Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Black and White at Indigo: A Delicious Palette for Your Palate

Twenty-Seventh Stop: Indigo Casual Gourmet Café
Date: March 12, 2013
Location: 2053 Dixie Highway Ft. Mitchell, KY 41011
Ranking:  22

By now, we’ve had a sampling of over half the pizzas on Cincinnati Magazine’s Top 50 Pizzas, in no particular order.   You’d think by now, we’d be hard to impress, what with our developed and refined pizza palates.  Not so, friends!  We happened upon Indigo for the second time (our first try was a bust-they were closed for an unknown reason), and were quite impressed with what we encountered there. 

Great pizza doesn’t have to be experimental.  It doesn’t have to provide street-cred for foodies with contemporary, hip ingredients.  In fact, if you combine fresh ingredients with a good recipe, courteous and knowledgeable staff, and a comfortable atmosphere, you’re bound to stake a claim in local pizzavores’ hearts.  Did we coin a new word here?  Just go with it. 

Anyway, Indigo definitely has the courteous and knowledgeable staff.  We were greeted and seated promptly, and our lovely server answered our questions and offered recommendations.  We arrived at about 6pm on a Tuesday evening, and that place was hopping with guests.  It seems to be a popular spot and, come to find out, for good reason. 

In terms of atmosphere, this place excels.  The building is an old historic Shaker house, and includes the original hardwood flooring from that era.  The large, wood-trimmed bar is set in the dining room, where small tables are cozy, but not crowded.  We hear there is a spacious, shaded patio out back that is quite lovely, if you’re into that outdoor dining sort of thing.  However, outdoor dining wasn’t an option yet at this point in the season, and Robyn was glad about that, because she’d rather eat a Speedway hot dog than eat outside on a patio.   

Now, let’s get down to business - the food.  First up - breadsticks.  It was a hungry night, and we couldn't wait until the main dish to start stuffing our faces.  Several of the starters looked quite tasty but, in the end, we went with an old standard:  breadsticks with marinara.  The little appetizer plate was piled with long and thin, rectangular sticks of soft bread.  They were salted and topped with pretty green specks of herbs.  On top of all that, the accompanying warm marinara sauce was topped with gooey mozzarella cheese.  These breadsticks were a pleasant surprise:  better than expected and a great way to start off our meal at Indigo. 

As far as pizza is concerned, our server offered us some advice and insight on her personal favorites.  She helped to steer us toward the Italian White and Cuban Black Bean pizzas.  Unintentionally, both of these choices were vegetarian selections.  When ordering pizza, you have the option of either a white or wheat crust, and we chose white for the Italian White and wheat for the Cuban Black Bean.  The pizzas offered at Indigo are the single serve, one-plate style, so we decided to order two and share, as we often do when it’s an option.  Indigo offers 5 types of specialty pizzas, along with one “Choose Your Own” option, where you select from their extensive list of stuffings and toppings.  These toppings range from the traditional items such as pepperoni, to the not-so-common accents like garden peas, almonds, and hard salami.      

We each preferred our own selections.  Robyn went with the Italian White.  This one includes Ricotta, Feta, mushrooms, spinach, and Mozzarella, and will set you back $9.99.  This pizza was BY FAR Robyn’s favorite.  It was soft and creamy, without being overly so.  It was akin to neither an alfredo nor a marinara, but fell somewhere in between, in a perfectly lush median of fresh, quality ingredients.  Also, there was an interesting but balanced contrast between the Italian and Greek cheeses.

Courtney opted for the Cuban Black Bean pizza.  This had stood out to us on the menu, but we were hesitant of the "black bean sauce" in the description.  Our server set us straight - she said it was delicious and proclaimed it her favorite.  Ok, then!  The Cuban Black Bean features that house-made black bean sauce (don't be scared), banana peppers, salsa, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, and a side of sour cream.  Courtney really loved this one, preferring it's zesty and non-traditional toppings, and the dipping aspect provided by the sour cream.  She enjoyed Robyn's Italian White, too, but was glad she had chosen the Cuban Black Bean, and happy that she got to keep both leftover slices of it when doling the leftovers into two carryout containers.  The only problem:  the leftovers kind of sucked.  Somehow the zeal of this pizza vanished when refrigerated.  True, a microwave was involved in its reheating (we know, never a good idea, but options are limited in a workplace kitchen), but the problem was with the flavor, not that it was gooey/mushy/tough-crusted.  It was a sad lunch.  What's the lesson here?  Go to Indigo with an empty tummy and eat all of your pizza in one sitting!                        

