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Slice of Heaven

Like a big pizza pie...

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Peter Reinhart, a baker, culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University and renowned author of several food books (including American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza), told me that his favorite pizza in town is made at Luisa's Brick Oven. Restaurateur and Milan native Luisa Castiglioni first opened Luisa's nearly 15 years ago and was the first in the area to bake her thin crust, Italian-styled pizza in a brick oven. The key to her outstanding pizzas, though, is not only the exceptional crust, but the freshness and purity of her ingredients.

Luisa's Brick Oven, 1730 Abbey Place. 704-522-8782.

Another Italian restaurateur with pizza savvy is Giosue Coppola, a Naples native, who owns the Portofino stores. His restaurants specialize in New York-styled pizzas. These pizzas achieve a balance between crust, sauce, cheese and ingredients. New at Coppola's third location (Ayrsley) are pizzas baked in a wood-burning oven.

Portofino, Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, 3124 Eastway Drive. 704-568-7933; 5126 Park Road in the Park Selwyn Terrace Shopping Center. 704-527-0702; 2127 Ayrsley Town Boulevard. 980-297-7090.

What is the best style of pizza? Folks from Chicago yearn for thick doughy pies. Want one? Try Pizzeria Uno downtown. Others from the Northeast long for New York-styled pizza. What's so special about New York pizza? Nothing. It's a preference. Most individually owned shops throughout the New York area turn out a good product, though some are a little better than others, and a few pizzerias turn out exceptional pies. Most have white hot ovens which produce a beautifully charred, yet chewy, pliant crust. A few pizzerias have grandfathered coal ovens which produce pizzas with smoky crusts : these are my favorite, but increasingly hard to find. Wood-burning ovens achieve a similar taste. Most hand-tossed New York pizzas are simply adorned with scant marinara sauce, a delicate sprinkling of mozzarella and a scattering of Italian sausage or pepperoni. The idea is less is more.

Customers at Brooklyn South can watch pizzas being tossed in the air and then baked in the center brick oven. Here, the Caminitis family produces a wonderful New York-styled pizza.

Brooklyn South Pizzeria and Italian Eatery, 19911-C North Cove Road (Exit 28), in Cornelius. 704-896-2928.

A favorite spot for pizza in the Elizabeth community is Hawthorne's New York Pizza & Bar. These pizzas have that smoky New York crust with a chewy yet supple base that New York transplants yearn for.

Hawthorne's New York Pizza & Bar, 1701 E. 7th Street. 704-358-9339.

At Anzi Pizza and Pasta, you can get hand-tossed New York-styled pies as well as the square, deep dish Sicilian pies. These are sold by the slice or by the whole pie. Anzi offers a lunch special of two slices and a drink for $4.50. (Note: The Anzi at Stonecrest is owned by the Anzi family, while the one on Independence is now independently owned.)

Anzi Pizza and Pasta, 7828-F Rea Road in Stonecrest Shopping Center. 704-540-5740.

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