Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Intangible, Elusive Pizza at Campanello’s

Twenty-second stop:  Campanello’s Italian Cuisine
Date: July 25, 2012
Location: 414 Central Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45202
Ranking:  38

Unfortunately, we don’t have much to say about the pizza at Campenello’s Italian Cuisine.  The main reason for this being-we didn’t have any! We had purchased a JB Dollar Savers deal online, which entitled us to $20 worth of food for $10.  Split between the two of us, $5 for pretty much anything isn’t a bad deal. 

Situated downtown on Central Avenue, Campanello’s is a family-run establishment that dishes up some basic, traditional Italian foods.  It is casual and tiny inside the dim dining room, with a few tables lining one side of the room, and a bar on the other side.  Luckily, one of those tables was open for us when we arrived.  If you are one of those “glass half full” type people, you might say that the seating arrangements are “cozy.”  If you are more of a “glass half empty” type, you’d say it was “cramped” or “suffocating.”  This is worth noting if you’re looking for someplace to have a private conversation, but not such a big deal if you’re just grabbing lunch with some old friends.

We browsed the menu, and noticed that there was no mention of pizza anywhere.  After sharing a suspicious look and double-checking our reading comprehension skills, we asked the server if they served pizza.  She said that they did have pizza, but they only made 6 doughs at a time, so they went pretty fast.  She didn’t really elaborate, and we didn’t really interrogate her any more either, but we were still a little confused.  From our basic understanding, you either have to be a regular who is in the know about when pizza is served, or be super lucky to get there in a time when one of those 6 pies is available.  We were obviously a little disappointed about not getting to try the pizza, but still in front of us was a menu full of homemade Italian fare, so we figured we’d just go with the flow and order something else that sounded good. 

We had some of the standard bread and butter in a basket before the meal, which was good, but nothing extremely memorable.  Robyn got ordered a lasagna and manicotti combo for her entrée.  Courtney had a “special” of some sort.  Again, it was decent, but nothing out of the ordinary.

We’d like to have tried the pizza at Campanello’s, but with its rarity and mysterious availability, we’re not sure that will ever happen.  Maybe if you’ve had the opportunity to have the pizza, you can leave us a comment-let us know how it was, and how you managed to snag one!  

Campanello's Italian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Two Tickets to Paradise

Twenty-first Stop:  Jean Paul’s Paradiso
Date: July 13th, 2012
Location: 6732 Clough Pike Cincinnati, OH 45244
Ranking:  41

Biggest mystery here?  The fact that Jean Paul’s little piece of heaven doesn’t show up until #41 on the master pizza list.  This place is named appropriately.  It’s not just about how delicious Jean Paul’s masterful pizza is; it’s about the location, the desserts, the experience of ordering, picking up, and eating it.  This place, and its pizza, would rank much closer to the number 1 than the number 50 if we had our say.  

It was Robyn’s idea to go with Jean Paul’s.  Courtney had just gotten back in town that day and, though she wanted some pizza, she wanted to do it in the laziest way possible.  So, Robyn headed over to the eastside with the suggestion of Jean Paul’s carryout.  Jean Paul's is primarily a carry-out establishment, although there are one or two high top tables for two that could be used to dine in.  It took Courtney a second to realize exactly where this parlor sat.  She didn’t make the immediate connection between it and the small strip mall-like location on Clough Pike that she’d passed numerous times en route to the local pet store.  But, sure enough, that’s where it is.  It sits in the far right slot of a building with a few businesses, right on Clough Pike in Anderson Township.  It’s quaint and charming from the outside, with hanging baskets of flowers punctuated by matching light fixtures, and a sign over the entrance featuring a green cartoon chef fit with an apron and hat. 

We had reviewed the menu online.  Admittedly, the prices seemed steep to us.  In fact, we opted for a small pizza, since a large version was $23.40.  Plus, we had heard that Jean Paul’s offered a menagerie of fine dessert specimens, and we wanted to save some dollars for our sweet teeth.  We called in our order for the $13.50 version of a Pepperoni, salami, ham, capicola, tomatoes, basil and garlic pizza, and were given about a ½ hour until it was ready.  Judging by the thick  accent of the man on the other end, we are pretty sure JP himself took our order. 

