Pizza Crawl - First Cheese, part 3
- Blind Mind Jul 3, 2009 08:58 AM
Thought Id get the comments going after round 3 of the multi-series of Pizza Crawls that have taken place in order to find what I will just call, "the most preferred" pizza in Miami. Though I didnt participate in round 2, Id have to say that last night's round 3 had to be the weakest of the bunch even though it was the most convenient since all the pizza joints we tried we all within walking distance of one another. Here are my thoughts on last night's contestants:
Sosta - Very sharp looking pizza joint, complete with high ceilings, metallic colors, wine bottles lining the walls, and a manager(?) donning a suit with an open collar, Miami style. I found that a tad funny. This is pizza we're talking about. There was also an ample amount of staff inside and outside to take care of all the diners. The one thing that kinda turned me off from the get go was the selections of pizzas on the menu. Many were the EXACT same pizzas as Spris, right down to the names. Now, I can understand that there are staple pies that every place is gonna have but this menu just seemed like the Nexxt Cafe/Cheesecake Factory kind of similarity. We ordered 4 different pies, including the namesake "Sosta". The only ones that were any sort of memorable were the Sosta and another one with anchovies and capers and those were maybe above average pies, nothing to write home to mom and dad about. There was also a carpaccio pizza that was decent. The other one was obviously forgettable because I dont recall what it was. Overall, this one got a "C+" grade from me for the pizza and an "A" for the gorgeous blonde hostess who sat our table.
Piola - I liked the vibe of this place. High ceilings, lots of booths and tables, and a little bar by the entrance too. No glitz or glamour, just a hangout spot. Unfortunately, I didnt like the pizza at all. I thought all of the 4 pies we tried were just bland. The carbonara pizza, my favorite kind of pizza, was loaded with cheese and little toppings. Tasted more like a sausage pizza, actually. The one white pizza we got with catupiry cheese, hearts of palm, and artichokes tasted like nothing. Literally zero taste except maybe a little creaminess from the cheese. One of the pies we had was a "Neapolitan style" that was supposed to be a thicker crust and had anchovies and some other veg on it. It did have a thicker crust, except I couldnt tell how much thicker since I forgot to bring my micrometer. It was more like, "we made a smaller pizza interior and just pushed more dough to the outside for crust rather than stretching it like we do on every other pizza." The other pizza we had I dont quite recall though I believe sundried tomatoes were involved. That or it was one with cherry tomatoes that was really, really watery. Overall, I give this place a "B+" for vibe and a "D-" for pizza.
Spris - Ok, so Im a huge fan of Spris and obviously my opinions were going to be skewed from the get go. Not for nothing, but I really wanted to find a place better than Spris because sometimes that place is just too damn crowded. Well, I didnt. Spris was the unanimous winner of the night. It was like watching an old Tyson fight where his opponent gets knocked out 23 seconds into the first round and fans sit there in awe, wondering why they just paid $29.99 for 23 seconds of Pay Per View. We shouldve just done 3 visits to Spris and tried 12 of their many pizzas. Having seriously hyped up Spris' Carbonara pizza in round 1 and earlier in the night, I was eager to get its awesomeness in my system while also slightly afraid that the other diners wouldnt share my admiration for this pie. For the most part, I think it stood up to the hype, although I gotta say that this is a pie that should be split between 2-3 people MAX in order to really enjoy the sunny side up egg in the middle and all its yolky goodness. The egg, thin sliced pancetta, and shaved parmesan just rock together. I think the group's favorite, however, was the "Patata e Panchetta" pizza that came with thin slices of potato, pancetta, mozzarella, rosemary and shaved parmesan. That one really impressed me as Id never had it and I could see myself possibly getting one instead of the carbonara next time Im there. The 3rd pizza was the Ortolana which came with tons of different veggies - portobellos, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes I think. This one just reminded me of why Spris kicks ass - they LOAD the toppings. The other places we ate at were tough to really sample because the toppings were scattered in various pockets of the pizza. Spris had awesome "topping management" with zero sample slices going without some "meat" on them. The only pizza that was a bust here, and it was a total crapshoot to begin with, was the Frutti di Mare pizza. Chewy calamari and other shellfish just doesnt mix well with an oven and a pizza for me. Just way too chewy. Overall, Spris still gets an "A" in my book for their pizza and another "A" for people watching on a busy section of Lincoln Road.
