Miami Pizza Showdown Part I - Recap
We had a nice group come out for Part I of the Miami Pizza Showdown. Here is the rundown on the pizzas we tried:
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
"Pizzavolante 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
5600 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137
2506 NW 2nd Ave, Miami, FL
3918 N Miami Ave, Miami, FL
I'll throw out the first volley, although Miami Dish and Mango & Lime have already put up they're takes. Disecting the pies:
Toppings: Joey's had more "outside the box" choices, PV focused more on minimal but quality toppings. It was a tossup for me.
Crust: Liked PV's more as I'm partial to crispy crusts but Joey's was more rustic and better char. I guess PV was experimenting with crust last night so have to reserve judgement till final recipe is decided upon. Guess it'll be an excuse to go back!
Thanks again Frod for putting this together and kudos to everyone for being such an amiable, laid-back and adventurous group.
Best pie of the night was PV's Cacciatorini. I liked everything at Joey's (including the unusual Joey and Dolce e Piccante) but couldn't really pick a favorite of that group. Other top picks include Andiamo's Genovese and PV's DOP & Bianca.
Find it difficult to rate the different styles on the same scale (Joeys & PV thin crust v. Andiamo's more substantial crust).
Thanks to Frod for organizing and to everyone who came out and enjoyed themselves. It was nice meeting everyone there.
Here are links to the reports from Mango & Lime and Miami Dish
I liked Joey's better than Pizzavolante myself. Skipped Andiamo. Would compare Joey's and Pizzavolante as Melting Pot vs. Salad Bowl. ;-)
Joey's crust was "better" - held better, better char, better flavor. Melting Pot - flavors melded and complemented each other very well - they had some unified and mighty fine pizzas. Carbonara and Joey were favorites. Personally, the margherita was not anything too special, and the dolce e piccante underwhelmed (but it may just be me - I don't think I'm not a fan of sweet-tasting pizzas since I've never had one that struck my fancy. Maybe a sweet-tasting dough would help complement/enhance it? I can hear someone screaming "overdose" here!)
Pizzavolante's crust was M.I.A. - Toppings overwhelmed the crust, in my opinion, although toppings are noted for being fresh ingredients. This was a salad bowl - much depended on where the toppings were placed, and a bite had a different flavor as the ingredients were not really melded and they were strong-tasting ingredients. Noticeably the fresh "bitter" arugula and the overly salty Cacciatorini ingredients. Their countering ingredients to balance the flavors were noticeably sparse. The sauce for their margherita was "interesting," for the lack of a better word. Not sure if I'm a fan.
Overall, I'd give the win to Joey's.
I would agree that there was a substantial style distinction between both Joey's and Pizzavolante as opposed to Andiamo, which makes it more difficult to compare all three together.
Andiamo felt like a good quality neighborhood pizza place, typical of what I am used to identifying as the NY pizza style based on the style of crust, but with a broader selection of interesting topping combinations. However, the execution on the pies that we ordered was weaker than I expected from the descriptions. The biggest disappointments were the Genovese and the Putanesca. I have had a nice combination of potato and gorgonzola on some pizzas in Italy so I had high expectations of the Genovese but Andiamo failed to deliver. The pancetta was barely present and undercooked so it had no developed flavor, the gorgonzola was minimally present and the caramelized onion felt like it had been barely steamed. Instead there was an overwhelming garlic flavor from some relatively large chunks, which seemed more liberally distributed than any of the other toppings. The Putanesca was a similar disappointment due to my anticipation of the flavors of the pasta sauce of the same name. The final product however was dominated by the anchovies, which had not had any excess salt removed, while neither the black olive or caper flavors offered much counterpoint due to the former being insipid (perhaps canned sliced olives rather than good kalamatas) and the latter lacking in quantity. I found the Soprano and Popeye pies more enjoyable as both matched my expectations but were not impressive enough to surpass them. Overall, I would have no problem eating again at Andiamo if I wanted NY style pizza with a nice diversity of toppings but I would not go out of my way or expect it to match more gourmet destinations.
Joey's and Pizzavolante are both working in the Italian thin crust style and therefore are easier to compare from that perspective. Joey's had a very thin and slightly soft crust whereas the crust at Pizzavolante was firmer and slightly crunchy. Flavor wise the Joey crust was slightly better but I preferred the texture at Pizzavolante, although that level of crispiness was not to everyone's taste. My personal opinion is that there is room for variation in crust and different textures suit different toppings. A higher fat content from meat toppings or a multiplicity of cheeses is better matched to a crispy crust while other topping combinations work better with a softer crust. From a baseline perspective, I was disappointed with the Margherita pizzas at both places because they were done as a standard fusion of sauce and grated cheese rather than thin slices of tomato and mozzarella, which would be the interpretation of the Margherita that I would expect from a pizza restaurant with gourmet aspirations.