“I smell a Sicilian!” exclaimed the young woman in the visible kitchen behind the pastry case.  No, she wasn’t being racist.  She was pinpointing, with wise familiarity, the scent of our carefully crafted dinner, a small Sicilian Pizza.  This must be a popular choice, if it can be named by its smell.  We came in a little suspicious of what the website calls “The best in the universe!” and, honestly, more excited for the desserts.  
L to R: fruit tart, a flour-less chocolate cake, and Key Lime Pie

chocolate mousse cup, Neopolitan, and Cannoli

We saw these immediately, encased and on display, and were surprised by the number of choices before us.  All sold in individual servings, there was Key Lime Pie, cheesecake, Tiramisu, tiny Pecan pies, chocolate mousse in a colorful edible cup, Neopolitans, fancy tarts we can no longer name, and more.  The woman behind the counter was extremely nice, patient, and explanatory as we ooed and aaaahed, and asked a bazillion questions about the genetic makeups of each little sweet treat.  We both chose four desserts, eight in total.  This might be a lot for two people, but we dare you to survey those desserts and not leave with a sampling of your own.  Robyn also bought some homemade croutons, pictured below.  We left the premises with what could be described as a portion of paradise.  Calling the restaurant Jean Paul’s Paradiso turns out not to be boastful moniker, but a modest assessment of inventory. 

And now, the pizza.  We were not expecting this pizza to be as very delicious as it was.  The blend of ingredients on The Sicilian is nothing fancy or out of the ordinary, but the flavors swell to set this pizza apart from other contenders.  It was a conflicting feeling to eat each bite:  you want to savor it but, simultaneously, you wish to shove it in your mouth so as to more quickly take the next.  The toppings form a strata where meats, cheese, and veggies live in a perfect harmony of flavor and texture.  The tomatoes were really the focal point of this pizza pie, and the one item that most stands out in retrospect.  They had to have been marinated in a blend of oil, balsamic, and Italian herbs for the perfect eternity.  The final product was plump, red, and incredibly juicy, lending a wonderful flavor to each bite of the pizza.  To help you understand how very tasty the tomatoes were:  Robyn, who typically picks this red fruit off of her slices, found Jean Paul’s tomatoes to be succulent and non-negotiable.  Perhaps they are the best part of this pizza.  When something is made the right way, you just know.  You can sense the skill involved in its recipe and the care taken in its creation.  The personal investment in the product is transferred through the food and to the person eating it.  Maybe this sounds a little hippy-dippy, but seriously you guys.  You know it’s true.  It’s why we don’t get the same pleasure from an Eggo waffle as we would a waffle at Taste of Belgium.  Well, not if you are paying attention and have taste buds. 
Robyn's croutons, which were mighty tasty

Unfortunately, we often plow through life with little thought about how our food got from the earth to our plate.  Jean Paul’s Paradiso is one of those places that help you reconnect and become more mindful of the pleasures that food, when done the right way, can bring.  In all honestly, we know neither the source of our Sicilian’s ingredients, nor the delectable pastries we added on to our order.  The quality of this food was such that it just makes you wonder about all that went into it, better appreciate the process and the people behind it, and most importantly, want to come back, over and over again. 
No, thank YOU, Mr. Jean Paul and crew.

Jean Paul's Paradiso on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thank Goodness: Noce’s isn’t dead, after all

Twentieth Stop:  Noce’s Pizzeria
Date: June 28th, 2012
Location: 116 Barnwood Drive Edgewood, KY 41017
Ranking:  21

Noce’s was a little confusing to us at first.  Since Cincinnati Magazine’s top 50 pizzas had been published, we got wind of news that Noce’s had closed.  We were sad to hear that, since Courtney’s husband had recommended it as a place he had enjoyed before.  Then, just as we were preparing to pen a special RIP entry, we received new information.  Well, technically, this information wasn’t new in the sense that it just happened recently, but it was new to us!  After some investigation on the Internet, it was discovered that there was a Noce’s, after all, and right near Robyn’s own neighborhood.  That settled it; we were off to our next pizza destiny.

Contrary to what many people might think, the best food in a city can often be found in strip malls and other similarly structured commercial spots.  An article from economist Tyler Cowen in May 2012 highlights the reasons for this, as well as 5 other dining “rules” to live by here.  As we rolled into Noce’s parking lot, we were not disappointed to find that we were up for another potential strip mall delight.  A sign on the front window of Noce’s echoed our own sentiments and what we know to be true for most of the pizza joints explored thus far: “There’s a big difference between the big chains and the independent pizzerias.  Come on in and we’ll prove it to you!”  Don’t mind if we do! 