As we "crawled" from joint to joint, I kept going back to Round 1... Did I really like Pizzavolante that much better than Joeys? I was having 2nd thoughts. I may have to return to both again. I remember the pie at PV with the guanciale being the winner of the night for me, but I did like Joey's crust and thought their pies were somewhat creative even if they didnt do it for me flavor wise. Now with Spris in the mix, Im not sure which I like best. I can say this though, that Carbonara and Patata e Panchetta pizza at Spris are tough to beat for me. I dont think anything I had elsewhere measured up really. Nice thin, crispy crust and plenty o' toppings at a good price. I guess I just made up my mind. Spris is the winner for me so far. Mr. 2top says Casale is incredible though so Im looking forward to its opening and the next crawl.
wish i could have attended pizza crawl3 but nobody informed me of it.I told frodnessor to notify me by email when the next one was to occur.If you can let me know when chowhounds congregate again i'd appreciate it.I was able to attend pizza crawl#2 because he notified me.I live 6 blocks from lincoln road.Email me at email@example.com
Mike - my bad, sorry. But there is a google group which we've used for planning which once you've joined you'll receive the emails as these are planned. I am 99% sure that - other than the emails from other like-minded pizza crawlers - you will not get any spam as a result of joining. The group is:
If Spris was that much better than Sosta, I DEFINITELY have to try it out next time!!! I've always avoided it for some reason. Thanks for the detailed review!
Here are my thoughts and recollections of the third pizza crawl:
Sosta - We ordered 4 pies. The namesake Sosta with a sun-dried tomato pesto, burrata and prosciutto. The Carpaccio with arugula, shaved parmigiano and obviously carpaccio. The Siciliana with anchovies, capers and black olives. And the Brie e Speck white pizza. The crusts were uniformly good with a flexible texture and appropriate thinness, although lacking in any prominent flavor. The topping combinations were uniformly underwhelming. The Carpaccio was the biggest disappointment because the beef was effectively steamed in the preparation and the only flavor that came through was the shavings of parmigiano. The burrata on the Sosta was a nice touch but did not marry well with the other flavors. The Brie e Speck had a nice pungency from the melting of the cheese but the speck was either overwhelmed by the flavor of the cheese or had lost flavor from the heat much like the carpaccio. I would agree that the best of the 4 pies that we sampled was the Siciliana and the only one where the flavor profile could be said to be robust. This was a much better presentation of the flavors typically used in Putanesca sauce than the version we had at Andiamo during the first crawl. However, even this pie had a substantial defect in the distribution of toppings, with half swarming with capers and the other half devoid of them. This may be less of an issue for someone eating the entire pie rather than sharing across a large group but even then I prefer to get a nice composition of flavors in every bite.
Piola - Again we ordered 4 pies. The namesake Piola, which was basically a sauce style Margherita with sun-dried tomatoes. The Carbonara with bacon, egg and parmesan cheese. The Curitiba with catupiry cheese, artichoke hearts and hearts of palm. And the Posillipo, a Neapolitan style crust, with anchovies, oregano and cherry tomatoes. Crust was again generally fine but not remarkable. The Curitiba was the most disappointing with almost no flavor from the vegetables and just a creamy texture from the cheese. The Piola just had the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes and offered relatively little compositional complexity for a namesake pie. The Posillipo had reasonable flavor from the anchovies but it was too dominant with neither the oregano nor the cherry tomatoes offering enough counterpoint. The Neapolitan crust was done correctly in having a thicker edge (cornicione) but this made little impact on overall flavor or sensation. The Carbonara was probably the best pizza among these but it too did not deliver the flavor promised by the combination of topping. At the least it was better than the rendition of the Carbonara at Joey's, which was adulterated by the presence of asparagus.
