Miami Pizza Crawl Pt II Recap - Northern Exposure Edition
The Miami Pizza Crawl crawled north yesterday evening, making its way to Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, Pizza Fusion, and Racks Bistro. It was a fun, big (25+!) group and, I'd say, another successful outing. Much thanks to Paula of Mango & Lime - http://mangoandlime.net/ - for playing organizer this time around.
Here's the lineup of the 16 pies we tried (hope I get this all right):
ANTHONY'S COAL FIRED PIZZA
Paul & Young Ron (with meatballs, sausage, hot peppers & ricotta).
Fresh Mozzarella, Sliced Tomato & Basil
Meatball & Ricotta
Bruschetta (with fresh chopped tomatoes, red onions, basil, balsamic vinegar & roasted garlic).
Four Cheese & Sundried Tomato
Organic Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella
Farmers Market (with roasted artichokes, red onion, zucchini and eggplant).
Founders' Pie (with chicken, kalamata olives, mozzarella and red onion).
Secchi (with sopressata, provolone, fiore di latte & goat cheese).
Sweet Sausage (with meatballs, onion, ricotta, grana padano).
Spinach (with prosciutto, smoked mozzarella, reggiano).
Portobello (with truffle oil, gorgonzola dulce, speck).
Once everyone's digested, you'll probably see some recaps and pix at http://mangoandlime.net and http://miamidish.net - and www.foodforthoughtmiami.com - in the meantime, for the rest of the chowhounds - what'd you think?
If you're interested in the next round, please join the Miami Chowdown Google Group - http://groups.google.com/group/miami-chowdown?hl=en - and look for a post on "Part III".
I posted my recap here: http://mangoandlime.net/2009/06/08/mi...
In sum, I liked Racks the best from last night's crawl. The spinach pizza was my favorite; the prosciutto was nice and the smoked mozzarella gave it a nice flavor. Plus, there was lots of spinach and prosciutto so you could actually taste it on the pie. The crust was better than at the other places though it didn't pack a lot of flavor.
I liked Anthony's this time more than the first time I visited not too long ago. The crust wasn't as charred as the first time but for some people it was undercooked. Here I liked the Paul & Ron Young and the Eggplant Marino. I wouldn't favor it over some of the places from round I, though.
Pizza Fusion was just okay. I felt the crust was a little grainy. In terms of toppings, they had some interesting combinations but not all of them succeeded taste-wise. The eggplant pizza was particularly dissapointing. My favorite here was the Founder's pie.
Overall, I thought the evening was a success with a lot of interesting flavor combinations to sort through. My general satisfaction was about similar with the first crawl.
Anthony's - This was my second favorite place of those we visited. With regard to the crust, I am a fan of this particular style although I know the charred edges are a matter of individual taste. As long as the charring is not too excessive (and it can vary from pie to pie) it adds to the overall character of the pizza but I'm sure this will remain a point of contention for some. The toppings were generally quite good and the only combination that failed was the Philly Cheesesteak due to oversalted meat. My favorites were the Paul & Young Ron and the Eggplant Marino. The White Pizza also stood out with the combination of cheeses and in fact the flavor of the cheese on all the pies here indicated the use of high quality product. I would have also enjoyed the Meatball and Ricotta had I not already sampled the slightly more complex combination of similar ingredients on the Paul & Young Ron.
Pizza Fusion - This was my least favorite pizza place thus far from both crawls. The thickness and degree of cooking of the crust were fine but there was not much flavor in the dough itself and an overly generous amount of cornmeal on the bottom resulted in an almost grainy texture. The flavors of the toppings on almost every pie were also very muted. Given the organic, health food theme of this place, ingredients were minimally processed and served closer to their raw state. For example, the eggplant and zucchini were not fried, depriving them of more developed flavors, and the chicken on the Founder's Pie tasted like it had been steamed or poached. While these are undoubtedly healthier ways to prepare the toppings, the synergy between pizza as a category and spa cuisine seems a little absurd. My favorite pizza here was the four cheese with sun-dried tomato because it was the only combination that achieved the flavor intensity that I was craving.
Racks - This was the most satisfying of the three places we visited. The dough for the crust was flavorful and well prepared, with slight scorching on the outer rim. The texture was soft and flexible beneath the toppings and crispier along the edge. My only complaint would be that the edge was too thick compared to most other places we have visited on the crawls and this violated the balance between crust and toppings in some situations. The flavors of all the topping combinations were robust and well matched. My favorite was the Portobello pizza not so much for the mushroom flavor but for the union of truffle oil with the gorgonzola, which from just an aromatic standpoint I found to be wonderfully intoxicating. My second choice would be the Secchi with its combination of sopressata and goat cheese. The intensity of the meat and cheese flavors on this really reminded my of the Cacciatorini at Pizzavolante. Unfortunately, I did not get a well balanced slice of the Spinach pizza with a good balance of toppings, which some people considered to be the best pie at Racks.
Overall after this second crawl, I am in the same situation as Frodnesor was after the first one with no perfect pizza option but with the desire to see a hybrid of crusts and toppings from the places that we visited. I would be perfectly happy with crust styles ranging from the soft and thin of Joey's or the central part at Racks to the crisper texture of Pizzavolante or the charred edge at Anthony's. It would almost make sense to pair crust styles with particular toppings. With respect to the flavor combination of toppings, my favorite now is Racks for both intensity and variety. While Pizzavolante had several pies that had a similar flavor intensity, they simply did not have the breadth of offerings. Joey's had breadth but their more exotic combinations did not always please my palate. I was more consistently pleased with the toppings at Anthony's, although they were much more conventional, so I would place it slightly ahead of Joey's in my personal rankings. Both Andiamo and Pizza Fusion are at the bottom of my list but for sufficiently different reasons so it would be hard to say which I liked less.
I look forward to round 3 (and 4 if we subdivide Sobe) especially after the rumors of what will be available at Casale.
I've now put my thoughts up at ->
I've had Anthony's before and like their "well done" style, but I thought most of the pies we got were actually not so well done. A couple were outright soggy in the middle, I think partly because they pile too many toppings on them (Paul & Young Ron, I'm looking at you). My favorite was the simplest, with sliced tomato and mozzarella - probably because the ratio of toppings to crust was better.
I like Pizza Fusion's philosophy, with the commitment to organics, recyclable materials, and so on. Their pizza I thought was underwhelming. The crust was nicely crisp but was overpowered by too much cornmeal in the crust. The toppings just didn't make much impression. The sauce was too sweet, the pepperoni was bland, the vegetables sort of nondescript. It wasn't actively bad at all, just not something I'd go out of my way for.
Racks, despite mixed reviews here (ranging from "best pizza in South Florida" to "should be renamed Racket ... Publix-grade") was very solid, at least for the pizza. Toppings in particular were quite good, especially the prosciutto spinach and smoked mozzarella pizza. I would have preferred if their crust had a bit more crisp and a bit less doughiness, but still all-around quite good. Best showing of the night.