The sun was not on our side, but the full quote is above!

We approached the counter in the tiny dining room, and started asking one of the men working all kinds of questions.  He confirmed that Noce’s on Montgomery Road, in Cincinnati, had indeed closed its doors, but the location in Edgewood was the sole operation at this time, and had been successfully operating for 2 years in that spot.  This small, “New York Style” pizzeria seemed like it might have fit right in somewhere in a bustling Big Apple neighborhood.  This feeling was supported by both its small dining area and its casual, NYC-inspired décor. 

After some deliberation over the menu items and coupons that Robyn had snagged from one of those coupon mailers (sometimes you find a diamond in the rough with those things), we decided on a couple of Cokes, an appetizer of garlic knots, and a large Mattie Deluxe specialty pizza.  The Mattie Deluxe came topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and garlic. 

We were the only customers dining in that night, and found a cozy spot in the corner, up front.  Our garlic knots came out, and they were really good.  We had an order of six, which was perfect for the two of us, but you can also order a basket of a dozen.  The dough was dense and chewy, they were brushed with melted butter and garlic, and the homemade sauce was just right. 

Glistening, just the way we like them

When the monstrous Mattie Deluxe arrived shortly after that (take that, ZZ’s!), we were impressed by its size and the appearance of the toppings-everything looked great.  We dug in, and the cheese stretched and oozed with each lift of the spatula, but conveniently stayed put with all the toppings, just the way we like it.  The green peppers were fresh and cooked lightly enough to preserve a crisp, juicy texture.  They added a nice crunch to your bite.  Robyn really liked how the onions were cut small, rather than in the typical “circular” fashion that can sometimes leave them flopping around awkwardly from your mouth when you take a bite.  It’s not that we complain about that typical style, but the departure on this pie was a nice little change that worked well with the pie overall.  The sausage was sliced just like Fratelli’s had been, in thin, rectangular strips rather than crumbly balls.  However, the sausage at Noce’s tasted great, whereas Fratelli’s had been salty and strange (much like their servers).  And don’t forget the Parmesan!  Though loads of people habitually shake a little cheese over their pizza, it’s not something we always find necessary.  For the Mattie Deluxe, though, it was decidedly a pleasant addition.  As usual, our eyes were definitely much bigger than our stomachs, and we ended up taking home plenty of leftovers.  

Cheese in the spotlight

Well, we are really glad that Noce’s still exists.  As suspected, the sign in their front window was correct, and they did a good job of proving it to us.  Robyn can’t wait to get back and try the White Garlic pizza or one of the delicious looking Pepperoni rolls sometime soon.  Or one of their many types of pasta.  Or the Stromboli.  Or the Antipasto salad.  Or…   
Noce's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 26, 2012

ZZ's, Definitely Not Top

Nineteenth Stop: ZZ’s Pizza Company
Date: June 21, 2012
Location: 2401 Gilbert Avenue  Cincinnati, OH 45206
Ranking: 42

ZZ’s Pizza Company falls in the bottom 10 of the top 50 list and, after our visit there, we doubt that its ranking is influenced by pizza alone.  We’ll be up front:  the service sucked, the wait for our pizza was long, and there were some sort of flies or gnats all over the place.  One even landed on Robyn’s “lip gloss,” which Courtney immediately clarified, “You should have just said your lip, not lip gloss.  Don’t try to make it sound like it was not as gross as it was.”  Yeah, it landed on my actual lip, and stuck there on my lip gloss.  How’s that for appetizing?    

It’s a shame, really; our pizza was actually quite good.  However, by the time we were finally able to eat it, frustrations had mounted and we had trouble easily enjoying it.  Dining out, especially for pizza, should not be a stressful experience.  Often, the most difficult aspect of our pizza outings is deciding what to order.  On this day, we were speedy and submitted our order almost immediately.  Opting to try something different, we selected a two topping 16-incher with salami and banana peppers.  The pricing at ZZ’s is very reasonable.  There are a variety of specialty pizzas at prearranged pricing, but you also have the option to build your own pizza, with low base prices and topping prices quoted by the size of your pie. 

