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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pizza from Italy - Pizzeria Miracoli

Some friends of mine recently went to Italy, the birth place of pizza; unless you are Greek then you will have an argument otherwise, but I am Italian so the birth place it is. While they were there of course they tried some pizza, and thankfully they kept me in mind.
So enjoy a very long, but well written pizza blog from:

Brad C. Hodson

Naples, Italy is known for a few things. Its stunning views of the Amalfi Coast. Its Circumvesuviana that takes hordes of tourists every day to the ruins of Pompeii. Its history, dating all the way back through French and Spanish periods to the ancient Greek city of Neapolis. Its churches, old and resplendent, and filled with the blood and bones of saints. Its traffic, one of the most chaotic and uncomprehensible sights any traveller could ever be witness to. Its garbage, recently in the news. And, most importantly, its pizza.

We were very curious about the pizza in Naples. It's said, after all, that Naples is the birthplace of pizza. We had heard several stories about the pizza there- how it's simpler, yet more flavorful than any pizza we have here in the States. We had also heard how the garbage crisis (mostly cleaned up by the time we arrived) had spoiled the famous mozzarella di buffala cheese in the region and, by extension, possibly spoiling the pizza. But who could visit Naples and not try the local cuisine?

So we fought through the crowded streets of what could have been a third world country, dodging Vespas and attempting to speak to locals (who speak their own dialect- but that's another story altogether), eventually stumbling into our first pizzeria. The waiter, Giacomo, was an older man dressed in white who seemed quite content to sit in an empty establishment and read his paper. He sighed when we walked in, put out his cigarette, slammed two menus down, and walked away without a word.

Eventually Giacomo returned. In broken Italian, I proceeded to ask him a few things about the establishment. He was tight lipped, and kept replying with "Che volle?" The choices were limited- traditional Napolitano pizza only comes in two varieties, after all. There is the Marinara- which is simply olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes- and then there's the Margherita, named in honor of the late Queen of Italy, and topped with tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella. I had the Marinara, my wife had the Margherita, and of course we shared. Both were good (and the brick oven crust was especially delicious) but I hadn't felt that we had seen the best of Naples' pizzas yet.

Then, the night before we left Napoli, we walked around the corner from our B&B to Pizzeria Miracoli. Marizio, who said that his family had owned and operated Pizzeria Miracoli for five generations, greeted me warmly as I entered. "Americano?" he asked. I said "si" and his eyes lit up. He spoke slowly so I could understand, and told me how he was going to show me what good pizza was really like. His menu was a little more extensive- he had 5 pizzas listed, though the extras were variations on the two classics. He made me a Margherita, and we came back a few hours later for a Margherita delle Tre Salume.

The crust was as delicious as ever. It's thin, and cripsy, and bursts with the full flavor of fresh dough- a treat for an American. I never realized how much better fresh dough tasted- most of what we eat here, even at gourmet restaurants, is frozen. Then came the toppings- Buon Sapore! The tomato sauce, he explained, was made that morning from tomatoes picked on his family farm. It literally burst with flavors- the fresh garlic, basil, and pepper sprinkled inside danced across the tongue and really accentuated the taste of the tomato. And the mozzarella was equally fantastic. I never knew what a delicious and pungent cheese mozzarella could be but, even with the bad yield this year, this was better than any cheese I had ever had in the States. Part of the problem here at home is that our dairy products are all pasteurized which, I found out while eating cheese in Italy, saps the flavor completely. If you've never had cheese in Europe, you don't know what you're missing.

The della Tre Salumi also had three meats topping it: salami, prosciutto, and something I could not pronounce no matter how much of it I ate. These, too, were magnificent. They were good cuts, bought from a butcher that afternoon. Succulent, moist, and rich with flavor, they would have been ridiculously expensive served on a plate. But on this pizza they were heavenly- and without the expensive price tag.

Which brings me to one of the best parts about the pizza: it cost 2 euro, or roughly 3 dollars. I kid you not. Absolutely amazing. This was for a 16 inch pizza.

The pizza in Naples spoiled me. I have yet to eat a pizza here at home that has thrilled me the way that Marizio's pizza did. I'm already planning my next trip. And who knows? Maybe I'll get more daring and try Marizio's Egg and Seafood Pizza.

