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 d├ęcor. 

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