We left Indigo very pleased, albeit a little confused.  How can a place like Fratelli’s rank in the top 10 when places like this go above and beyond in almost all of the facets we’ve talked about?  Regardless, we are very likely to make some return trips to Indigo, whether it’s for a casual “girls night” with our friends or a “date night” with our significant others.  There are some other pizzas on that menu that need us to eat them.

Indigo Casual Gourmet Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Reaching Altitudes of Meh at Flying Pizza

Twenty- Sixth Stop: The Flying Pizza
Date: February 23rd, 2012
Location: 9563 Fields Ertel Road Mason, OH
Ranking:  23

In gathering the basics to start off this post, we were surprised to find that The Flying Pizza was ranked #23.  After all the pizzas we've had across the last year, it just doesn't seem to be better than half of the entire list. 

Perhaps it was us; perhaps we just didn't order well.  When you enter Flying Pizza, you step in front of a large counter where you are meant to place your order, and behind which the staff prepares dough and bakes the pies.  As usual, we had no idea what we wanted to order.  We started to peruse the menu but, honestly, both of us felt a little rushed with the pizza attendant waiting in front of us with a pen and order pad in hand.  He was very nice, though, and told us about the two types of pizza that the pizzeria offers:  Neapolitan and Sicilian, the former meaning "New York Style" and the latter being thicker-crusted and generally cut into square pieces.  Both were appealing, but after our adventurous turn at Ferrari's (Thai and Mediterranean, remember!), we were both in the mood for some standard NY, wedge-shaped slices of pizza. 

Then, we noticed the lunch combo menu posted on the back wall of the counter area.  There were 4-5 options, each featuring different components (pizza, salad), toppings (sausage, pepperoni, sausage & pepperoni, cheese), and styles (the aforementioned NY style and Sicilian).  Pinched for time and growing oh-so-hungry, we both thought this was our best bet.  Robyn went with the 2-slices of pepperoni and mushroom, NY Style, plus a drink.  Courtney copycatted the format, but opted for sausage and pepperoni as her toppers.  Both meals were $6.95 plus tax.  Not bad.  Oh, and did we mention that the NY style slices were HUMONGOUS?  The Flying Pizza definitely doesn't skimp.  For good measure, though, we tacked on an order of breadsticks.  As dippers, we were offered pizza sauce and/or nacho cheese.  We quickly confessed our mutual, unbending love for nacho cheese and politely accepted the proposal of both sauces.  

We grabbed a little booth while we awaited our lunch order, which the server had promised to bring to our table.  This place has a pretty New York-y vibe, and definitely exhibits an atmosphere of a traditional pizzeria.  It is clean and casual, with the long counter between dining area and kitchen space, and white tiled floors.  Black and white photos of New York and baseball scenes are mounted on all the walls, conjuring up a feeling for times past.

The view from our seats, looking toward the entrance

Our pizza came, and the giant slices were spilling off the sides of their paper plate beds.  Additionally, 6-7 breadsticks were piled on a separate plate, dotted green with herbs and drizzled with (I assume olive?) oil.  From the overall looks of things, we were ready to dig in. 

With nacho cheese as yellow as Courtney's phone!
Immediately, Robyn felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment as she looked at her order.  Everything looked fine…except for the mushrooms.  While neither of us is sure precisely how the pizza was made, it appeared that the mushrooms were removed from the can, drained, and then plopped onto an already cooked pepperoni pizza.  Maybe this is just a personal preference, but Robyn likes her mushrooms to show a little evidence of having been cooked.  The flavor and texture are pretty appalling to her otherwise, which is why she decided to dump most of them onto the plate instead of into her mouth.  Other than that particular aspect, Robyn thought the rest of her pizza was okay.  The thin crust had a good chew with a crisp bottom.  The pepperoni was sliced thick, and added a welcome flavor to the slices.  The breadsticks were also a highlight for her, after the letdown of the mushrooms.  While dunking our breadsticks, both of us enjoyed the unconventional, processed, gooey sludge known as “nacho cheese” more than either of us would like to admit.  Also, when this is one of the highlights of your meal, you know there must be some room for improvement.   