When we ordered our pizza, we also ordered two Cokes.  Our server delivered them to our table pretty quickly, and returned to making his rounds at the other tables.  We both took a drink, and grimaced at each other: the Cokes were flat.  Let me try to convey how disgusting our Cokes tasted-Robyn says she would probably rather have guzzled some hot dog juice from the Speedway roller grills at around 3 am than drink what was in her glass.  Oh well, it happens.  The next time our server stopped by, we would ask him for new drinks, tell him the tap needed changing, the carbonation was bad, whatever.  Trouble was, it was a full half hour before our server returned to our table.  Not once in that time did he walk by our table or even really look our way.  There were a couple quick glances back, but every time it seemed like he was trying to avoid eye contact with us.  It was weird and frustrating.  He was busy, sure.  It’s not like he was hanging out behind the bar, or with his feet planted in front of a TV watching the game (we have seen these things happen before).  However, he clearly was not taking the time to check on us.  At one point, he started walking towards our table.  We became excited at the thought of fresh drinks but, alas, he stopped at the table just behind us, grabbed a signed check from an empty table, and turned back around.  What the heck?

The server did not return to our table until he brought our pizza.  The pizza was fresh out of the oven, but it was also more than thirty minutes since we had ordered it.  That struck us as a fairly long preparation time, considering the following.  When we went to Bourbon House Pizza a couple months back, our server warned us that it would be a long wait for our deep-dish pizza, which must go through two phases of baking.  That wait was under 30 minutes.  This traditional two-topping was over that.  But, then again, perhaps this annoyance was heightened by our disappointment with the service. 

When we explained that our drinks were flat, and we’d like new ones, we were told that they were fresh out of Coke.  What?  How does that happen?  And might we have gotten refills if he had returned to our table sooner?  Probably.  As it were, we both ordered waters, which we probably just should have done in the first place.  After pointing out, ever so nicely, that we felt like ignored patrons, our server became extremely nice.  He smiled a lot, became almost giggly, and checked on us a number of times.  It seemed that he felt badly, which was slightly redeeming.  We didn’t request it, but he rightly didn’t charge us for our soft drinks.  We tipped him fairly, but that’s it. 

Since this is a pizza blog, we should point out that ZZ’s does dole out some yummy pizza.  The crust was chewy at the edges, the combination of toppers (reminder: salami and banana peppers) was a surprisingly good choice, and the cheese was cooked to the perfect degree, melted and with pretty brown broiled spots on top.  The leftovers, always something to consider, heated up well in the toaster oven.  ZZ’s was busy the whole time we were there, both with dine-in patrons and carryout orders that were picked up at the bar.  It’s clear that some people love ZZ’s Pizza Company, and it’s sad that our feelings about the pizza are an afterthought.  

ZZ's Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pricy Pepperoni

Eighteenth Stop: Raniero’s
Date: June 13, 2012
Location: 28 Martha Layne Collins Boulevard, Cold Spring, KY
Ranking: 48

We had kind of been avoiding Raniero’s for awhile, and for various reasons.  The day that we finally planned to cross it off of the list, it looked like our dinner may not come to fruition.  Courtney was stuck in horrible traffic from Mason to Raniero’s Cold Spring location, not far past NKU.  Of course, she had also left her cell phone at home that day, so therefore could not communicate this delay to Robyn.  She ended up being almost a full half hour late.  Being the awesome, patient friend that she is, Robyn waited.  By the time we were both there, our stomachs were growling.  This day surely warranted an appetizer.

We walked right in and were given our choice of seats.  We selected a high top table, ordered our drinks, and promptly perused the starter selections.  When we looked at the menu, it stated that they served Pepsi products.  We wanted Cokes, but both ordered Mountain Dew instead.  When we told our server this, she surprised us by saying that even though the menu says otherwise, they only serve Coke products.  Score!

There were a few things that stood out:  the standard yet typically delicious Garlic Knots, the Bosco Sticks (cheese-filled breadsticks), and the Luigi Snackers (kind of like a pizza hot pocket).  However, what really caught our eye were the Queso Cheez Stix, which promised to give us crunchy tortilla snackers filled with warm queso.  Our waitress fully endorsed this selection, so we decided to give it a go, turning a blind eye to its ridiculous spelling.  Pizza-wise, we decided to go simple this round, and selected Zia’s Pepperoni Pie.  This pizza promised to bring us pepperoni “stacked high and side-to-side”.  Sometimes, that is all a pair of girls need. 
Apparently we ate three of these before remembering to take a picture. 
 Honest reaction:  the Queso Cheez Stix (ok, that is impossible to write without cringing) were good enough for a seemingly frozen appetizer.  We were hungry, so not all that picky, and we had no problem splitting these up and finishing them off.  However, we realize that it was not the most delicious of appetizers.  These surely are not fresh; we both believe that they originally hailed from the freezer section.  Accompanying six of these deep-fried treats was a little cup of salsa, likely of the Pace or Kroger brand variety.  We’re really not complaining about these – they were completely edible, and we were so hungry that we did not care.  However, it is something to note if you are in the market for a unique, homemade appetizer.  In that case, this is not the appetizer for you.  It’s also not for you if you hate purposeful misspellings (Cheez.  Stix.  Ugh). 