Spris - We ordered the following 4 pies. The Carbonara with pancetta, egg, parmesan and black pepper. The Ortolana with eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers and portobello mushrooms. The Frutti di Mare with calamari, clams, shrimp, mussels and crab meat. And the Patate e Pancetta with potatoes, pancetta and rosemary. The most disappointing was the Ortolano, which although it had plenty of vegetable toppings tended to concentrate them in particular sections of the pie. It was basically a choice of which vegetable to eat rather than getting a melange of several. The Frutti di Mare was admirable by its presence, as none of the other crawl destinations had thus far offered interesting seafood options, despite substantial precedent for pizzas with clams and mussels. But the execution left something to be desired as neither the flavors nor textures of some of the seafood selections came out well from the pizza process. Among the pizzas we sampled at Spris I would place the Carbonara and the Patate e Pancetta in a tie for the best pizza we had here as well as for the entirety of the third crawl. The Carbonara was the best interpretation thus far in three respects: the yolk was liquid enough to be smeared across the pie and its flavor could thus be detected throughout; the pancetta was slightly crispy unlike the steamed bacon flavors that were present in the other versions; there was a touch of black pepper which I think is essential to the sauce as a contrast to the flavor of the egg yolk but again this was an element largely missing from the other versions of this pizza. The Patate e Pancetta was equally interesting with a robust rosemary flavor and the slightly crispy pancetta. Potato is still an unconventional pizza topping but then so is Carbonara and this particular potato combination was the best that we had tried among various of the crawl destinations.
Overall I would agree with Blind Mind that Spris was the clear winner for the evening, delivering two exceptional pies. However, from the broader perspective of comparing the three crawls I would definitely put my favorites from the previous two sessions (Pizzavolante and Racks) ahead of Spris. The flavor intensity of several pies at each of those establishments was just much better than either of the two best pies that we sampled at Spris. And I would even place the runner-ups from previous sessions ahead of the Spris experience. Joey's had a far more creative menu and although I was not as pleased with their Carbonara, their signature Joey pizza and the fig pizza were more innovative menu offerings. Similarly a couple of pizza's at Anthony's (the one with meatballs and ricotta and the eggplant marino) had better composition and flavor intensity by a small margin. From my perspective, that at least leaves Spris as the best pizza on Lincoln Road.
Spris was also my clear winner of the night even if there were only 2 pies there I really enjoyed - the carbonara and the patate e pancetta. The former was certainly the best carbonara we've had, and the latter was vastly better than the similar pizza we had at Andiamo in Round 1.
I had heard good things about Sosta and was disappointed. While nothing was actively bad, by any means, it was also largely unmemorable. Perhaps we ordered poorly. I'd certainly give it another try on a non-crawl night.
I've also had better pizzas at Piola previously, but was quite underwhelmed by the ones we had there for the crawl.
I'm still pretty certain that Spris would not dislodge either of my Round 1 and Round 2 winners - PizzaVolante and Racks from my top spot, though I remain torn between those two.
More detail on my thoughts on Pizza Crawl Part III here ->
My pizza criteria, in no particular order:
- crust (more points for crispy)
- sauce (more points for light sauce, more points for distinguished flavor)
- quality of toppings (flavor)
- quantity of toppings (value)
From there its all trade-off decisions and location.