Perhaps it wasn't the best thing ever, but Courtney enjoyed her pizza.  The slices were huge, thin, and allowed her to fold it before taking a bite.  This helped to contain the pieces of sausage, which were piled atop each slice, and constantly spilling when she picked one up.  The crust is good - thin and just sturdy enough while still being bendable.  The cheese is nice and greasy, and the flavor beckons you to take another bite.  Going back to the sausage, though:  similar experience as with Robyn's mushrooms.  It really seemed to be school cafeteria or frozen pizza sausage.  Maybe it wasn't, but the look and taste certainly recalled those less-worthy varieties. 

On your way out, you or your inner child may want to snag one of the Blue Bunny frozen deserts from the case in front of the counter.  We opted out, with little room for anything other than the pizza in our bellies.  Also on the way out, you need to be careful with your leftovers— the “to-go” packaging is prepared at the counter by sliding your greasy paper plate (the one you ate from!!) into a paper bag and rolling the ends of the bag shut, creating an awkward, floppy triangular prism.  And on a non-related pizza note, Robyn would like to add that she was very impressed with the size and cleanliness of the women’s bathroom.  It was probably one of the cleanest restaurant bathrooms anyone has ever set foot in!       
Weird, right?


So, again, perhaps we just didn't order well.  We are having the delayed realization that pizza-by-the-slice and combo deals might not be the way to go at some places (though Goodfellas in MainStrasse sure does it well).  Flying Pizza has a pretty lengthy menu that provides a substantial list of the standard pizza ingredients, plus some less common ones (like Ricotta cheese and sliced meatballs).  If you go, go for dinner, and order a whole specialty pie or develop your own concoction of different toppings.  Trust us that the Neapolitan crust is a good choice, or try the Sicilian which, based on photos, looks pretty tasty itself.  Though the pizza we had on our visit wasn't particularly our favorite, we'd give it another shot.

Flying Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pizza Madness!

We've got a new post for you coming soon from our most recent visit to Flying Pizza, but until then, we figured we'd let you know about a little bracket-style throw-down between tri-state pizzerias, brought to you by Cincinnati Magazine.  Vote for your favorites in the spirit of March Madness, and check back soon right here for a new post!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Getting Cozy at Ferrari's

Date: January 26th, 2012
Location: 7677 Goff Terrace Madeira, OH
Ranking:  13

We’re halfway there, and still truckin’! Twenty-five stops into our pizza journey, we arrived at Ferrari’s on a sunny Saturday afternoon in January.  Though our side of the parking lot had seemed forebodingly empty, there was quite a bustling little crowd inside the restaurant, complete with large families, small groups of friends, and even an older man whom the staff addressed by name.  It was this atmosphere, accompanied by the décor and the bakery, which gave this spot a warm, friendly, authentic feeling.  A large, painted fireplace protruded from the wall adjacent to our table, and was a stunning addition to the traditional Italian-themed furnishings.  We would’ve shared a photo of this, but didn’t want to creep out the people dining directly in front of that spot.    

We made reservations for our visit through Open Table, but seemingly they were unnecessary for this time of day on a Saturday afternoon.  During peak dinner hours, it’s likely that your reservations would be needed to snag a table, but neither of us have been during that time.  They have special lunch and dinner hours, so you will want to check this out ahead of time if you plan to go. 

Our server brought us some complimentary Italian sliced bread, topped with sesame seeds, and some soft butter.  The bread was pretty unremarkable, considering we were dining in a bakery, but it was a good to munch on while we waited on our order.  The pizzas are single serving size, so we took the opportunity to order two different pizzas off the menu and share, as we are wont to do in such a situation.  Courtney fiddled with the idea of ordering a salad but, in the end, decided against one.  She regretted this soon after, as she saw servers delivering pretty mounds of green to neighboring tables; the salads looked very, very good.  Don't make her mistake!