They might as well call them Kaysoh Cheez Stix.

Then came our pizza.  And folks, this is really the first time that we disagreed on a pizza.  Courtney liked it fine.  It was just a good, standard pepperoni pizza.  It had a good, greasy flavor that you expect from this classic pie.  The pepperoni itself was zesty, just as the menu promised.  Robyn, on the other hand, did not care for this pizza at all.  She ate it – just as with the Queso Stix, it was edible – but she really didn’t enjoy it.  Nothing about the pizza stood out or even hit the spot, and she was disappointed in pretty much every aspect of the pizza, which bummed her out.  While Robyn is the deeply in love with some greasy kinds of pizza (see: Jet’s), she did not like the amount or flavor of grease that seemed to be pooling all over the plate and seeping through the crust alarmingly.      

The whole shabang.

After Robyn sopped up excess grease with a napkin.

Now, back to agreeing.  We both agree that this pizza was a rip-off.  As aforementioned, this pizza description promised this specialty option to be “stacked high and side-to-side with zesty pepperoni”.  Only the zesty part of this description is correct; the pepperoni was not that prevalent.  There was really just a normal amount on it, which kind of pisses us off.  Our 12-inch pizza was $13.95.  Before seeing this pizza, Courtney had placed a to-go order for a large, 16-inch of the same variety.  This one was $19.95.  Twenty dollars for a pepperoni pizza?  It just seems like a bit much.  In drafting this post, Courtney checked out their menu again and saw that you can order a 16” “Pizza by the Pie” with one topping (example: pepperoni) for $16.50.  We are willing to bet that the difference in the amount of pepperoni between that and the Zia’s specialty kind is minimal.  Keep this in mind and save yourself some money if you’re ever in the mood for a simple pepperoni pizza from Raniero’s. The Zia is not worth it!  It is worth noting, however, that they seem to have good combo deals (under $5) if you’re looking for just a plain slice or two and a drink.   
Does ANYONE think this pepperoni is stacked "high and side-to-side"?

I suppose Raniero’s could have been a better experience; perhaps we just didn’t order the right things.  We’ve both heard good things from many different people (we actually ran into two different couples that we know just in our quick visit), so the place must be doing something right.  We understand that other appetizers choices are decent.  In fact, when we ran into our friend Jeff there that evening, he provided us with this quote:  “Who needs Mario when you’ve got Luigi Snackers?” The service was quality, and the atmosphere (an old Blockbuster) is nice for a pizza parlor/bar.  It is also worth noting that Raniero’s offers a 24” Pizza Challenge in which two collaborating contestants struggle to consume a 24” cheese pizza in less than 10 minutes.  If they finish within the allotted time, their pizza is on the house; if not, they must fork up the dough.  From the looks of their site, it looks like they are trying to petition this contest for Man v. Food.  Courtney’s brother has actually championed this feat, and has his picture framed on the Raniero’s wall.  Her family is very proud.

Here’s our biggest takeaway from our Raniero’s experience:  it’s expensive.  We’ve not had any complaints, really, about pizza pricing until this point.  Some places are more than others, but some are also better than others, or perhaps provide more quality ingredients (some of which are very noticeable).  At Raniero’s, we went about as simple as we could, but that wasn’t reflected in the price, and unfortunately the price wasn’t balanced with the quality. If you have $20 to spend on a pepperoni pizza, you’re probably better off going somewhere that offers you either better pizza, or the ability to add side items for that amount.

