutto and smoked mozzarella, the smoky mozzarella making a nice complement to the thinly sliced prosciutto. But the sweet sausage pizza was also very good, incorporating several elements without completely messing up the toppings-to-crust ratio.

I somehow missed out on trying the Secchi, which sounded good. I was not as impressed by the portobello pizza as some, which I thought was too heavy on the cheese and also on the truffle oil (a note which is too easily overdone and generally overplayed, methinks). On a related note, I was somewhat baffled by a "special" pizza offering of a truffle pie for $34 (nearly 3 times as much as anything else on the menu). The baffling part is not so much the price (fresh truffles are expensive) as the calendar - it's June! Truffle season is typically October to March. I should have asked exactly what they were using, but it basically had to either be summer truffles (which are rather less fragrant, and dramatically less expensive, than winter truffles), or jarred truffles, but neither should command that kind of price tag. By comparison, Timo in Sunny Isles regularly lists a "black and white" pizza wich uses preserved black truffles for $17.

I also would have preferred a crispier crust to the more springy, doughy texture the Racks pizzas had on the outside crust. But - despite all the grief I gave Danny - this was very good pizza. Best pizza in South Florida? I'm not going there yet. But I enjoyed it.

Another nice discovery at Racks - Amarcord Birra Artigianale, an Italian craft beer that comes in four different styles which include a lager, a "double" pale ale, a "double" red ale and a "double" brown ale. I had the red ale which was smooth, intense, even chewy. I believe our waiter said that Racks is the only place in Miami that offers the beer, and if you let them know in advance you can even get a case to pick up from the Racks market.

While I'm not yet committing to any favorites overall, I will say that Racks certainly had the best showing of the evening. And once again, it was a pleasure to get together with the expanding population of pizza crawlers. I hope everyone had a good time.

Update: More on Pizza Crawl Part II here at (including video!) and Miami Dish. And if you're interested in participating in the next crawl join the Miami Chowdown Google Group.

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza
17901 Biscayne Boulevard
Aventura, FL 33160

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon

Pizza Fusion
14815 Biscayne Boulevard
North Miami Beach, FL 33160

Pizza Fusion on Urbanspoon

Racks Italian Bistro
3933 N.E. 163rd Street
North Miami Beach, FL 33160

Racks Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Miami Pizza Crawl - Part II

Part I of the Miami Pizza Showdown was a rousing success, with visits to Joey's Wynwood, Pizzavolante and Andiamo reported on here, as well on Mango & Lime and Miami Dish, and this Chowhound thread. The sequel is now being released.

The northern expedition of Miami Pizza Crawl Part II (a/k/a the Return of the Pizza Crawl) will convene this Sunday, June 7, at 6:00 p.m. at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza in Aventura, and then move to Pizza Fusion, and conclude at Racks Italian Bistro. Thanks to Paula of Mango & Lime for playing coordinator this time around.

If you want to come along, please join the Miami Chowdown Google Group and RSVP on the "Pizza Crawl Part II" thread. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Miami Pizza Crawl Part I

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:

Joey's Wynwood
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:

Joey's -

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.

Pizzavolante -

[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 -

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.

Joey's Wynwood
2506 NW 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137

Joey's Wynwood on Urbanspoon

3918 N. Miami Avenue
Miami, FL 33127

Pizzavolante on Urbanspoon

5600 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33137

Andiamo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Morning Reading Material

Some interesting reading material this morning:

Don't forget the Miami Pizza Crawl starts tomorrow 6:30 pm at Joey's Wynwood, then moves to Pizzavolante and (if appetites allow) Andiamo. If you're hoping to join in and haven't done so yet, please join the Miami Chowdown Google Group and let me know so we can try to plan accordingly.