Joey's provided a much broader range of topping combinations and in some cases was far more creative with what they were putting on a pizza. Although I thought the Dolce e Piccante combination was pretty interesting, I would be unable to eat more than a couple of slices of such a sweet pizza. It felt like this particular pie fell through the cracks somewhere between dinner and dessert and I would be far more likely to order it as a novelty item for the latter function. The Carbonara combination was another case of disappointing expectations with the classic pasta sauce flavors not being translated well to the pizza. The Joey combination was the most exceptional and despite the surprising juxtaposition of salami and tuna, the melding of flavors was quite pleasant. Overall, I would enjoy eating a Joey pizza again but I would have to try other topping combinations to find something else to like.
Pizzavolante produced my favorite pizzas for the evening despite having the smallest and most plain range of toppings. The Cacciatorini contrasted a rustic style pepperoni with almost gamy flavors and a generous though not excessive salt level with the more delicate texture and slight sweetness of the guanciale. The only drawback for this pizza was that by splitting it into 16 slices not everyone received both toppings together. The Bianca was my second favorite with a beautiful synthesis in the flavors of goat cheese and fontina. This was the only pizza the entire night where I felt that the flavors of more exotic cheeses were prominent in comparison with the three pizzas that supposedly included gorgonzola. Finally, despite being my third favorite the Volante 100 was also extremely good with bright fresh flavors from the local ingredients. Although this was not a pure Margherita due to the various greens, it would have been my favorite in this category just based on the quality of the tomatoes and the texture of this preparation. Overall, I would return to Pizzavolante for either of the two fixed combinations or to see what other ingredients wind up on the Volante 100.
Frod, thanks again for the organization and I am looking forward to round two.
Here were the highlights for me from a writeup I did:
Joey's - I thought this place was definitely the most impressive in terms of service and ambiance. Granted we were there to scarf down some pie but I like the little things a restaurant will do to improve your experience. The free valet was a tad awkward but appreciated. Our host (he was more of a host than a waiter, really) really did an awesome job of making us feel welcome, ensuring that we had a beverage while we waited for everyone to arrive, and explaining the ingredients of each pizza. I also liked the decor of the restaurant and thought it really blended in well with the vibe of the neighborhood. As for the pizza, I really liked the crust at Joey's. It was crispy with a nice base to it and supported the ingredients well (thanks to other commenters for reminding me it was Joey's crust that I liked and not PV). The cheese was somewhat bland and, as one of the diner's pointed out, the margarita pizza was not a true margarita. It was more like a cheese pizza and contained no chunks of tomato whatsoever. My favorite pie was the Carbonara - bacon, mozzarella, asparagus, and a fried egg on top. While this isnt as good as the Carbonara at Spris on Lincoln Rd, I still liked it. I thought the asparagus was a bit of an intrusion though. I think had it been shaved or sliced rather than left as big stalks it wouldve been much better and easier to eat. The Dolce pizza was surprisingly not bad either - figs, honey, gorgonzola, and pepper flakes. I was warned that this one wasnt too good prior to arriving but I think that person had tried to eat a lot of this pie. While it was tasty, I couldnt see myself eating more than a slice, maybe a slice and a half because it was pretty sweet. Great dessert pizza though and fun to share. Our bill per person at this joint was $12 which included the 4 pies and some beer/wine. Not bad!
Pizza Volante - This place reminded me of a basic sub shop that I used to go to back in Boston. A blackboard on the wall with today's menu, a serving station/order counter in front of it and a couple of coolers with drinks inside were pretty much the decor of the place along with the resto's name on the windows. Plain and simple which made sense for a pizza joint with a mozzarella bar. Pizza Volante had my 2 favorite pizzas. The crust was really thin and crispy which some didnt like but it didnt bother me that much. I think Joey's had better flavor to it though and better consistency. My favorite was the Cacciatorini - pepperoni, guanciale, mozzarella, and tomato. The flavors were smoky and bold and I loved the saltiness provided by the guanciale. Really, really tasty. My 2nd favorite of the night was the Volante 100 - arugula, tomatoes, and dandilion greens all sourced from within 100 miles of the restaurant. Cool concept, incredibly fresh taste. This one was really light too which was helpful when youre in the midst of a pizza crawl that has involved 8 pizzas so far. Once again however, the Margarita pizza was disappointing and more like a cheese pizza. I will definitely go back to this place to try another pie and sample the mozzarella bar. I also think its important to note that one of the diners noticed Jonathan Eismann using an infared thermometer to measure the temp of the mozzarella bar to make sure everything was remaining at its proper temp to avoid spoiling. Another important thing to note is that they had bottles of wine for under $20 and beer for a buck!! Our bill per person at this joint was $8 which included the 4 pies and beer/wine!!