Ratings (out of 5):
Joey's - 5, 4, 3, 4 (4.0 avg)
PV - 4, 4, 5, 3 (4.0 avg)
Andiamo - 3, 2, 2, 5 (3.0 avg)
Sosta - 3, 3, 3, 2 (2.75 avg)
Piola - 3, 3, 2, 2 (2.5 avg)
Spris - 4, 4, 5, 5 (4.5 avg)
It is still my opinion that, overall, I thought Joey's had the best pizza crust for its flavor, thickness, and crisp. However, I think if you take Joey's out of the equation youre really splitting hairs when it comes to crust amongst the better spots (and obviously I say this w/o having visited Racks/Anthony's). So in the end for me it comes down to toppings. I really liked the pizza with guanciale and the Volante 100 at Pizzavolante but I thought there couldve been a lot more "meat", as evidenced by the people who did not get guanciale on their slice there. I wasnt gung-ho about the pizza at Andiamo, I did think that it had a good value and would be a great place to grab a pie after a night of drinking when your taste buds are shot anyways because of the generous toppings and thicker crust (a good "base" for pre or post alcohol consumption). In fact, I visited Pizza Rustica for that very reason at 4am on the 4th (well, 5th) of July. The pizza was lukewarm and tasted like nothing but damn did it hit the spot without making me feel like I overpaid. Sosta and Piola? Skimpy with the toppings and little flavor at a higher price means "no thanks" in my book.
Though my opinion may be somewhat biased based on eating at Spris on Lincoln Rd countless times over the years, I think they deliver the best pie with a crisp crust, generous toppings, and great flavor on the most consistent basis. We'll see what the next round brings...
re: The Chowfather
Cheese is part of my "flavor" category and, yes, it should compliment the rest of the pizza. However, for me the cheese is secondary to the toppings. In the case of a pizza like the Patate e Prosciutto pizza we had at Spris, the main attraction was the thin sliced potatoes with rosemary and the prosciutto while the mozz and parm cheeses provided good flavor support.
If we're comparing nothing but margahrita pizzas, well then obviously cheese is gonna factor in with much more importance.
re: Blind Mind
BM, ratings aside, I can't even completely agree with your framework for criteria. I generally agree that there was little to distinguish crust quality between most of the places visited during the crawls. There were a few places where the crust was deficient in one way or another (Andiamo and Pizza Fusion) but in most places the crust was serviceable to good but never remarkable. I don't see how Spris had particularly better crust than Sosta or Piola to get a better rating from you (unless it's due to your self-proclaimed Spris bias). Crust is still an important criterion for pizza but not the deciding factor among most of the crawl candidates.
The sauce category is equally problematic. There was little to distinguish the sauce quality at most of the places visited with the exception of the sweeter sauce at Pizza Fusion, which most people did not like. But the real problem is that quite a few of the better selections we had were pizze bianche (PV had a memorable bianca, the portobello pizza at Rack's, the Patate e Pancetta at Spris and a number of other) so the sauce category does not even apply to them.
I also take issue with your final category on quantity of toppings. You can't really judge sheer quantity as a representation of value since ingredients of different quality and flavor intensity have different costs. I would rather eat a pizza topped with prosciutto than with industrially produced peperoni but you won't get a similar amount of the former at the same price point as the latter. With regard to Spris, the quantity of toppings was a negative in the case of Frutti di Mare (overpacked with the somewhat unsuitable squid rings) and the Ortolano (the crust was overburdened by the toppings nor was there any blending of flavors possible). Andiamo had a similar problem of sacrificing quality for quantity.
Sosta and Piola had a few pies with soggy crust, thats why I rated them lower. Sauce, if you read my description, has to do with my personal preference for taste and, more importantly, quantity. I dont like a heavily sauced pizza. Yes, I too would rather have a pizza topped with prosciutto over pepperoni and Im fully aware that will cost more. Regardless of the cost, who wants to eat a pizza where sometimes they get a slice with toppings and sometimes they dont? That blows. Charge me $25 for all I care but gimme what youre telling me Im supposed to get. Oh, and the frutti di mare was just a bad idea to begin with, not gonna argue there.
The bottom line is that this is my personal opinion. I dont ask that anyone agree, nor do I want to establish some sort of baseline rating for pizza that the world should use. Just sharing what I like about pizza, toppings and all.