Pizzeria Miracoli - Naples, Italy
Price -$
Overall: 5

161 St. Pizzeria

Today I drove down to Ventura/Cahuenga and tried some pizza from a place that I have been driving by for the last month. or at least or at least driving by the sign.

Turns out, the place opened a week ago. Of course the sign had been there for some time. I ordered over a large cheese, which was 14 inches, which is usually a medium. The actual large, which is called family style is a 16 inch. I figured 14 inches was enough for one man. So a 14 inch cheese pizza, that will be 20 dollars. Ok, so heres the - WHAT! - 20 BUCKS! That was shocking to me. The only other place that came close in price was Mozza, and this place was nowhere close to upscale, like Mozza is. So I thought this pizza better be daaaamn good. I saw a pie that just came out of the oven and the crust looked so thin it was like a big tortilla chip. Like the Stone Fire Pizza I had, I didn't want it to be like cheese and sauce on a cracker.

15 minutes later I got the pizza and took it back to the office.

It looked a lot better than the one behind the counter I saw earlier. The crust turned out to be not as thin as Stone fire Pizza, but was still ultra thin from beginning to end. The end is where the crust should give rise a little bit and have a puffy doughy edge. This pizza did not have that at all. It was the same crispy thin crust as that in the middle. If anything it tapered off and got thinner. It was indeed crispy, crispy all the way through. Ideally you want a little doughy-ness and some tough chewy-ness to the consistency, this had neither. It was a cornmeal style crust that tasted pretty good, but not much to it. The sauce was the highlight. It was very light and sweet. With just the right amount of spices to give it a little flavor in addition to the fresh tomato taste. The cheese tasted fresh as well, and was also put on light. It had the perfect ration to the sauce. If the crust had been right this might have been one of the best pizza's I've had out here. Unfortunately the crust is estremamente importante. And for 20 dollars I better get at least an above average crust. The price sadly will effect the review, and it will effect me going back.

161 St. Pizzeria - 3252 Cahuenga Blvd. 90068
Price: $$$

161 St. Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
161 Street Pizza in Los Angeles

Monday, December 8, 2008

Frozen Pizza pt1 - Trader Joes

I will eventually be reviewing all the well known frozen pizza brands.  To start I will go to a grocery store that is specific to the West Coast, and that is Trader Joe's.  A small chain of markets that specializes in mainly organic and fresh type foods.  Most of which are small brands or their own Trader Joes brand, like 'Trader Giotto's'.  
I am starting with trader Joe's because it has been said that the best frozen pizza can be found here.  With many foods, Trader Joes is kind of on another level.  So we shall see.  
Trader Joe's has 2 styles of pizza.  One is their frozen pizza, the other is a freshly made cold pizza, that can be warmed up.

Freshly Made Cold Pizza:One day for lunch I was forced to go to Trader Joe's to get some kind of prepared meal for lunch.  The first thing that caught my eye of course was a freshly made chilled pizza.  They had several different kinds.  I got one with pockets of goat cheese and tomatoes, lots of other things I cannot recall.  I warmed it up in the toaster oven when I got back.  To my surprise it was not bad at all.  The ingredients were very refreshing and tasty, a very good combination.  The crust of course was nowhere near right.  I suppose that was to be expected, not that it tasted bad but it was just typical pre-made bread that didn’t get crispy.  Is this really pizza, I asked myself, and I suppose it doesn’t matter, it was food that tasted good.  It doesn’t matter what you call it.  I suppose by definition it was pizza, but it certainly was not by NY standards or Italy standards, or even California standards.  Trader Joes or any other grocery store is the only place you can get away with calling it pizza.  If you ordered it in a restaurant you would be disappointed. Some how because you can see what you are getting into when you buy it, it is acceptable.
However, it was fresh and very tasty.  If you are craving a snack it's better than those pre-made wraps they have.  
I later had some of the pesto pizza, that is made in the same style.  This was no good.  There was more pesto sauce on that thing than there is tomato sauce on a regular pizza.  