Raniero's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Good Pizza, but No Cigar

Seventeenth Stop: Van Zandt Tavern
Date: June 1st, 2012
Location:  1810 W. Galbraith Rd. Cincinnati, OH 45239
Ranking: 35

If a pizza falls in the oven and no one is around to taste it, does it make a good meal?  Walking into VanZandt, we had our choice of any table or barstool that we wanted-this place was a ghost town, despite the fact that it was about 7:00 on a Friday.  There was only one couple, and later, a family who were in the restaurant along with us.  If this pizza is so good, why is no one lined up to eat it?  The décor is modern and casual, and the atmosphere is clean and clutter-free.  My guess is that, with the lack of customers that seem to be stopping by, they have some time to tidy up and stay on top of housekeeping. 

One little thorn in the side of this visit was the fact that we couldn’t order an adult beverage.  In a “Tavern!”  We rarely indulge in alcohol on our pizza adventures, because neither of us owns a money tree, and you can imagine how expensive that would become as we blaze through all 50 spots (sugar daddies, request an application within and Robyn will return your call as soon as possible).  But, if ever there was a day that we wanted some booze to go with our pizza, it was that evening, and we were denied.  “We don’t have a liquor license right now,” our server lamented, as we scanned the desolate bar area.  The handles were taken off the taps, the wine cases barren, and the glasses collecting dust on the shelves.  It was a sad, sad scene.   

While browsing the Four Square tips for VanZandt, Robyn noticed that the “mayor” of the restaurant had listed his phone number, along with an invitation to walk to his nearby home and share a cigar with him.  Ok, whacko.  We’ll just mosey on down to your front porch in a few and light up a stogie with you.  Sorry, but we’re not about to step into that custom-built crazy trap, Mr. Mayor.  Robyn will, however, make use of your phone number, which you so strangely listed on a public social media forum.  As we waited for our order, she sent a text to Mr. Mayor to inquire about the lack of a liquor license at Van Zandt.  Can you believe he didn’t even text back?!  Someone is not taking their duties as “mayor” very seriously, and the people of North College Hill should be outraged.  So, the details regarding the liquor license (or absence of) are unclear, but it appears that some Urbanspoon users who visited back in maybe April or May were also confronted with the same disappointment at that time.  Maybe they have changed that by the time this post goes up, but that’s how it was for us on June the 1st.     

Anyway, you probably want to know about the pizza.  They have 6 varieties, which can be good if you’re overwhelmed by lots of choices (like Courtney).  VanZandt isn’t specifically a pizza parlor or an Italian restaurant, but their pizzas have garnered enough attention to make an appearance on Cincinnati Magazine’s list.  Their burgers are also an award-winning item, which we noticed the couple dining near us enjoying.  Since the pizzas were small, individual-sized pies, we each chose a different pizza, with the intention of sharing.  Robyn chose the Six Cheese pizza, which had provolone, cheddar, gorgonzola, swiss, smoked gouda, and mozzarella.  Courtney chose the Cheeseburger pizza, which included ground beef, onion, cheddar, lettuce, and tomato. 

baby pizza
Behold: the Six Cheese Pizza
The Six Cheese pizza did not have sauce, which wasn’t really clear from the menu (it didn’t state that it had an olive oil base or anything like that, either).  It was also extremely thin.  See the picture above?  That is the Six Cheese pizza, thinner than my little cell phone and nearly as long.  However, the flavors of the six cheeses were buttery and excellent, and the crust was tasty as well.  In Robyn’s opinion, this was basically a “fancy” order of cheesy bread.  This isn’t a great option if you are really hungry and not sharing food with another person as we were doing.  On the other hand, it would be great with a salad if you were looking for something basic, but with rich, full flavors.    

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger

Perhaps surprisingly, the Cheeseburger Pizza was also an overall win.  Now, this pizza was tempting on the menu.  We hadn’t yet had one of this kind and, since we both love a good cheeseburger, we figured it was a good opportunity.  When our order came, though, we grew more skeptical.  There was lettuce and tomato atop its surface, as we had expected, but they appeared to be mixed with something.  Mayonnaise.  The menu didn’t note this particular feature, and it just looked, well, bad.  Courtney was honestly a little fearful of that first bite.  But, you know what?  It works.  Everything on this pizza is a component of your typical cheeseburger, including the lettuce, tomato, pickles (diced for the pizza), and ketchup (in lieu of a marinara sauce).  The crust replaces the standard bun, but serves the purpose just the same.  This pizza was much more filling that the 6 Cheese, and really pretty delicious.  While it strays from the traditional formula for pizza, it is a welcome change from the classic combo of marinara and mozzarella.   
" My God, Sharon, where did you get that glass of wine? Everyone knows VanZandt doesn't serve alcohol!" 
In the end,  it is two thumbs up for the pizza at Van Zandt tavern.  We were happy with both choices for a variety of different reasons, and they get bonus points for the creativity displayed in their cheeseburger concoction.  That being said, the two things that stick in our memories the most is their missing liquor license (we both really needed a drink that day, people), and the unresponsive man who calls himself the VZ mayor.  We are hopeful that, if we ever make the trip to North College Hill again, we will be greeted with a cold one from the bar and a cigar from Mr. Mayor. 