At the recommendation of Cincinnati Magazine, one of our selections was the Mediterranean Pizza.  The other, a unique twist on “pizza” for sure, was the Thai Chicken Pizza that piqued Robyn’s interest in particular.      

Thai in the front, Mediterranean in the back

The Mediterranean was a little different from Mediterranean-styled pies that either of us have had in the past.  Similar to most, it is heavy with delicious and fresh toppings, including quartered artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, hunks of mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, spinach leaves, garlic, and feta all resting atop an olive oil base.  It is infused with a blend of tasty spices and balsamic.  The balsamic flavor is powerful, and something that makes this particular Mediterranean-themed pizza different from those of our previous experiences.  Though it was very good, the strong balsamic-y flavor was one that grew "old" after a couple slices.  It was just a little too tangy to keep going.  Lucky for us, at this point we were able to switch to another!

The top-heavy Mediterranean
The Thai Chicken Pizza was the favorite for both of us with its charred-crust bottom and julienne-d array of veggies.  Aside from the chicken marinated in peanut-ginger sauce, this pizza boasted sesame seeds, smoked gouda and mozzarella cheeses, onions, carrots, cilantro, chopped peanuts, and crushed red pepper.  Although those veggies were super fresh, and sliced into perfectly manageable little morsels, they were not so great when reheated as a meal later on in the toaster oven.  This seems to be a testament to the freshness of the toppings used.  While this pie is pretty far from traditional, it was very tasty.  The flavors and textures combined in a way that satisfied the adventurous eater and the comfort food cravings of the pizza lover all at once.     

The colorful Thai Chicken Pizza

Up close and pizza-nal

Not only is the name of this warm, romantic little establishment a mouthful—its pizzas and Italian fare offer up plenty of things you just can’t help but get a mouthful of as well.  On your way in, and as you leave, you are forced to walk by a bakery case full of goodies, and possibly a worker or two kneading bread or preparing pizza dough.  Smartypants Ferrari's folks; they know you won't pass up the opportunity to snag some cookies, or the day-old bread that tempts you with a sign marked "$2".  It was a silent agreement that we would stop at the bakery counter on the way out; we know each other well enough to understand that neither could ever walk by a bakery without, at the very least, indulging in one cookie.  We both purchased some, and Courtney grabbed a loaf of the day-old salty rye as well.  In order of preference, most preferred to least, the cookies we tasted were:  1)  Black & White cookie (sugar, one half dipped in chocolate and the other in white chocolate), 2) White Chocolate Macadamia, 3) Chocolate Chip, 4) Red Velvet.  Red Velvet is last mostly because it was hard.  If it had been super soft and moist, as we had expected, it might have ranked higher.  Next time, we think we'll go with the Chocolate Chip half-dipped in chocolate.  Oh, and some more of that salty rye - it was fantastic. 

We definitely recommend Ferrari's.  Cozy atmosphere, tasty pizza of unique varieties, a multitude of other Italian-centric dishes, and a bakery to send some dessert home with you.  If you celebrate Valentine's Day, this would be a nice little place to take that special someone.  Though, you might be a little late in the game for those reservations, especially if you want the prime seat by the warm, rustic-looking fireplace.  Or, if it's too late to dine in, at least stop by the bakery to get a sweet treat for your sweetheart.  

Happy Valentine's Day!

Ferrari's Little Italy and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Year, Newport

Twenty- Fourth Stop:  Newport Pizza Company
Date: January 8th, 2012
Location: 601 Monmouth Street Newport, KY 41071
Ranking:  16

We’re baaaaaaaack!  Pizza lovers of the Tri-State rejoice; we have returned after a short pizza blogging hiatus and are now blazing through the last half of the top 50 Cincinnati pizzas.  However, the first post-hiatus visit was actually not in Cincinnati.  We dropped in to one of our tried and true favorites in Newport, on one of those warm, balmy evenings in January.