Frozen Pizza-Cheese Pizza:
The last pizza I had was their Pizza Margherita.  Made with large chunks of mozzarella and Grana cheese (I'm not sure what grana is).  This was made in Italy by hand and in a wood fired oven.  Sounds great.  Of course if you say it was made in an assembly line in a factory on a conveyor belt oven, it doesn't sound as good.  But these both mean the same thing.  There are pictures on  the back.  Anyway, here is the pizza box and the pizza when frozen, of course I forgot to take a picture after it cooked, stupid !  Just too hungry I guess.
So I can tell you it looked more like the frozen picture than the box, just a little more cooked looking, ha.
The crust was similar to the rest, very crispy and thin.  The rest of the pizza was all cheese.  The too kinds of cheese were very heavy.  Granted they were very creamy and delicious.  The sauce if there was any, was almost completely canceled out.  The specks of basil that were in the picture maybe they were oregano, were non-existent in visuals and taste.  Overall it was pretty bland tasting, not much kick.  I put sausage on half of the pizza, and that helped take it up a notch.  For bland frozen pizza it was good, would be better if it had a little less cheese, and more sauce.  But you can't be perfect.      

Frozen Pizza-Philly Cheese Steak:
The first frozen pizza I tried was the Philly cheese steak pizza, Kelly bought it on a whim, not thinking that Trader Joe's is known for their frozen pizzas, and not thinking that I, a pizza lover would love to eat and review it.  No she was only thinking jee, I love cheese steaks and I love pizza, this might be good.  Just like deep fried Oreos.  So there it was in the freezer and so we ate it.  On another note, I wish people would stop using the town of Philly to categorize this specific flavor.  Not only is this not even a cheese steak but if it were it wouldn't taste anything like a philly cheese steak.  It is an insult to Philidelphia, and their great sandwich invention.  It is a cheese steak sandwich, do not bring Philly into it, what they do is not this.  
However I am a sucker for onions steak and cheese, so I enjoyed it.  The combo is great, whether on a pizza or in a bun.  Excellent.    

Frozen Pizza-Pesto:
A few weeks later I tried the Pesto Pizza. This looked a little different than the picture on the box, the whole crust turned out green from the pesto.  There was a lot of pesto flavor and it also had broccoli on it, which I was not a fan of.  Plus the pizza was a little un balanced, having a lot of cheese on one side and very little on the other. 

Frozen Pizza-BBQ Chicken:
I was a bit disappointed with this one.  It was not the same as the others.  The crust had a different texture and consistency to it.  It was hard and chewy but not crispy.  Slightly thicker as well.  The taste was pretty good as usual.  The chicken and sauce and veggies that were on it all went well together and were as fresh as frozen food can be.  The cheese was kind of lacking but then again I guess you don’t get a bbq chicken pizza for the cheese.

Overall review:
One thing that they all had in common (except the cooled pizza and the bbq) was the crust.  The crust got surprisingly crispy, and when you put it directly on the oven rack it even gets super crispy.  However its not just the crispy-ness that makes the crust, it’s an over all texture, taste and thickness that changes the way a pizza is enjoyed.  These frozen pizzas didn’t have this.  Yes it was crispy, but the crust wasn’t light and doughy on the inside, it didn't have a slightly chewy texture to it, it didn’t give much rise on the end and it didn’t have that baked hot oven taste. So we don't have to worry about frozen pizza replacing real, freshly made pizzas, just yet.  Frozen just doesn't compare.  It is its own style of pizza.  Frozen style pizza.  For what it is, Trader Joe's does pretty good.  I still prefer the real thing.  Obviously.  

A Side Note:  for you health conscious people out there, yes all pizza is probably high in calories and yes frozen pizza is probably worse.  I noticed however that the Trader Joe's Margherita pizza has 340 calories, 110 from fat.  That is for 1/3 of the pizza !  It also has 710 mg of sodium and 5g of Sat. fat.  I don't pay much attention to this, but that sounds bad, at least for what Trader Joe's usually brings to the table.        

Zach’s Italian Restaurant

This is more of a lunch delivery spot that has a focus of Italian food, but you can get pretty much anything.  Pizza is not exactly their specialty.  But it is Italian so I thought Id try it.  It is pretty obvious however that pizza is not their forte.  What’s worse is I payed about 18 dollars for a large which was actually only 14 inches.  It was heavy with cheese and extremely oily. The tomato sauce was basically just tomato paste, I am positive they just have a huge bucket of the stuff they put on anything they serve.  Even for pasta sauce it wasn’t great.  The crust was less like a pizza crust and more like crispy pita bread.  Actually it wasn’t even that crispy.  It was just bready and tasteless.  I don’t mean to give it a hard time.  It was not the worst pizza I’ve had.  Next time I’ll get the pasta, I hear thats ok.