Van Zandt Tavern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clifton Pizza Wars Part II

Date: May 21, 2012
Location: 121 West McMillan Street Cincinnati, OH
Ranking: 17

"Cincinnati's BEST Pizza":  Opened in 1984 by Sally and Tim McLane
When we walked in Pomodori’s front door, the place seemed spacious and fairly empty.  We saw a number of empty tables to the right, as we walked in and up a few steps.  But then, we were seated.  Our table was in a no-frills older dining room facing street traffic.  We were packed in, closely and awkwardly, between a family and a couple, both of which could hear every word we said, and vice versa.  There was also a lot of staring going on; it was hard not to, since everyone was packed into such a tight space.  Despite all attempts to stay engaged at your own table, it was distracting to have everyone in such close proximity.  This might not bother some people, but we found it rather uncomfortable. 

Another thing possibly worth noting about the atmosphere was the presence of flies buzzing around our table.  Judging from our view in the parking lot, they keep a door at the back of the kitchen open (maybe just during hot weather?), which likely lets in a few flies from outside (eh, it happens).  While the flies did not terribly bother us, or our food, we thought this might be something you’d like to know.   

Robyn's pizza, the "Gourmet"

The wood-fired pizzas are offered only in a smaller, individual size, so we both decided on two different options. Robyn’s pizza, overall, was a success.  She ordered the “Gourmet” wood fired pizza, which, according to the menu, included homemade pesto sauce (a blend of basil and herbs, olive oil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese – yum!) topped with sautéed fresh mushrooms, green peppers, black and green olives, onions, capers, and artichoke hearts, sprinkled with mozzarella and provolone cheeses.   Robyn opted to leave off the capers and green olives as a matter of preference, and they did so without any objections.  The crust beneath the toppings was a thin, pliable sheet of dough that was merely a vehicle for all of the toppings on their digestive journey.  The outer edges of the crust were more pronounced since they weren’t forced to hold the weight of all those toppings, and the wood fired taste was quite good.  As far as the toppings go, they all tasted fine.  The pesto sauce had a quality flavor and, pleasantly, did not overwhelm the rest of the pizza.    

A close-up of Robyn's pizza with the yummy pesto sauce

By recommendation of a friend (blog follower Mike!), Courtney ordered the  Roasted Pepper wood-fired pizza.  This pizza is a rather simple one, involving a few variations of just a couple key ingredients.  There are both roasted red and green peppers and five different cheeses, all on a “fresh pressed garlic and olive oil crust”.  The first bite was one to remember.  The pizza tasted warm and buttery, truly of the “melt in your mouth” variety.  The core of the crust was thin and, as Robyn stated above, really just serves as a shovel for the cheese and other toppings.  The wood-fired outer crust, however, was as delicious as you’d hope it to be.  Courtney really enjoyed this one.  Though we’ve enjoyed trying new pizza styles and fancy toppings throughout this blogging expedition, sometimes sticking with simple is a good choice. 

Courtney's Roasted Pepper pizza (note: does not come with Chapstick)
If we went back, Robyn would definitely try a different pizza.  Even though she liked hers, there were so many varieties and combinations of toppings that sounded like they would be neat to try.  On this visit, other considerations included the Gorgonzola Walnut (title explains it all), and the Leeks, Pancetta, and Goat Cheese (leeks on pizza?!).  Watching the dough prep and handiwork of the pizzas being made in front of the wood-fired oven is a bonus at this place as well.  So, when you need to avoid the awkward eye contact with your neighboring table, you can avert your eyes to the pizza-making techniques on display. 
We can verify the first claim, but the rest...not so much.