Almost everyone that we know loves Newport Pizza Company.  Only one of our friends has been less than impressed, and we’d venture to say that was a fluke.  Here’s why:  Newport Pizza Company has consistently served up unique, fresh, and delicious pizza every time we've gone, and that was no different on this particular visit.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we have to admit that we dined with a friend of ours who is also an employee at Newport Pizza Company.  One could argue that our satisfaction and overall experience is tainted or biased, but based on our past experience as well, we are willing to bet that the experience was a true indicator of the service and food we’d receive on any visit.         

The atmosphere in NPC is cozy, clean, and comfortable.  The service has always been very friendly, and the staff is well-informed and extremely knowledgeable about the menu and bar offerings.  Speaking of the bar--they offer a really great selection of craft and import beers, if that’s what you’re into.  Our fantastic server Krista was attentive to our every need, and made sure that our foray back into pizza blogging was going to be a good one.  And it was.

We started out with some Fried Mozzarella, which are fresh mozzarella chunks, battered and fried into gooey, geometric cubes, with a heavenly crisp on the outside.  The fresh, house made marinara sauce was the perfect compliment to these, although they could probably stand alone just fine.  Courtney had never tried these before, and was definitely in love.  (p.s.  there were two left and, though the server kindly advised that these weren't very good reheated, we found them to be just fine later.  Come on, you can't waste something that good!) 

Between the three of us, we decided to order two 12” pies, each split in halves with different types of pizza on either side.  That was a benefit of knowing an employee - she knew how to get the most bang for our buck and the most tastes out of one visit.  On one of them, we chose the Monmouth and the Meatball Lasagna.  On the other, half  Barbeque Chicken and half Zeus.

We both really loved the meatball lasagna pie, which showcased their homemade sauce and meatballs.  There was a light mix of Ricotta cheese in the sauce, which was a pleasant addition.  Eating this pizza reminded Robyn of our annual T-Givin’ potluck, in which our friends make delicious lasagna the night before Thanksgiving.  Whatever your favorite lasagna is, this pizza will probably remind you of it, which is awesome.  The crust is light and chewy, but not too thin to support the heavy toppings.  This pizza is a different kind of good, and the right choice if you're in the market for a pizza that's not quite pizza.   
Meatball Lasagna on the left, the Monmouth on the right

The Barbeque Chicken pizza was pretty standard for its kind, but was great.  Do not underestimate standard ingredients; it's what they do with them that is important!  We heard this one is pretty popular, and totally see why.  The barbeque sauce was sweet, not vinegary.  There was plenty of the sauce, which was nice.  The onions were a little dry for Robyn’s liking, but they still added good flavor to the pizza overall.     
Barbeque Chicken on the left, Zeus on the right

The Zeus was the first NPC pizza that Courtney ever tried, awhile back, and remains probably her favorite.  This one offers fresh spinach, Roma tomatoes, garlic, feta, asiago, and an olive oil base.  It is seriously the melt-in-your-mouth kind of good, actually just as good (if not better) than Courtney remembered.  This one is definitely the right choice if you want something with a different kind of taste, or maybe something a little lighter.   Also, if you love Asiago.  OMG Asiago.

The Monmouth is the NPC house specialty, basically a high-end deluxe pizza.  This guy features the usual suspects for a deluxe.  The meat:  pepperoni, awesome Italian sausage, and bacon.  The veggies: bright green peppers, onions, and mushrooms.  The cheese:  mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan.  These ingredients are piled super high, so we recommend attacking this one with a fork.  A classic done right.

We know what you're thinking:  "of course you're going to give it a grand review, your friend works there!".  Believe us, though - we are not exaggerating.  Newport Pizza Company is good stuff.  Skip Dewey's the next time you head towards the Levee, and drive a few blocks up to NPC instead.  Maybe try the Pizza of the Month, where the NPC team tries out some creative blends and thematic pies (it's Caribbean Jerk now, but we heard the Greek they had recently was one of their best).  And, if it's your birthday and you are an extremely lucky person, their delivery driver will sing Happy Birthday to you in a full-on operatic voice.  You are not misreading this - it's one of our new favorite memories.  