Zach’s - 10820 Ventura Blvd. Studio City 91604
Price: $$
Zach's Italian Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Angelino Express Pizzeria

Today I left the office to pick up a pizza, which I was sharing with a fellow co-worker.  She recommended Angelino’s.  The place looked like a typical pizzeria.  Small place with red and white checkered table cloths, the smell of pizza filled the restaurant.  The pizza is fairly cheap, $13 for a 16’’ large.  I got a large cheese.  The first thing I noticed was the crust, it was extremely well done on the bottom, very crispy, and had slight black charred taste.  The crust was thin and just a little chewy.  The outer edge was a little dense and over-cooked, however it still tasted good.  The sauce and cheese worked perfectly together, the sauce had a light subtle flavor.  It was not overly flavored in fact it didn’t really have much in the way of spices at all. The first half of the slice tasted great a little oily, crispy, and delicious. As you got past the half way point however the amount of sauce dropped considerably.  The pizza started to become a little dry, and the edge like I said was dry and crunchy.  I am being overly critical perhaps, if this was in my area I would order it again, for sure.  

Angelino Express Pizzeria -4384 Lankershim Blvd. 91602
Price: $

Sorry there weren't any pictures this time
Angelino Pizzeria Express on Urbanspoon

North End Pizzeria (Burbank)

The other day, I was let in on a little secret.  There are several pizza joints called North End Pizzeria (Boston's Finest)   These are all franchises run by different people.  So each place is potentially different, in the way there pizza tastes.  I was informed this by one of the owners of not only one of the franchises but the owner of the actual name and company itself.  This company was started by his family and has continued in the family through many generations.  He has now roughly 3 years ago taken over one of the North End Pizzerias and started making pizza the way his family has made pizza.  This recipe he uses is different that the other North End Pizzerias.  The owner informed me of all this because he did not want people to assume all North End Pizzeria's were the same.  I reviewed one of theses places on 3rd and Bevery in Hollywood.  Indeed it is a different pizza. You can read this review here.

So recently I stopped by this other location, off Olive in downtown Burbank.  I met the owner and talked pizza for a minute, he seems like a very nice guy and one who is trying to carry down his family's traditions to a 'T', mainly in the recipes and ingredients of pizza and other foods.

 So the pizza.  I ordered a large 18 inch cheese pizza.  It came out to be 18 dollars which is a little high in my opinion but probably an average LA price.  I enjoyed it.  It wasn't anything that made me jump up and down, and get crazy over.  Of course that might be weird if I did that.  Essentially it was kind of a basic pizza on all elements, but don't be mistaken, this is not a bad thing.  The pizza definitely was better than the other North End Pizzeria.  It was a very thin and crispy pie.  The crust was buttery, light and crispy.  It had a tough consistency, but not in a bad way.  The cheese and sauce were put on the crust just a little heavy for my tastes.  However they tasted good so I didn't mind.  The sauce was a little heavier of a sauce to begin with. It had a sweet taste, with a good spice flavoring to it.  The cheese was laid on to match the thick sauce and it was cooked very well.  A little browned on the top.  Overall I enjoyed the pizza, and I would be happy if it was the spot around the corner that delivered.  However, I have eaten a lot of pizza in LA and there is pizza around that is better.  It was a good solid pizza, that maybe, reminds me of your average slice in N.Y., and as you know the average slice in N.Y. is better than most places out here.  So thats not too bad.

North End Pizzeria
Price: $$
North End Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Zelo Pizza

I have yet to try this place, it is a little out of my LA circuit.  It is in Arcadia.  However a fellow food reviewer from Gourmet Pigs has eaten there and reviewed it.  So I would like to share this blog with you as it does cover some interesting pizza.  
Keep in mind however, this pizza is not a traditional NY style pizza.  It isn't really traditional in any style of pizza.  If anything I would say it is similar to a chicago style pizza, but the crust seems a lot thinner.  The toppings like corn, are extremely untraditional.  So pizza is a stretch but as  far as food goes, it looks delicious and I'd love to try it.  

328 E. Foothill Blvd
Arcadia, CA 91006

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