Is pizza America’s favorite food? If not, then it sure runs a close second to the hamburger. People take pizza more seriously than any other type of food. No doubt the surest way for a food writer to get into hot water is to proclaim a pizza as “the best in town.” Pizza probably generates more emotion than any other foodstuff in our daily diets, too. Try yelling “Pizza!” at a crowded party and see what happens if you don’t believe me.
My prediction is that pizza will soon be declared the national dish. It is already the informally declared food of choice. Even the leading seller of hamburgers in this country has succumbed to this harsh fact, by beginning to offer it in some of their restaurants.
Pizza even has political connections. Concerned about the Persian Gulf crisis? Find out who is ordering pizzas when, and you may be able to forecast what is going to happen. According to Domino’s Pizza, as reported in Restaurants USA, pizza deliveries to the White House, CIA and the Pentagon escalate as does the level of political activity. In fact, the night before the President began sending troops over, Domino’s had a near record night.
Writers and others like to categorize pizza, too. Americans seem to like to categorize everything, come to think of it. We’ve all heard of New York-style pizza and Chicago-style pizza. I was traveling recently in a strange city and learned of a place that specialized in Boston-style pizza. Having lived in Boston for many years and never having heard of such a thing, I figured I better not chance eating such a concoction, whatever it might be. Is there a New Orleans-style pizza? Based upon our random selection of pies this month, we can happily say that there isn’t. A soon as you attach the word “style” to something, you create certain expectations that sometimes result in disappointment.
There are many restaurants in New Orleans that serve pizza, and we only chose four of them. There was no system for choosing, except for perhaps their locations and the logistics of getting pizzas from four different locations to a single lunch table while they were still hot. It was impossible to sample all the legendary pizzas in New Orleans, but some are worth mentioning in addition to the ones we did taste at our sampling party—the homemade, thin-crusted, cheese-laden pizza at Mamie’s (great for takeout) and the authentic pizza (veal is a favorite topping) at Venezia, both in Mid-City. Neither of these restaurants were open for lunch, but we have enjoyed them at the dinner hour.
Before proceeding to the results of our tasting, a couple of disclaimers are in order. Perhaps I am being paranoid. But having just returned from my home town, where a magazine had done a rating of pizzas from around the state, I found no joy in the fact that six months after the story appeared, the magazine was still receiving mail concerning their selections. Many of the readers were still in shock that the magazine could have actually overlooked their favorite pizza joint located in East Cupcake. Others were dismayed that their most memorable pizza wasn’t ranked in the top five. So, this bears repeating—there was no system for choosing these four restaurants for review. And if your favorite pizza isn’t here, let us know about it and maybe we will be able to get to it in a future column.
Secondly, while the opinions here may not reflect those of this magazine’s, they do reflect the opinions of some of its employees. I was not alone in the judgments. We tried to involve as many of the OffBeat staff as were available. Thankfully, there was no clear consensus as to their favorite pizza.
Of the five pizzas reviewed, there was quite a bit of diversity. Two could be classified as “traditional” while three were of the new designer/gourmet classification. All were quite different and all had their attributes. Everyone was overwhelmingly impressed with all of the pizzas’ crusts. There was, however, some concern expressed over some of the toppings. Read on.
Bayou Ridge (5080 Pontchartrain Boulevard) offers a choice of five gourmet pizzas. We decided to go for the Smoked Chicken Pizza with broccoli and pesto. Along with the chicken, broccoli and pesto, the pizza came with mozzarella and sliced tomato. No tomato sauce on this pizza. The flavors blended together very well, and one taster proclaimed the tomatoes as being hip. The smoked chicken definitely came through the most, while the pesto could barely be tasted. If the basil had been more prominent, this pizza would have had it all. Excellent thin and crunchy crust. Fun flavors. The Bayou Ridge pizzas range in price from $5.25 to $6.25. By themselves, any of these pizzas would make a great lunch.
Mama Rosa (616 North Rampart Street) has pizza with a variety of toppings. Their pizzas are very serious monster-type pizzas. Thick crust, tomato sauce, cheese, and anything else you might like on them. We ordered everything, and even got anchovies and jalapeno peppers. Twice as many people could not have finished it. It was proclaimed by some to have the best crust of the group, but the consensus on the sauce was that it lacked personality. The taste of tomatoes was distinct, but there was no herb flavor at all. As far as the toppings went, the sausage was great and jalapenos should be a mandatory pizza topping, along with cheese. If you like anchovies get them as well, but don’t order this pizza unless you are a serious consumer. Mama Rosa’s pizzas range from $7.25 for a small basic model to $13.50 for the one we had. They also offer it by the slice.
The Louisiana Pizza Kitchen (95 French Market Place and 2800 Esplanade Avenue) has been getting a lot of favorable press of late, and they should be. The Pizza Kitchen offers a nice selection of gourmet pizzas, all prepared in wood-burning ovens. A dozen types of pizza are available. The selections were so extensive, we had to order two. We tried the BBQ Chicken (with corn, scallions, mozzarella and tomato sauce) and Salsiccia Marinara (Italian sausage, smoked andouille, cappicollo and mozzarella). Both pizzas were unanimously declared to be excellent, with the feeling that the crust’s best feature was that it was able to showcase the other ingredients. The BBQ chicken pizza probably had the most interesting flavors of any pizza we tried. The combination of the barbecue and tomato sauces tasted fine. The corn was a confusing addition, however. It added texture but little in the way of flavor. Highly recommended, but ask to hold the corn. Likewise, the mixed sausage pizza was interesting and spicy. Be sure to have a Dixie nearby, as we did. This one was heavy on the oregano, which some of us really liked. Don’t order it if you don’t like oregano. The Pizza Kitchen’s pizzas reminded one taster of the pizzas served overlooking the Mediterranean in Southern France. Other selections that we were not able to try included Crawfish Pizza, Smoked Salmon Pizza and Roasted Garlic Pizza. Try them all! Prices range from $1.95 to $6.00 and they come in one size.
The last entry in our tasting was Mona Lisa (1212 Royal Street). Mona Lisa offers both traditional pizza (with red sauce) and their Golden White Pizza, which comes with lots of garlic and mozzarella. We opted for the Golden White, which doubles as their garlic bread when served with other entrees. This pizza is indeed a house specialty, as it is billed. It’s available with any of the usual toppings on it, as is their other pizza, but as we discovered, this pizza is best straight up. You shouldn’t try to mask the appearance or taste of this one with assorted toppings. It’s wonderful just plain. You have to be a garlic fan, however, which we all were. Mona Lisa is generous with the cheese as well. The crust is relatively thin, and the flavor of the crust is able to come through on this pizza. Order this when you are in the mood for something a little different. We’ll be back for one of the red pizzas sometime soon. Prices range from $5.20 to $13.75, and the pizzas are available in two sizes as well as two styles.
So there you are. These four styles covered the pizza spectrum. All very different and all very good. There wasn’t nearly as much controversy as one would expect when five people and five pizzas come together. But judge for yourself and compare these against some of your favorites. My favorite pizza? It was a little bakery in the Italian north end of Boston where the baker started making pizzas at 4 o’clock in the morning. The place opened at 7 a.m. and the pizza was gone by 10. One slice to a customer. Unless you liked eating pizza for breakfast, this place was for serious consumers only. I felt right at home.