Newport Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

Pizza by the Slice, and a Whole Lotta Spice

Twenty-third Stop: Ramundo's Pizzeria
Location: 3166 Linwood Avenue  Cincinnati, OH 45208
Ranking: 14

It was a weeknight, and takeout pizza seemed like a good way for us to spend the evening.  There are a few places on the pizza list that offer only takeout, or are perhaps best designed for takeout.  Ramundo's has a very small interior, with its space mainly reserved for the kitchen.  There are a couple of bar top-type tables immediately near  the entrance, mainly there to accommodate the late-night diners after their rounds of the many bars that pepper the heart of Mount Lookout.  For these patrons, Ramundo's offers the good ol' pizza by the slice deal, also a good option for a quick lunch for those who work at the local businesses.  If you want a whole pie and a seat, though, we recommend picking up an order and heading home to your dining room table.  Or, better yet, your couch, which we all know is the best place to eat pizza. 

For a few years, Courtney and her husband lived right in Mount Lookout square, within walking distance from some great restaurants.  There was Ruthai's for (you guessed it) Thai food, Betta's, no longer there, for wonderful Italian (Filo Chicken!), and Zip's for a tremendous burger.  Ramundo's was their go-to for pizza whenever the mood struck, and they usually ordered a 3-topper with bacon, spinach and tomatoes.  It was always delicious, with the freshest of ingredients and just a little spicy kick to the sauce.   

Having not had Ramundo's for too, too long, Courtney was truly looking forward to reconnecting with their pizza.  We called ahead to place our order, which included that large bacon-spinach-tomato pie and some Ramundough Bites.  These aptly-named treats are described on their website as "zesty pepperoni & cheese rolled up in our garlic butter brushed dough".  Who can resist that?  Plus, we learned about Ramundo's Rewards, a loyalty-type program for clients, and how new members get a free order.  Top that.

The pizza was just about ready when we picked it up, and we were quickly headed back to Courtney's to indulge in its deliciousness. 

Sometimes a dish, an event, a place can take on added importance and greatness in your mind, increasing with the years and with every time you remember it in conversation.  "Remember how good that blah blah blah was?"  "It was the best blah blah blah EVER."  We're sure you know that overhype-things-for-yourself feeling; we can't be the only ones.  Well, sadly, that was the case here.  Courtney had such melt-in-your-mouth memories of Ramundo's Pizza.  Worse, she'd passed this excitement onto Robyn.  In the end, we both ended up disappointed.  Bummer.

It's not that Ramundo's Pizzeria has bad pizza.  It's just that, well, it wasn't as good as we wanted it to be.  It certainly was not as good as Courtney recalled, though certain elements do stand out.  The crust - crisp and chewy.  The toppings - absolutely fresh.  The flavor - something was missing.  The sauce - incredibly spicy.  It probably didn't help that, before eating our Ramundough Bites, we both doused them with the side of sauce that accompanied them.  The spice of the sauce totally overpowered the poor little pepperoni and cheese snacks, and sent our mouths into a fit of rage.  We were a little saddened the by spice-level of the sauce, but figured it only hit us so hard because we had so liberally applied it to the appetizer.  Surely, the pizza wouldn't be so bad.  We were wrong.  Not horrendously spicy, but still a bit too much.  Courtney didn't remember it being like this in the past, but from what we've heard, that is generally the experience with their sauce.  There are folks out there who love Ramundo's.  After all, it is #14 out of 50.  We can see that, perhaps especially if you're into spicy.  Overall, it just wasn't our favorite. 
Ramundough Bites-what's not to like here?  Yum!

Some classic iceberg lettuce to cool the palate after that spicy sauce

We don't advise against Ramundo's, but we think it's fair to say we don't highly recommend it, either.  We've heard people exclaim their love for Ramundo's, and we've heard others denote it as "gross".  Guess we're right in the middle.  If you are a fan, be sure to sign up for Ramundo's Rewards.  Their e-mails are frequent, but they do offer some nice deals for their members, including bonus treats on your birthday.   Oh, and their calzones are fantastic.  Well, so says Courtney's memory, which is apparently not so reliable these days.  

Ramundo's Pizzeria & Deli on Urbanspoon