Andiamo - This place was our last stop for Round 1 of the pizza crawl. Surprisingly, I think we only lost 1 soldier between our first 2 stops and the group was still hungry for more. I thought the location of this place was kinda cool. It was on the corner of a few connecting streets that weren't overly busy with ample parking around. From what I was told, this area used to be really seedy but had made a nice comeback. Andiamo had a HUGE outdoor seating area with an enormous projector screen outside and a few plasmas inside that had the Lakers/Nuggets playoff game on. Pretty sweet in my book. I think we lucked out making this our last stop because this pizza was very filling. Unlike the previous 2 stops, the crust was a medium thickness and, like Pizza Volante, didnt really contribute much in the flavor department. Also like PV I think that had to do with the toppings. My favorites here were the Putanesca - anchovies, capers, pepper flakes, and mozzarella and the Genovese - rosemary seasoned potatoes, bacon, onions, gorgonzola and LOADED with garlic. The flavors of these pies, however, may have almost been too much as I couldnt imagine eating a lot of either pizza. The Putanesca was pretty salty with the combo of anchovies and capers, something I enjoyed but something I also may tire of should I not be sharing with 13 other people. Same with the garlic on the Genovese although this pizza did bring some nostalgia for my days at UMass scarfing down a similar slice at Antonio's on Main Street in Amherst. The bill here came to $10 each and included a round of suds.
Overall, it was a good time and I really enjoyed talking food with the other diners. Some I had met previously on these "chowdown" events, some at other events, and some were total strangers that were fun to get to know. You know youre with a solid group when 15 people can agree on what to order, share and be considerate to make sure everyone gets a taste, and then pay a bill in lightning quick fashion with no hiccups. Truly awesome.
Here's a real boner from the Miami Herald.
In the SCENE IN THE TROPICS section they claim "The first of its kind in Miami, Pizza Volante is a Roman-style pizzeria and mozzarella parlor."
Really, the only pizzeria, I know in Miami, that can be classified as Roman is Pizzeria Rustica.
The pizza on the street in Roma, is called Pizza al Taglio (Italian for pizza by the slice or cut) is made in large rectangle trays. "Forno Campo de'Fiori" is famous bakery that makes this style along with "Pizzarium". As you can see the pie looks exactly like "Pizzeria Rustica's" and nothing like what PizzaVolante is doing.
Perhaps they are referring to the Roman restaurant style that is distinct from that of Neapolitan pizza, in which case the crisp rather than soft crust at Pizzavolante fits that description. See definition 2 below.
According to Wikipedia:
Lazio style: Pizza in Lazio (Rome), as well as in many other parts of Italy is available in two different styles: (1) Take-away shops sell pizza rustica or pizza al taglio. This pizza is cooked in long, rectangular baking pans and relatively thick (1–2 cm). The crust is similar to that of an English muffin, and the pizza is often cooked in an electric oven. It is usually cut with scissors or a knife and sold by weight. (2) In pizza restaurants (pizzerias), pizza is served in a dish in its traditional round shape. It has a thin, crisp base quite different to the thicker and softer Neapolitan style base. It is usually cooked in a wood-fired oven, giving the pizza its unique flavor and texture.
Always interesting to see everyone's feedback - it was a fun evening and a real pleasure getting together with everyone.
I was pleasantly surprised by Joey's and thought they might have had the best crust of anywhere we tried. While I was wary of the topping combos (the Joey with tuna, salame, gorgonzola, capers and spinach in particular), I actually thought they were pretty successful, though they mightbe overwhelming in larger doses than the 1/2 slices we sampled.
Overall my favorites were probably at Pizzavolante, with it being a tossup between the Volante 100 topped with fresh local dandelion greens, tomatoes and arugula, or the cacciatorini with nice pepperoni and guanciale. The quality of the cheese in particular really stands out to me on all their pizzas - though I'm not sure the difference between Vito's cow's milk mozz and the Italian mozzarella di bufala is worth it on the margherita. I thought the crust at Pizzavolante may have veered too far into the crispy realm, though I know they're still working on it.
I was disappointed in Andiamo's particularly in comparison to the other two. Thought the crusts were gummy, the toppings not great quality, and the flavors imbalanced (the putanesca way too salty, the genovese way too garlicky).
More of my thoughts here ->
Looking forward to Round II!