Pomodori’s certainly makes some bold claims in their advertising (evidenced by the pictures above), but we are reluctant to agree with them.  We would like to amend their tagline of “best” pizza in Cincinnati to “one of the best.”  It didn’t blow either of us away, but Pomodori’s creations definitely fit the standards of well-made pizza.  The ingredients, the preparation and cooking methods, and the finished product all hold true to the creed of award winning pizzas.  However, this is war, and decisions must be made.  For Robyn, the winner was clear.  Courtney tossed and turned a little before making her decision.  In the end, this round in the Clifton Pizza Wars goes to Adriatico’s. 

Pomodori's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Clifton Pizza Wars: Part I

Fifteenth Stop: Adriatico’s
Date: April 11th, 2012
Location: 113 West McMillan Street  Cincinnati, OH 45219
Ranking: 8

Clifton can be annoying sometimes; like, when you are trying to find a parking spot semi-close to your destination.  Fortunately, Adriatico’s offers a parking lot to its guests, about a block down from the actual restaurant.  Just be sure not to accidentally park in the lot belonging to the competing pizza place next door.  We suspect that would be trouble, as evidenced by the handwritten signs in Adriatico’s, warning that you “WILL GET TOWED”.

For a Monday night, this place was pretty busy.  There were a few people waiting around the entrance for their takeout orders.  Adriatico’s is a favorite carryout/delivery option to those in its delivery area.  To this day, it’s an old favorite of UC grads and current students who reside in the area.  Thankfully, we were seated immediately, although in a booth that butted right up to some of our fellow diners.  This made us slightly concerned, as we anticipated trouble concealing our necessary pizza blog note-taking and picture-capturing.  However, all worked out in the end.  For all people know, one of us was interviewing the other for the UC college newsletter.

We had a realization after examining this menu:  we’ve grown especially fond of ranch-based pizzas.  It’s kind of surprising, really.  We never set out loving the idea of a “ranch” pizza, probably dismissing it as a nontraditional, low-brow way to desecrate the idea of a good pizza.  However, our newly discovered fondness is not just due to the ranch sauce itself, but the wonderful taste that results from its usual combination with bacon, chicken, onions, tomato, and spinach. 

Once we saw the Chicken Bacon Ranch pizza on Adriatico’s list of specialties, there was no turning back.  They offer something else worth noting, called the Inflation Buster, which is a selection of 9 toppings for the price of 5.  This also seemed like a fun thing to try, but the downside is that you don’t get to pick or substitute your own choice of toppings, and we weren’t interested in some of the toppings offered (green olives in particular).  Note: for those interested, their “website” is a facebook profile containing a link to the menu and other pertinent information.     

While waiting for our pizza, we shared some pepperoni rolls.  It is easiest to describe them as a fried eggroll casing containing pepperoni, lots of cheese, and pizza sauce. They made both of us nostalgic for the days when BW3 carried an almost identical appetizer back in our teenage years.  Our pizza actually took a fair amount of time to reach our table, so we were happy to have requested this pre-dinner snack, and happily cleaned the plate.  They were crisp, greasy, and gooey, and came with an especially tasty marinara for dipping.  In short, you should get them, too!

On top of our pizza was chicken, bacon, onion, tomato, and ranch sauce.  While this one lacked the spinach that we have commonly seen added to a “ranch” pizza, it wasn’t short on the flavors and textures that make a pizza wonderful. Trust us on this one, it was good.  Well, more than good.  Otherwise, you surely wouldn’t see this pizza hot spot ranking in the single digits.  Here, pizza is cooked in a stone oven.  The crust comes out thick and perfectly cooked, so that there is a crunch when you bite in.  They do not skim on the bacon on this ranch variation, and the onions were fresh and added a nice flavor to the overall taste.  One square was enough for each of us, as we grew prematurely full after that filling appetizer.  The leftovers heated up well in the toaster oven, which made us happy – we almost always make use of our leftover pizza from these trips and hate to waste!

We’ve heard some complaints about the delivery side of Adriatico’s and, in our own dine-in experience, we found the service to be just a little slow.  However, we don’t expect an expertly crafted pizza to arrive instantly at our table.  Conversely, the prime care taken in the pizza’s creation is evidenced by the wait time.  Adriatico’s pizza is exceptionally good and deserves its top-notch placement on Cincinnati Magazine’s ranking.  We will surely be eating here again, and look forward to trying a different blend of toppings in the next round.  

Adriatico's Pizza on Urbanspoon